Michael Seidman versus Stuart Christie on Paul Preston's 'The Spanish Holocaust'

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trellis5
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Oct 2 2012 18:07
Michael Seidman versus Stuart Christie on Paul Preston's 'The Spanish Holocaust'

Libcomers may be interested in Michael Seidman's recent critical review of Paul Preston's book on the Spanish Civil War: 'The Spanish Holocaust' in the Times Literary Supplement.

The apparently 'leftist' historian Helen Graham has angrily defended the 'liberal' Preston in the TLS letters page. More interestingly, the 'anarcho-syndicalist' Stuart Christie has responded angrily to Seidman on Anarkismo here: 'Michael Seidman and the Spanish Holocaust: whatever happened to serious and authoritative'.

What do libcomers think?

Juan Conatz's picture
Juan Conatz
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Oct 2 2012 18:21

'I've' always 'been' suspicious of 'Michael Seidman' .

grubbie
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Oct 3 2012 16:20

Readers may be interested in this little exchange that appeared under Christie's article on Anarkismo:

In Defence of Michael Seidman
by Jim Wed Oct 03, 2012 01:24

Stuart Christie raises some important points in this critique of Michael Seidman. And, in his desire to transcend conventional left-wing accounts of the Spanish Civil War, Seidman can sometimes come across as "pro-Franco". But Seidman clearly isn't "pro-Franco" in any serious sense. Indeed, whatever his present political views, he was originally inspired by the 'refusal of work' ideas of French ultra-leftists in the 1970 and 1980s

His first, and best, writings on the Spanish Civil War - especially the ground-breaking 'Workers Against Work' (1992) - exposed the productivist tendencies amongst all on the Spanish left, . There his sympathies are clearly with 'ordinary ' workers who saw the revolution as an opportunity to work less. In contrast, many socialist activists, including anarchists, attempted to impose strict work-discipline on their fellow workers.

Perhaps there was no alternative to this in conditions of a brutal civil war. But Seidman shows that such policies were going more in the direction of the authoritarian "socialism" of the Russian Bolsheviks than in any genuinely anti-authoritarian anarchist/communist direction. The short selection of quotes, entitled 'Workers Against Work in the Spanish Revolution' on libcom shows the depth of the problem.

We cannot be sure what would have happened if the Republic had won the Civil War. But, even if it had somehow kept out of the barbarism of the Second World War, it seems reasonable to suggest that the Republic might well have become a highly unstable Stalinist regime that could only survive by launching wave after wave of repression (probably combined with a centralised state economic system). Such policies led to the deaths of tens of millions in Russia and China, and could well have been equally disastrous in Spain. Indeed, from the point of view of both 'ordinary' workers and genuine revolutionaries, a Republican victory could have been even worse than the horrors following the Francoist victory.

Is it "pro-Franco" to say this. I think not. Indeed anarchist/communist revolutionaries need to be able to face such questions in order to rethink revolutionary ideas for the 21st century and avoid any repeat of the disasters of the Spanish, Russian and other murderous Civil Wars of the 20th Century. After all, people will have little interest in any future revolution if it is to be about merely replacing capitalist work-discipline with a socialist work-discipline - combined with the military discipline required to win yet another miserable civil war.

Of course, this raises many questions about the whole nature of any future anti-capitalist revolution that we cannot deal with here. But the difficult issues that Seidman raises are precisely the ones we need to face and we need to read him (no matter how understandably sympathetic we are to the heroic anarchist activists of the Spanish Civil War).

Politics-fiction and right-wing cultural offensive
by From Spain Wed Oct 03, 2012 03:16

Michael Seidman´s work about "workers against work" seemed to me, when I read it some years ago, an innocent excercise of achademic provocation, but nothing more. Not an interesting piece at all for militants or a book for the public opinion.

It seemed to me, too, another sub-product of the increasing and non-threatening (for the system) postmodernism in Academia, specially after the fall of the USRR. One son of its time.

What Jim calls "the productivist tendency" in the republican side during the Spanish Civil War is logic, in a context of fight against the class enemy. Fight not only in the militar ground, but in the economic too. The organised proletariat was conscious of its need. Not only the need of work not the same, but more. Even to risk their lives as voluntaries against the Franco army.

