Anarchist Catalonia 1936-39

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Aug 16 2011 19:20
Anarchist Catalonia 1936-39

Hey,

I'm fairly new to libcom and wondered what the historical community thought about the history of anarchy especially with emphasis in Catalonia where, in my humble opinion, it perhaps came closest to achieved. I am aware that an attempt by the insurrectionist guerilla fighter Nestor Makhno to create a Free State within Ukraine between 1918-21, but perhaps rather rudely, I consider Catalonia in 1936 as more spectacular, more promising due to both its surprising longevity and the cultural/social/economic backgrounds abound within 1930's Europe. While I do not mean to implicitly dismiss the attempt of the courageous Ukrainians and indeed all other historical attempts of working people to seize power of the state, I do encourage to influence replies to be focused on the Catalonian model and examine the reasons as to perhaps why they failed in the long term.

I've conversed with a Spanish friend who blames the use of money being permitted in urban places such as Barcelona while being abolished within the countryside - thus causing a significant strain between the proletariat industrial workers and the countryside peasants. As Lincoln famously said: "A house divided against itself cannot stand" The hammer and sickle that came to represent my youths understanding of Communism and the USSR were not unified under a common goal. Sadly, contributing to the projects doom(?)

These are simply my thoughts, I hope people have opinions and knowledge to share.

Thanks,
orthodoxyproxy

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Aug 16 2011 19:40

Yeah, I think you're right. Imho, Spain stands out head and shoulders as the best us working class folks have achieved to date. Not sure about this term "anarchy" - for an anarchist, I've never felt happy about the term, I might need to go on the couch for that one. The Makhno gig plays out like a cowboy film (sadly) but from what the cnt, fai, ml et al pulled off is more than tangible - it's inspirational.

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Aug 16 2011 20:17
plasmatelly wrote:
Yeah, I think you're right. Imho, Spain stands out head and shoulders as the best us working class folks have achieved to date. Not sure about this term "anarchy" - for an anarchist, I've never felt happy about the term, I might need to go on the couch for that one. The Makhno gig plays out like a cowboy film (sadly) but from what the cnt, fai, ml et al pulled off is more than tangible - it's inspirational.

What about 'Anarchy' do you not like? For me it's essentially a political 'nirvana' in one sense that old, aggrevational labour relations are ended, workers own the means of production and government is either not needed or overthrown in an expression of human solidarity and reason. For me, government is both an enroachment of my freedoms and an insult to my intelligence as a freeborn sentient human. I don't want to go all deep but I find the classical writings of Proudhon and Kropotkin to be as meaningful now as when those authors first put pen to paper.

The Ukrainian's who took inspiration from Nestor Makhno were sadly, as the UK press would dub them 'opportunists' who took advantage of what the surprising years of 1917-18 bought them. You've got to hand it to them that they tried, it's just it was never going to last long, surrounded by the Authoritarian Left and essentially is culturally and geographically 'too far east' to be viewed as a model for Europe. That's why I appreciate Catalonia in the sense that it only happened in 36' and lasted far longer than the skeptic in me percieved it would. It makes me wonder if a local place such as my homecounty of Cornwall could undergo a similar jolt of anarchism - afterall, it has both the seperatist elements of not wanting to belong to an identity higher (England and Spain) and also has consistently been non-conformist to the main party lines of London.

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Aug 16 2011 20:44
Quote:
What about 'Anarchy' do you not like? For me it's essentially a political 'nirvana'

Don't get me wrong - I'm very much a class-struggle anarchist - it's just that I find people who use the word Anarchy are prone to use other metaphysical nonsense such as, erm...nirvana! wink

Quote:
You've got to hand it to them that they tried, it's just it was never going to last long, surrounded by the Authoritarian Left and essentially is culturally and geographically 'too far east' to be viewed as a model for Europe. That's why I appreciate Catalonia in the sense that it only happened in 36' and lasted far longer than the skeptic in me percieved it would.

