Chapter 15: CNT pressure on the IWA

Submitted by Alias Recluse on June 15, 2014


CNT pressure on the IWA

It is undeniable that the Secretariat of the International Workingmen’s Association, the institution to which the FORU and the FORA belong, underwent some anxious and difficult moments as it attempted to defend the ideological orientation and the practices of struggle approved at the IWA’s founding congress.

In the interests of fairness, we must declare that comrade Pierre Besnard, who was the Secretary of the IWA since the period before the war until quite recently, tried to maintain a line of conduct that accords with the IWA’s declaration of principles and tirelessly fought to prevent any deviations from arising and to attempt to convince the cenetistas to rectify their treasonous governmental policies.

This statement, which actually represents a sincere eulogy for the work of comrade Besnard in that emergency, does not mean that we agree with his way of thinking with respect to the workers movement, since we accept neither the term anarchosyndicalism nor the final goal that he attributes to the trade unions.

It would be of interest to the workers to become fully acquainted with the terribly difficult task of the Secretariat of the IWA, but since this would mean making this text even longer than it already is, we shall limit ourselves to describing in what may be referred to as a summary form some of his interventions with regard to the Spanish CNT.


Most of the quotations in this section are taken from the report presented by comrade Besnard at the Extraordinary Congress of the IWA held in Paris in December 1937.

In his first visit to Spain he was able to observe the animosity and the malicious intentions exhibited by the central government of Largo Caballero towards the cenetista militia columns, going so far as to deny them weapons for the defense of the Aragon front, which they were responsible for defending. The Secretariat informed the responsible officials of the CNT and the FAI of this serious anomaly and encouraged them to attempt to obtain the necessary arms. This was why the CNT and the FAI began negotiations with an arms dealer, but the deal fell through and Besnard said:

“Therefore, Spain did not receive the arms it immediately needed, and Russia supplied to the Madrid government, for cash, arms of a debatable quality, and only a little at a time, with the promise that they would not be distributed to the CNT columns and that the communist party would be able to carry out its activities and expand in particularly favorable conditions. I noted how Russian influence was gaining ground. García Oliver and Santillán, and especially the former, only saw everything through the eyes of Antonov Ovseenko, the Consul General of Russia in Barcelona…. Faced with such submission to Russia, the Secretariat of the IWA could do nothing but return without further discussions to Paris.”


In the meantime, the CNT, “embarking” on the tortuous path of betrayals, convened a Plenum of Regional Federations on October 23, 1936, and passed the following resolutions:

“1. The appointment of a Plenum Committee, composed of the Levant, the Center and Catalonia, to conduct an interview in Barcelona with the President of the Republic, Azaña, in order to explain to him the need to precipitate a government crisis so that the CNT can join the government for the purposes and under the conditions approved at the Plenum of Regional Federations held on September 15. This Committee must require an answer from Azaña within 48 hours.

“2. Should the proposal be rejected, we shall take measures of a military kind to ensure communications between Madrid, Levant, Aragon, Andalusia and Catalonia and to control the passage of men and supplies from these regions towards Madrid. In order to implement this resolution the National Committee will appoint a National War Committee. By means of this Committee, the fronts of Catalonia, Aragon, Levant and Andalusia will be unified.

“3. The CNT must proceed to mobilize 100,000 men from its confederal forces. This mobilization will be carried out in conjunction with the Regional Committees and the National War Committee.

“4. Organize joint action with all our regional forces in order to achieve control over the economy and to coordinate reserves.

“5. Expedite the negotiations that are currently underway with the diplomatic representatives of Russia, in order to achieve the measures necessary for the implementation of the resolutions adopted by our Plenum.

“6. Revise any prior resolutions and intensify the public campaign in favor of the resolutions approved at the Plenum of September 15.”

The most important resolution of September 15, mentioned in the text quoted above, reads as follows:

“The constitution in Madrid of a National Defense Council composed of elements from all the political forces that are fighting fascism, in the following proportions: five delegates from the UGT, five from the CNT and four republicans. Presidency of the National Council: Largo Caballero. The constitution of this National Defense Council proposes that the current president should continue to hold office and that he should govern the republic in the same manner as he has done up until this date.”