The exercise of imagining a "Stalinist Spain" falls well under the non-innocent category of "Politics-Fiction", a land where some historians try to project their philias and phobias. And Seidman is not an exception, showing in this case the strong right-wing influence in many lefties of yesterday. Others "critics of work" during the Spanish revolution walked the same way, for example Carlos Semprún-Maura, an ultra-leftist during the 70s and an ultra-liberal in the 2000s. A logic development of its ideas, in any case.

The "danger of Spain falling in the arms of Stalinism" and thus the omision of help or the direct support of Franco, was a common point of the "liberal" regimes of Europe and the US during the Spanish Civil War, and of the Francoist justification still today. So, Christie´s point is not offside.

Another thing, Jim: if you think that is posible building socialism without the pressure of the international capitalism, I think you are pretty innocent. That has never passed and in these days is not passing. You can take as examples the coups d´Etat (or attempts of coup) during theses years in Haiti, Honduras, Paraguay, Venezuela... if you doubt it.

And, why do you think that the masses are not ready to fight for their rights in the 21 Century as they were in the 20th Century?

The masses have been fighting and dying for a better tomorrow during this twelve years of 21 Century. You only should see Latin America or Middle East to prove it. If war is the price to pay for releasing themselves from oppresion or defending their conquests and achieving a better world, people is ready to pay the price. In Russia 1917, in Spain 1936, in Algeria in the Sixties... or in Venezuela 2012 if the right-wing tryes to destroy the process.

Cheers from Spain.

Anarcho
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Oct 5 2012 20:39

Seidman can sometimes come across as "pro-Franco".

I would say that would be because he is.

There his sympathies are clearly with 'ordinary ' workers who saw the revolution as an opportunity to work less.

I remember reading the last chapter, i think, in which he suggests that the "ordinary" worker would be better off under Franco. Indeed, that the dream of no-work would be achieved by allowing capital to accumulate and automate -- so the best possible thing would simply be NOT to resist, be quiet...

In contrast, many socialist activists, including anarchists, attempted to impose strict work-discipline on their fellow workers.

Unlike the Franco-regime? As it stands, the "ordinary" workers were facing economic blockade and massive problems. Much of the resources of the country were directed towards the war. In such circumstances, "working less" meant that workers, both at the front and in the rear, would not have arms, food, etc. Glib comments on "no work" really gets you nowhere...

Indeed, from the point of view of both 'ordinary' workers and genuine revolutionaries, a Republican victory could have been even worse than the horrors following the Francoist victory.

Ah, right, that explains why so the "genuine revolutionaries" left for other countries -- those that remained were usually shot out of hand by the Francoists, or imprisoned and used as slave labour (so much for "no work"). For the "ordinary" apolitical worker, who did what they were told, I guess that it would not matter too much (although I wonder what you have happened to them if they "resisted work" under Franco?). I'm not sure, though, that the apolitical worker is the basis of what counts as determining working class interests,

All in all, Seidman's book and argument always appeared to me to be reactionary -- his activities here have brought it out clearly. What gets me is how some "genuine revolutionaries" do not seem to see it.

trellis 5
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Oct 6 2012 15:33

Anyone wishing to understand Michael Seidman's approach would do well to read his recent article: 'The Strange History of Workers Against Work'.

It would be nice if Seidman was as anti-capitalist as we were. But his political views are less important than the historical facts that he presents.

Seidman shows that, while under threat of Franco's murderous takeover, some workers did indeed accept strict military and work discipline in order to defend the Republican state. He also shows that other workers often rebelled against this discipline and that this rebellion compelled the anarchist and socialist leaders of workplace collectives to become even more authoritarian.

Similar processes occurred in the soviets and factory committees of the Russian Revolution - processes that led to one of the most authoritarian regimes in history, a regime which eventually killed 10 million people. If the Kronstadt sailor's rebellion had managed to replace this Bolshevik regime with a more democratic soviet regime perhaps this outcome would have been less brutal. But isolation, militarism and hunger would probably have pushed it in the same horrific direction.

Fortunately, in the 21st Century, modern communications mean that any anti-capitalist revolution would find it much easier to spread like wildfire and break out of any isolation. Today people in advanced capitalist countries are also less keen to become soldiers and drag society into the dead-end of militarism and civil war. At the same time there is also less chance that poverty and hunger will demoralise people and encourage them to meekly accept any new authoritarian regime.

