Complete online archive of Cienfuegos Press anarchist review, a journal published in the late 1970s to early 1980s by anarcho-syndicalists Stuart Christie and Albert Meltzer. Cienfuegos Press was later succeeded by Refract Publications.
Cienfuegos Press anarchist review
Mostly digitised by libcom.org February 2014.
Cienfuegos Press anarchist review #1
First issue of Cienfuegos Press Review, published 1976.
Cienfuegos Press anarchist review #2
Second issue of Cienfuegos Press anarchist review from 1977 with articles about the anarchist movements in Japan, Germany, Argentina, Russia, Poland, B Traven and more.
Cienfuegos Press anarchist review #3
Issue of Cienfuegos Press anarchist review from autumn 1977 with articles about anarchism, Freemasonry, Francisco Ferrer, anarchism in Bulgaria and the Mexican Revolution, armed struggle and much more.
Issues 4 and 5 are now online at the Stuart Christie Archive but are absolutely massive files:
Issue 4: https://stuartchristie.maydayrooms.org/items/show/131
Issue 5: https://stuartchristie.maydayrooms.org/items/show/132
having a go at compressing 4 now...
That’s a nice job. When I had a go at 5 it became quite unreadable. :-)
Fozzie wrote: That’s a nice job. When I had a go at 5 it became quite unreadable. :-)
done! using adobe online, medium compression then splitting it. and registering a few accounts...
Cienfuegos Press anarchist review #4
Issue number 4 of Cienfuegos Press anarchist review from early 1978.
Taken with thanks from https://stuartchristie.maydayrooms.org/items/show/131
1936-1967: A history of Spanish anarchist youth paper 'Ruta'
Victor Garcia's brief history of the Catalan libertarian youth newspaper from its founding in the civil war to its final issue.
Inside Spain the Libertarian Youth had always had a number of mouthpieces, outstanding among them the peninsular organ 'Juventud Libre' (Free Youth) and the organ of the Catalan region 'Ruta'. Among the youth, we find the same mushrooming growth of libertarian papers as among adults. In his 'La Ciudad de la Niebla' that great observer of the Spanish character, Pio Baroja, pointed out that wherever there were three anarchists together, they would found a paper.
'Juventud Libre' which adopted the title Ruta in October 1936, was founded well before the July revolution of 1936 when the Libertarian Youth of Catalonia were the "Cultural and Propaganda Section of the FAI" something which was to bring them into conflict with the rest of the Libertarian Youth of Spain until the revolution was already a few months old. The latter had grouped themselves into the FIJL (Iberian Federation of Libertarian Youth) completely independent of the Libertarian movement's other two branches, the CNT (National Confederation of Labour) and the FAI (Iberian Anarchist Federation) in 1932.
The Libertarian Youth of Catalonia (JJ.LL) were reluctant to break away from the FAR, whereby they appeared to refuse to leave the nest, though they were exceptionally well equipped in terms of experience in struggle and propaganda to do so. Unity of the youth wing was finally achieved by rallying around the FIJL and its supreme body, the Peninsular Committee in Madrid. Until this unity became a fact, of course, the pages of 'Ruta' devoted many a column to defending the stand of the Catalan youth. It is possible that, but for the war and the unitarian spirit it brought, the Catalan JJ.LL would have stuck to their guns and their original positron which was, remember, one of dependence on the FAI.
Although the bond between the three branches was steely and unbreakable, the decision to break away on their own proved to be a good one, for throughout the three crucial years of the civil war between 1936 and 1939 the Libertarian Youth were able to steer clear of the shameful collaborationist blunders committed by the CNT and the FAI. In this way the FIJL weathered the problem years when other organisations of anarchists jettisoned principles for parliamentary seats, ministerial appointments or state government or municipal secretary ships, and did so without compromising its anarchist principles.
Ruta played a leading role in accomplishing a task fraught with such difficulty, and, coercion and threats from the two "sister" organisations notwithstanding, her columns never failed to proclaim the orthodox position of all anarchists: war on the state, authority, privilege, religion, right up to militarism, something which was always very risky, given the wartime conditions Spain was then experiencing. One must add that when it came to the last mentioned campaign, militarism was assailed not on any defeatist grounds, but rather by agitating on behalf of guerrilla warfare, the century (groups of 100 militiamen) and the column, the first organs of defence and attack set up in July to offer resistance to the mercenary army of Moors, Germans and Italians.
Had the Libertarian Youth of Catalonia gone on as the "Cultural and Propaganda Section of the FAI" they would have had less freedom of expression, which would have, had a detrimental effect on the loyalty they always showed to anarchist principles.
[This article is from the 1970's and here a section is deleted on the 70's Japanese and Italian anarchist movements]
Until the Spanish civil war ended, 'Ruta's' management was successively in the hands of Fidel Miro, Jose Peirats, Manuel Peres, Santana Calero, Benito Milla, and Benjamin Cano Ruiz. Gifted writers all of them, who, as we noted earlier, were able to ensure that the youth movement's paper was uncompromising in the orthodoxy of its approach. Oddly enough, with the passing years Fidel Miro has inclined towards a more lax approach, joining the "Zero" group which is outstanding for its revisionist and even collaborationist overtones. Given that Peirats took over the management of 'Ruta' in the early months of the war and his attitude then, as ever, being staunch in its orthodoxy (he is, as the saying then was a 'piel roja' (red skin) 1 'Ruta' was set along an uncompromising course from the very outset - a course it has yet to waver from, either inside Spain or in exile.
Manuel Peres took over the management of 'Ruta' shortly after his near miraculous escape from the Canaries which had been occupied by Franco's hordes. Born in the nineteenth century he was the oldest of all those who, at one time or another managed 'Ruta'.
Santana Calero's stay at Ruta was exceedingly brief and it took a backseat to meetings, organising groups and the front, until after the war had ended, he met a hero's death at the hands of the fascist rabble, one of the most outstanding members of the Resistance in Andalusia. A loss sorely felt on account of the promise shown by this lad from Andalusia, especially in terms of oratorical gifts.
Benito Millo was a stylish writer who managed 'Ruta' for rather a long time until management of the youth paper passed to Benjamin Cano Ruiz.
The last of 'Ruta's managers inside Spain, where it lasted until 26 January 1939, when the fascists took Barcelona, was Benjamin Cano Ruiz. On the very same day that Franco's rabble entered the southern suburbs of Barcelona, Cano Ruiz delivered a finished test issue of 'Solidaridad Obrera', the organ of the Catalan CNT, ready to go to print, to the premises of that important anarcho-syndicalist paper in the Calle Concejo de Ciento. Forty years on those premises are still there, but they have been transformed into the offices of Solidarid Nacional thanks to the efforts of the fascist victors. 'Rutas' last manager turned out to be 'Solidaridad Obrera's last director during the civil war, in a sort of 'defacto' capacity.
'Ruta's columns featured the finest pens of anarchist thinking. Felipe Alaiz had a column at the foot of the magazine's centre pages. The paper managed to keep to its regular weekly schedule. There was the eccentric doctor Diego Ruiz, Higinio Noja Ruiz, a writer who, had come from the coal pits and whose work was a marvel to us all on account of its profundity and extent. There was the poet Elias Garcia and Fontaura, and Cristobal Garcia whom we lost track of in exile after fleeting appearances in the columns of 'Ruta' in France and of 'Cultura Proletaria' of New York. Not forgetting Lucia Sanchez Saornil, the founder of the feminist movement Mujeres Libres, and Soledad Estorach, another member of that movement and Carmen Quintana likewise;, Vicente Rodriguez Garcia (known as Viroga) another lively mind cut down in the fullness of its powers in the early years of exile; Ivar Chevik, a fine Catalan who hid his real name, Roig, behind this Slav-sounding nom de plume. And there was Liberto Sarrau whose regular column "Retractos al minuto" (up to the minute portraits) gave a sort of tongue in cheek biographies of swollen headed libertarian militants or ones who had slipped down what Sebastien Faure called the "slippery slope." Along with Amador Franco, Liberto Sarrau made up the youngest duo of writers whose work appeared in 'Ruta'.
As we said earlier, for the whole of the revolutionary period between 1936 and 1939 'Ruta' was a gadfly constantly pricking the exposed flanks of the Spanish libertarian movement, exposing the contradictions into which it had fallen, through collaboration with the Largo Caballero government, picking up decorations and nominating anarchists who were lifelong anti-militarists to military posts, and appointing libertarians to police, ministerial and government posts - libertarians who, out of loyalty to the organisation, accepted what amounted to a reneging on their whole history of struggle and persecution.
In this task, 'Ruta' had the backing of other anarchist papers like 'Ideas', 'El Quijote', 'El Amigo del Pueblo', 'Acracia' and other organs I cannot recall. The chief difference between these papers and 'Ruta' was that they had, regrettably, only a sporadic existence, whereas 'Ruta' was, with few exceptions, faithfully made available to its readers each week as intended.
Then came the dark years of the great world conflict when all of Europe was plunged into medieval fear and death. In Spain, the Franco repression, which went so far as to shock even Count Ciano, Mussolini's son-in-law (later shot on the orders of his own father-in-law) continued to reap its deadly harvest of life, by the hundreds. That did not stop the hardening of the arteries of the Spanish Libertarian movement and the first National Committee of the CNT of the Interior - headed by Pallarols, later shot like so many other Confederation members, as secretary was followed by others, in unbroken line, up until the first "tolerated" National Committee after Franco's death.
Meanwhile, in exile, the libertarians did not as Carrillo and Camacho would perversely have it, withdraw to "winter quarters"; but by 1943 under the German occupation (of France) the first National Committee of the CNT in exile arose. Little by little it was rebuilt as the most numerous anti-Franco organisation in exile, overtaking the socialists, republicans, and of course, the communists.
45,000 libertarian militants were represented at the Libertarian Movement's Congress of Local Federations held in Paris on 1 May 1945 and the days that followed.
Before that, like a phoenix that never dies, Ruta had reappeared in Marseilles. The Libertarian Youth of that ancient city resolved to publish an organ that would, just as it had done in Spain during the war there, push the classic revolutionary and anti-government line of anarchism, which appeared to be in jeopardy as a result of the decisions taken at the 'Muret Plenum' of 9 October 1944 in which it was laid down that the collaborationist path of the civil war in Spain was to be continued.
The first director of this exiled Ruta was a Catalan libertarian, Francisco Botey, from Maresma, staunch in his libertarian outlook in which there was no peace for deviations.
Propaganda by 'Ruta', helped by 'Impulso' from Toulouse, and 'Solidaridad Obrera' and 'El Rebelde', both from Paris, brought about a healthy reaction on the part of anarchist militants and, at the Paris congress alluded to earlier, the Spanish Libertarian Movement ratified the principles, tactics and objectives which had been the inspiration of the CNT from the congress of "La Comedia" in 1919 on.
A few days before the Paris congress in mid-April, the Libertarian Youth of Spain in Exile held its first congress, in Toulouse, as a result of which 'Ruta' transferred to that capital of Languedoc with Benito Milla taking over its management. It was a task to which, as we said earlier in connection with the papers days in Spain, he was no stranger.
For a number of years the magazine was much read and in demand. The columns of this youth organ carried the best that militants in exile, and based in England, Mexico, Argentina, Africa, Belgium, Venezuela and France, had to offer. Once again it had the backing of old, familiar contributors like Felipe Alaiz, Jose Peirats, Benjamin Cano Ruiz, Liberto Sarrau, Cristobal Garcia and Amador Franco and its pages were opened now to new talents like Raul Carballeira, Cristobal Parra, Moises Martin, Jose Galdo, Mejias Pena, Liberto Lucarini, Liberto Amoros. G. Germen and A. Roa, with Antonio Tellez outstanding as a talented illustrator without whom 'Ruta' would not have been what it came to be in that stage of its exile, deserving of a special mention.
When the world war ended, the naive logic of some libertarians among them, led them to believe that it would mean the end of Francoism too, and it was at that time that hundreds of young people from the FIJL went to Spain in a sort of "midwife" capacity, to help with the birth of a free Spain. The role of these young folk, many of whom were never to return, having given their lives in an unequal and suicidal battle with Franco's huge repressive machinery, gives the lie in no uncertain manner to those who claim that, while Franco lived, the anarchists had withdrawn to their "winter quarters".
These same young people were behind the publication, inside Spain, of our libertarian press. 'Juventud Libre', 'Tierra y Libertad', 'Solidaridad Obrera' and 'Ruta' turned up regularly in Madrid and Barcelona. A lot of libertarians had a stand in this work, but particularly outstanding were a group of young people like Juan Cazorla, Raul Carballeira (killed on Montjuich on 26 July 1948 in an encounter with hundreds of killers operating under Qrlintela, the head of the Social Brigade, plus Guardia Civil and the "greys" or uniformed police) Liberto Sarrau, Mejias Pena, Liber Forti and others.
Simultaneously 'Ruta' continued to be issued from Toulouse and managed to "scoop" its contemporaries 'CNT' in Toulouse and 'Solidaridad Obrera' of Paris by publishing first hand reports from inside Spain, from the pen of Julian Fuentes. the pseudonym of a young libertarian who was its correspondent inside Spain up to the time when he too was captured in Barcelona.