It must be noted that, concerning the request made to the central government for the formation of the National Defense Council and the resolutions approved at the Plenum of October 23, 1936, that it was all nothing but cheap pyrotechnics, and that none of the resolutions were implemented, but, despite the fact that the wonderful effect that was expected from these “fearsome” positions did not materialize, a little later they entered the central government anyway, and the CNT and the FAI explained this fact in the following terms:

“The National Plenum of Regional Federations held in Madrid on September 28, 1936, informed of the negotiations carried out by the National Committee in order to obtain the formation of the National Defense Council, in view of the many obstacles encountered in these negotiations, and faced with the imperious necessity of directly intervening in the direction of the war, politics and the economy, for the purpose of preventing the continuous sabotage that has been directed against our Organization, our collectives and our militia columns, gave an overwhelming vote of confidence to the National Committee so that, faced with the impossibility of forming the National Defense Council as resolved at the Plenum of this past September 15, the participation of the CNT in the government may be obtained.”

It must be emphasized that—with regard to the question of the militias—a few days after July 19, the CNT and the FAI committed their first obvious “blunder”, by joining the Committee of Anti-Fascist Militias, which soon disappeared in order to be reorganized as the Council of the Generalitat, justifying their participation in the following manner:

“It was considered that, in order to avoid the duplication of powers that would be implied by the existence of both the Committee of Anti-fascist Militias and the Government of the Generalitat, the former would have to disappear and that the Council of the Generalitat of Catalonia must be formed, carrying out more positive activities, without the impediments of a clash of powers and in order nullify the pretext of the democracies that they will not help us because the anarchists are in control.”

The Secretariat criticized this doubletalk and said in his report that: “The Spanish comrades of the CNT became very angry, and would accept neither advice nor criticism from anyone.”

Alarmed by the direction that the dreadful conduct of the CNT was taking, the Secretariat convoked a Plenum of the member organizations of the IWA, which was held from September 15 to 17, 1936.

The resolution adopted at this meeting, with respect to the deviations of the CNT, was quite frivolous and confused, indicating, at this stage of the events, the influence of the cenetistas in the IWA.

Later in his report, comrade Besnard continued as follows:

“Despite the assurance displayed by the CNT delegation and the confidence manifested by the vote of the conciliatory resolution adopted by the Plenum, the Spanish Confederation did not modify its line of conduct at all. To the contrary, its policy of conciliation and collaboration with the government became a little more accentuated with each passing day. I had an opportunity to become acquainted with the fact that the retreat from revolutionary positions had been considerably accelerated. During the course of my visit to Spain, which lasted 26 days, I traveled through Catalonia, Cerdaña and Aragon.

“Everywhere I noted that the action of the masses on the economic and social terrain tended to maintain and develop the revolutionary conquests, despite the increasingly more dangerous concessions made to the political parties in order to preserve intact an anti-fascist front that was never anything but a ruse … whose victim was the CNT. It was clear that despite the fact that the CNT was represented in the governments of Valencia and Barcelona, it was losing influence and this had an immediate impact on the political plane.

“At that time, the foreign comrades were already, in December 1936, being persecuted and arrested, and Ovseenko was imposing his censorship.”

In June 1937, another Plenum of the member organizations of the IWA was held, whose essential resolution was the following:

“That the conduct of the revolutionary war, as well as the implementation of social policies, are tending to be carried out without any direct participation of the CNT as well as without any indirect intelligence in conjunction with the governments of Valencia and Barcelona, and that it will be necessary for the CNT to abandon all concessions of a political, economic or doctrinal kind made to these governments that were made in order to preserve intact an alleged anti-fascist front composed of sectors that are working for the class enemy to liquidate the war and crush the revolution. It is considered that the official withdrawal of the CNT from the anti-fascist front is becoming more and more imperative, but that it should nonetheless reserve the right to accept or initiate circumstantial agreements with truly anti-fascist elements of that front, which want the war to be ended by an emancipatory revolution of the Spanish proletariat, a revolution directed against fascism and also against the so-called republican democracy.” 1