Under these, more favourable conditions, any proletarian who had just risked their life to overthrow capitalism would be unlikely to settle for a new regime that merely replaced capitalist wage labour with self-managed 'socialist' wage labour. Under these conditions wouldn't people prefer to simply abolish wage labour? Wouldn't they prefer a genuine anarchist/communist society to any rerun of the grim 'working-class' regimes of the Russian and Spanish Revolutions?

This scenario leaves many unanswered questions. But it also shows why Seidman's focus on people's individual rebellion against the miseries of wage labour and war is so important for revolutionary theory in the 21st century. Despite all its flaws, and unlike most conventional 'left-wing' history, Seidman's history helps us to glimpse our revolutionary future.

municwob
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Oct 6 2012 19:23

The book "workers against work" was printed last year in german language.
This year there was a response to the book brought up by the journal BARRIKADE:
http://muckracker.wordpress.com/2012/04/17/barrikade-7-aprilmai-2012/
In one article by H.H. the faked reproduction in this book of Diego Abad de Santillan was checked out.
You need to know that there was no spanish edition and I think it was proofed that Seidman undertook a purposefully denunciation of the anarchist part of the social revolution by manipulating the quotation.
And there was an answer from Seidman himself that confirmed involuntarily the accusations:
http://www.anarchismus.at/texte-zur-spanischen-revolution-1936/die-kolle...

kevin s.
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Nov 6 2012 21:12

hi all, municwob, could you please give some additional details about this?

Quote:
In one article by H.H. the faked reproduction in this book of Diego Abad de Santillan was checked out.
You need to know that there was no spanish edition and I think it was proofed that Seidman undertook a purposefully denunciation of the anarchist part of the social revolution by manipulating the quotation.
And there was an answer from Seidman himself that confirmed involuntarily the accusations:

I scanned through the link and some others and couldn't find what you are talking about, might be just me being a lazy skimmer.

Also, I gotta say while Christie makes some useful points, I don't get the "notorious pro-Franco apologist" thing... I've been reading some different Seidman works (books, short works, interviews) and found no evidence of this, at least again skimming sloppily over it. I just recently started reading Seidman (by coincidence, maybe a week or two before I saw this thread) on the suggestion of a non-anarchist individual... maybe that confirms a vaguely right-ish impulse there, I dunno. The lack of a Spanish translation is the part I'm most interested in, if there's a longer backstory to this etc..

Christie's piece (as well as Anarcho's comment) overall strikes me as at best, a mistaken feeling-based (i.e. non-substance-based) reading of Seidman (sorta "he's saying bad things about the CNT! and said something vaguely good-ish/complementary about the Nationalist! he's a notorious Franco apologist") or more likely just straight-up defensive posturing. I've read almost the exact same language a zillion times from trots and various other leftists against anarchist criticisms. Which doesn't negate the reality, frankly I think anarchists are often a little too quick to dismiss the "objective conditions" aspect of why revolutions "degenerate" (which are seen as too forgiving of the "degenerated revolutionaries"), and it's no surprise to hear it revived in defense of a "degenerated" anarchist revolution. Bit it speaks to how anarchists can play the same game of "surface" political-chronological history and sloppy "apologizing" when it comes to "our own," that we criticize in others.

I don't particularly share all Seidman's political perspective, but his work reads overall like a social historian's attempt to dig beneath the political surface and see what "real life" was going on during the war. A huge advantage over the standard anarchist romanticized accounts, in my opinion.

The implicit criticisms of CNTistas behaving like police, shouldn't be surprising, frankly, considering the more well-known instances of official CNT collaborationism, bureaucratization and repression of fellow CNT militants during the war.

About the revolutionary and counterrevolutionary terminology, seems like both Christie and Seidman accept at face value, the questionable claim that the CNT launched a social revolution in Catalonia (at best it was a half-revolution... it was openly collaborationist with the national government and the bourgeois parties, etc.), but Christie, unlike Seidman, doesn't acknowledge that the civil war was a sequel to the republic/anti-monarchist "bourgeois revolution" of the early '30s, against which Franco did lead a counterrevolution.

