The Spanish 'Revolution'

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Volin
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Jun 14 2005 13:38
The Spanish 'Revolution'
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[However I dont see why, in you're mentioning of revolutions, you've missed out the Spanish Revolution, a massively important event in terms of socialism and anarchism and where trade unions not only played a part but were instrumental in the social upheavel]

[...]

This was not included in the list because the 'Spanish Revolution' was not a revolution. There was a proletarian uprising in July 1936 and you are correct that it was a massively important event in terms of socialism because of the role played by Anarchism and the trade unions. The role they played was not important becuase they were not "instruments of social upheavel", but totally the opposite, they were the tools used by the 'democratic' bourgeoisie to put down and divert the social upheavel that erupted in July 1936.It was Anarchism and the CNT that diverted the proletariat away from the defence of its own interests against the state through the massive strikes and onto the battlefields of the civil war. Rather than leading the confrontation with the state the Anarchists and the CNT lead the mobilisation of the proletariat behind the democratic state. The Stalinists, the Socialist and the nationalist stood no chance of mobilising the workers of Catalonia for waging the war, only the CNTand the FIA could do that. Company's and the rest of the 'democratic' state -in July 1936- asked for the support of the CNT in diverting the workers' away from the confrontation with the state and got it. It was the CNT that told the workers of Barcalona to disarm in May 1937, after they had risen up against the Stalinists and Socialists, and thus allowed the Stalinists to carry out the most brutal repression. It was the CNT that stopped, if I remember rightly, the Iron Colunm that 'abandoned' the front in order to march on Barcelona to support the workers in their struggle. And it was the Anarchists that mobilised the working class for the war economy under the guise of the collectives.

At the time it was only the Italian Fraction of the Communist left, and its publication Bilan, that stood out against this dress rehersal for WW2 consistently, including in Spain at great personal risk. The Anarchist Camillo Berneri had begun to call into question the war and had begun discussions with the Italian Communist Left, before the Stalinist thugs killed him in 1937, whilst the Friends of Durrutti [http://en.internationalism.org/ir/102_durruti.htm] began to make a critique of the war but were unable to break free from the constraints of anarchism.

Volin, whilst you probably totally disagree, do you not think that the actions of the CNT and FIA do not at least raise questions about their role?

Yeah, so following on from gustav's comments about the Spanish Civil War I thought we could maybe discuss a few of the points.

Did the Spanish Civil War ever amount to a proletarian revolution?

Were the syndicates (and Anarchism itself apparently) a bar on the working people breaking away from the Republican state?

Was the CNT and FAI reactionary?

Was there another organisation in existence that reflected the true revolutionary potential of the Spanish people?

Were all anarchists for postponing the mass devolution of power to fight the fascists?

etc. I'll post my own thoughts l8ter.

Steve
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Jun 14 2005 13:51

Did the Spanish Civil War ever amount to a proletarian revolution? Yes

Were the syndicates (and Anarchism itself apparently) a bar on the working people breaking away from the Republican state? No

Was the CNT and FAI reactionary? No

Was there another organisation in existence that reflected the true revolutionary potential of the Spanish people? No

Were all anarchists for postponing the mass devolution of power to fight the fascists? No

I know it's a lot more complicated but gustav and his mates are just here to recruit into their wacky organisation and I don't want to spend too much time on their nonsense.

Now can we give Spain 1936 a rest and get on with UK 2005?

Lazlo_Woodbine
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Jun 14 2005 14:04

Hear! Hear! 8) 8)

Vaneigemappreci...
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Jun 14 2005 14:07

wait, one more question.

Would the anarchists and revolutionary workers breaking away from Russian influence (and also hence refusing their main source of arms) in order to pursue the revolution as opposed to becoming a centralised unit designed to fight the fascists on conventional grounds, have helped their cause or not? Would war through revolution have been more succesful than war on the battlefields?

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Jun 14 2005 14:20
Vaneigemappreciationclub wrote:
Would the anarchists and revolutionary workers breaking away from Russian influence (and also hence refusing their main source of arms)

There are two things you need to be clear on when asking that question

1. As you probably already know Russian arms supply was tied to Russian control over where those arms went. This meant that the anarchist units generally didn't get these guns so breaking off relations wouldn't have had much of an impact. Their sources of arms were Mexico, manufacture and smuggling over the French border.