I don't go along with this reduction, but you do have a point to make about the authoritarian left. It might surprise you, but the anarchist revolution extended beyond Catalonia. But good for you for settling on Spain as an inspiration!

piter
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Aug 16 2011 20:49

about Makhno and revolutionnary Ukraine maybe you can read Voline's "the unknown revolution" it's quite good I think.

but yes, maybe we can say that the spanish experience is more significant and inspiring (but both are, in their respective ways).

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Aug 16 2011 21:28
plasmatelly wrote:
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Don't get me wrong - I'm very much a class-struggle anarchist - it's just that I find people who use the word Anarchy are prone to use other metaphysical nonsense such as, erm...nirvana! wink

Haha, I get what you mean, in that sense I guess I can relate to Leo Tolstoy, his book 'The Kingdom of Heaven is Within You' was powerful. I don't think its nonsense but then, ha probably just my own opinion. With regards to class I've had some difficulty to fit in myself. My friend always argues "How can you identify with anarchism when your parents are wealthy, live in a comfortable home and are not financially without? To which I find myself unable to easily respond. Another friend simply said "I should because if I [me] didn't who would?" I guess it summons up the story of "they came to trade unionists but I wasn't a member, they came for the church but I wasn't a Christian - then they came for me and no-one was left to defend me.". I never really used to place much emphasis on class as I believe and perhaps still to a certain extent to be an outmoded form of identity. Economics are always major ways of identifying someones influence or position but I just find it more important to understand the thoughts and ideas behind someone more important than something such as what their parents did for careers.

plasmatelly wrote:
I don't go along with this reduction, but you do have a point to make about the authoritarian left. It might surprise you, but the anarchist revolution extended beyond Catalonia. But good for you for settling on Spain as an inspiration!

I've read Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell and also read around the history of the region as I sat an exam on the Spanish Civil War and it was a bloody mess really :/ It makes me sad if anything. Which is why I sincerely believe - and I use that word most sincerely 'believe' in anarchy in the 'nirvana' sense, as I believe humanity does have the potential to unite with the all conquering power of love rather than the cyclical devastating love of power which has showed itself time and time again throughout human history.

Also, I've made a right mess of all this quotation business. I'm sorry for those trying to follow the conversation. I would appreciate assistance in order to correctly post comments using the quotation buttons wink

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Aug 16 2011 22:56
orthodoxyproxy wrote:
I've read Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell and also read around the history of the region as I sat an exam on the Spanish Civil War and it was a bloody mess really :/ It makes me sad if anything. Which is why I sincerely believe - and I use that word most sincerely 'believe' in anarchy in the 'nirvana' sense, as I believe humanity does have the potential to unite with the all conquering power of love rather than the cyclical devastating love of power which has showed itself time and time again throughout human history.

If you're interested, there are a lot of book reviews, articles,.. where Orwell talks about the Civil War. And one can see him grow more sympathetic to the anarchists as time goes by. After returning to England writing on how anarchists were right in that the revolution had to continue despite the possible break of the anti-fascist alliance and he also says something like "If I had to repeat it, I would join the CNT-FAI".

orthodoxyproxy wrote:
With regards to class I've had some difficulty to fit in myself. My friend always argues "How can you identify with anarchism when your parents are wealthy, live in a comfortable home and are not financially without? To which I find myself unable to easily respond. Another friend simply said "I should because if I [me] didn't who would?"

I can't recall correctly, but I think Kropotkin talked on Conquest of Bread on how members of the other class joining the anarchist movements helped give it validity, but Kropotkin was too nice tongue. I think that it's a question that the bourgeois rationalize their actions for the obvious reasons of nobody wanting to be the exploiter and tool of injustice in the world. as such if one understands Capitalism and it's inherent problems, inequalities, injustices, etc there is also a logical rejection of the Capitalist system. So I have no problem on what class one initially comes from, but you also can't be an exploiter and an anarchist (meaning I don't think it matters where you come from, but your actions define your ideology).

orthodoxyproxy wrote:
Also, I've made a right mess of all this quotation business. I'm sorry for those trying to follow the conversation. I would appreciate assistance in order to correctly post comments using the quotation buttons ;)

Write your parts after the [/ quote] smile

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Aug 17 2011 06:38

If you're interested in a more critical look at the Spanish experience, I'd recommend Michael Seidman's books, "Workers Against Work" and "The Republic of Egos". The first one should be available in the libcom library, a pirated copy of the other one can be downloaded from www.library.nu (after you register).