In 1947, Jose Peirats came to France as the delegate from Venezuela to the Second Congress of Local Federations of the MLE (Spanish Libertarian Movement) in Exile. While he had been staying in America 'Ruta' had published long articles by him, which were later collected and published as 'Estampas del Exilio en America' (Portraits from Exile in America). The illustrations for issues of 'Ruta' were by Jesus Guillen, "Guilember" arguably, along with Antonio Lamolla, the most outstanding painter and illustrator 'Ruta' was able to call upon. Peirats rose to be Secretary General of the InterContinental Committee of the MLJ in Exile and proved of first class assistance in strengthening the Libertarian Youth and 'Ruta', being, briefly, the director of that publication. In his capacity as Secretary he made two trips into Spain, thereby becoming the first militant occupying such an elevated position in the organisation to risk the clutches of the enemy.
The ingenuousness of libertarians was not endless. The democracies showed that they could lay their dreams for the post war era to sleep in all conscience with an ally of Hitler and Mussolini still holding sway over South-west Europe. In addition, France went Gaullist in 1958 and one of the first steps taken by the French government was to prohibit the publication of the Spanish anti Franco press. 'Ruta's publication was suspended, something which young libertarians in France attempted to remedy with the publishing of 'Neueva Senda' (New Route) as an internal bulletin with the choice of name attempting to maintain some connection with 'Ruta' (Road), but the paper died out a few years later.
It was at this point that young Spanish libertarians whom exile had brought to the shores of Venezuela decided that the phoenix would rise once more from the ashes and began to issue 'Ruta' from bases in the Americas.
Two test issues in duplicated form were issued until, with 13 October 1962, on the occasion of the fifty-third anniversary of the execution by firing-squad of Francisco Ferrer, the first of what might be considered the current run of 'Ruta' saw the light of day.
There have been many stages in the life of the Venezuelan 'Ruta', the first lasting from the issue mentioned up to issue number 60 in October 1967.
It began life with a crude lay-out and stencilled pages and evolved maintaining the same 21cm x 28cm format until today it is entirely printed in offset form. It was typified by the variety of its subjects, although a section was set aside for book reviews and revolutionary odds and ends each month. Apart from Victor Garcia, who has occupied the position of editor in chief since its inception, its contributors have included such renowned anarchists as Gaston Leval, Octavio Alberola, Benjamin Cano Ruiz, Fontaura, Jose Vallina, Carlos Zimmerman, Lone, Elgen Relgis, Marcelino Garcia, Ismale Viadiu, Munoz Cota, Cosme Paules, Vladimir Munoz, Pedro Bargallo, Felix Alvarez Ferreras, Floreal Castilla, Hermoso Plaja, Jose Peirats, Campio Carpio, Serrano Gonzalez, Solano Palacio, Panayot Chivicot, Tato Lorenzo and others.
In connection with the first stage, mention must be made of the contribution made by Vicente Sierra, a tireless worker whose A.B. Dick offset enabled 'Ruta' to set a standard in no way inferior to a professional job when it came to the difficult art of printing.
When we come to the second stage, we find each issue given over in its entirety to monographs in such a way that with each issue we have a topic exhaustively dealt with by one or two writers. On account of the modest offset machine acquired for the purpose, the format has been reduced to 17cm x 24cm with 28 to 36 pages each issue, depending on the demands of the topic under examination.
In this, the second stage, contributors have also been prominent figures in the anarchist camp. We might mention Peirats again, Fontaura, Victor Garcia, Alberola, Benjamin Cano Ruiz, Floreal Castilla, names well known to readers of 'Ruta' in its first stage. Plus newcomers like Tomas Cano Ruiz, Angel Cappelletti, Nicolas Walter, Paul Avrich, David Wieck, Jose Ribas, Francisco Olaya, Murray Bookchin, Juan Gomez Casas, Carlos M. Rama, Eduardo Vlvancos, Salvador Cano Carrillo, Carlos Diaz, Floreal Castilla, Quipo Amauta . . .
In so far as their means allow, the editorial group behind 'Ruta' in Venezuela have not neglected other propaganda and issue along with the review, a number of what we might call major works such as booklets, books, and even a multi-coloured calendar. 2
Furthermore, they were part of the group whose initiative made possible the reissuing, for a second time, in French of 'L'Encyclopedie Anarchiste', the idea and largely the work of Sebastien Faure. 3
The shift of the Spanish situation towards less obscurantism and more freedom leads one to think that 'Ruta' of Venezuela ...
(Translated by Paul Sharkey)
Translation published in 'The Cienfuegos Press Anarchist Review' Number 4, 1978 as 'Contributions to the history of anarchism "Ruta"'
Text taken from http://struggle.ws/spain/ruta.html
- 1 'Piel Roja' (Red Skin) is still a nickname for anti-collaborationist libertarians, while the moderates and advocates of collaboration are known as 'pajaros carpinteros' (woodpeckers) a term lifted from Rudolf Rocker's work: 'The Curse of Practicality'.
- 2Among the booklets we might mention: 'Spain Today', 'Franco and the Fifth Commandment', 'Judgement against Franco' all by Victor Garcia, and 'Anarchism' by Kropotkin. And among the books 'The Workers' International', also by Victor Garcia
- 3This task has been realised in its entirety thanks to the tenacity of Vicente Sierra. RUTA: G. Gracia, Apartado 61881, Caracas, Venezuela
Between the war and the Revolution - Camillo Berneri
Italian anarchist volunteer Camillo Berneri, speculates on the possibility of intervention in the Spanish Civil War.
There are many among us who have arrived at the point of describing the armed intervention of powers which have economic and military interests opposed to those of Italy and Germany.
If these two nations enter the lists with all the forces that they have at their disposal, it is clear that only the intervention of Russia, France and Great Britain reunited could assure Spanish anti-fascism of victory in the war. But it is also clear that before the armed intervention of these powers could crush the fascist forces, enough time could have elapsed to allow the fascists to crush the revolutionary forces.
The English and French capitalist states have an interest in preventing the victory of the Spanish fascists coming to the point at which it is exploited by Italy and Germany, but they have no interest in seeing the Iberian revolution triumph. In the situation in which Italy and Germany were to intervene in Spain with the immediate intention of attacking France (a surprise attack in the western Mediterranean), it would be possible that Great Britain and Russia would intervene immediately. But it such were not the case, it would be possible for the Spanish Revolution to be crushed before the intervention could take place.
We cannot place any hope, as do certain naive and numerous hypocrite, in the paralytic of Lake Geneva. Madrid is being tortured by Fiats, Capronis and Junkers piloted by Italian and German aviators; The Balearics are subject to the terrorising dictatorship of a close-cropped Italian fascist, and thousands of German and Italian mercenaries are landing in Spain with arms and baggage. The Italo - German armed intervention could not be more obvious, more active, more engrossing. The appeals sent to the League of Nations by the Spanish Government found an assembly of spontaneously deaf men ludicrously occupied in tangling up procedural chicaneries.
We cannot hope for more France In the same way as Eden placed in the scales of international justice the independence of Ethiopia and world war, Blum has placed there the liberty of the Spanish people and world war. 'War: that is the ransom. We do not accept it!'
No one hates war more than us, but we believe that the moment has come when the truth of the phrase once stated by Leon Blum will be proved: "We must accept the possibility of war to save peace."
The policy of non-intervention has not stopped Bolivia attacking Uruguay to dispute its right to the Chaco, it has not stopped Japan annexing Manchuria, it has not stopped Italy's fierce conquest of Ethiopia. Pacifism follows a road paved, like that to Hell, with good intentions, but this road leads into the abyss.
The peace of Geneva is heavy with massacres and ruins. The peace of Geneva: it is an arms race, the crushing of the militarily most feeble peoples, it is the Italian Duce and the German Fuhrer, ever more powerful and always helping in the creation of new Fascist states.
The International Trade Union Federation and the Socialist International continue to associate themselves with this tactic of non-intervention supported by the French and English governments, and during this time, the Fascist intervention has penetrated to the very heart of Spain. The mass of working people must choose: either their intervention or the triumph of Fascism. And they do not move. It is in vain that they repeat: "Spain is the scene of a struggle which, by its consequences, goes beyond the frontiers of the country, because it is in Spain that Fascism is playing its last card."
We must not overestimate the imperialist designs of the Italo - German intervention and envisage them exclusively in relation to future developments in their Mediterranean expansion. Spain is for Mussolini and Hitler an immediate conquest, a current problem. Overcoming the Spanish revolution is equivalent for Italian and German fascism to the conquest of Spain. Fascism victorious in Spain means the revolution broken and the way open to imperialist conquests. This will therefore mean war, the enslaving of the European proletariat, a 'new Middle Ages.'
The French and English proletariat will do nothing to help the Spanish proletariat. It is useless for us to delude ourselves. It would be dishonest to do it to ourselves.
And so it is the Spanish revolution that is in danger, whatever may be the outcome of the Civil War.
A surprise armed intervention on the part of Britain, Russia and France is not likely, but such an intervention would not be at all impossible at the moment when Spain is on the point of dying. This would be the intervention of the lions against the hyenas. It would perhaps be the intervention that would snatch Spain from Italo - German imperialism, but it would be to stifle the fire of the Spanish Revolution.
Already today, Spain is between two fires Burgos and Moscow.
The strength of the Spanish Anarcho-syndicalist movement must not dazzle us. On the day when the army corps of France Britain and Russia intervene after an exhausting struggle between the revolutionary forces and the Hispano - Italo - German Fascist coalition, on that day the Social Revolution will be halted and the way opened to the bourgeois revolution.
Once Fascism has been crushed it is possible that the Anarcho-syndicalist FAI and CNT will continue to fight to achieve their social programme. But in that case the Socialist communist bloc will oppose them.
It is 'Le Populaire' of 27th November, 1936 which gives us this view.
The Republicans, the Socialist leaders and the Communists are already agreed on a 'constitutionalist' platform. The Executive Committee of the Spanish Communist Party recently declared that in the current struggle it intends to defend democracy and safeguard private property. There is a smell of Noske in the air. If Madrid were not in flames, one would be obliged to recall Kronstadt again. But the policy of Madrid is on the point of triumphing. It has refused arms or money to revolutionary Catalonia in order to place itself in the hands of the USSR which has provided arms and the officers who are destined to control the anti-fascist struggle and to halt the development of the Social Revolution in the armed struggle against Fascism.
The dilemma 'Madrid or Franco' has paralysed Spanish Anarchism. Today Barcelona is situated between Burgos, Rome, Berlin, Madrid add Moscow. Besieged.
Black clouds are building up on the horizon and we are blinded by fogs.
Let us set our lights and hold the tiller with a hand of steel. We are on the high seas and the tempest is raging. But we can still perform miracles. Caught between the Prussians and Versailles, the commune lit a fire which still lights the world.
Between Burgos and Madrid there is Barcelona.
Let the Godets of Moscow think on that
Article which appeared in 'Guerra di Class' No. 6, 16th December 1936.
Translation published in 'The Cienfuegos Press Anarchist Review' Number 4, 1978
Taken from Anarchy Is Order
On militarisation of the militias
Interview with Italian anarchist militant, Camillo Berneri, in Spain on the situation of the revolution and war.
Interview in 'Spain and the World'
The first question we asked Camillo Berneri concerns the military situation as he saw it.
"I have no special skill in military technique", he replied, "but I can inform you of the impressions I received on the Huesca Front which I know well because I have fulfilled in turn the roles of ordinary Militia man, of political delegate of the 'Italian section' of the Ascaso Column and now of delegate to the Defence Council. I have the impression that the militia has made great advances. At the start, one was aware of a great lack of experience in the struggle against modern engines of war: for example time was wasted in shooting at aircraft flying at high altitudes, automatic weapons were neglected in favour of those which comrades were used to handling; the problem of roads was abandoned; ammunition was in short supply; liaison between different arms and units was defective and sometimes absolutely zero.
"At the present moment the militia-men have profited from the lessons of the last six months, transport has begun to be rationalised, roads are being repaired, equipment is more abundant and better distributed, and into the 'mind of the column' is slipping this idea; the necessity of co-ordinating command.
"We are forming divisions, and this will complete the economic plan of war, and the best known representatives of the CNT and the FAI have made themselves its supporters. In fact, it was these two organisations which were the first to propose a united command in order to be able to exert a decisive pressure on the weak points of the enemy lines, to relieve the pressure which the enemy is exerting on besieged towns and to prevent unfavourable manoeuvres and concentrations"
So, we observed, there is some good in militarisation"
"Certainly," Berneri replied with conviction, "but there is a distinction to be made: there is on the one side military formalism which is not only ridiculous, but also useless and dangerous, and on the other side there is self-discipline. The latter can be extremely strict, as is the case in the Durruti Column. Military formalism can be met, for example, in certain columns controlled by the Workers Party for Marxist Unification (Partido Obrero de Unificacion Marxista, POUM). When one asserts, as is written in the code of duty of the Uribarri Column, that "the soldier who knows how to salute properly also knows how to fight", one is guilty of stupidity reminiscent of Frederick II or Peter the Great.