Another resolution of fundamental importance was approved at this Plenum, which called for the containment of the “revolutionary Leninists”, the same ones who brought us Kronstadt and the Ukraine, who by this time were flirting with elements of the CNT. The resolution reads as follows:

“That the opposition of the revolutionary proletariat of all countries, united within the IWA, to Marxism in all its forms, should be as firm as before, in view of the fact that social democracy, as well as the dictatorial Bolshevism of the school of Stalin or Trotsky, with all their ramifications and subdivisions, whether the PSUC or the POUM, are equally harmful and dangerous for the realization of the revolution.”


These resolutions would exacerbate yet more the differences and disputes between the IWA and the CNT, which were further aggravated when the CNT was informed of the resolution of the Plenum with respect to the International Solidarity Fund of the IWA, which earmarked 80% of its proceeds for support for the Spanish Revolution and 20% to assist the comrades in other countries.

The CNT did not accept this perspective and, now in open rebellion and breaking with the organic rules and solidarity agreements of the International, founded another institution with goals that appeared to be similar to those of the International Solidarity Fund, but one that was independent of the IWA, or, which amounts to the same thing, one that was not under the authority of the international institution…. It was heterogeneous, since it was run by individual “personalities” and specific committees and institutions, some of which acted to sabotage the regional workers federations that were members of our International. But rather than attempt to explain this ourselves, it is better to let the following letter speak for itself:

“Valencia, July 3, 1937.

“To the Secretariat of the IWA, Paris.

“Esteemed comrades:

“In response to your letters dated June 15 and 17, I am conveying the following accords which, as you will be able to see, do not emanate from this Committee, but from our entire Organization. During the course of the National Plenum of Regional Federations held on April 15 and the following days, it was resolved that there was a need to create an institution to compete with International Red Aid, which is nothing but a vehicle not only for funds subsequently utilized by the communist party for its own propaganda, but also a method of recruitment, of proselytism and propaganda.

“It was stipulated that this institution should not have a partisan and closed nature, but that it would have to have as much room for maneuver as possible, that it should contain some prestigious national and international figures, it being understood that it must always be oriented by the libertarian movement. In short, this was the genesis of ‘International Anti-fascist Solidarity’ (IAS). You will therefore understand that the IAS cannot be a part of the IWA, in order not to cut off the immense possibilities for expansion that are open to it. You will have to admit that the CNT is recognized in places where no one has ever heard of the IWA. And this will be even more true of the IAS since the latter is, or at least will appear to be, an institution outside of any working class party or organization, displaying the character of an organization for anti-fascist solidarity.

“As a result, we must inform you that we cannot accept the agreement of the Plenum of the IWA. We shall therefore pursue, with the IAS and its General Committee based in Spain, the creation of sections in every country, and in order to do this we will rely on individual comrades rather than on organizations, since this is the only way to carry out a serious project of this kind and to achieve the sought-after objective. Nor do we doubt that it will also be a field that is open to our propaganda and a means for us to create certain favorable positions among certain sectors of the proletariat that could be of benefit to the IWA in its further development.

“It is very important to point out that the IAS will have the duty of assisting the refugee comrades and others; this is the purpose of the IAS and solidarity of this kind requires substantial funds. This is why we consider that the IWA should not undermine our decision but quite the contrary: the IWA has the obligation to request that its member federations support the progress of the IAS on the one hand and also assist in its creation.

“This is, in our view, what must be done. Beyond all of this, when the IWA needs funds, it will have to come to us, and depending on its possibilities we shall contribute the necessary funds.

“To summarize: it is essential that the funds in the control of the Secretariat of the IWA that are earmarked for the CNT and the FAI should be sent to our comrade Nemesio Galve, our delegate in Paris. That is all for now.