BTW, I'm no expert on the history of 1936-39 Spain, but from what I've read I think the idea that money was somehow "abolished" in Spain on any more than a miniature scale (not even on all of the countryside!) is wrong. The attempts to fully abolish money only lasted over the first few months in a fraction of the agricultural collectives, and soon had to be abandoned – mostly in favor of local money pegged against the peseta (which, in turn, was based on the gold standard).

piter
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Aug 17 2011 06:50

I also recommend Michael Seidman book Workers against work. if someone's interested I just put in the Libcom library a french review ot its french translation.

here it is :
http://libcom.org/library/ouvriers-contre-le-travail-barcelone-et-paris-pendant-les-fronts-populaires-par-michael-

Dannny
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Aug 17 2011 09:51

Hi orthodoxyproxy. To echo Jura I don't think the abolition of money in some of the collectivised villages can effectively explain the problems encountered in coordination between Barcelona and the countryside (and, as a poster implies above, rural collectivisation was, in fact, more extensive outside of Catalonia, in Aragon). Certainly we cannot say that the revolution failed because of its uneven development in this respect - we will sadly never know whether problems such as this would have been worked out because the revolutionaries surrendered the initiative to the counterrevolution in Barcelona and in the countryside the collectives were wiped out either by the Republican or Fascist armies.
I think Orwell called his book Homage to Catalonia because of the overwhelming effect of experiencing revolutionary Barcelona. I do think it's an unfortunate title in some respects as it suggests Catalonian particularism and, of course, the book at its best is really a homage to the revolutionary working class. Unfortunately, as his book makes clear, the working class were not "In the saddle" in Barcelona for even a year, let alone until 1939.
There are exellent articles and threads on Spain all over this site, including an interesting discussion of the Seidman book, so I hope you have time to explore them.

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Aug 18 2011 18:57

Thanks, I don't think the anarchists who took power in Barcelona completely successfully abolished money. The black market always creeps in. Such is the way of wartime societies I guess.

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Aug 18 2011 21:51

Doomed to fail without a broader global revolution. Any attempt at socialism in one country will not be actual communism/anarchism. If by some strange stroke of luck capitalists let Spain actually achieve long term stable anarchism it would give workers a choice to refuse the capitalist system and anarchism would spread like wildfire. The riches of the capitalists depend on the poverty of the masses so a small nation such as Spain will never attain a stable long term anarchist society on its own as it would (did) directly threaten capitalists wealth. What it did show is capitalists aren't necessary (something most of us already know)....it gave a good empirical example showing our ideals in action - I just think it was doomed from the start without a broader global revolution. The Marxists didnt really help out either but capitalists wont hesitate to use Franco types all across the globe. Look what Hayek and Friedman did with Pinochet.

I'm not of the opinion anarchism/communism will spring forth out of the third world or the smaller capitalist nations- I think the larger more dominant advanced capitalist nations must have revolutions if we're ever going to have a chance at it- this means the EU and the USA. If a 'revolution' takes place in South America or a smaller isolated nation in Europe the capitalists will simply squash it with military might. The capitalist system needs to be weakened at its heart, shaken at its pillars and foundations before anarchism/communism will be possible.

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Aug 18 2011 22:41
CRUD wrote:
Doomed to fail without a broader global revolution. Any attempt at socialism in one country will not be actual communism/anarchism. If by some strange stroke of luck capitalists let Spain actually achieve long term stable anarchism it would give workers a choice to refuse the capitalist system and anarchism would spread like wildfire. The riches of the capitalists depend on the poverty of the masses so a small nation such as Spain will never attain a stable long term anarchist society on its own as it would (did) directly threaten capitalists wealth. What it did show is capitalists aren't necessary (something most of us already know)....it gave a good empirical example showing our ideals in action - I just think it was doomed from the start without a broader global revolution. The Marxists didnt really help out either but capitalists wont hesitate to use Franco types all across the globe. Look what Hayek and Friedman did with Pinochet.