2. The Russians didn't give the guns for free but made a very tidy profit because pretty much the entire Spanish gold reserve (one of the largest in the world) was moved to Russia soon after the start of the war for safekeeping. If the plan hatched by Durruti and others to seize the gold at the start of the war had been put into effect they would of course have risked an early civil war within the republican side. But they would have had enough gold that the arms dealers would have been queing up to smuggle weapons to the anarchists.

Vaneigemappreciationclub wrote:
Would war through revolution have been more succesful than war on the battlefields?

Not sure what 'war through revolution' means - if its the silly idea that all they needed to do was seize the workplaces and wait for the French working class to rise then no. The revolution needed to be extended by the CNT/FAI rather then held back for sure but a military fight would still have been needed against Franco. And extending the revolution would almost certainly have increased the liklihood of further military intervention including possibly limited intervention from the British and French once British and French owned workplaces were seized.

If your actually interested in the military tactics of the war then Antony Beevors book is surprisingly good both on what the anarchists did and what they could have done. (he's the author of Stalingrad and Berlin).

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Jun 14 2005 14:30
Volin wrote:
Did the Spanish Civil War ever amount to a proletarian revolution?

Thats another of those 'how do you define' questions. It was certainly the largest historical incidence of workers not only seizing their workplaces but self-managing them for quite a period of time afterwards. If that is what a 'proletarian revolution' is to you then yes. If 'proletarian revolution' means a party seizing power 'on behalf' of the working class than rather obviously that didn't happen in Spain.

Volin wrote:
Were the syndicates (and Anarchism itself apparently) a bar on the working people breaking away from the Republican state?

I wouln't fall into the trap of starting to answer that question on July 19, 1936 as the first thing that has to be said is that without the anarchist organisation before this date the fascist coup would almost certainly not have been met with a popular uprising. The political parties - as in Germany and Italy - had put their trust in the army enforcing 'law and order' and had refused to arm the people. It was the anarchists of the CNT / FAI that organised the mass seizure of arms, warned of the coup and proclaimed the general strike (and popular uprising) as it happened.

Volin wrote:
Was the CNT and FAI reactionary?

What does 'reactionary' mean here?

Volin wrote:
Was there another organisation in existence that reflected the true revolutionary potential of the Spanish people?

If there was wouldn't history have been different?

Volin wrote:
Were all anarchists for postponing the mass devolution of power to fight the fascists?

No - the FIJL (libertarian youth) always opposed collaboration and of course from within the CNT not only was their opposition but it soon organised around the Friends of Durruti. So while you can say that the anarchist movement had a major, major political weakness you also have to acknowledge that the only real opposition to the collaboration policy arose from within the ranks of the anarchist movement (its often forgotten that the POUM were also collaborationist). So if you went back with Dr Who to July 1936 even with full knowledge of what was to happen the only place to organise in was within the ranks of the existing movement.

Lazlo_Woodbine
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Jun 14 2005 14:33

Nononono, shut it.

<strains back as attempts to shut door on burgeoning Spanish Civil War debate>

Can't we instead ask what it is that motivates tiny political groups to go around tring to put their own 'line' forward? I think this kind of in-group psychology has far more relevancy to the problems we face today...

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Jun 14 2005 14:52
Lazlo_Woodbine wrote:
Can't we instead ask what it is that motivates tiny political groups to go around tring to put their own 'line' forward? I think this kind of in-group psychology has far more relevancy to the problems we face today...

Why care that this debate stems from a tiny groups of nutcases. It can be worthwhile despite that.

Beltov
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Jun 14 2005 15:03
Steve wrote:
Now can we give Spain 1936 a rest and get on with UK 2005?

Sorry Steve but you're not getting off that lightly, not when it comes to an episode in history that is so rich in experience. So let's take up a few questions...

Did the Spanish Civil War ever amount to a proletarian revolution?

No. It was a war between two fractions of the Spanish bourgeoisie: on the one hand, Franco backed by German and Italian imperialism; and on the other the Republic of the Popular Front (which in Catalonia included the Stalinists, the POUM and the CNT) backed by the USSR and the democratic imperialisms. This was an imperialist war, a preparation for World War 2.

Were the syndicates (and Anarchism itself apparently) a bar on the working people breaking away from the Republican state?

Yes.

- In February 1936, the CNT flouted its abstentntionist principles, through indirectly calling for a vote for the Popular Front.

- In July 1936 the Generalitat was at the mercy of the workers in arms, but the CNT handed the power to Companys, called for a return to work and sent the workers to be massacred on the Aragon front.

- In May 1937, when the workers responded to the bourgeoisie's provocation by spontaneously setting up barricades and taking control of the streets, once again the CNT called on them to abandon the struggle, and stopped workers from returning from the front to support their comrades in Barcelona.