Christie writes this:

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I could go on and on, but I just don’t recognise Seidman’s terms of reference, especially his point that “The Spanish counter-revolutionaries did not wage a racial war against Jews, but concentrated on combating revolutionaries who threatened their lives, property and faith”. Who is he talking about? Franco and his cohort of clerico-fascist murderers were never “counter-revolutionaries”, they were reactionary golpistas who - with the help of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and influential elements in the British Establishment - overthrew a legitimately elected republican government (whatever one might think of that government) and massacred who knows exactly how many tens of thousands of innocents - who posed no threat whatsoever to life, property or faith (as witnessed to by Bishop Antonio) - in an attempt to counter perceived “proletarian barbarism” and roll Spain back 400 years to the Medieval Catholic values of the Holy Roman Empire.

No, in fact, the “counter-revolutionaries” during the Spanish Revolution and Civil War were Azaña, Prieto, Negrín, Companys, Jesús Hernández, Federica Montseny, Mariano R. Vázquez, and all the other ‘notable leaders’ on the Republican side; nor was it fascists, fifth-columnists, priests and nuns whom they were primarily targeting behind republican lines, but the thousands of revolutionaries and rank-and-file militants who, between July 1936 and December 1937, challenged their plots and manoeuvres to restore and consolidate bourgeois order.

Again this reads more like posturing and emotional argumentation than like a realistic analysis of what happened in Spain.

Dannny
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Nov 7 2012 10:12

Hi kevin s.

Quote:
The lack of a Spanish translation is the part I'm most interested in, if there's a longer backstory to this etc..

Republic of Egos has been translated into Spanish. If workers against work hasn't been, I'd personally doubt that there's much of a story behind this.

Quote:
I don't particularly share all Seidman's political perspective, but his work reads overall like a social historian's attempt to dig beneath the political surface and see what "real life" was going on during the war. A huge advantage over the standard anarchist romanticized accounts, in my opinion.

By the standard anarchist accounts I take it you mean the works of José Peirats and Abel Paz? That is to say, works of extraordinary scholarship produced in extremely straitened circumstances by men who, having participated in the Spanish revolution, went on to dedicate the rest of their lives to writing its history at a time when it genuinely risked total erasure. That is a very flippant thing to say and I'm sure Seidman wouldn't make such claims for himself.
For what it's worth I don't disagree with you about Seidman's intent, although I found the result disappointing, and at times particularly disingenuous. For example, his claim in ROE that 90% of war-time court cases in Republican Spain were non-political is pretty laughable, since of the thousands of "anti-fascist" prisoners locked up from 1937 on, Francois Godicheau tells us that around 90% were accused of non-political crimes (robbery, murder, illicit ownership of weapons etc), when of course their imprisonment couldn't have been more political. While Godicheau's work on anti-fascist prisoners is more recent than Seidman's, I still think it's, at the very least, extremely poor scholarship on the latter's part to go ahead with claims like that, when throughout 19th and 20th century Europe, hardly any anarchist prisoners were ever treated as "political" criminals.

Quote:
The implicit criticisms of CNTistas behaving like police, shouldn't be surprising, frankly, considering the more well-known instances of official CNT collaborationism, bureaucratization and repression of fellow CNT militants during the war.

About the revolutionary and counterrevolutionary terminology, seems like both Christie and Seidman accept at face value, the questionable claim that the CNT launched a social revolution in Catalonia (at best it was a half-revolution... it was openly collaborationist with the national government and the bourgeois parties, etc.), but Christie, unlike Seidman, doesn't acknowledge that the civil war was a sequel to the republic/anti-monarchist "bourgeois revolution" of the early '30s, against which Franco did lead a counterrevolution.

Not to put words in Christie's mouth but I would suggest that his, and my, and, frankly, most historians these days regardless of political sympathy [i.e. Preston's, Graham's etc] take is that, prompted by the attempted coup in 1936, a social revolution took place in Spain, carried out by CNT and often UGT militants. The CNT's collaboration did not form a part of this revolution but rather the counter-revolution, that is to say, the re-constitution of the Republican state. Regardless of how emotional one wants to be about it, it seems to me to be a pretty "realistic analysis of what happened in Spain".

kevin s.
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Nov 7 2012 23:33

Hi Dannny, appreciate the response and additional details. I should've been clearer - I'm no expert on the war, and the questions I asked weren't meant in a sarcastic style, I'm really honestly interested in hearing more details on the factual disputes, etc.. I make no claims of being a scholar on the Spanish rev, so if you any suggestions, comments or criticisms regarding the available scholarly works I'm appreciative of. As I said I've only recently started checking out Seidman's works.