I'm not of the opinion anarchism/communism will spring forth out of the third world or the smaller capitalist nations- I think the larger more dominant advanced capitalist nations must have revolutions if we're ever going to have a chance at it- this means the EU and the USA. If a 'revolution' takes place in South America or a smaller isolated nation in Europe the capitalists will simply squash it with military might. The capitalist system needs to be weakened at its heart, shaken at its pillars and foundations before anarchism/communism will be possible.

Why do you think the riots scared the bourgeois so much? If it said anything to me about the UK's economic and social state it told me that revolution is both possible, likely and perhaps coming. I'm pretty sure the army would've been called if the riots had spread to the cosy West End of London where the elite reside. I was really hoping they would take the tube and be outside smashing up Oxford Circus. Would've really bought about swift socio-economic change. You must remember that the whole of human history has been centred & rooted within the allocation of goods, capital and resources. It seems to me that the anarchists of Barcelona had the right idea when attempting to abolish money as they cast aside the ability of capitalists to directly determine that market area - they failed due, as exactly as you say - reactionary forces clamping down on sporadic social change. In fact the only reason communism was realised in Russia was because of the vast swarthes of land that constitute it. Indeed, even then Western capitalists attempted to stall and sabotage the project when they intervened in Russia's civil war from 1917-23. A friend told me that currency and currency alone has been the focus of day to day life within all human history. Only perhaps by creating a system of a resource based economy can we, collectively as human beings, not merely workers, finally exit the merry-go-round of the capitalist system.

I don't mean to sound patronising but the EU isn't a nation but a conglomerate of European nations and is right now in a serious economic meltdown as the euro looks likely to be scrapped due to the economic dis-equalibrium of countries such as Germany and Greece. Things are pretty serious. America also, with it's credit rating dropped from AAA to AA is likley to pang serious fiscal repurcussions too. All in all, capitalism looks like its on its waning stages before its inevitable demise.

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Aug 19 2011 21:29
orthodoxyproxy wrote:
CRUD wrote:
Doomed to fail without a broader global revolution. Any attempt at socialism in one country will not be actual communism/anarchism. If by some strange stroke of luck capitalists let Spain actually achieve long term stable anarchism it would give workers a choice to refuse the capitalist system and anarchism would spread like wildfire. The riches of the capitalists depend on the poverty of the masses so a small nation such as Spain will never attain a stable long term anarchist society on its own as it would (did) directly threaten capitalists wealth. What it did show is capitalists aren't necessary (something most of us already know)....it gave a good empirical example showing our ideals in action - I just think it was doomed from the start without a broader global revolution. The Marxists didnt really help out either but capitalists wont hesitate to use Franco types all across the globe. Look what Hayek and Friedman did with Pinochet.

I'm not of the opinion anarchism/communism will spring forth out of the third world or the smaller capitalist nations- I think the larger more dominant advanced capitalist nations must have revolutions if we're ever going to have a chance at it- this means the EU and the USA. If a 'revolution' takes place in South America or a smaller isolated nation in Europe the capitalists will simply squash it with military might. The capitalist system needs to be weakened at its heart, shaken at its pillars and foundations before anarchism/communism will be possible.