"For my part I support a legitimate compromise: we must neither lapse into military formalism not into superstitious anti-militarism. By accepting and achieving the reforms imposed on us by the nature of things, we shall by the self-same means, be in a position to resist the manoeuvres of Madrid and Moscow, which are trying to establish, under the pretext of militarisation, their military hegemony over the Spanish Revolution, in order to transform it into the instrument of their political hegemony.
"As for myself, I consider it a mistake to talk, as do certain representatives of the CNT-FAI of an overall or 'supreme' command instead of a unity of command. (That is to say co-ordination in matters of the control of the armed struggle). Their intentions are good, but the terms used leads to dangerous confusion's!
"All things considered, therefore, the reforms needed in the militia, in my opinion, would be the following: a clear distinction between military command and political control, in the domain of the preparation and execution of the operations of war; strict fulfilment of orders received, but maintenance of certain fundamental rights: that of nominating and degrading officers."
At this point the following question came to our lips: "What do you think of the internal political situations as regards the position taken by the CNT and FAI?"
"The necessity of Holy Alliance of all anti-fascist forces has led the Spanish anarchists to consider as 'comrades' many of their enemies of yesterday and to accept from their hands a part of the governmental responsibilities. It is not easy to draw up an exact balance sheet of the profit's and losses deriving from this experience, but I think that today we have sufficient information for appraisal to be alarmed at the Russo-Bolshevik infiltration into military and technical spheres, adding itself to the dictatorial designs of the Marxist parties. On this last point, one can see a certain weakening of the CNT, and the situation is dangerous. But I hope that we shall overcome it victoriously, because among the Spanish anarchists, there is no lack of men who see clearly and understand the necessity of returning as soon as possible to the right path."
And collectivisation is it progressing?
"It is progressing to a certain extent, as you could realise yourselves. One must be ignorant and of bad faith to talk, as certain dissident Communists are doing, of a 'deadpoint' in the social revolution in Spain or to represent the Spanish anarchists as 'conservatives' (exactly when collectivisation is spreading and strengthening itself in regions, like the Levant and Catalonia, where the anarchists have the greatest influence),
"If there is a conservative faction on the left, it is composed without doubt, of the right-wingers of Spanish Social-Democracy and of the orthodox organisations of Russian Bolshevism. For us the struggle is on between Fascism and Libertarian Communism. For the 'moderates,' it is simply a matter of the defence of democracy. But although the political horizons are distinct and opposed, the plan of battle reunites all the factions on the left. The main thing is to know whether the 'comrades' who are opposed to the social revolution will go so far in limiting it as to betray the promise they have given."
Comrade Berneri was on the point of leaving us, and we hastened to put a last question: "What do you think of the behaviour of the Popular Front Government in France as regards Rome and Berlin's policy of intervention"
"It is as cowardly as it is stupid. The Fascists have bombed Port-Bou, an international station and the French government has stopped sending trains in that direction! Another bombing of an Air France plane and no French machine will cross the border of the Pyrenee's! Now France is busy preventing anti-fascists from coming to fight in Spain, while the governments of Hitler and Mussolini continue to send men, arms, planes and ammunition to the Fascist forces. A reasonable policy of support for the Spanish government would have allowed the anti-fascist militias to sort out the military mutiny in a few days. But the French government persists in believing neutrality is possible while it constitutes encouragement to the triple alliance of Hitler, Mussolini and Franco. Only broad-based and decisive popular action in France and Britain can force the respective governments of these countries to, adopt a less absurd behaviour."
(Translation from L'Espagne Nouvelle, February 1937).
Translation published in 'The Cienfuegos Press Anarchist Review' Number 4, 1978
Starship Stormtroopers: Michael Moorcock
An essay by Michael Moorcock on the saturation of Fascistic and authoritarian themes and messages in Science Fiction literature.
There are still a few things which bring a naive sense of shocked astonishment to me whenever I experience them -- a church service in which the rituals of Dark Age superstition are performed without any apparent sense of incongruity in the participants -- a fat Soviet bureaucrat pontificating about bourgeois decadence -- a radical singing the praises of Robert Heinlein. If I were sitting in a tube train and all the people opposite me were reading Mein Kampf with obvious enjoyment and approval it probably wouldn't disturb me much more than if they were reading Heinlein, Tolkein or Richard Adams. All this visionary fiction seems to me to have a great deal in common. Utopian fiction has been predominantly reactionary in one form or another (as well as being predominantly dull) since it began. Most of it warns the world of 'decadence' in its contemporaries and the alternatives are usually authoritarian and sweeping -- not to say simple-minded. A look at the books on sale to Cienfuegos customers shows the same old list of Lovecraft and Rand, Heinlein and Niven, beloved of so many people who would be horrified to be accused of subscribing to the Daily Telegraph or belonging to the Monday Club and yet are reading with every sign of satisfaction views by writers who would make Telegraph editorials look like the work of Bakunin and Monday Club members sound like spokesmen for the Paris Commune.
Some years ago I remember reading an article by John Pilgrim in Anarchy in which he claimed Robert Heinlein as a revolutionary leftist writer. As a result of this article I could not for years bring myself to buy another issue. I'd been confused in the past by listening to hardline Communists offering views that were somewhat at odds with their anti-authoritarian claims, but I'd never expected to hear similar things from anarchists. My experience of science fiction fans at the conventions which are held annually in a number of countries (mainly the US and England) had taught me that those who attended were reactionary (claiming to be 'apolitical' but somehow always happy to vote Tory and believe Colin Jordan to 'have a point'). I always assumed these were for one reason or another the exceptions among sf enthusiasts. Then the underground papers began to emerge and I found myself in sympathy with most of their attitudes -- but once again I saw the old arguments aired: Tolkein, C. S. Lewis, Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov and the rest, bourgeois reactionaries to a man, Christian apologists, crypto-Stalinists, were being praised in IT, Frendz and Oz and everywhere else by people whose general political ideals I thought I shared. I started writing about what I thought was the implicit authoritarianism of these authors and as often as not found myself accused of being reactionary, elitist or at very best a spoilsport who couldn't enjoy good sf for its own sake. But here I am again at Stuart Christie's request, to present arguments which I have presented more than once before.
During the sixties, in common with many other periodicals, our New Worlds believed in revolution. Our emphasis was on fiction, the arts and sciences, because it was what we knew best. We attacked and were in turn attacked in the all-to-familiar rituals. Smiths refused to continue distributing the magazine unless we 'toned down' our contents. We refused. We were, they said, obscene, blasphemous, nihilistic etc., etc. The Daily Express attacked us. A Tory asked a question about us in the House of Commons -- why was public money (a small Arts Council grant) being spent on such filth. I recount all this not merely to establish what we were prepared to do to maintain our policies (we were eventually wiped out by Smiths and Menzies) but to point out that we were the only sf magazine to pursue what you might call a determinedly radical approach -- and sf buffs were the first to attack us with genuine vehemence. Our main serial running at the height of our troubles was called Bug Jack Barron written by Norman Spinrad, who had taken an active part in radical politics in the US and used his story to display the abuse of democracy and the media in America. He later went on to write a satirical sword-and-sorcery epic, The Iron Dream, intended to display the fascist elements inherent to the form. The author of this novel existed, as it were, in an alternate history to our own. His name was Adolf Hitler. The book was meant to point up the number of sf authors who were, in a sense, 'unsuccessful Hitlers'.
Many Americans came to use NW as a vehicle because they couldn't get their stories published in the US. Thomas M. Disch, John Sladek, Harvey Jacobs, Harlan Ellison and others published a good deal of their best and at the time most controversial work in NW -- and Heinlein fans actually attacked us for 'destroying' science fiction. Escapism this form might be, but it posed as a 'literature of ideas' and that, we contended, it wasn't -- unless The Green Berets was a profoundly philosophical movie.
Another example: in 1967 Judith Merril, a founder member of The Science Fiction Writers of America, an ex-Trotskyist turned libertarian, proposed that ' this Organisation would buy advertising space in the sf magazines condemning the war in Vietnam. I was around when this was proposed. A good number of members agreed with alacrity -- including English members like myself, John Brunner, Brian Aldiss, Robert Silverberg and Harry Harrison were keen, as were Harlan Ellison, James Blish and, to be fair, Frank Herbert and Larry Niven. But quite as many were outraged by the idea, saying that the SFWA 'shouldn't interfere in politics.' Okay, said Merril, then let's say 'The following members of the SFWA condemn American involvement in the Vietnam War etc.' Finally the sf magazines contained two ads -- one against the war and one in support of American involvement. Those in support included Poul Anderson, Robert Heinlein, Ann MaCaffrey, Daniel F. Galouye, Keith Laumer and as many other popular sf writers as were against the war. The interesting thing was that at the time many of the pro-US-involvement writers were (and by and large still are) the most popular sf writers in the English-speaking world, let alone Japan, the Soviet Union, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, where a good many sf readers think of themselves as radicals. One or two of these writers (British as well as American) are dear friends of mine who are personally kindly and courageous people of considerable integrity -- but their political statements (if not always, by any means, their actions) are stomach-turning! Most people have to be judged by their actions rather than their remarks, which are often surprisingly at odds. Writers, when they are writing, can only be judged on the substance of their work. The majority of the sf writers most popular with radicals are by and large crypto-fascists to a man and woman! There is Lovecraft, the misogynic racist; there is Heinlein, the authoritarian militarist; there is Ayn Rand, the rabid opponent of trade unionism and the left, who, like many a reactionary before her, sees the problems of the world as a failure by capitalists to assume the responsibilities of 'good leadership'; there is Tolkein and that group of middle-class Christian fantasists who constantly sing the praises of bourgeois virtues and whose villains are thinly disguised working class agitators -- fear of the Mob permeates their rural romances. To all these and more the working class is a mindless beast which must be controlled or it will savage the world (i.e. bourgeois security) -- the answer is always leadership, 'decency', paternalism (Heinlein in particularly strong on this), Christian values...
What can this stuff have in common with radicals of any persuasion? The simple answer is, perhaps, Romance. The dividing line between rightist Romance (Nazi insignia and myth etc.) and leftist Romance (insurgent cavalry etc.) is not always easy to determine. A stirring image is a stirring image and can be ,employed to raise all sorts of atavistic or infantile emotions in us. Escapist or 'genre' fiction appeals to these emotions. It does us no harm to escape from time to time but it can be dangerous to confuse simplified fiction with reality and that, of course, is what propaganda does.
The bandit hero -- the underdog rebel -- so frequently becomes the political tyrant; and we are perpetually astonished! Such figures appeal to our infantile selves -- what is harmful about them in real life is that they are usually immature, without self-discipline, frequently surviving on their 'charm'. Fiction lets them stay, like Zorro or Robin Hood, perpetually charming. In reality they become petulant, childish, relying on a mixture of threats and self-pitying pleading, like any baby. These are too often the revolutionary figures on whom we pin our hopes, to whom we sometimes commit our lives and whom we sometimes try to be; because we fail to distinguish fact from fiction. In reality it is too often the small, fanatical men with the faces and stance of neurotic clerks who come to power while the charismatic heroes, if they are lucky, die gloriously, leaving us to discover that while we have been following them, imitating them, a new Tsar has manipulated himself into the position of power and Terror has returned with a vengeance while we have been using all our energies living a romantic lie. Heroes betray us. By having them, in real life, we betray ourselves. The heroes of Heinlein and Ayn Rand are forever competent, forever right: they are oracles and protectors, magic parents (so long as we obey their rules). They are prepared to accept the responsibilities we would rather not bear. They are 'leaders'. Traditional sf is hero fiction on a huge scale, but it is only when it poses as a fiction of ideas that it becomes completely pernicious. At its most spectacular it gives us Charlie Manson and Scientology (invented by the sf writer Ron Hubbard and an authoritarian system to rival the Pope's). To enjoy it is one thing. To claim it as 'radical' is quite another. It is rather unimaginative; it is usually badly written; its characters are ciphers; its propaganda is simple-minded and conservative -- good old-fashioned opium which might be specifically designed for dealing with the potential revolutionary.
In a writer like Lovecraft a terror of sex often combines (or is confused for) a terror of the masses, the 'ugly' crowd. But this is so common to so much 'horror' fiction that it's hardly worth discussing. Lovecraft is morbid. His work equates to that negative romanticism found in much Nazi art. He was a confused anti-Semite and misanthrope, a promoter of anti-rationalist ideas about racial 'instinct' which have much in common with Mein Kampf. A dedicated supporter of 'Aryanism', a hater of women, he wound up marrying a Jewess (which might or might not have been a sign of hope -- we haven't her view of the matter)Lovecraft appeals to us primarily when we are ourselves feeling morbid. Apart from his offensively awful writing and a resultant inability to describe his horrors (leaving us to do the work -- the secret of his success -- we're all better writers than he is!) he is rarely as frightening, by implication, as most of the other highly popular writers whose concerns are not with 'meeping Things' but with idealised versions of society. It's not such a big step, for instance from Farnham's Freehold to Hitler's Lebensraum.