Was the CNT and FAI reactionary?

Not to begin with. In 1919 the CNT supported the Russian Revolution and the Communist International. But with the defeat of the revolutionary wave by the end of the '20s the CNT began to move towards supporting the bourgeoisie, most explicitly through such fractions as the Trentists; and despite the fact that elements who adhered to the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat continued to exist within it. If sending 4 ministers into a bourgeois government isn't then what is?

Was there another organisation in existence that reflected the true revolutionary potential of the Spanish people?

No. By the mid '30s the Communist Parties were completely Stalinised, and the Trotskyists were compromised by their support for the Popular Front. However, there were still internationalist voices in Europe (e.g. the Italian Communist Left around Bilan).

Were all anarchists for postponing the mass devolution of power to fight the fascists?

There were groups such as the Friends of Durruti that were expelled from the CNT for their criticisms of the latter. The ICC has written an article on the Friends of Durruti, which covers many issues raised.

That's all for the moment...

Beltov.

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Jun 14 2005 15:19

Um, sorry to ask but are you saying the CNT should have fought both the fascists and the Republicans at the same time? Is there any tactical way that could have worked?

If not, what is the point in this argument? Surely it's a simple case of pragmatism, unpleasant but not in itself evidence of the CNT abandoning its primary responsibility, which was to its members and its communities?

TBH, if the only options are 1. Do nothing and lose to the Fash 2. Fight both sides and lose to the Fash, 3. Fight with the Republic and potentially end up with a social democracy rather than a fascist dictatorship (ie. the lesser of two evils), 3 wins every time for me.

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Jun 14 2005 15:30
Saii wrote:
if the only options are 1. Do nothing and lose to the Fash 2. Fight both sides and lose to the Fash, 3. Fight with the Republic and potentially end up with a social democracy rather than a fascist dictatorship (ie. the lesser of two evils), 3 wins every time for me.

I think the point is that there may have been another one

4. Extend the social revolution to all spheres and because not all workers are in the CNY form a delegate council to manage the military side with the other major union, the UGT.

Certainly at the time significant elements of the CNT saw this 4th option as a possibility so its not just a case of wishful thinking. And given what actually happened (collaboration under which the CP hammered the anarchists followed by Francos rule for nearly 40 years) there is a good argument to consider this alternative.

Lazlo_Woodbine
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Jun 14 2005 15:32

I dunno, arguments about old Spain then arguments about old Russia...Look, I'll represent it in pictures:

Beltov
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Jun 14 2005 15:33
Lazlo_Woodbine wrote:
Nononono, shut it.

<strains back as attempts to shut door on burgeoning Spanish Civil War debate>

Can't we instead ask what it is that motivates tiny political groups to go around tring to put their own 'line' forward? I think this kind of in-group psychology has far more relevancy to the problems we face today...

Just a few observations...

1) FFS, what's the point in having a discussion forum where a confrontation of positions and ideas can't take place?

2) Why are the likes of Steve and Vaneigm so afraid of opening this particular 'can of worms'?

3) Surely if you don't learn from past mistakes then you run the risk of repeating them?

4) The ICC is not 'intervening to recruit'. We simply want to openly defend our positions and to engage in public debate with those who are seeking to clarify their ideas, which it seems the core of the libcom collective are. The aim of this debate should be clarification and against confusion. Forgive us for thinking that we might be able to play a positive role!

Some of you may be aware that last year we helped set up an Internationalist Discussion Forum with the Moscow organisation of the Confederation of revolutionary Anarcho-Syndicalists, Russia (KRAS), and the Group of the revolutionary proletarian collectivists, Russia (GPRC), the express aim of which was to promote the widest discussion of the lessons of the Russian Revolution. This Introduction to the site openly, clearly and honestly explains our intentions.

The militants of the ICC are not nutjobs, nutcases or any other variety of nuts. We are sincere, honest, principled communists who have committed our lives to the cause of the proletariat.

Beltov.

Lazlo_Woodbine
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Jun 14 2005 15:34
JoeBlack2 wrote:
4. Extend the social revolution to all spheres and because not all workers are in the CNY form a delegate council to manage the military side with the other major union, the UGT.

IN Catalunya the UGT and PSOE came under the control of the Communists very quickly. Your 4th plan could have turned into a syndicalist version of Republican collaboration very quickly. It overestimates the CNT's ability to pull sections of the working class with it, outside the 1 million+ who did join in the first few months of the civil war/revolution.