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By the standard anarchist accounts I take it you mean the works of José Peirats and Abel Paz? That is to say, works of extraordinary scholarship produced in extremely straitened circumstances by men who, having participated in the Spanish revolution, went on to dedicate the rest of their lives to writing its history at a time when it genuinely risked total erasure. That is a very flippant thing to say and I'm sure Seidman wouldn't make such claims for himself.

Sorry, again I should have been clearer. I wasn't referring so much to scholarly disagreements (haven't read Peirats, and am slowly reading through Paz right now... have only read tidbits from Paz about the revolution period itself), was more referring the various shorter pieces I've encountered from various anarchist sources (incl works on libcom about the collectives during the war, etc.). Christie's book on the FAI is still sitting on the shelf, so I can't comment on it, except I've heard good things about it (although at the moment I'm more interested in Paz's work).

I was mainly commenting on two thing, one being that Christie's response mostly read to me like an emotional reaction and not as a scholarly refutation - and the "notorious pro-Franco apologist" bit especially strikes me that way, but, again, if someone can point me to tangible evidence of Seidman being a Franco apologist... I really, honestly, would want to see it, because I honestly didn't get that impression. As I said responses like that and the similar comments below it, read like pretty typical left responses to ultra-left critiques. Which isn't helpful at all to me, so it's a lousy critique as far as I'm concerned (whether or not it's true... since it offers little evidence to indicate that it's true).

The other thing I was raising was, what you rightly point out as most being agreed upon by most writers I've seen (including Seidman, obviously), the standard claim that there the anarchists unleashed a social revolution in Spain (especially, in Catalonia) in 1936 in response to the fascist coup attempt. Well, from everything I've read, I think that's only half true. The workers didn't "seize" (in marxist terms) nor "smash" (in anarchist terms) the bourgeois state. The national-level management was more corporatist/state capitalist than communist. The immediate-level workplace control is where most anarchists claim there was, at least for awhile, a social revolution - in particular in places like Barcelona. That might be true, that's where I'd like to research more and where works like Seidman's strike me as being of interest. Which is where I suspect even the more scholarly accounts are lacking, but again I might be wrong.

Quote:
For example, his claim in ROE that 90% of war-time court cases in Republican Spain were non-political is pretty laughable, since of the thousands of "anti-fascist" prisoners locked up from 1937 on, Francois Godicheau tells us that around 90% were accused of non-political crimes (robbery, murder, illicit ownership of weapons etc), when of course their imprisonment couldn't have been more political. While Godicheau's work on anti-fascist prisoners is more recent than Seidman's, I still think it's, at the very least, extremely poor scholarship on the latter's part to go ahead with claims like that, when throughout 19th and 20th century Europe, hardly any anarchist prisoners were ever treated as "political" criminals.

Interesting. I suspect he's relying upon official documentation too much, which has been a recurring debate when it comes to the Nazis, USSR, etc.. What is the Godicheau work you are referring to??

Quote:
The CNT's collaboration did not form a part of this revolution but rather the counter-revolution, that is to say, the re-constitution of the Republican state. Regardless of how emotional one wants to be about it, it seems to me to be a pretty "realistic analysis of what happened in Spain".

Well this speaks to what I said about Seidman, and others, crediting the CNT as more revolutionary than it was, which in turn leads to confusion over what the "lessons" are from stuff like his description of work resistance. The non-anarchist person who recommended Seidman to me, recommended as a case in point of workplace discipline being more oppressive after the workers were in power. Well, I guess I'm skeptical of how powerful the workers really were. I mean the PF/CNT/UGT "counterrevolution" sure was exceptionally easy, don't you think??

Again, meant as honest questions, and maybe a "thesis" or two, but I'm not at all an expert.

Quote:
Republic of Egos has been translated into Spanish. If workers against work hasn't been, I'd personally doubt that there's much of a story behind this.

