Chapter 1: The characteristics of the Spanish anarchists

1

The characteristics of the Spanish anarchists

The anarchist ideal has had, for many years, intelligent and diligent champions in the regions of Spain. The First International was courageously supported by its Spanish Section, which later became the Spanish Regional Federation of Workers, in 1881.

We have often taken pleasure in reading the beautiful pages of the books of Prat, Mella, Anselmo Lorenzo, Tarrida del Mármol. We recall the restless and exemplary actions of Salvochea. In 1906 we knew, in Argentina and Uruguay, Antonio Loredo and others whose names we cannot recall.

And we also know that since the Spanish anarchists appeared on the stage of the social struggle, they have suffered persecution and many were shot.

Manuel Buenacasa, in his book, El movimiento obrero español, cites the famous uprising of Jerez, in January 1892, in which four thousand men, shouting “Viva la Anarquía”, entered the city and held it for several hours.

But we do not want to stray too far from our subject. It is the National Confederation of Labor that we are concerned with here.

We would not be honest if we did not say that the characteristics of the anarchist militants of the CNT in Spain deserve our closest scrutiny. Moreover, we can say that the enormous amount of propaganda sent to the Iberian peninsula from South America and the exchange of militants with the FORist movement of Argentina and Uruguay—an exchange made necessary by the persecutions and deportations that we have undergone and which were implemented by “republican” and “democratic” governments on both sides of the Río Plata—did not exercise the influence that we would have desired, since we have noted that activities within the CNT have seldom manifested the intransigence, courage and convictions that we have ourselves displayed against all political fractions and the state.

Since the founding of the CNT, in September 1911, up until today, the CNT has undergone many fluctuations in its ideological orientation and its practical tactics of struggle, and we are not the only ones who think so. As Buenacasa, in the book cited above, says:

“I have said and written on more than one occasion, that the CNT of Spain has experienced periods whose exemplary nature has almost overshadowed the best moments of the old Spanish Section of the first International Workingmen’s Association. It cannot be doubted, however, that this institution, during the period between 1919 and today [1926], has suffered from the most lamentable mistakes and the most disastrous deviations”.

While relations between the CNT and political elements were never very cordial, the CNT did remain in contact with them and even tried to attract them by means of objective alliances. The lessons of the struggles that had taken place all over the world had no influence on the minds of the Spanish militants. It would appear that they sought to reestablish the sincerity, or rather the ingenuousness, that their anarchist predecessors had displayed for so many years, in their attempt to maintain the unity of the two tendencies into which the European proletariat was divided: anarchists and authoritarians, a fact that was conscientiously described and studied by López Arango in his book, El anarquismo en el movimiento obrero.

So stubborn were our comrades in Spain, in their attempt to attract the working class multitudes who had been influenced by the Marxists, that it was not enough to convince them of their error by referring to the many betrayals for which the Marxists were responsible in all the conflicts in which the CNT had to confront the capitalists and the state. And as for the authoritarian mentality that dominated the Marxists, this is demonstrated, as plain as day, by a very recent historical fact: the October rebellion in Asturias, where the impracticality of merging the Marxists with the anarchists was revealed, to such a degree that the enormous difference of practical orientations and policies that distinguish both proletarian fractions became clearly evident, a difference that could have been distinctly appreciated in Sama and La Felguera, neighboring towns, in which attempts were made to implement new forms of social existence, which only highlighted the differences between them; for while in Sama a committee modeled on the “dictatorship of the proletariat” was organized, whose “cheka” arrested the anarchists in order to put them on trial, in La Felguera the comrades conducted themselves in a framework of full freedom and solidarity among its inhabitants.

***

Let us look back, however, and examine the alliance accepted by the CNT with the UGT and the “leftist” politicians like Combó and Lerroux, that was implemented as a prelude to the great strike of August 1917, which, although it had a real revolutionary character, was betrayed by the socialists and republicans, and this unfortunate experimental alliance resulted in countless victims among the members of the CNT.

A little later—as a result of the elation caused in the anarchist ranks by the events that were taking place in Russia—we observed a process of Bolshevization in the CNT, which led to a great deal of confusion.

Pestaña, who was a prestigious member of the CNT organization, went to Moscow to attend the Second Congress of the Communist International. According to subsequent reports, this same Pestaña was also a signatory of the founding constitution of the Red Trade Union International.

On the Iberian peninsula, meanwhile, the “conversos1 who had acknowledged the need for a transitional institution—“the dictatorship of the proletariat”—continued to sow the new seed, and were so successful that at the famous Congress of the CNT held at the Teatro de la Comedia in Madrid in 1919, they obtained the approval of the delegates for the following shocking resolution:

“That the National Confederation of Labor of Spain declares that it is a firm supporter of the principles of the First International as advocated by Bakunin. It declares its provisional adherence to the Communist International, because of the revolutionary character with which it is imbued, and in the meantime the National Confederation of Labor will organize and convoke the worldwide workers congress that will agree upon and determine the bases upon which the real Workers International must be founded.” 2

In the interests of full disclosure and to highlight its contradictions, we shall point out that at the same congress a motion proposing a merger with the UGT was rejected and we read the following declaration of principles:

“Taking into account the fact that the tendency that is most powerfully manifested in the workers organizations of all countries is the one that leads towards the complete, total and absolute liberation of humanity on the moral, economic and political planes, and considering that this goal cannot be achieved as long as the land and the instruments of production and exchange have not been socialized and as long as the all-encompassing power of the state has not disappeared, the proposal is submitted to the Congress, that in accordance with the essence of the postulates of the First International, that the Congress should declare that the goal that is pursued by the National Confederation of Labor of Spain is Anarchist Communism.”

We have provided these details concerning the way the CNT went about proposing alliances with politicians—which fully justify Buenacasa’s statement that the CNT “has suffered from the most lamentable mistakes and the most disastrous deviations”—in order to provide the reader with some background information concerning the later attitudes adopted by the Spanish labor confederation.

Despite the mistakes committed and the discouraging results obtained in the various efforts by the CNT to attempt to put its unificationist slogans into practice, the CNT persisted in its erroneous ways, for at the Zaragoza Congress of May 1936, it approved a resolution that called upon the UGT, an avowedly political labor union, to enter a revolutionary alliance whose purpose would be “the destruction of the political regime”. This alliance was achieved, with great fanfare among the members of the CNT, in the year of the outbreak of the military revolt, and was bitterly criticized by the Uruguayan FOR—a critique that was published in the fifth issue of the International Journal of the IWA—a critique that we shall subject to further examination, insofar as it relates to this alliance, since its sensible comments were to be completely vindicated by the events with which we are now so familiar.

  • 1. A historical term referring to Jewish or Moslem inhabitants of Spain who converted to Catholicism during the conquest of Spain by the Christian monarchy, especially during the 14th and 15th centuries [Translator’s Note].
  • 2. These resolutions were translated into English and published in the IWW’s Industrial Pioneer, March 1921, p. 53, as follows: “FIRST: That the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo declares itself the firm defender of the principles which gave form to the First International, sustained by Bakounine; SECOND: That it declares its provisional adherence to the Third International, because of the revolutionary character of its present directorate, and until the organization and holding of the International Congress in Spain, which is to lay the basis upon which will be founded the real International of the workers.” [Translator’s Note.]