<SHIT>

Lazlo_Woodbine
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Jun 14 2005 15:37
Beltov wrote:
The militants of the ICC are not nutjobs, nutcases or any other variety of nuts. We are sincere, honest, principled communists who have committed our lives to the cause of the proletariat.

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Jun 14 2005 15:38

Surely that comes under option 2? Taking into account that the Republic lost astoundingly quickly once the showdown had started (despite the contest being at that point all but a formality) surely a union/republic split would have had a similar effect?

(though I agree, bollocking on about what tactics could have been used at this point seems pointless, maybe it's something to be revisited when we're next in the same situation?)

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Jun 14 2005 15:41

Perhaps a Spanish Civil War Re-enactment Society for this year's Bookfair? Or maybe we could do it instead of the Community Action Gathering on Saturday?

roll eyes

wink

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Jun 14 2005 15:44
Lazlo_Woodbine wrote:

IN Catalunya the UGT and PSOE came under the control of the Communists very quickly. Your 4th plan could have turned into a syndicalist version of Republican collaboration very quickly. It overestimates the CNT's ability to pull sections of the working class with it, outside the 1 million+ who did join in the first few months of the civil war/revolution.

In relation to Catalonia this was in part because of the strength of the CNT and the weakness of the UGT (so not so much for the CP to take over) along with the long hostile relationship. CNT strength in Catalonia meant that if the UGT had been pulled in elsewhere then they would have had to be involved in Catalonia.

As for the 'syndicalist version of Republican collaboration' this misses the point in a spectacular way. There are no perfect choices but the two here are

a) Going into a government of polictical parties as a small minority

b) Forming a council of workers organisations as a near majority

Even leaving aside the contradiction of an anarchist minister for justice etc the two are hardly 'equally bad' - are they?

Lazlo_Woodbine
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Jun 14 2005 15:45
JoeBlack2 wrote:
As for the 'syndicalist version of Republican collaboration' this misses the point in a spectacular way. There are no perfect choices but the two here are

a) Going into a government of polictical parties as a small minority

b) Forming a council of workers organisations as a near majority

Even leaving aside the contradiction of an anarchist minister for justice etc the two are hardly 'equally bad' - are they?

Good point.

Now let's all stop it black bloc

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Jun 14 2005 15:47
Saii wrote:
(though I agree, bollocking on about what tactics could have been used at this point seems pointless, maybe it's something to be revisited when we're next in the same situation?)

Yeah right - the biggest anarchist led experiment in self management in history leads into collaboration but we should put off any discussion of what might have gone wrong until the next time?

Vaneigemappreci...
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Jun 14 2005 15:50

beltov i think your confused i dont know anything about a can of worms, sometimes discussions like this can just get bogged down in differences which are little more than semantics.

Quote:
Not sure what 'war through revolution' means - if its the silly idea that all they needed to do was seize the workplaces and wait for the French working class to rise then no

No i didnt necessarily mean in that sense, of course theres always going to be a point where arms are needed, in beaver's book he goes on about the temporary revolution in barcelona and how if the revolution had been allowed to flourish as opposed to it being extinguished by the stalinists then there may have been more of a chance of it spreading to other large towns and cities and may have resulted in a more salutory result than simply fighting the fash on the battlefield. Bceause it got to a point whereby one side seemed little different to the other and hence some people lost sight of what it was they were actually fighting for: Stalinist dictatorship or fascist dictatorship, and surely if stalin et al had triumphed on the republican side then a dictatorship wouldve followed since the anarchists werent powerful enough to resist?

Lazlo_Woodbine
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Jun 14 2005 15:51

Why don't we discuss the failures of Argentina, or the possibilities of Bolivia? Both are far more relevant?

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Jun 14 2005 15:53
Lazlo_Woodbine wrote:
Why don't we discuss the failures of Argentina, or the possibilities of Bolivia? Both are far more relevant?

'Cause if we discussed them, we might have to make our minds up after the discussion rather than before. Which is nowhere near as good.

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Jun 14 2005 15:57
Lazlo_Woodbine wrote:
Why don't we discuss the failures of Argentina, or the possibilities of Bolivia? Both are far more relevant?

We can do that as well - here is an article I edited on Argentina that I think is very good if you want to make a start.

http://www.anarkismo.net/newswire.php?story_id=627

And tonight as it happens I'm helping to set up the technical side of an interview by phone with some comrades in Bolivia this evening.