“With fraternal greetings, On behalf of the National Committee of the CNT,

“MARIANO VÁZQUEZ, secretary.”


The IAS central committee was legally registered, and its statutes were approved and signed by the governor of Valencia. As for how this institution operated in Spain, and still does in other countries, we can offer few comments. We shall only say that the Uruguayan Section, acting strictly in accordance with Article 2 of its statutes—“In the pursuit of the aforementioned objectives, the IAS will carry out its activity on the purest terrain of human solidarity, renouncing all political and religious interference”—possessed, in June 1938, a General Council composed of conceited intellectuals who were active in the blanco and colorado parties, various socialists and an assortment of many other elements of variable or colorless affiliations.

Furthermore, a few months ago a fundraiser organized by the IAS-Uruguayan Section was held in Montevideo, and we could observe, as if it was the result of some kind of oversight, that in the vicinity of the building where the fundraiser was held there were two long lines of parked automobiles. They were not “proletarian” automobiles. We will let the readers draw their own conclusions from this observation.

And, to top it all off, and to demonstrate the arrogance and the real intentions of the CNT, read the following communiqué from the CNT that signals its complete separation from the IWA and exposes its attempt to divert the funds earmarked for the International in order to seize them for its own purposes:

“We are advising all the organizations, committees, social centers, cultural societies and individuals in foreign countries who want to help the anarchosyndicalist movement that they must not send any more funds to the address of A.G. in Paris, as they have done up until now. The funds sent to that address are not remitted to the CNT. We request that, until further notice, you send funds to the following address: N. Galve, 30 Rue St. Augustine, Paris.” (From the Information Bulletin of the CNT, dated August 13.)

This incident was followed by a campaign of slander and intrigue directed against the Secretariat, and when the latter asked for an explanation he was answered with silence.

With regard to the serious and shameful events of May 1937 in Barcelona, Besnard said:

“The events in Barcelona, the rise to power of the Negrín government, the agent of Anglo-French, and consequently Russian, will, entailed a radical change in the attitude towards the confederal masses, the militants of the CNT-FAI and the foreigners. The predominance of the central power in Catalonia caused one to note the extreme degree to which all security was abolished for our comrades, especially those who had come from other countries to help the Spanish revolution. It could soon be observed that the Negrín government was acting completely under the orders of the communists and their elements were taking control, quietly but surely, of all the leading positions of the State: police, army, public administration. The police of the Cheka carried out its investigations of our comrades, alongside the Spanish police who were only there in order to preserve appearances. In a few weeks, 60 militants of the CNT disappeared, 2,000 were arrested and hundreds of foreigners were imprisoned or expelled from Spain.

“The expulsion of the Italian comrades from Barcelona was carried out with the collaboration of the Argentine consul, who was responsible for the defense of the interests of the fascist governments of Rome and Berlin. This consul had the audacity to recommend to Italian and German anti-fascists that they should present themselves to his colleagues, the representatives of Hitler and Mussolini in France, so that they could be repatriated to their countries of origin.

“To me it seems impossible to go any lower than the Negrín government.”

(Paris, July 19, 1937.)

Immediately afterwards he sent a note to the member organizations of the IWA, informing them of these events and attaching a copy of a letter from various prisoners, advising that the organizations request that the CNT should resolve the situation. The prisoners said:

“Valencia, January 21, 1937 [sic: this should read June 21, 1937].

“Esteemed H.

“I am writing to you in the name of seven comrades who have been illegally imprisoned in the Convent of Saint Ursula…. Here, in the dungeon, are H.K., E.I., F.H., H.L., M. and G., all in the same cell. L. and G. are currently being held in the provincial hospital of Valencia. H. is very ill. I have pneumonia. The jail is very filthy and unhealthy. We need soap, towels, and clothing and they will not give us our money. They have refused to allow us to contact our organization (DAS) and our families. They have interrogated us. Some have been interrogated twice.