I must admit I'm not following a properly argued critical line. I'm arguing on the assumption that my readers are at least familiar with some of the books and authors I mention. I attack these books because they are the favourite reading of so many radicals. I attack the books not for their superficial fascination with quasi-medieval social systems (a la Frank Herbert). Fiction about kings and queens is not necessarily royalist fiction any more than fiction about anarchists is likely to be libertarian fiction. As a writer I have produced a good many fantastic romances in which kings and queens, lords and ladies, figure largely -- yet I am an avowed anti-monarchist. Catch 22 never seemed to me to be in favour of militarism. And just because many of Heinlein's characters are soldiers or ex-soldiers I don't automatically assume he must therefore be in favour of war. It depends what use you make of such characters in a story and what, in the final analysis, you are saying.
Jules Verne in The Masterless Man put some pretty decent sentiments in the mouth of Kaw-djer the anarchist and his best characters, like Captain Nemo, are embittered 'rebels' who have retreated from society. Even the aerial anarchists of The Angel of the Revolution by George Griffiths have something to be said for them, for all their inherent authoritarianism, but they are essentially romantic 'outlaws' and the views they express are not sophisticated even by the standards of the 1890s.
H.G. Wells was no more the 'father' of science fiction than Jules Verne. He inherited a tradition going back some thirty or forty years in the form he himself used and several centuries in the form of the Utopian romance. What was unusual about Wells, however, is that he was one of the first radicals of his time to take the trappings of the scientific romance and combine them with powerful and telling images to make Bunyanesque allegories like The Time Machine or The Invisible Man. Wells didn't have his characters talking socialism. He showed the results of capitalism, authoritarianism, superstition and other evils and because he was a far better writer than most of those who have ever written sf before or since he made his points with considerable clarity. Morris had been long-winded and backward-looking. Wells took the techniques of Kipling and preached his own brand of socialism. Until Wells -- the most talented, original and intelligent writer of his kind -- almost all sf had devoted itself to attacks on 'decadence' and military unpreparedness, urging our leaders to take a stronger moral line and our armies to re-equip and get better officers. By and large this was the tone of much of the sf which followed Wells, from Kipling's effective but reactionary With the Night Mail and As Easy as ABC (paternalistic aerial controllers whose rays pacify 'the mob') to stories by John Buchan, Michael Arlen, William Le Quex, E. Phillips Oppenheim and hundreds of others who predominantly were following Kipling in warning us of the dangers of socialism, mixed marriages, free love, anarchist plots, Zionist conspiracies, the yellow peril and so on and so on. Even Jack London wasn't what one might call an all-round libertarian any more than Wells was when he toyed with his ideas of an elite corps of 'samurai' who were actually not a great deal different to how Soviet Communist Party members saw themselves, or were described in official fiction and propaganda. The quasi-religious nature of sf (which I describe in a collection of pre-WWI sf Before Armageddon) was producing on the whole quasi-religious substitutes (a variety of authoritarian socialist and fascist theories). A few attacked the theories of the emerging dictators (Murray Constantine's Swastika Night, 1937, seemed to think Christianity could conquer Hitler but is otherwise a pretty incisive projection of Nazism several hundred years in the future). By and large the world we got in the thirties was the world the sf writers of the day hoped we would have -- 'strong leaders' reshaping nations. The reality of these hero-leaders was not, of course, entirely what had been visualised -- Nuremberg rallies and Strength Through Joy, perhaps -- but Kristellnacht and gas ovens seemed to go a bit too far.
At least the American pulp magazines like Amazing Stories and Thrilling Wonder Stories were not, by and large, offering us high-profile 'leadership': just the good old-fashioned mixture of implicit racialism/militarism/nationalism/paternalism carried a few hundred years into the future or a few million light years into space (E. E. Smith remains to this day one of the most popular writers of that era). John W. Campbell, who in the late thirties took over Astounding Science Fiction Stories and created what many believe to be a major revolution in the development of sf, was the chief creator of the school known to buffs as 'Golden Age' sf and written by the likes of Heinlein, Asimov and A.E. Van Vogt wild-eyed paternalists to a man, fierce anti-socialists, whose work reflected the deep-seated conservatism of the majority of their readers, who saw a Bolshevik menace in every union meeting. They believed, in common with authoritarians everywhere, that radicals wanted to take over old-fashioned political power, turn the world into a uniform mass of 'workers' with themselves (the radicals) as commissars. They offered us such visions, when they attempted any overt discussion of politics at all. They were about as left-wing as The National Enquirer or The Saturday Evening Post (where their stories occasionally were to appear). They were xenophobic, smug and confident that the capitalist system would flourish throughout the universe, though they were, of course, against dictators and the worst sort of exploiters (no longer Jews but often still 'aliens'). Rugged individualism was the most sophisticated political concept they could manage -- in the pulp tradition, the Code of the West became the Code of the Space Frontier, and a spaceship captain had to do what a spaceship captain had to do...
The war helped. It provided character types and a good deal of authoritative-sounding technological terms which could be applied to scientific hardware and social problems alike and sounded reassuringly 'expert'. Those chaps had the tone of Vietnam twenty years earlier. Indeed, it's often been shown that sf supplied a lot of the vocabulary and atmosphere for American military and space technology (a 'Waldo' handling machine is a name taken straight from a Heinlein story). Astounding became full of crew-cut wisecracking, cigar-chewing, competent guys (like Campbell's image of himself). But Campbell and his writers (and they considered themselves something of a unified team) were not producing Westerns. They claimed to be producing a fiction of ideas. These competent guys were suggesting how the world should be run. By the early fifties Astounding had turned by almost anyone's standard into a crypto-fascist deeply philistine magazine pretending to intellectualism and offering idealistic kids an 'alternative' that was, of course, no alternative at all. Through the fifties Campbell used his whole magazine as propaganda for the ideas he promoted in his editorials. His writers, by and large, were enthusiastic. Those who were not fell away from him, disturbed by his increasingly messianic disposition (Alfred Bester gives a good account of this). Over the years Campbell promoted the mystical, quasi-scientific Scientology (first proposed by one of his regular writers L. Ron Hubbard and aired for the first time in Astounding as 'Dianetics: The New Science of the Mind'), a perpetual motion machine known as the 'Dean Drive', a series of plans to ensure that the highways weren't 'abused', and dozens of other half-baked notions, all in the context of cold-war thinking. He also, when faced with the Watts riots of the mid-sixties, seriously proposed and went on to proposing that there were 'natural' slaves who were unhappy if freed. I sat on a panel with him in 1965, as he pointed out that the worker bee when unable to work dies of misery, that the moujiks when freed went to their masters and begged to be enslaved again, that the ideals of the anti-slavers who fought in the Civil War were merely expressions of self-interest and that the blacks were 'against' emancipation, which was fundamentally why they were indulging in 'leaderless' riots in the suburbs of Los Angeles! I was speechless (actually I said four words in all -- 'science-fiction' -- 'psychology' -- Jesus Christ!'- before I collapsed), leaving John Brunner to perform a cool demolition of Campbell's arguments, which left the editor calling on God in support of his views -- an experience rather more intense for me than watching Doctor Strangelove at the cinema.
Starship Troopers (serialised in Astounding as was most of Heinlein's fiction until the early sixties) was probably Heinlein's last 'straight' sf serial for Campbell before he began his 'serious' books such as Farnham's Freehold and Stranger in a Strange Land -- taking the simplified characters of genre fiction and producing some of the most ludicrously unlikely people ever to appear in print. In Starship Troopers we find a slightly rebellious cadet gradually learning that wars are inevitable, that the army is always right, that his duty is to obey the rules and protect the human race against the alien menace. It is pure debased Ford out of Kipling and it set the pattern for Heinlein's more ambitious paternalistic, xenophobic (but equally sentimental) stories which became for me steadily more hilarious until I realised with some surprise that people were taking them as seriously as they had taken, say, Atlas Shrugged a generation before -- in hundreds of thousands! That middle-America could regard such stuff as 'radical' was easy enough to understand. I kept finding that supporters of the Angry Brigade were enthusiastic about Heinlein, that people with whom I thought I shared libertarian principles were getting off on every paternalistic, bourgeois writer who had ever given me the creeps! I still can't fully understand it. Certainly I can't doubt the sincerity of their idealism. But how does it equate with their celebration of writers like Tolkein and Heinlein? The clue could be in the very vagueness of the prose, which allows for liberal interpretation; it could be that the ciphers they use instead of characters are capable of suggesting a wholly different meaning to certain readers. To me, their naive and emblematic reading of society is fundamentally misanthropic and therefore anti-libertarian. We are faced, once again, with quasi-religion, presented to us as radicalism. At best it is the philosophy of the Western applied to the complex social problems of the twentieth century -- it is Reaganism, it is John Wayne in Big John Maclean and The Green Berets, it is George Wallace and Joe McCarthy -- at its most refined it is William F. Buckley Jr., who, already a long way more sophisticated than Heinlein, is still pretty simple-minded.
Rugged individualism also goes hand in hand with a strong faith in paternalism -- albeit a tolerant and somewhat distant paternalism -- and many otherwise sharp-witted libertarians seem to see nothing in the morality of a John Wayne Western to conflict with their views. Heinlein's paternalism is at heart the same as Wayne's. In the final analysis it is a kind of easy-going militarism favoured by the veteran professional soldier -- the chain of command is complex -- many adult responsibilities can be left to that chain as long as broad, but firmly enforced, rules from 'high up' are adhered to. Heinlein is Eisenhower Man and his views seem to me to be more pernicious than ordinary infantile back-to-the-land Christian communism, with its mysticism and its hatred of technology. To be an anarchist, surely, is to reject authority but to accept self-discipline and community responsibility. To be a rugged individualist a la Heinlein and others is to be forever a child who must obey, charm and cajole to be tolerated by some benign, omniscient father: Rooster Coburn shuffling his feet in front of a judge he respects for his office (but not necessarily himself) in True Grit.
An anarchist is not a wild child, but a mature, realistic adult imposing laws upon the self and modifying them according to an experience of life, an interpretation of the world. A 'rebel', certainly, he or she does not assume 'rebellious charm' in order to placate authority (which is what the rebel heroes of all these genre stories do). There always comes the depressing point where Robin Hood doffs a respectful cap to King Richard, having clobbered the rival king. This sort of implicit paternalism is seen in high relief in the currently popular Star Wars series which also presents a somewhat disturbing anti-rationalism in its quasi-religious 'Force' which unites the Jedi Knights (are we back to Wellsian 'samurai' again?) and upon whose power they can draw, like some holy brotherhood, some band of Knights Templar. Star Wars is a pure example of the genre (in that it is a compendium of other people's ideas) in its implicit structure -- quasi-children, fighting for a paternalistic authority, win through in the end and stand bashfully before the princess while medals are placed around their necks.
Star Wars carries the paternalistic messages of almost all generic adventure fiction (may the Force never arrive on your doorstep at three o'clock in the morning) and has all the right characters. it raises 'instinct' above reason (a fundamental to Nazi doctrine) and promotes a kind of sentimental romanticism attractive to the young and idealistic while protective of existing institutions. It is the essence of a genre that it continues to promote certain implicit ideas even if the author is unconscious of them. In this case the audience also seems frequently unconscious of them.
It was Alfred Bester who first attracted me to science fiction. I'd read some fantasy and Edgar Rice Burroughs before that, but I thought that if The Stars My Destination (also called Tiger! Tiger!) was sf, then this was the fiction for me. It took me some years to realise that Bester was one of the few exceptions. At the ending of The Stars My Destination the self-educated, working class, 'scum of the spaceways', Gully Foyle, comes into possession of the substance known as PyrE, capable of detonating at a thought and probably destroying the solar system at very least. The plot has revolved around the attempts of various powerful people to get hold of the stuff. Foyle has it. Moral arguments or forceful persuasions are brought against him to make him give PyrE up to a 'responsible' agency. In the end he scatters the stuff to 'the mob' of the solar system. Here you are, he says, it's yours. Its your destiny. Do with it how you see fit.
This is one of the very, very few 'libertarian' sf novels I have ever read. If I hadn't read it, I very much doubt I should have read any more sf. It's a wonderful adventure story. It has a hero developing from a completely stupefied, illiterate hand on a spaceship to a brilliant and mature individual taking his revenge first on those who have harmed him and then gradually developing what you might call a 'political conscience.' I know of no other sf book which so thoroughly combines romance with an idealism almost wholly acceptable to me. It is probably significant that it enjoys a relatively small success compared to, say, Stranger in a Strange Land.