Despite this I still reckon looking at the single biggest anarchist experiment may contain some useful lessons not contained in either of these (actually as yet my knowledge of Bolivia is very, very limited - far too limited to discuss anything).

Lazlo_Woodbine
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Jun 14 2005 16:14

What's going to happen to the interview? IS it going to be recorded for radio or transcribed? I'll have a look at the Arg article, thanks.

Beltov
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Jun 14 2005 16:24
Saii wrote:
Um, sorry to ask but are you saying the CNT should have fought both the fascists and the Republicans at the same time? Is there any tactical way that could have worked?

...

TBH, if the only options are 1. Do nothing and lose to the Fash 2. Fight both sides and lose to the Fash, 3. Fight with the Republic and potentially end up with a social democracy rather than a fascist dictatorship (ie. the lesser of two evils), 3 wins every time for me.

OK. Option 1 sucks: agreed.

Option 2 is always the best option: refuse to fight for either side in an imperialist conflict. There is no such thing as a lesser evil! This is what the working class did in Russia 1917 and it led to the end of the First World War.

Option 3 is the most dangerous. In this epoch all fractions of the bourgeoisie are equally reactionary, which is why anti-fascism is so dangerous. One of the major advances made by the ruling class was that it learnt how powerful the strategy of the anti-fascist popular front was in controlling the working class and ideologically preparing it to fight for the nation. We all know to what purpose this was put in the Second World War.

Vaneigemappreciationclub wrote:
wait, one more question.

Would the anarchists and revolutionary workers breaking away from Russian influence (and also hence refusing their main source of arms) in order to pursue the revolution as opposed to becoming a centralised unit designed to fight the fascists on conventional grounds, have helped their cause or not? Would war through revolution have been more succesful than war on the battlefields?

What could have been done in Spain? The Friends of Durruti wanted to struggle against the war and for the revolution, but were incapable of finding the point of departure for an effective struggle: internationalism. This would have meant calling on the workers and peasants, enlisted in both gangs - the Republic and the Franquistas - to desert, to turn their guns on the officers who oppressed them and to return to the rear and struggle through strikes and demonstrations, on a class terrain, against the whole of capitalism.

But this is the tragedy of Spain 1936: even if the workers had been successful in launching a class war on both fronts, the only way they could have definitively advanced their struggle would have been to extend it across Europe, America and Asia. But with the counter-revolution in full swing then this was impossible.

To cast about 'what ifs' is not the most productive approach: looking history in the face and drawing the lessons objectively, and with a marxist method, is.

Beltov.

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Jun 14 2005 16:51
Saii wrote:
TBH, if the only options are 1. Do nothing and lose to the Fash 2. Fight both sides and lose to the Fash, 3. Fight with the Republic and potentially end up with a social democracy rather than a fascist dictatorship (ie. the lesser of two evils), 3 wins every time for me.

Saii, it might seem "pragmatic" to have an "enemy's enemy is my friend" strategy, and ally yourself with the capitalist state but it never ever works. History is strewn with thousands of dead revolutionaries who did just this.

I've often heard the argument that the anarchists should have abandoned the front war and turned to widespread guerrilla warfare - what do people think of this?

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Jun 14 2005 17:16

I think they would have been crushed but I don't like the statist partnership either.

Steve
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Jun 14 2005 17:28
the button wrote:
Perhaps a Spanish Civil War Re-enactment Society for this year's Bookfair? Or maybe we could do it instead of the Community Action Gathering on Saturday?

roll eyes

:wink:

I once went to a fancy dress do where the theme was 'internationalism' or something like that, as a CNT militiaman - Aragon Front 1936. Didn't win cry (the DJ/judge gave it to three young blonde women who had cowboy hats on) but I'm pretty sure I've still got the gear somewhere. smile or maybe embarrassed

Steve
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Jun 14 2005 17:34
Beltov wrote:
Why are the likes of Steve and Vaneigm so afraid of opening this particular 'can of worms'?

When I first joined the DAM I remember we were always being accused of being obsessed with Spain and the revolution. I also remember having these arguments many times and never getting anywhere. When it comes down to it the biggest mistake the CNT made was in not rounding up every stinking communist they could find and shooting the bastards.

Not afraid just bored.

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Jun 14 2005 17:48
Steve wrote:
When I first joined the DAM I remember we were always being accused of being obsessed with Spain and the revolution. I also remember having these arguments many times and never getting anywhere. When it comes down to it the biggest mistake the CNT made was in not rounding up every stinking communist they could find and shooting the bastards.

There were only 2,000 of them at the beginning as well! roll eyes