The capers of a fool
Perhaps the following biographical sketch of one of the most outstanding representatives of the CNT, responsible for and advocate of all the mistakes, deviations and betrayals recounted in this same book, will be interpreted as irreverent. We are referring to Diego Abad de Santillán.
We shall not deny that he is an excellent writer and we may also say in his favor that, besides his intellectual training, he is physically quite photogenic; but all his beautiful qualities do not obviate the disappointing impression that his life as an anarchist militant has made on us, a life that is so full of capriciousness, and his sociological production that is plagued with disturbing contradictions.
It would seem that he possesses a mind that is very susceptible to suggestion; adaptable to the influences of the environment, the climate and the men with whom he associates; shaped by an exaggerated impressionism that makes him lose control over his reflective faculties, to the point where he denies today what he asserted yesterday, and to once again say tomorrow what he denied yesterday.
Back in 1925, Santillán co-wrote—together with Emilio López Arango—the book, Anarchism in the Workers Movement, in which, relating the history of the social struggles that took place in Argentina, he valiantly attacks the Marxist sectors and the opportunist elements that brandished the banner of “innovations” and “united fronts”. Even though Santillán was only the co-author of the book, this does not make the concepts set forth in the book any less his responsibility. In this book, on page 179, Santillán, combating neutralism and amorphous syndicalism in the working class organizations, proclaims:
“Are we anarchists or not? If we are, we must be anarchists all the time, and everywhere; if we are not, it would be wrong of us to simulate, on certain festival days or among certain drinking companions, ideas and sentiments that we do not really uphold.
“We are told that the trade union is for the wage workers who want to fight against capitalism. Another trite expression! There is the Russian example of the first order, to demonstrate to those who do not want to be blind, that capitalism is less fundamental as an enemy than statism, than the principle of authority. The Russian Revolution destroyed the old capitalist forms, it plunged private capital into ruin, but it left the state machine standing and the capitalism that had been thrown out the window returned two years later, by the door, along with the honors and obeisance of its alleged enemies of the past, welcomed as the savior of the country. It is not enough to be an enemy of capitalism to be a revolutionary, especially after the experience of the Russian Revolution. And those who exert themselves to suggest to the working class masses that their main enemy is capitalism are simultaneously striving to divert the proletariat form its instinctive war against the State. Furthermore, our everyday struggles do not just cause us to confront capitalism only once, as if we did not have to reckon with the host: the intervention of the State in the form of the police, the soldier, the judge, etc. The interests of the State, even in the countries that claim to be ruled by ‘workers’ governments, are identified with those of capitalism. Everyone knows this. And all we need now is for some sophists to come along, and in the name of syndicalism separate the two things and organize the workers for the struggle against capitalism, leaving the state, its institutions and the ideas upon which it is based intact, in praise of an alleged class unity that is shattered when the anarchists, enemies of the principle of authority, attack the state and statism.”
Because of the outrageous assassination of comrade López Arango, who during his time was the most faithful interpreter of the finalist conception of anarchist communism among the trade union organizations and a valiant defender of the FORA, Santillán was able to take control of the anarchist daily newspaper La Protesta and immediately demonstrated a sudden change in his appreciation of social reality. In the weekly supplement that he edited, this newspaper, for the most part, published articles by writers who rejected the polemical and positive work done by Arango in the columns of this publication for so many years.
In Argentina, Uriburu staged his military coup. Santillán became an enthusiastic propagandist in favor of an alliance between the radical syndicalists, the Marxist political parties and the specificist anarchist groups, with the FORA.
In 1932 Santillán published the pamphlet, The Bankruptcy of the Economic and Political System of Capitalism, from which we transcribe the following paragraphs:
“Paraphrasing Proudhon and Bakunin we say that any authority principle, in any form, is incompatible with the dignity and liberty of man and it is necessary to choose: either the continuation of political authority, of notions and laws that are above man, and thus the slavery, indignity and degradation of the individual, or else liberty, dignity, human affirmation and consequently the suppression in the minds of the people of all political, divine, economic or moral fantasies that are placed above man.
“All political and economic class regimes, all tyrannies are always based on the annihilation of man.
“… we must replace the domination of man by the administration of things; we must undertake to make the governmental State disappear, the supreme expression in our time of the authority of man over man, the most powerful instrument of slavery of the peoples for their fleecing by a privileged minority. As long as the governmental state exists there will be rich and poor, masters and slaves, oppressors and oppressed, and as long as this inequality reigns there can be no peace, solidarity or agreement among men.
“Without the suppression of the State and generally of every principle of politically organized and imposed authority, there will be privileged and dispossessed, because a government cannot be conceived except as the expression of the defense of the privileges of a particular category of men against the demands of the others.”
As a result of some measures taken by the Uriburista police, which promised retribution against those who used violent language in order to appear to be revolutionaries, Santillán had to make his escape to Montevideo and here we see him in the café circles among the exiled politicians.
The president of Uruguay, Terra, declared himself to be dictator and discharged the Blancos, Battlistas, and Colorados from their government posts. Santillán insinuated himself into the social circles of those who passed themselves off as the “opposition” and in a shameful amalgam of Blancos, Battlistas, socialists, Bolsheviks and anarcho-dictatorialists created the “Committee for Agitation Against the Dictatorships”, attempting to drag the FORU onto this confused terrain, which gave it a reason to openly distance itself from the anarchists of Uruguay.