Leaving aside the very worthy but to my mind journalistic The Dispossessed by U.K. Le Guin, it is quite hard for me to find many other examples of sf books which, as it were, 'promote' libertarian ideas. M. John Harrison is an anarchist. His books are full of anarchists -- some of them very bizarre like the anarchist aesthetes of The Centauri Device. Typical of the New Worlds school he could be described as an existential anarchist. There is Brian Aldiss with his Barefoot in the Head vision of an LSD 'bombed' Europe almost totally liberated and developing bizarre new customs. There are J. G. Ballard's 'terminal ironies' such as The Atrocity Exhibition and Crash and so on, which have brought criticisms of 'nihilism' against him. There is Joanna Russ's marvellous The Female Man. So little sf has fundamental humanitarian values, let alone libertarian ideals, one is hard put to find other examples. My own taste, I suppose, is sometimes at odds with my political views. I admire Barrington J. Bayley, whose stories are often extremely abstract. One of his most enjoyable books recently published is The Soul of the Robot which discusses the nature of individual identity. Charles L. Harness is another favourite of mine. The Rose, in particular, lacks the simplifications of most sf, and The Paradox Men with its sense of the nature of Time, its thief hero, its ironic references to America Imperial, is highly entertaining. I also have a soft spot for C. M. Kornbluth who to my mind had a rather stronger political conscience than he allowed himself, so that his stories are sometimes confused as he tried to mesh middle-American ideas with his own radicalism. One of my favourites (though structurally it is a bit weak) is The Syndic (about a society where a rather benign Mafia is paramount). Fritz Leiber is probably the best of the older American sf writers for his prose-style, his wit and his humanity, as well as his abiding contempt for authoritarianism. His Gather, Darkness is one of the best sf books to relate political power to religious power (this was also serialised in Astounding during the forties . John Brunner, author of the CND marching song 'H-Bomb's Thunder', often writes from a distinctly socialist point of view. Harlan Ellison, who for some time had associations with a New York street gang and who has identified himself for many years with radicalism in the US, writes many short stories whose heroes have no truck with authority of any sort, though the conventions of the genre sometimes get in the way of the essential messages of his stories. This has to be true of most genre fiction. Ellison's best work is written outside the sf genre. Philip K. Dick, John Sladek, Thomas M.Disch, Joanna Russ...
To my mind one of the best examples of imaginative fiction to ear in England since the war is Maurice Richardson's The Exploits of Engelbrecht, written in the forties and recently republished by John Conquest (available from him at Compendium Books). These 'Chronicles of the Surrealist Sportman's Club' are superbly laconic pieces, concentrating more original invention into fewer words than almost any writer I can think of. They outshine, for me, almost anything else remotely like them, including the stories of Borges and other much admired imaginative writers. Richardson goes swiftly from one idea to the next, using a beautifully disciplined prose. He has the advantage of being a great ironist and I find that more palatable. Such a style can become one of the most convincing weapons in the literary arsenal and it often astonishes me how cleverly Kipling influenced generations of writers by disguising his authoritarian notions in that superb matter-of-fact, faintly ironic prose. Many writers, not necessarily of Kipling's views, have used it since. We find a debased version of it in the right-wing thrillers and sf novels of our own day. It is probably this 'tone' (employed to suggest the writer's basic decency and commonsense) which enables many people to accept ideas which, couched differently, would revolt them. Yet what Heinlein or Tolkein lack is any trace of real self-mockery. They are nature's urbane Tories. They'll put an arm round your shoulder and tell you their ideas are quite radical too, really; that they used to be fire-eaters in their youth; that there are different ways of achieving social change; that you must be realistic and pragmatic. Next time you pick up a Heinlein book think of the author as looking a bit like General Eisenhower or, if that image isn't immediate enough, some chap in early middleage, good-looking in a slightly soft way, with silver at the temples, a blue tie, a sober three-pieced suit, telling you with a quiet smile that Margaret Thatcher cares for individualism and opportunity above all things, as passionately in her way as you do in yours. And then you might have some idea of what you're actually about to read.
Michael Moorcock, May 1977, Ladbroke Grove
The anarchists in government in Spain: Open letter to comrade Federica Montseny - Camillo Berneri
Letter from Italian anarchist Camillo Berneri to anarchists in the Spanish Government during the revolution.
It was my intention to address myself to all you comrade ministers, but once the pen was in my hand, I addressed myself spontaneously to you alone and I did not wish to go against this instinctive impulse.
The fact that I am not always in agreement with you neither astonishes you nor irritates you, and you have shown yourself cordially oblivious to criticisms which it would almost always have been fair, because it is human, to consider as unjust and excessive. This is not a minor quality in my eyes, and it bears witness to the anarchist nature of our mind. It is a certainty that effectively compensates, as far as my natural friendship is concerned for the ideological peculiarities which you have often revealed in your articles in your very personal style and in your speeches of admirable eloquence.
I could not sit back and accept the identity that you claimed between Bakunist anarchism and the federalist Republicanism of Pi y Margall. I cannot pardon you for having written "that in Russia it was not Lenin the true builder of Russia, but Stalin in fact, the effective spirit, etc." And I applauded Voline's reply in 'Terre Libre' to your entirely false claims about the Russian anarchist movement.
But it is not about that that I wish to talk with you. On these matters, and indeed on others, I hope one day or another to talk to you personally. If I address you in public, it is about matters that are infinitely more serious, to remind you of the enormous responsibilities, of which you are perhaps not aware because of your modesty
In your speech of 3rd January, you said,
"The anarchists have come into the Government in order to prevent the Revolution from deviating from its course and in order to pursue it beyond the war, and also in order to oppose all possibility of dictatorial endeavours, wherever they should come from."
Well then, comrade, in April, after three months of collaborationist experience, we find ourselves face to face with a situation in the course of which serious actions are taking place, while other, worse ones are taking shape.
Where, as in the Basque country, in the Levant and in Castille, our movement is not imposed by grass-roots strength, in other words by vast ranks of unionists and by the preponderant adherence of the masses, the counter-revolution is oppressing people and threatens to crush everything. The Government is at Valencia and it is from there that assault guards are setting out, destined to disarm the revolutionary cells formed for defence. One calls to mind Casas-Viejas while thinking of Vilanesa1 . It is the civil guards and the assault guards who are retaining their arms; it is they too who in the rear must control the 'uncontrollable,' in other words disarm the revolutionary cells equipped with a few rifles and a few revolvers. This happens while the internal front has not been liquidated. This happens during the course of a civil war in which every surprise is possible and in regions where the front is very close and extremely jagged is not mathematically certain. This, while a political distribution of arms appears clearly, tending to arm only in strict necessity (strict necessity, which we hope will appear adequate) the Aragon Front, the armed guard of agrarian collectivisation in Aragon and buttress of Catalonia, that Iberian Ukraine. You are in a government that has offered France and Britain advantages in Morocco, whereas, since July 1936, it would have been necessary to proclaim of officially the political autonomy of Morocco. I can imagine what you, anarchist, must think of this affair which is as disgraceful as it is stupid; but I believe that the time has come to make it known that you and the other anarchist ministers are not in agreement as regards the nature and the purport of such propositions.
24th October 1936, I wrote in 'Guerra di Classe':
"The operational base of the Fascist army is Morocco. We must intensify our propaganda in favour of Moroccan autonomy throughout the pan-Islamic area of influence. We must dictate to Madrid unambiguous declarations announcing the abandonment of Morocco and the protection of Moroccan autonomy. France would anxiously envisage the possibility of insurrectionary repercussions in North Africa and Syria; Great Britain would see the movements for self-rule in Egypt and among Arabs in Palestine growing stronger. We must exploit such anxieties by means of a policy which threatens to unleash revolt throughout the Arab world.
"For such a policy we need money and we need urgently to send agitators and organisers as emissaries to all the centres of Arab migration, into all the frontier zones of French Morocco. On the fronts in Aragon, the Centre, the Asturias and Andalusia a few Moroccans would be enough to fulfil the role of propagandists (through the radio, tracts, etc.)."
It follows that one cannot simultaneously guarantee British and French interests in Morocco and carry on with insurrectionary work. Valencia is continuing the policies of Madrid. This must change. And to change it, one must state all one's own thoughts clearly and strongly, because in Valencia there are influences acting which tends towards treating with Franco.
Jean Zyromski wrote in 'Populaire' of 3rd March:
"The manoeuvres are visible and they are aiming at the conclusion of a peace which, in reality, would signify not only the halting of the Spanish Revolution, but also the annulment of the social conquests already achieved.
"Neither Caballero nor Franco, such would be the formula which would express briefly a conception which exists, and I am not sure that it does not have the favour of certain political, diplomatic and even governmental circles in Britain and also in France."
These influences, these manoeuvres explain different obscure points: for example the inactivity of the loyalist fleet. The concentration of troops coming from Morocco, the acts of piracy against 'Canaries' end 'Balearics,' the capture of Malaga are the consequences of this inactivity. And the war is not finished! If Prieto is incapable and indolent, why tolerate him? If Prieto is bound-by a policy that makes him paralyse the fleet, why not denounce this policy?
You anarchist ministers, you make eloquent speeches and you write brilliant articles, but it is not with speeches and articles that one wins the war and defends the Revolution. The former can be won and the latter can be defended by allowing us to pass from the defensive to the offensive. The strategy of holding our position cannot last for ever. The problem cannot be resolved by throwing out orders: general mobilisation, arms to the Front, sole command, popular army etc. etc. The problem can be resolved by achieving immediately what can be achieved.
The 'Toulouse Dispatch' of 17th January wrote,
"The main preoccupation of the Minister of the Interior is with re-establishing the authority of the State over that of the groups and over that of the uncontrollable whatever their origin."
It follows that when for months they try to annihilate the 'uncontrollables', they cannot resolve the problem of the liquidation of the 'Fifth Column2 .' The suppression of the internal front has as its primary condition activity aimed at investigation and repression which can only be accomplished by tried and tested revolutionaries. An internal policy of collaboration between the classes and of flattery towards the middle classes leads inevitably to tolerance towards politically ambiguous elements. The Fifth Column is composed not only of elements belonging to Fascist bodies, but also of all the malcontents who desire a moderate republic. Now, it is these latter elements who profit from the tolerance of the hunters of the 'uncontrollables'.
The liquidation of the internal front was a condition of full and radical activity by the Defence Committees set up by the CNT and the UGT.
We are assisting in the infiltration into the controlling ranks of the popular army of ambiguous elements without offering guarantees of political and union organisation. The committees and political delegates of the militias were exercising a beneficial control, which, today, is weakened by the predominance of strictly military systems of advancement and promotion. We must strengthen these committees and these delegates.
We are assisting the new situation which could have disastrous consequences, a situation in which whole battalions are commanded by officers who do not enjoy the esteem and affection of the soldiers. This situation is grave because the value of the Spanish militia-men is directly proportional to the confidence enjoyed by their own commander. It is therefore necessary to re-establish the system of direct election and the right of dismissal by those below.
A grave error has been committed by accepting authoritarian formulae, not because they are such from the point of view of their form; but because they contain tremendous errors and political aims that have nothing to do with the necessities of the war.
I had the chance to talk to senior Italian French and Belgian officers and I ascertained that they give a clear indication of knowing the real necessities of discipline, a much more modern and rational conception than certain neo-generals who claim to be realists.
I believe that the hour has come to form the confederal army, in the same way as the Socialist Party has set up its own company: the 5th regiment of the popular militias. I believe that the hour has come to resolve the problem of sole command by effectively achieving unity of command which allows us to move onto the offensive on the Aragon Front. I believe that the hour has come to finish with the thousands of civil guards and assault guards who do not go to the Front because their job is to control the 'uncontrollables.' I believe that the hour has come to create a war industry in earnest. And I believe that the hour has come to finish with certain flagrant extravagances: like those of respect for Sunday as a day of rest and of certain 'rights for the workers' sabotaging the defence of the Revolution.
We must, above all, keep up the morale of the combatants. Louis Bertoni, interpreting the sentiments expressed by various Italian comrades fighting on the Huesca Front, wrote not so long ago:
"The war in Spain, thus stripped of all new faith, of all ideas of social change, of all revolutionary greatness, of all universal meaning, is no more than a common war of national independence, which must be earned out to avoid the extermination which the world plutocracy has in mind. There remains the terrible question of life or death, but it is no longer a war to assure a new regime and a new humanity. People will say that all is not yet lost; but in reality, everything is threatened and beleaguered; our side use the language of renunciation, the same as was used by Italian Socialism at the advance of Fascism: Beware of provocation! Calm and serenity! Order and discipline! All the things that in practice boil down to doing nothing. And as in Italy Fascism finished up by triumphing, in Spain, anti-socialism in republican garb cannot but win, unless anything that we have not foreseen should come to pass. It is useless to add that we are simply setting it down, without condemning those on our side; we could not say how the behaviour of these people could be different and efficacious, as long as the Italo-German pressure grows at the Front and that of the Bolshevik bourgeois grows in our rear."
I do not have Louis Bertoni's modesty. I have the pretension to assert that the Spanish anarchists could have a political line different from the prevailing one; I claim to be able by capitalising on what I know of experiences in various great revolutions of recent years and on what I read in the Spanish libertarian press itself, to advise certain lines of conduct.
I believe that you must pose yourself the problem of knowing if you are better defending the Revolution, if you are making a greater contribution to the struggle against Fascism by participating in the government, or if you would not be infinitely more useful carrying the flame of your magnificent skill with words among the combatants and to the rear.
The time has also come to clarify the significance for unification that our participation in the Government could have. We must speak to the masses, appeal to them to judge whether Marcel Cachin is right when he states in 'Humanite' of 23rd March.