Why do you think the riots scared the bourgeois so much? If it said anything to me about the UK's economic and social state it told me that revolution is both possible, likely and perhaps coming. I'm pretty sure the army would've been called if the riots had spread to the cosy West End of London where the elite reside. I was really hoping they would take the tube and be outside smashing up Oxford Circus. Would've really bought about swift socio-economic change. You must remember that the whole of human history has been centred & rooted within the allocation of goods, capital and resources. It seems to me that the anarchists of Barcelona had the right idea when attempting to abolish money as they cast aside the ability of capitalists to directly determine that market area - they failed due, as exactly as you say - reactionary forces clamping down on sporadic social change. In fact the only reason communism was realised in Russia was because of the vast swarthes of land that constitute it. Indeed, even then Western capitalists attempted to stall and sabotage the project when they intervened in Russia's civil war from 1917-23. A friend told me that currency and currency alone has been the focus of day to day life within all human history. Only perhaps by creating a system of a resource based economy can we, collectively as human beings, not merely workers, finally exit the merry-go-round of the capitalist system.

I don't mean to sound patronising but the EU isn't a nation but a conglomerate of European nations and is right now in a serious economic meltdown as the euro looks likely to be scrapped due to the economic dis-equalibrium of countries such as Germany and Greece. Things are pretty serious. America also, with it's credit rating dropped from AAA to AA is likley to pang serious fiscal repurcussions too. All in all, capitalism looks like its on its waning stages before its inevitable demise.

No they had the right idea but without a global revolution it was doomed...and hey smile I know the EU isn't a nation I didn't feel like typing Germany, France, Britain etc (basically the advanced western capitalist nations).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socialism_in_One_Country

This ^ isnt possible but my other point was, in my opinion, socialism/anarchism will come from the advanced capitalist nations most likely first in Europe and it would be necessary that the US soon after go as well or a new "cold war" of containment will take place.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Containment

If, lets say, tomorrow, Germany tried to go socialist or anarchist on it's own what do you think the US and other western advanced capitalist nations would do? What do you think the capitalists would do? What have they done historically? The containment policy wasn't to stop the "spread of communism" it was put in place to stop communism from manifesting as it must be a global system. Unless workers in all advanced capitalist nations show some serious solidarity any chances of us being successful are nil.

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Aug 20 2011 15:15
orthodoxyproxy wrote:
In fact the only reason communism was realised in Russia...

Russia, even in theory, has never realised communism. In practice, it happened to be just fascism in disguise. I doubt that anything else has undermined egalitarian movements to such degree as so-called "realistic socialism".

I will write more on the Spanish case when I read books proposed in this thread.

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Aug 20 2011 15:17

DOUBLE POST

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Aug 20 2011 17:15

The Spanish anarchists in Catalonia had a long history of organizing in the region prior to the revolution. You can get a good idea of how they organized, their gains and losses, strategic and tactical strengths and weaknesses from Anarchism and the City by Chris Ealham, a study of Barcelona's working class from 1898 to 1937.

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Aug 20 2011 18:19

And also perhaps crucially the Asturian miners' strike in 1934 in which I have read, Catalonia became briefly independent with a Marxist-Leninist government.

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Aug 20 2011 20:15

Shhh! Don't mention Asturias!

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Aug 21 2011 00:06

Ok (but why!?)

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Aug 25 2011 05:51
orthodoxyproxy wrote:
Hey,

I'm fairly new to libcom and wondered what the historical community thought about the history of anarchy especially with emphasis in Catalonia where, in my humble opinion, it perhaps came closest to achieved.

And do you think that was based on socialist ideals? In the other thread you said anarchists aren't socialists. Are you a troll or just stupid?

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Aug 25 2011 14:23
CRUD wrote:
orthodoxyproxy wrote:
Hey,

I'm fairly new to libcom and wondered what the historical community thought about the history of anarchy especially with emphasis in Catalonia where, in my humble opinion, it perhaps came closest to achieved.

And do you think that was based on socialist ideals? In the other thread you said anarchists aren't socialists. Are you a troll or just stupid?

No, i'm not a troll. The anarchism practiced in Catalonia came under threat by the increasingly Stalinist variant of Communism during it's very creation. I'm not saying socialism is not inherently part of anarchism. I'm just saying that they didn't want a dictatorship of the proletariot and rule from Stalin so that is why anarchists in Catalonia came under fire from both fascists, nazis and Communists!.

Oh, you want proof? Read a history book.

Jeez.