“They have accused of being spies, of having been in contact with the Gestapo during the May events in Barcelona. This is absurd and it is not surprising that they needed months in order to fabricate this abominable accusation.

“In the Convent of Saint Ursula there are 150 prisoners, 60% of them foreigners, mostly Germans. This jail is a real concentration camp. If we do not get help from outside, we will be buried alive for a very long time. Do everything possible to help us. You have to think of coming to see us, or else getting a Spanish comrade to work energetically for our release. On July 29 we are going to begin a hunger strike. We are interrogated by Spaniards, but the Commissars are always Russians and Germans….

“Dear comrades, do not forget us. Health to all.


The Secretariat informed the CNT of the contents of the letter from these prisoners and the text of an urgent telegram sent by the Regional Committee of Catalonia, in which it is requested that negotiations be undertaken to prevent the German anarchists from being deported to Marseilles by the Negrín government and handed over to the Nazi consuls, since the latter possessed documents supplied to them by the Argentine consul who was responsible for German and Italian affairs in Spain.

Keeping all these facts in mind, the following two notes from the CNT will be of interest:

“National Confederation of Labor.

“National Committee. Valencia, September 22, 1937.

“To the Secretariat of the IWA, Paris.

“In response to your note dated August 23 with reference to the negotiations in connection with the telegram sent by the Regional Committee of Catalonia regarding the deportations of foreign anti-fascist comrades, we are quite satisfied with the negotiations carried out with L.J. and the League for the Rights of Man. As for the two specific demands you made, we shall also inform you that the CNT has since July 19, 1936 looked after the interests of the foreign comrades who have come to Spain and continues to do so whenever possible. But you will understand that this is a problem that also involves the political situation and that this compels us to conclude that any more or less efficacious action that the CNT might be able to undertake in defense of the foreign comrades depends on the greater or lesser effectiveness of the CNT’s participation in the Spanish government. It is of great importance to request the right of asylum for the foreign comrades, but it is also much more important—you will understand this—to work to resolve the domestic problem, to put an end to the repression and to undertake joint, solidarity-based action to win the war and defend the conquests of the people.

“The problem of the foreigners is very important, but compared to the continued prosecution of this bloody and terrible war that we are waging against fascism it is a VERY INSIGNIFICANT DETAIL.

“We will also tell you that the problem of the foreigners is very complex because fascism has been very diligent and has its agents in Spain. We shall draft specific requests to obtain the release of the foreign comrades who are really anti-fascists, and who are worthy of the confidence of the libertarian movement, as a result of their long history of activity as militants.

“As for your second question, our answer is that we acknowledge the good intentions of the IWA to help defend us against counterrevolutionary attacks, but the truth is that as long as the IWA is not properly organized, and until it puts an end to its internal disagreements and resolves to work actively to support the anti-fascist and revolutionary war in Spain, it can accomplish little despite its good intentions. The decisive support that we desire and need for now to fight against the counterrevolution in Spain, is the support that the world proletariat can give us by engaging in effective action against the fascist invader. If our war goes well this will change and our situation will improve, and the attacks and the predominance of the counterrevolution will be diminished. You have to take all of this into account.

“With revolutionary greetings.

“M.R. Vázquez, Sec.”


“National Confederation of Labor.

“National Committee. Valencia, September 22, 1937.

“To the Secretariat of the IWA, Paris.

“Respected comrade:

“We receive your circular No. 8 dated August 23. We regret that the Secretariat of the IWA, upon receiving a telegram from a Regional Federation of our Section and noting its content, would brandish it as a red flag, giving the member Sections of the IWA the impression that the CNT is neglectful of the affair of the foreign comrades. We think that the Secretariat of the IWA, in accordance with federative norms, is obliged to recognize that he cannot attend to any report from Spain that does not proceed from the National Committee of the CNT, as it is the mission of the latter to maintain relations with the Secretariat of the IWA.