"The responsible anarchists are multiplying their efforts towards unification, and their appeals are ever more sensible."
. . . Or whether 'Pravda' and 'Izvestra' are right when they slander the Spanish anarchists calling them saboteurs of unity. To appeal to the masses to judge the moral complicity and policy of silence of the Spanish anarchist press as regards the dictatorial offences of Stalin, the persecution of Russian anarchists, the monstrous case against the Leninist and Trotskyist opposition, a silence deservedly rewarded by 'Izvestia's' libelling of 'Solidaridad Obrera'.
To appeal to the masses to judge whether certain acts of sabotage of provisioning do not fall within the plan announced on 17th December 1936 by 'Pravda:'
"As for Catalonia, the purging of Trotskyist and anarcho-syndicalist elements has begun; this work will be carried out with the same energy with which it was done in the USSR."3
The time has come to find out whether the anarchists are in the Government to be the vestal virgins tending a fire that is on the point of going out, or even if they are there from now on to serve as a 'Phyrgian cap'4 for politicians flirting with the enemy or with the forces for the restoration of the 'Republic of all classes.' The problem is set by the clear evidence of a crisis which is outstripping the men who are the personages who embody it.
The dilemma: war or revolution no longer has any meaning. The only dilemma is this one: either victory over Franco thanks to the revolutionary war, or defeat.
The problem for you and the other comrades is to chose between the Versailles of Thiers and the Paris of the Commune, before Thiers and Bismarck form the holy alliance. It is up to you to reply, for you are the 'light under the bushel.'
Article which appeared in 'Guerra di Class' No. 12, 14th April 1937.
Translation published in 'The Cienfuegos Press Anarchist Review' Number 4, 1978
Taken from Anarchy Is Order
- 1Vilanesa, small Spanish village where many CNT militants were massacred after their union premises had been looted.
- 2Fifth Column, name given in Spanish press to the grouping of Fascist organisations existing behind the Republican Front.'
- 3The translation is incorrect, but the sense is similar; see Mintz 'Self-management in Revolutionary Spain.'
- 4Phrygian cap, emblem of liberty SCB.
Cienfuegos Press anarchist review #5
Issue number 5 of Cienfuegos Press anarchist review from 1980.
Taken with thanks from https://stuartchristie.maydayrooms.org/items/show/132
Some Thoughts on Organisation - Henri Simon
Henri Simon discusses the relationship between permanent and more fluid forms of organisation.
All quotations and references have been deliberately excluded in this article. I have no doubt that many ideas expressed here have already been expressed by many others and there will be repetitions, some made on purpose, some not. I have also deliberately tried as far as possible to get away from traditional language. Certain words, certain names produce a mental block in this or that person's thinking shutting out a whole part of their thought processes. This article's aim is to try to make people think about experience: their own and what they know of others'. I've no doubt this aim will only be imperfectly satisfied and this for two reasons. The first, and least important, is that there are those who will still insist on putting labels on all this and on exorcising this or that proposition that they suspect of heresy because their own beliefs cannot tolerate them. The second, more essential, is that the article will say finally that our own beliefs are hardly ever swept away solely by the shock impact of other ideas, but by the shock of the clash of our ideas with social reality.
Can we possibly lead ourselves out of the citadel of our own system of thought towards a simple consideration of facts? And not just any facts, but those which belong to our experience as "militants" or "non-militants." Experience, furthermore which is not just isolated in our own individual world, but to be put back into the context of our social relations , i.e. what we have been able to experience or what we live now in a totally capitalist world (from one end of the planet to the other). And yet this experience and what we can know of other experiences brings us but a partial knowledge. This is already evident for a given moment. It is even more evident when seen in a historical perspective. Even if we try to generalize experiences, observations, and reflections and to integrate them into a vaster whole, we will not necessarily widen our field of vision. It is a wholly justifiable pretension to generalize: we do it all the time, whether we know it or not. We make connections, compare and draw from these more general notions, which we either integrate into already established generalizations, or use to change such generalizations, or to create a new generalization. A generalization can serve as an opening, because of the curiosity it gives to look for other facts with which to fill it out. It can serve as a closing, a blocking process, because it can lead to the ignoring or eliminating of everything which would challenge such a generalization.
PARTIAL KNOWLEDGE OF SOCIAL LIFE
Our knowledge is always partial because inevitably at the beginning we belong to a generation, a family a milieu, a class, a state etc., a tiny fraction of a world of hundreds of millions of inhabitants. And it's not so easy, except when the capitalist system itself takes this in hand, to widen the restricted field of "Life which has been given to us" . Nevertheless this fractional knowledge is not so partial these days if we look a bit closer. The accelerated uniforming process of social conditions and lifestyles in the capitalist explosion of the last 30 years has created a certain uniformity of experiences. Even if technical, economic and political conditions still vary to a considerable extent today, the elementary, and less elementary foundations of the capitalist system are really identical and inviolable whatever the regime in which they operate. And so our experiences and their particularisms have sometimes but a short distance to run in order to accede to that more general knowledge which emerges in measuring our experiences against those of others.
Very often our experience has already found its own justification only by the meeting with identical experiences, before contact with other different experiences. And very often these experiences are synthesized by the milieu itself in systems of thought raising these particularisms to the level of ideologies. The path of more general knowledge which is made by the measurement of experience with that of others is then obstructed by the obstacle of these ideologies. Apart from moments of violent, often heart-rending, breaks, this situation leaves us stranded in mid-path with a system of ideas which can only translate imperfect concrete and practical knowledge of social life in all its forms. Violent, tearing breaks with the past are not the result of our reflection or knowledge which causes us to change our previous ideas: they are what our "social position" leads us to do at certain moments, ( and these moments are always arriving) when our experience suddenly and sharply becomes linked and is confronted with different experiences. This situation liberates us from all screens and ideological obstacles and makes us act, sometimes unbeknown to our ideas, as a result of the elementary foundations of the capitalist system referred to above, i.e. to act in according to our class interests. It is clear that, according to our position in the capitalist system, action leads us on one side or the other, in a direction which may agree with our former ideas, but which often has very little to do with them.
WILLED VS. SPONTANEOUS ORGANIZATION
The "problem of organization" is precisely one of those very questions which is most marked by preconceived ideas on what some people call "necessities." In relation with what has been said, two poles can be distinguished:
- Willed (Voluntary organization)
- Spontaneous organization
Willed organization is that which we wish to operate (in joining or creating it) in relation to certain pre- established ideas coming from our belonging to a milieu, for the permanent defense of what we think is our interest. To do this we get together with a limited (often very limited) number of people having the same pre-occupation. The nature of this organization is, in its aim defined by those who work thus together, for themselves and for others, that of permanence, in which is inscribed a system of references from which one can deduce the practical modes of operating. In other words, a certain body of ideas leads to certain determined forms of action: more often than not a limited collectivity speaks to and acts towards a larger one, in a direction which is inevitably that of people who "know" ( or think they know) towards those "who do not know" ( or know imperfectly) and who must be persuaded.
Spontaneous organization is that which arises from the action of the whole of the members of a collectivity at a given moment, an action of defense of their immediate and concrete interests at a precise moment in time. The forms and modes of operation of that organization are those of the action itself, as a response to the practical necessities of a situation. Such situations are not only the result of concrete conditions which lead to the perception of what the interests one must defend are, but also of the relationship which we can have at that moment with all the voluntary (willed) organizations which are at work in the collectivity. Spontaneous organization is therefore the common action of the totality of a defined social group, not by its own choice but by the social insertion of each individual at that very moment. We will see later that such organization has no goal to reach, but on the contrary, initial goals which can change very rapidly. We will also see that it is the same thing for the forms of action themselves. The initial collectivity which began the action can also change itself very quickly precisely at the time and concomitant with changes in goals and forms of action.
From this distinction between willed and spontaneous organization, we could possibly multiply definitions and differences. Anyone is free to do this. But I must underline that I am talking about "poles". Between these two extremes we can find all sorts of hybrids whose complexity of nature and interaction are those of social life itself. Particularly, starting from a voluntary organization, we can finish by a series of "slidings" to arrive at an identification with a spontaneous organization. One could even say that is the aim- avowed or hidden- of all organizations to make us believe (it is only a question of self- persuasion or propaganda) or to try to arrive at (this is the myth of Sisyphus) that very identification with the spontaneous organization of a determined collectivity. At the opposite end, a form of spontaneous organization which has arisen can transform itself into a willed or voluntary organization when the social forces which have created it turn towards other forms of organization and the former organization tries to survive by the will alone of the minority, then stuck in a rigid framework of references.
There have already been lots of arguments about the term "spontaneous" (like the word "autonomous" which has become a political word in the bad sense of the term). "Spontaneous" in no way means straight "out of the clear blue sky" , a sort of spontaneous generation in which one sees rising from nothingness structures adequate for any kind of struggle. We are all inevitably social beings, i.e. we are plunged by force into a social organization to which we inevitably oppose another organization, that of our own life. Contrary to what is normally supposed, this organization of our own life is not fundamentally a form against the dominant social organization. This organization of our own life is above all "for itself" . It is only "against" as a consequence of our own self activity. There is a very precise feeling in each of us of what the interests of our life are and of what prevents us self organizing our own lives. ( I am not using the word "conscious" here on purpose because for too many this word either has the sense of moral consciousness or, which is only a variant of the same thing, "political" consciousness. For the self organization of our own lives as for its self defense, the capitalist system is the best agent of education. Increasingly it is putting into our hands a host of instruments which permit this self organization and its passage from individual to collective forms. Increasing by its constantly refined forms of repression, including all previous forms of struggle in spontaneous organizations, it is posing for this individual or collective self-organization the absolute need to find "something else" to survive. What one has acquired from former struggle is not known through examples or discussions but through the shock impact of experiences that I spoke of earlier in this article. Spontaneous' means in the end only the surfacing of an organization woven into day to day life which in precise circumstances, and for its defence, must pass on to another stage of organization and action, ready to return to a previous level later, or to pass on to another stage, different from the first two ( the term "balance of forces" is to be located in the same area, but only describes the situation without defining anything about its contents, and about the action and organization of said forces).
VARIABLE TERMS AND INTERESTS
"Spontaneous" also refers to another aspect of action and organization. I touched upon it when stressing, in the definition of spontaneous organization, that it had no goals, no pre-established forms and that these could be quickly transformed by a change in the collectivity involved. "Spontaneous" is opposed to a moving tactic which serves as a strategy directed towards a well defined goal (inside secondary goals defining successive stages to be reached). Collectivity, action and organization constitute variable terms in the defense of interests which are also variable. At every moment these variable interests seem to be just as immediate as the action and organization to achieve the provisional and passing goals in question seem necessary. If all this can happen suddenly and the process evolve very quickly, this spontaneity is nevertheless, and this has been stressed, this prolongation of a previous self-organization and its confrontation with a changed situation.
The vicissitudes of voluntary organization are not interesting in themselves, even when, as they so often do, they weigh down discussions about the "problem of organization" . We all know the type of organization meant only too well, above all among those we usually call "militants" . However, it would be possible to discuss these critically in a form which remains purely ideological, masking the essential problem. The history of organization and of "organization" in relation to technical, economic and social movement remains to be written.
THE FUNCTION OF WILLED GROUPS
It is not the purpose of this article to write this history, even though the article will note from place to place the distance between the theory of these groups and their real practice or simply between what they claim to do and what they do in reality, between their "vocation" to universality and their derisory real insertion into society. In passing I can only underline certain possible axes of reflections such as:
1) The function of willed or voluntary groups. What do they fulfill in present day capitalist society in imitation of political parties and trade unions ( the great models of this type of organization), and that independent of the political school to which they refer (including the most "modern"), whatever their radicalism? ( Radicalism is never an end in itself, but often a different way of achieving the same end as in other more legal organizations.)
2) The behavior of such a voluntary organization. It is independent of its general or particular aim and of its practice ( authoritarian or "autonomous"). The capitalist world inevitably defines its function for it ( in relation to the aims and the practice it has chosen for itself). This same relationship to a capitalist world imposes upon it a separation which a partisan of such willed or voluntary organization would define "despite himself" as follows :** "the problem of how to relate and activity which is intended to be conscious to actual history and the problem of the relationship between revolutionaries and masses both remain total:"
3) The impossibility of voluntary organizations to develop themselves, even when the daily practice of struggle illustrates the very ideas they put forward. More than this, the development of spontaneous organization leads to the rejection of willed organizations or their destruction, in such circumstances, even when these voluntary organizations assign themselves a role. The consequence is that these voluntary organizations are increasingly rejected and pushed towards reformist or capitalist areas and forced to have a practice which is increasingly in contradiction with their avowed principles. Just as the above quotation above shows, it becomes more and more difficult for such organizations which thus assign a function for themselves to identify with spontaneous organization and action. Some strive to "revise" certain parts of their action while keeping others ( theory, violence, exemplary acts, the practice of one's theory etc.). And yet it isn't a question of revision, but of a complete challenging by the movement itself of all the "revolutionary" notions trundled around for decades, even for over a century now. It is not details which are in question, but fundamental ideas.