Well supposedly Seidman "accidentally confirmed" his dishonest intentions in that interview, but I couldn't find where. I'll have to check again (later, gotta run now). I don't get why he'd translate RofE into Spanish but not WaW, if the motive is to avoid intellectual scrutiny, but again I could easily be missing something.

Dannny
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Nov 8 2012 10:20

Hi kevin.

Quote:
Sorry, again I should have been clearer. I wasn't referring so much to scholarly disagreements (haven't read Peirats, and am slowly reading through Paz right now... have only read tidbits from Paz about the revolution period itself), was more referring the various shorter pieces I've encountered from various anarchist sources (incl works on libcom about the collectives during the war, etc.). Christie's book on the FAI is still sitting on the shelf, so I can't comment on it, except I've heard good things about it (although at the moment I'm more interested in Paz's work).

I would certainly recommend you read vol 1 of Peirats before you read Christie, I like his book and it's definitely worth reading but, having read it twice, once when I was just starting to read about Spain and again recently, I'd say it helps to have a good idea of the controversies he refers to in order to make your mind up about his arguments.

Quote:
I was mainly commenting on two thing, one being that Christie's response mostly read to me like an emotional reaction and not as a scholarly refutation - and the "notorious pro-Franco apologist" bit especially strikes me that way, but, again, if someone can point me to tangible evidence of Seidman being a Franco apologist... I really, honestly, would want to see it, because I honestly didn't get that impression.

Yes I agree with that, not that I have a problem with emotion - these things do matter after all. But I've seen nothing to make me think Seidman is a pro-Franco apologist either.

Quote:
The other thing I was raising was, what you rightly point out as most being agreed upon by most writers I've seen (including Seidman, obviously), the standard claim that there the anarchists unleashed a social revolution in Spain (especially, in Catalonia) in 1936 in response to the fascist coup attempt. Well, from everything I've read, I think that's only half true. The workers didn't "seize" (in marxist terms) nor "smash" (in anarchist terms) the bourgeois state. The national-level management was more corporatist/state capitalist than communist. The immediate-level workplace control is where most anarchists claim there was, at least for awhile, a social revolution - in particular in places like Barcelona. That might be true, that's where I'd like to research more and where works like Seidman's strike me as being of interest. Which is where I suspect even the more scholarly accounts are lacking, but again I might be wrong.

There I was responding to the alternative narrative you appeared to be positing of a bourgeois democratic revolution in 1931, which was then briefly completed by the workers' organisations in response to the Francoist counter-revolution in 36. Is that what you were saying? I'd say it's mainly a semantic question whether you want to describe 31 as a revolution and therefore Francoism as a counter-revolution. The problem I have with what I thought you were saying is that it didn't leave any room for the independent action of the working class, which to me is the real story of Spain in the 30s.
Now, there's no doubt that Marxists and anarchists would like the revolution to have been more thoroughgoing, and to have won! But our history is ultimately one of defeats, isn't it? In areas of Spain the working class organised the defeat of an army, took control of the streets and of industry, improvised grand projects of education, sheltered refugees, improvised (out of nothing) a war industry, and in many (rural) areas abolished money, collectivised land and ran their affairs according to the decisions of assemblies. After the first weeks, a parallel process was undertaken to undermine these achievements, in which process the workers' organisations took part.
This was not a particularly "easy" process, no, even in spite of the powerful arguments they were able to employ - first we must defeat the fascists, Russia is the only country willing to help us, we can't scare off the bourgeois democracies or they'll side with Franco and so on. To complete the process the counter-revolutionaries had first to re-constitute a state that had been reduced to a phantasm, gradually bring revolutionary achievements under legal state power, establish and enforce censorship, establish a network of secret prisons, fight (and often lose to) groups of armed workers, undertake a massive police operation to disarm the rearguard, at least twice bring troops from the front to end workers' power (in Barcelona and Aragon) imprison thousands of militants and survive the scare of May 37, when the organised working class appeared determined to finish them off once and for all.

Quote:
What is the Godicheau work you are referring to??