After his “brilliant” activity in Montevideo and after his display of alliancist concepts—completely at odds with the ideas he advocated in his writings—he made his exit, “happy and confident”, from this environment, in which it was no longer possible for him to propagandize successfully on behalf of his “novel” “circumstantial” theory.
A short time later he made his triumphant appearance on the Iberian Peninsula. And you can imagine how a man of such intellectual prestige and such a background of experience in his dealings with the “democratic” politicians would have been given the welcome he deserved by the Spanish workers, giving him the chance to test his sociological “discoveries”. The environment should have been propitious for him.
He arrived in Spain on July 19, 1936. The military revolt led by Franco had just broken out.
Santillán made his dramatic entry—armed and with an escort—at the palace of the Generalitat, in order to have an interview with President Companys, a “sincere democrat”, and at this moment he placed the official seal of the CNT on the “first” betrayal.
Of his activities, of his flashy ideas and his conduct with regard to the choices posed by the civil war, we have already provided some details in the passages transcribed in this book from the report presented by comrade Besnard to the Extraordinary Congress of the IWA, and in other chapters.
And in Tiempos Nuevos, a magazine published in Barcelona, in June 1937, Santillán, in the article entitled, “Anarchists in the Government or Governmental Anarchists?”, he ardently bangs on the drum of his apostasy in order to offer us this discordant musical score:
“Regardless of the correlation and the dependence; regardless of the harmony that must always reign between what one says and what one does, between one’s ideas and the facts recited in their support, between doctrines and the practical conduct of those who uphold those doctrines, they do not always go hand in hand, together, general principles, which are the essence, with the tactical means, which depend on circumstances and are influenced by them.
“Principles, the ideal, are like the compass that guides one’s steps towards the goal. They are the straight line traced in our abstractions. Tactics are the application of these principles, of that course, to the twisting and changing contingencies and obstacles of the road. If often happens that it is not the straight line that leads us as rapidly as possible and most surely to our goal; sometimes one gets there first by way of zigzags. Sometimes it even happens that one gets there faster by retracing one’s steps.
“In all of this what is important is not to lose sight, even when the attainment of our ideal becomes less likely for the time being, of the true north indicated by the compass of our reason for existence. But a thousand roads lead to Rome and the choice of the best one depends on a multitude of circumstances and factors of the precise moment when the choice is made.”
This theory is a faithful copy of the Bolshevik slogan: “Any means is good, as long as it leads to the end.” And the end that is proposed by the obsequious servants of Stalin is the State.
The most felicitous aspect of this Santillanist inconsistency is the fact that, in order to make his pompous litany seem less arrogant, he claims that to get to Rome—to the Ministry of the Economy—he had to “set aside certain scruples”, as if he had not already abandoned these scruples a long time before, with his adventures among the politicians of our little part of the world.
But that is not all. The worst is yet to come.
Almost at the end of the tragedy experienced by the Spanish people, Santillán published his retrospective book, The Revolution and the War in Spain, in which, while describing the most important events of the civil war and a lot of quite ignominious backroom goings-on, he asks himself whether all the betrayals of principles that he endorsed and implemented with the other leaders of the CNT were beneficial or detrimental, and he concludes each chapter with a whining commentary about the insincerity demonstrated by the politicians in the “anti-fascist” bloc!
And it is thanks to this book that we have become acquainted with the last “discoveries” made by Santillán. He understands that the social revolution is a “dictatorship to the detriment of others” and for that reason he preferred to accept the dictatorship of the politicians. Of course, if he acted as an anarchist, he would not have had the satisfaction of sitting in a soft easy chair at the Ministry of the Economy.
He furthermore discovered that the petty bourgeoisie “must not be deprived of that minimum of comfort and security of life to which they have become accustomed … as an essential condition of any victory”.
Poor Santillán! He wasted so many years of his life as a propagandist for methods of struggle and ideas of a better social way of life for humanity and suddenly the scales fell from his eyes, and he beheld the crude reality: the beautiful awakening, the heroic deeds of the Spanish people, their overwhelming victory, all to understand that the social revolution that he witnessed was “a dictatorship” to the detriment of the bourgeoisie and the authoritarians.
This brings us back to the acrobatics of a “revolutionary” poet who was active in our circles in 1906: Ángel Falco. Having revealed that his colleague Santos Chocano had performed as a clown for the royal palaces of Europe, he dedicated the famous sonnet “From Fighter to Courtier” to Chocano. A short time later, Ángel Falco accepted a position in the diplomatic corps and did not write any more revolutionary verses.
Santillán, on the other hand, in his retrospective work—plagued by sophistry, inconsistencies and denials—seems to clench his fist and, striking himself in his chest, like the catechumens, reciting “Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa”.1
- 1 The refrain of the confessional prayer of the Roman Catholic Mass, “My fault, my fault, my most grievous fault”, which is supposed to be recited while striking one’s chest with one’s fist three times [Translator’s Note].