IDEA OF COLLECTIVITY ESSENTIAL
In the distinction which has been made between willed and spontaneous organization, the idea of collectivity seems essential. What collectivity are we talking about and what are the interests around which action and organization are ordered?
A collectivity can be itself defined as such by those voluntarily forming it; they make explicit their common interests, goals to achieve and the means in the collectivity, not in actions but as preparation to action. Whatever the dimensions and character of such a collectivity, this feature characterizes perfectly all voluntary organization. More than those to whom this behavior is addressed, the collectivity can only concern itself with (1) the interests of its participants alone (2) or either defend interests supposedly common to members and non-members alike (3) or either defend the interests of its members by domination of non-members, which immediately creates a community of opposite interests among the latter ). According to the situation, we would then have for example, a living community (1) like a commune for example; a trade union type movement or political party (2) ( many groups would come under this heading); or a capitalist enterprise (3) ( a producers' co-operative would also come under this heading for even if it remains exempt from the internal domination of a minority, it would be forced, in order to function, to have recourse to the mediation of the market, which supposes a relationship of domination with the consumers). Forms of voluntary or willed organization, apparently very different one from another are in reality all marked by this type of voluntarist initiative, which is concretely expressed by a certain type of relation. The consequence of this situation is that all self willed organizations must , in one way or another, conform to the imperatives of capitalist society in which it lives and operates. This is accepted by some, fully assumed by others, but rejected by yet others who think they can escape it or simply not think about it. In certain crucial situations, capitalist enterprise has no other choice, if it wants to survive, but to do what the movement of capital imposes upon it. From the moment that it exists as an organization, its only choice is death or capitalist survival. In other forms, but in the same inexorable way, all self-willed organization is tied up in the same binding sheath of imperatives. The forgetting of, or hiding of this situation or the refusal to look it in the face creates violent internal conflicts. These are often hidden behind conflicts of personality or ideology. For a time they can also be dissimulated behind a facade of "unity" , which one can always hear being offered, for reasons of propaganda, to non-members ( from here springs the rule that inside such organizations internal conflicts are always settled inside the organization and never in public).
It is possible that such a self-willed collectivity has derived from a spontaneous organization. This is a frequent situation following a struggle. Voluntarism here either consists in seeking to perpetuate either the formal organisms that the struggle created or keeping up a type of liaison which the struggle had developed with a specific action in mind. Such origins in no way preserve the organization thus developing the characteristics of a self-willed organization. On the contrary, this origin can make a powerful contribution in giving the self-willed voluntary organization the ideological facade necessary for its later actions. The construction of a new union after a strike is a good example of this type of thing.
In opposition to the collectivity which defines itself, the collectivity to which, despite oneself, one belongs, is defined by others, by the different forms which the real or formal domination of capital imposes upon us. We belong not as a result of choice, but by the obligation (constraint) of the condition in which we find ourselves. Each person is thus subjugated, enclosed in one (or several) institutional frameworks where repression is exercised. He escapes, if he seeks to escape, only to be put in another institutional cage ( prison for example). Even if he leaves his class and the special framework of that class, it is only to enter another class where he becomes subject to the special marshalling and caging of that class. Inside these structures a certain number of individuals see themselves imposing the same rules and the same constraints. Cohesion, action, organization come from the fact that it is impossible to build one's own life, to self-organize. Everyone whatever his orientations, comes up against the stumbling block of the same limits, the same walls. The responses, i.e. the appearance of a precise common interest, depends on the force and the violence of that repression, but they are in no way voluntary. They are the translation of necessity. The obstacles met and the possibilities offered lead to action in one form of organization or another. It is this activity itself which produces ideas about what ought or ought not to be done. Such organization does not mean formal concerting together or consultation and the adoption of a defined form of organization. It would be difficult to describe in terms of structure the generalization of the May 68 strike in France, the collective action of British miners in the 1974 strike, the looting of shops in New York in the more recent power blackout, the extent of absenteeism or work the day after a national holiday, etc. However, these, among others, are actions which carry a weight much greater than many "organized" forms of struggle called into existence by self-willed organizations. Spontaneous organization can be very real-it always exists in this non-structured form and apparently according to the usual criteria, it doesn't "exist" . This spontaneous organization, in the course of action and according to the necessities of this action, can give itself well-defined forms (always transitory). They are but the prolongation of informal organization which existed before and which can return afterwards, when the circumstances which led to the birth of the organization have disappeared.
In the self-willed organization, each participant needs to know in advance if all the other participants in the collectivity have the same position as himself. Formal decisions must be taken to know at any moment if what we are going to do is in agreement with ground principles and the aims of the organization. Nothing like this happens in a spontaneous organization. Action, which is a common procedure without formal concentration, is woven together across close links, by a type of communication, more often than not with-out talk ( it would often be impossible considering the rapidity of the change of objectives and forms of action ). Spontaneously, naturally, action directs itself towards necessary objectives to attain a common point, which a common oppression assigns to everyone, because it touches each one in the same way. The same is true for specific organisms which can arise for precise tasks in the course of this action for its necessity. The unity of thought and action is the essential feature of this organization; it is this which during the action gives rise to other ideas, other objectives, other forms which perhaps one person or some people formulate, but which have the same instant enthusiastic approbation of all in the immediate initiation of action. Often the idea is not formulated but is understood by all in the form of an initiation of action in another direction than previously followed. Often also this initiation of action rises up from many places translating at the same time the unity of thought and action in the face of the same repression applied to identical interests.
While the self-willed organization is either directly or indirectly submitted to the pressure of the capitalist system which imposes upon it a line rather than a choice, spontaneous organization only reveals its action and its apparent forms openly to everyone, if repression makes necessary defense and attack over and above that of its daily functioning. Action and forms will be all the more visible the greater the impact of these upon society and capital. The place of the collectivity acting in such a way in the production process will be determinant.
NO FORMULA FOR STRUGGLE
Any struggle which tries to snatch from capitalism what it does not want to give has that much more importance in that it forces capital to cede a part of its surplus value and reduce its profits. One could think that such a formula would privilege struggles in firms and factories where there is in effect a permanent spontaneous organization which arises directly with its own laws at the heart of the system-the place of exploitation- taking on then its most open and clearest forms. But in an age when the redistribution of revenue plays an important role in the functioning of the system and its survival, in an age of the real domination of capital, struggles express the spontaneous organization of collectivities in places other than factories, shops and offices resulting in the same final consequences for the system.
Their pathways could be very different and confrontations less direct but their importance is not less. The insurrection of East Berlin workers in 1953 was at the beginning a spontaneous movement against the increasing of work norms. The spontaneous organization which grew out of this moved the collectivity involved, a group of building workers, away to a collectivity of all the workers of East Germany. and the simple demonstration of a handful of workers away to the attack on official buildings, the objectives of a simple annulling of a decree away to the fall of a regime, grass-roots self- organization away to workers' councils; all this in the space of two days. The Polish insurrection of June 1976 was only a protest against price rises; but in two points, the necessity to show their force on two occasions led in a few hours to the spontaneous organization of workers to occupy Ursus and block all communications-a pre-insurrection situation, to set on fire Party headquarters and to the looting at Radom. The government immediately gave in and straight away the spontaneous organization fell back to its former positions. The blackout of electricity plunged New York into darkness revealing suddenly the spontaneous organization of a collectivity of "frustrated consumers" who immediately gave themselves up to looting, but disappeared once the light was restored. The problem of absenteeism has already been mentioned. That large groups of people working at a place have recourse to absenteeism in such a way that repression becomes impossible, reveals a spontaneous organization in which the possibilities of each person are defined by the common perception of a situation, by the possibilities of each other person. This cohesion will reveal itself suddenly if the management try to sanction these practices, through the appearance of a perfectly organized, open spontaneous struggle. We could cite many, many examples of similar events in the appearance of wildcat strikes over anything concerning work speeds and productivity, especially in Great Britain.
In the examples just quoted spontaneous organization is entirely self-organization of a collectivity without any conscious voluntary organization interfering. In looking at them closer we can see how the constant flux and reflux of action takes place, from the organization to the aims in the way described above. But in many other struggles where spontaneous organization plays an important role, self-willed organization can co-exist with it, which seems to go in the same direction as the spontaneous organization. More often than not they do so to play a repressive role in respect of this organization, which the normally adequate structures of the capitalist system cannot assume. This last strike lasting two months by 57.000 Ford auto workers apparently revealed no form of organization outside the strike itself. On the contrary, a superficial examination would make one say that conscious voluntary organization like trade unions, the shop stewards organizations, even some political groups played an essential role in the strike. However, this in no way explains how the strike spontaneously began at Halewood or the remarkable cohesion of 57,000 workers, or the effective solidarity of transport workers which led to a total blockage of all Ford products. The explanation is in the spontaneous organization of struggle which, if it found expression in nothing formal and apparent, constantly imposed its presence and efficacy on all capitalist structures and above all, on the unions. In the case of Ford, the spontaneous organization was not seen in particular actions except, and it was singularly effective in this situation, by absence without fail from the workplace. In the miners strike of 1974, we find the same cohesion in a strike also covered by the union, but if it had stayed there the effectiveness of their struggle would nevertheless have been reduced because of the existence of stocks of substitute energy. The offensive action around the organization of flying pickets across the country revealed a spontaneous self-organization, even if this self-organization benefitted from the help of self-willed organization. Without the effective, spontaneous organization of the miners themselves, this support would have been reduced to precious little. In an identical domain, coal mines, we saw a similar self-organization on the part of American miners last summer during the U.S. miners' strike.
On the other hand, in a different situation, the 4,000 miners of the iron mines of Kiruna in Sweden went out on total strike from December 1969 to the end of February 1970. Their spontaneous organization found expression in a strike committee elected by the rank and file and excluding all union representatives. The end of the strike could only be achieved after the destruction of this committee and the return to forms of self-organization prior to the struggle itself. The LIP strike in France in 1973 had an enormous echo among other workers because 1,200 people dared do an unusual thing: steal the firms' products and material to pay their wages during the strike. This was only possible by spontaneous organization of struggle; but this spontaneous organization was entirely masked by an internal conscious, voluntary organization ( the Inter- Union Committee) and external ones (the many committees of support). In the course of the last years, spontaneous organization has been little by little brought out, often at the price of very harsh tensions between two organizations, in the institutional framework of Capital-one organization formal, the other informal, except at rare moments. In another dimension, May 68 in France also saw the arrival of several types of organization. Much has been said about the self-willed movement, the 22nd of March Movement, the action committees, neighborhood committees, worker-student committees etc. Much less has been said of the informal self-organization of the struggle which was very strong in the extension of the strike in a few days, but which folded back on itself just as quickly without expressing itself in specific organizations or actions, thus leaving the way free to various conscious voluntary organizations, for the most part unions or parties.
Italy from 1968 until today and Spain between 1976-77, saw similar situations developing to those of May 68 in France, with the co-existence of spontaneous organizations not only in the face of traditional conscious organizations, but also concise voluntary organizations of a new type, in a form adapted to the situation created by the spontaneous movement. Movements can develop spontaneously in social categories subject to the same conditions, without all of them being involved at first, but without being self-willed organizations for all that. They are the embryo of a greater spontaneous movement which according to circumstance will remain at the day to day level or give rise to a formal organization when it spreads on a much wider scale. Mutinies in the British, French, German and Russian armies in the 1914-18 war had these characteristics and had very different consequences. The movement of desertion and resistance to the Vietnam War in the U.S. Army was something else which became in the end one of the most powerful agents for the end of that war. Everyone can try in this way in all movements of struggle to determine the part played by spontaneous organization and that played by self-willed organization. It is only a rigorous delimitation, by no means easy, which allows us to understand the dynamics of the internal conflicts and struggles carried out therein. And so the sentence I quoted further back evincing an unresolved "problem" between "revolutionaries and the masses" takes on its whole meaning ( certainly not the one the author intended). The problem is that of a permanent conflict between "revolutionaries and the masses" , i.e. between self-willed and spontaneous organization.
Of course this conflict expresses a relationship which does not the less exist because it is very different from that which such conscious voluntary organizations would want it to be. The conflict is maintained to a great extent in the fact that when, in a struggle, the voluntary organizations would wish it to be. the conflict is maintained to a great extent in the fact that when, in a struggle, the voluntary and the spontaneous organizations co-exist, the relationship is not the same in both directions. For the spontaneous organization, the conscious voluntary one can be a temporary instrument in a stage of action. It only needs the affirmations of the voluntary organization not to be resolutely opposed to what the spontaneous one wants for this to be the case and in such a way that ambiguity exists. It is often so with a delegate of a union or of various committees created parallel to spontaneous organization around an idea or aim. If the spontaneous organization does not find such an instrument it creates its own temporary organisms to reach the goal of the moment. If the instrument either refuses the function the spontaneous organization assigns to it, or becomes inadequate because the struggle has shifted its ground and requires other instruments, the voluntary organization is abandoned. It is the same thing for the defined form of a specific moment of a spontaneous organization.