It's called No Callaron. If you speak Spanish it's well worth getting hold of. He actually cites Seidman in the intro as it happens, and discusses the difficulty of social history when so much of what comes to us from the period is propagandistic or at least related to political organisations and institutions in some way. Nevertheless, he makes the useful point that it is perfectly possible for people to combine both "egoistic", everyday concerns with what we might recognise as political belief, that propaganda works, to some extent at least, because it speaks to real concerns.
If you don't speak Spanish, I'd recommend Chris Ealham's stuff on Barcelona, for an idea of the extent to which the CNT was informed by and in turn influenced many routine, day to day practices of the working class, whether recognisably political or not. That might help you come to some conclusions about how revolutionary it was, which is a difficult question to deal with on a superficial level.

Quote:
I don't get why he'd translate RofE into Spanish but not WaW, if the motive is to avoid intellectual scrutiny, but again I could easily be missing something.

I'd be amazed if that were his motive. Surely, writers want their works translated. I doubt it's up to him what is and what isn't.

kevin s.
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Nov 8 2012 18:23

Thanks, will check out those recommendations (ever so slowly, when I get time). I read limited Spanish and speak even less, actually I kinda would like improve my Spanish reading ability by reading Spanish-language material on the revolution.

Quote:
I'd say it's mainly a semantic question whether you want to describe 31 as a revolution and therefore Francoism as a counter-revolution. The problem I have with what I thought you were saying is that it didn't leave any room for the independent action of the working class, which to me is the real story of Spain in the 30s.

Right, wasn't questioning that there was independent action of the working class or even that the CNT was (especially in the earlier days) a major vehicle of working class action. I was commenting on the fact that some folks (maybe rightly, maybe wrongly) point to the internal "counterrevolution" as just being the logical next step from workers' self-managing impulses during that period. While that is a real thing (and one reason I dislike the term "self-management"), I was questioning whether the resort to repressive workplace measures that Seidman documents, is more reflective of the revolutionary impulses of the time ("worker's power") or of the collaborationist impulses within the unions. A complicated question, obviously. And related to the historical question of whether the working class really held all the power, or whether there was a new (or old) management layer in control.

Also was pointing out that Christie's claim that the Francoists weren't counterrevolutionaries, because the "real" counterrevolutionaries were the bourgeois republicans, seems disingenuous to me. I mean it's a bit like saying the White Guards weren't counterrevolutionaries because the Bolsheviks were. And the same for the line about how they were golpistas overthrowing a legitimately elected government... as if it was an isolated episode that had nothing to do with the radical social upheavals of the period. I think Seidman is clearly right on that point, whether or not he overstates the revolutionism of the CNT, Popular Front etc..

Quote:
This was not a particularly "easy" process, no, even in spite of the powerful arguments they were able to employ - first we must defeat the fascists, Russia is the only country willing to help us, we can't scare off the bourgeois democracies or they'll side with Franco and so on. To complete the process the counter-revolutionaries had first to re-constitute a state that had been reduced to a phantasm, gradually bring revolutionary achievements under legal state power, establish and enforce censorship, establish a network of secret prisons, fight (and often lose to) groups of armed workers, undertake a massive police operation to disarm the rearguard, at least twice bring troops from the front to end workers' power (in Barcelona and Aragon) imprison thousands of militants and survive the scare of May 37, when the organised working class appeared determined to finish them off once and for all.

Fair enough. I'm gonna have to check out those sources, before I put my foot any further up my mouth.

Dannny
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Nov 9 2012 13:08

Hi kevin

Quote:
I was questioning whether the resort to repressive workplace measures that Seidman documents, is more reflective of the revolutionary impulses of the time ("worker's power") or of the collaborationist impulses within the unions. A complicated question, obviously. And related to the historical question of whether the working class really held all the power, or whether there was a new (or old) management layer in control.

An interesting question. I suspect untangling it would involve a lot of research, but a good place to start might be Frank Mintz's Workers' Self-Management in the Spanish Revolution that AK Press put out this year.
I agree with your other paragraph on the semantics of counter-revolution and the context for the attempted coup.
Enjoy your reading!

vermelho's picture
vermelho
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Nov 9 2012 18:19

I am aware that this was published: Hacia una historia de la aversión de los obreros al trabajo. Barcelona durante la revolución española, 1936-38. It has only 36 pages.
http://www.sindominio.net/etcetera/PUBLICACIONES/minimas/minimas.html