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Aug 25 2011 15:54
orthodoxyproxy wrote:
And also perhaps crucially the Asturian miners' strike in 1934 in which I have read, Catalonia became briefly independent with a Marxist-Leninist government.

?

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Aug 25 2011 19:19
jura wrote:
If you're interested in a more critical look at the Spanish experience, I'd recommend Michael Seidman's books, "Workers Against Work"

It's a load of shit though isn't it? A very selective look at events to justify his already held views. There is a thread on here somewhere that basically rips it apart.

I recommend "Blood of Spain" for direct interviews with people in the civil war from all sides and points of view.

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Aug 25 2011 19:18
x359594 wrote:
The Spanish anarchists in Catalonia had a long history of organizing in the region prior to the revolution. You can get a good idea of how they organized, their gains and losses, strategic and tactical strengths and weaknesses from Anarchism and the City by Chris Ealham, a study of Barcelona's working class from 1898 to 1937.

Interesting... I have always wanted to know more on the specific details of how they organised.

piter
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Aug 25 2011 19:51
Quote:
jura wrote:

If you're interested in a more critical look at the Spanish experience, I'd recommend Michael Seidman's books, "Workers Against Work"

888 wrote :

It's a load of shit though isn't it? A very selective look at events to justify his already held views. There is a thread on here somewhere that basically rips it apart.

not a load of shit no, far from that. maybe it is partly flawed as an historical book. but his focus on working class resistance against work is very interesting, and his critique of the glorification of work (to make it short) by the traditionnal workers organisations also has some points (but is too limited and lacks a marxist understanding of what is capital and the reproducing of class relations). but maybe this discussion belongs to the thread about Seidman's book...

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Aug 25 2011 21:24
888 wrote:
It's a load of shit though isn't it? A very selective look at events to justify his already held views. There is a thread on here somewhere that basically rips it apart.

Congratulations on the thorough analysis. Also, if by any chance you mean this thread, I don't think it rips the book apart in the least. As Skraeling said on that thread 5 years ago, Seidman's book is very useful as an antidote to the uncritical, over-optimistic and theoretically misleading (especially when it comes to money and exchange) views of the likes of Sam Dolgoff (and almost everyone he included in the anthology on anarcihst collectives he edited).

Anyway, Piter sums it up well.

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Aug 25 2011 21:59
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useful as an antidote to the uncritical, over-optimistic and theoretically misleading (especially when it comes to money and exchange) views of the likes of Sam Dolgoff

It is a bit of a dishonest book (dishonest by its selectivity). I agree it is good to balance out over-optimism and selectivity on the other (A-S) side though, however I have a feeling that book is mainly used in an ideological way as ammo against anarchosyndicalists by individualists and the ultraleft. I certainly don't want to paint the Spanish revolution in a rosy light, it was a massive failure.

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Aug 26 2011 09:11
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however I have a feeling that book is mainly used in an ideological way as ammo against anarchosyndicalists by individualists and the ultraleft

maybe its selectivity is questionnable but it certainly show some of the weaknesses of the traditionnal worker's movement -anarchism/syndicalism being a part of it and sharing at least for a part these weaknesses (uncritical or weakly critical of work, tending to see as neutral its organisation and focusing too much on the question of property, fetichism of the development of productive forces seen as neutral and orientated in a way or in another depending who's in power, etc...).
that clearly is a good point for the book!

Dannny
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Aug 26 2011 10:20

It's a long time since I read it but I remember taking quite a lot from it too piter; it particularly made me think about the relationship of militants to non-militant workers. Of course all history is selective and if you are really interested in a particular area it is necessary to read widely. The thread referred to doesn't trash the book, unless you read it very selectively.

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Aug 26 2011 12:52
888 wrote:
It is a bit of a dishonest book (dishonest by its selectivity).

I find this argument strange. I can't remember Leval or Dolgoff mentioning many of the facts that Seidman does mention. Are Leval's and Dolgoff's books dishonest?

Moreover, the book is called "Workers Against Work". What would you expect it to be about? Heroic martyrs of the labor front?