MASSES AS SUBJECT/OBJECT
For the self-willed organization, the "masses" , i.e. the spontaneous organization, including its defined temporary forms, is an object. That's why they try to achieve in order to apply it to the role that they have defined themselves. When a spontaneous organization uses a conscious voluntary one, the latter tries to maintain the basic ambiguity as long as possible, while at the same time trying to bend the spontaneous organization towards its own ideology and objectives. When the spontaneous organization is abandoned it will try by all the means in its possession to bring it under its own wing. The methods used will certainly vary according to the importance of the voluntary organization and the power it holds in the capitalist system. Between the barrage of propaganda of certain organizations and the U.S. union commandos which attack strikers, for example, there is only this difference of size. This dimension is even more tragic when the spontaneous organization creates its own organisms of struggle whose existence means the death of the conscious voluntary one and the entire capitalist system along with it. From Social Democratic Germany to Bolshevik Russia, to the Barcelona of the Anarchist ministers come the smashing of the workers councils, Kronstadt and the days of May 1937. Between assemblies, strike committees, councils and collectivities on the one hand and self-willed organizations on the other, the frontiers are well drawn in the same way as those between voluntary and spontaneous organization itself.
The very creation of spontaneous organization can know the same fate as the self-willed organization. The circumstances of a struggle nearly always lead the movement of spontaneous organization to fold on itself, to return to more underground forms, more primitive forms one could say, even though these underground forms would be as rich and as useful as the others. Here we are often tempted to trace a hierarchy between various forms of organization when they are only the relay, one to the other, of the constant adaption to situation, i.e. to pressure and repression). The shifting of spontaneous organization leaves behind on the sand without any life the definite forms they have created. If they don't die all together and seek to survive by the voluntary action of certain people, they find themselves exactly in the same positions as other self-willed organizations. They can even possibly make a sizeable development in this direction because they can then constitute a form of voluntary organization, if the latter has reached a dangerous level for the capitalist system.
NO RECIPE FROM PAST
In this sense there is no recipe from the past in the creation of spontaneous organization for its future manifestation. We cannot say in advance what definite form of spontaneous organization will borrow temporarily to achieve its objectives at the moment. At its different levels of existence and manifestation, spontaneous organization has a dialectical relationship with all that finds itself submitted to the rules of the system ( all that which tries to survive in the system ) and ends up sooner or later by being opposed to it-including opposition to voluntary self-willed organizations created to work in its own interests, and organizations which have sprung from spontaneous organizations which in the capitalist system build themselves up into permanent organisms.
To put a conclusion to these few considerations on organization lead one to believe that a real look at the problem had been made and that a provisional or definitive termination could be made. I leave it to the conscious voluntary organizations to do that. Like the spontaneous movement of struggle itself, the discussion about it has no defined frontiers and no conclusions.
CRISIS OF TRADITIONAL ORGANIZATION
It would also be a contradiction of the spontaneous movement to consider that the necessary schematism of analysis contains a judgement of any sort of the value of ideas and a condemnation of the action of self-willed voluntary organization. Individuals involved in such organizations are there because the system of ideas offered corresponds to the level of the relationship between their experiences and those of the people who surround them and those of which they could have knowledge. The only issue in question is to situate their place in such an organization, the place of that organization in capitalist society, the function of this in events in which the organization may be involved. These are precisely the circumstances which through the shock impact of experiences leads one person to do what his dominant interest dictates at a given moment. In order to better situate the question, let us look at the crises of "big" voluntary organizations because they are well known and badly camouflaged ( and always recurring ); for example in the French Communist Party. In the last few years internal crises have been caused in the French C.P. by the explosion of spontaneous organizations in such events as the Hungarian insurrection (1956), the struggle against the Algerian War (1956-62) and May 68.
Spontaneous organization does not affirm itself all at once, in a way which could be judged according to the traditional schema of conscious voluntary organization. It remoulds itself endlessly and, according to the necessities of struggle, seems to disappear here, in order to reappear there in another form. This uncertain and fleeting character is at one and the same time a mark of the strength of repression (the strength of capitalism) and of a period of affirmation which has existed for decades and which may be very long. In such an intermediary period uncertainties find expression in the limited experiences of each of us, the parceling up of ideas and actions, and the temptation is to maintain an "acquisition" of struggle. The same uncertainty is often interpreted as a weakness leading to the necessity to find ourselves with others having the same limited experience of self-willed voluntary organizations. But such organizations do nevertheless differ a lot from those of the past. When looking at what were the "great" voluntary organizations of half a century ago and more, some people regret the dispersion and atomization of such organizations. But they only express, however, the decline of the conscious voluntary organization and the rising of the spontaneous organization, -a transitional stage where the two forms of organization rub shoulders and confront each other in a dialectical relationship.
It is for each person to place himself, if he can and when he can, in the relationship of this process, trying to understand that his disillusions are the riches of a world to come and his failures are the victory of something else much greater than what he must abandon ( and which has little to do with the temporary "victory of the class enemy" ). Here the conclusion is the beginning of a much greater debate which is that of the idea of revolution and of the revolutionary process itself, a debate which is in effect never posed as a preamble to spontaneous organization, but which arises, as action, as a condition and an end of action in action itself.
Henri Simon, 1979
This line of thought takes spontaneism to a ridiculous extreme. The point really is not to just interpret the world, but to change it, but this article reverts to bourgeois philosophising, because there is nothing to do but wait until the stars are right. Spontaneous organisation is in fact willed, it only looks spontaneous from the outside (the gigantic confusion between subject and object?).
Clearly the author identifies some problems with what he terms "self-willed" organisation, but are these problems really due to the "willed" nature of the organisation or due to some other cause, such as a discrepancy between how things are perceived by the actors and the real arrangement of social forces? That is something the author hints at - that really the question is what is 'in line' with the arrangement of social forces and what is incorrectly positioning itself, consciously or not.
A major problem is that if you are talking about "spontaneous" organisation you really can say absolutely anything you want, and get away with it. No need to make any concrete observations or recommendations of any kind. Instead, when everything is "uncertain and fleeting", "remoulds itself endlessly", etc., you can selectively attribute whatever qualities and victories you want to the spontaneousness of the incident, and so there is very little way to argue for or against it in any meaningful (i.e. verifiable to some degree or other) fashion. I find this rather frustrating and it leads me to dismiss arguments such as the above with a sarcastic comment rather than try to argue seriously against (or even for!) it.
We make connections, compare and draw from these more general notions, which we either integrate into already established generalizations, or use to change such generalizations, or to create a new generalization. A generalization can serve as an opening, because of the curiosity it gives to look for other facts with which to fill it out. It can serve as a closing, a blocking process, because it can lead to the ignoring or eliminating of everything which would challenge such a generalization.
I don't think Simon was, in 1979 when he wrote the above article, trying to give an eternal truth or answer on the question of organisation. He was trying to analyse historically the new forms of organisation that emerged in that period. The struggles of those times weren't simply initiated by or dependent for existence on traditional political groups. That is what he tried to analyse, what were the new forms of organising?
Cienfuegos press anarchist review #6
Issue of Cienfuegos Press Anarchist Review from Summer 1982 with articles about the British SAS, the anarchist movement in Mexico, the decline of urban electric transport and more.
- The golden Road to Samarkand
- The practical Marx - John Zerzan
- The anarchist movement in Mexico - Octavio Alberola
- Isaac Puente
- Libertarian communism
- The engineered decline of urban electric transport - Nigel Pennick
- Organise and survive - Stuart Christie
- Book reviews
Review: Soldiers of the night: the story of the French resistance by David Schoenbrun
Stuart Christie's review of David Schoenbrun's book on the French resistance during World War II.
Written by an American intelligence agent (Psychological Warfare Branch), this is the first reasonably satisfying account to date, in English, of the French Resistance. David Schoenbrun has an obvious affinity for those whose activities he describes, and his profession as a spy proves both useful and illuminating as he guides us through the murky labyrinthine world of political and military intrigue in London, Washington and Casablanca as well as Occupied and Vichy France.
But it was not the Generals who fled to London or North Africa, nor the adventurers of the OSS or the SOE who constituted the French Resistance, as this book clearly shows. It was the ordinary men and women from all walks of life and varying political persuasions. They were soldiers without uniforms or proper arms who lived in the shadows as soldiers of the night and who courageously defied the might of the German military machine and their fascist Vichy collaborators.
The Resistance was individual and sporadic at first, like Madame Bourgeois of Louray who shouted and shook her fist at the newly arrived invaders. She was tied to a tree and murdered in front of her daughter and her body left there for 24 hours as a warning to others who might be tempted to follow her example.
However, the spirit of Resistance did spread, inexorably. It was organised either through affinity groups or political and industrial networks such as the anthropologists of the Musee de L'Homme, the Communist Party (which had a ready made network as it had been forced underground a year before the outbreak of the war), the Resistance network of the Railway Workers' Union or the Jewish Combat Organisation. There is, however, one glaring and important omission from the fairly comprehensive list of organisations and groups which made up Resistance — the Spanish Republican exiles.
The contribution of the refugees from francoism to the French Resistance is fairly important yet for the most part unrecorded and unacknowledged. It is worth a slight digression as it does raise some questions as to why the historians should deliberately ignore or misrepresent it.
When the Vichy Government was installed on July 1st 1940, there were an estimated 236,000 Spanish Republican refugees in France. Of these it is reckoned that 40,000 Spanish anarchists, communists and republicans joined the maquis — 5000 of whom operated in the North Pyrenees under the banner of the Junta Nacionál Española. I wonder how many of the thousands of Jews, allied airmen, POWs and refugees who escaped through the Pyrenees realised that they owed their lives to Spanish anarchist resistance and escape networks? The famous so-called SOE "Pat O'Leary" network was in fact organised by the militant anarcho-syndicalist Francisco Ponzan Vidal and known throughout the south as the "Grupo Ponzan". Between 1940 and 1944 some 6000 Spanish Republicans were killed by the Germans, and between 10,000 and 25,000 died in German Concentration Camps. Spanish exile units also played an important part in almost every Allied campaign from the battle of Narvik to VE Day, including Crete, North Africa, Italy and the Riviera Landings. Toulouse was liberated almost exclusively by Spanish guerrilla groups as were more than 50 important towns, including Clermont-Ferrand, Nimes and Marseilles. The first vehicles of Leclerc's famous Second Armoured Division (with a complement of over 3000 Spanish soldiers) to reach the Hotel de Ville during the Liberation of Paris carried memories of the Spanish Civil War emblazoned on their sides — Durruti, Guernica, Guadalajara, etc. Finally, the Spanish anarchist battalion, "Libertad", commanded by Ramon Vila Capdevila ("Scarface") — the last of the Spanish anti-francoist guerrillas who died in an ambush in the Pyrenees in 1963 — played an important role in the storming of Royan and Pointe de Grave — the last German strongholds in France.
Soldiers of the Night is not simply a collection of anecdotes about heroism and selfless dedication, or even cowardice and treachery. It is a tapestry whose warp and weft combine to depict the fall of France — from the machinations of the Stalinist Popular Front which divided the labour movement to the self-fulfilling conspiracy theories of the right which blamed the national malaise on Jews, Freemasons and Communists, all of which served to hasten the collapse of the Third Republic. But apart from the historical narrative we are also given some fascinating insights into the power struggles behind the scenes, the effects of which are still with us today. Clearly there were two separate worlds. On the one hand were the ordinary men and women of France who were fighting for freedom and democracy, and on the other hand were the Allied leaders — De Gaulle, Giraud, Roosevelt and Churchill — scheming and conniving for control of post war France. De Gaulle was never recognised as the leader of the French Resistance, but because he was in the right place at the right time he was able to present himself as incarnating the spirit of Free France and was accepted in good faith by millions of French men and women as the symbol of the Resistance. By a quick piece of sharp political legerdemain he transformed the illusion into reality by declaring himself "president" of the Provisional Republic of France.
One intriguing and somewhat aggravating conclusion the author leaves us with is that the long term psychological consequences on the French body politic of Eisenhower's decision to allow General Leclerc's Second Armoured Division to liberate Paris (if that is the case, and Leclerc didn't do it off his own bat!) were to be disastrous for France. The author's premise is that Leclerc could not have done it without the support of the Americans, therefore the idea that Paris was liberated by the French was a myth and self-delusion. According to the author, this gave rise to the idea that once again, under De Gaulle, France would become a great world power and centre of empire — an obsession which led to the wars in Indochina, Algeria and the Congo. This interpretation of history is patronising and elitist. The French Resistance was a popular movement and in it the people of France fought — in co-operation with many others — with a courage and selflessnes that is hard to equal. It is equally true to say the Americans could never have liberated France without the French. And by the same logic one could ask if the trauma of failing to take Paris first led the United States into Korea, Vietnam and El Salvador?
Soldiers of the Night is a moving tribute to a brave people who paid a heavy price for their decision to resist nazism. The lesson this book should have for all its readers is that although nazism may be a spent force, fascism and totalitarianism are still with us and no matter what the guise may be must be confronted at all costs if democracy is to remain "triumphant" as David Schoenbrun claims.
Soldiers Of The Night: The Story of the French Resistance
by David Schoenbrun, published by Robert Hale
OCR by the Kate Sharpley library: https://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/xgxf6h