“After expressing our position on this conduct, we shall proceed to formulate our protest against the heedless decision to orient the Sections towards the formation of Committees of Aid and Assistance for the Victims of the Counterrevolution in Spain. This gives us the impression that the Secretariat of the IWA is using an incident to undermine the creation and operations of the groups of International Anti-fascist Solidarity, which were created by the Spanish libertarian movement.

“We cannot accept the last paragraph of your circular which says: ‘And, finally, to intervene with the CNT in order to combine your protest and your activities with ours.’ This implies a reproach directed against this National Committee that we energetically reject, because we have always attended to the foreign comrades who have been persecuted in Spain and because we do not need to be pressured to do our duty. But also because the National Committee cannot intervene against the outrages that have been inflicted on the foreign comrades IF IT IS NOT INFORMED of the facts. The National Committee has always devoted due attention to all the affairs of which it has been informed and has addressed them directly.

“We do not doubt that in the future the Secretariat of the IWA will conform to the norms of our movement and that he will only pay due attention to the official reports from our National Committee.

“Once again we must protest against your circular and the insinuations that it contains because they are insults to the REVOLUTIONARY VIEWS and solidarity of the CNT that at all times is vigilant and pays proper attention to the foreign comrades who have come to Spain to fight.

“With anarchosyndicalist greetings.

“For the National Committee,

“Mariano R. Vázquez, secretary.”

We must notify the reader that we have transcribed some phrases from these notes in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, because they reveal the passionate concern of the CNT to once again occupy the ministerial posts that it lost and the minor importance it concedes to the miserable situation of those who are persecuted by the communist reaction, presided over by the figurehead, Negrín.


In view of the serious problem the IWA faced because of its intention to help the anarchists who fled from the bloody repression that was unleashed in Barcelona after the May events, and those anarchists who were deported by the Negrín government, via Perpignan, to Marseilles, the Secretariat—taking account of the fact that the representatives of the CNT in Paris had reneged on their commitment to help the wounded militiamen and the families of the combatants, despite having received 1,400,000 francs from the IWA treasurer—logically appealed to the member organizations of the IWA to send more money and at the same time he also suggested that they should organize “Committees for Aid and Assistance to the Victims of the Spanish Counterrevolution” in their respective regions.

We know that the IWA affiliates in Argentina and Uruguay formed such a Committee. Here, in Montevideo, the FORU publicized the formation of this Committee with a notice in Solidaridad, but did not take its guest into consideration. The cenetista plenipotentiary in Uruguay—the CNT had them in many countries—attempted to discredit the Committee by claiming that it was not authorized by the CNT, and also expressed contemptuous and offensive views with regard to the anarchists who were persecuted, imprisoned or shot by Negrín’s thugs. We cannot state with certainty whether or not he had received official reports to that effect, but it is almost certain that his manner of speaking about this issue was based on his personal impressions from life in the rearguard, since he had lived for a few months in Spain, as a member of several delegations.

To conclude this chapter, we will say that the cenetistas, not satisfied with their clearly demonstrated betrayals and backroom machinations, dedicated themselves to preparing the international working class to obtain its support for a Motion to be proposed at the Ordinary Congress of the IWA that would modify the principles and practices of that institution, adapting them to the practical modalities and concepts advocated by the “ministerialists” of the CNT and the FAI.

At this Congress, held in November 1938—without the presence of the delegations of the FORA and the FORU, due to insurmountable obstacles—the “circumstantial” theory of the cenetistas, which had already been elaborated prior to the Congress, was overwhelmingly approved.

In the journal of the IWA, No. 6, a cenetista—now deceased—said:

“… we have to operate in every country, in accordance with the circumstances, psychology, possibilities and characteristics”. “In the declaration of principles, we cannot continue to uphold the thesis of rabid apoliticism. We do not have to include support for politics in our declaration. But we must not close and seal off the door, and excommunicate any Section that in particular circumstances works politically, with the clear understanding that politics means for us collaboration with other sectors in the political-social-economic leadership of a country.”

Unfortunately, in the modifications introduced in the Declaration of Principles of the IWA, we must point out—we do not have the complete text at our disposal—that they leave the door open to working in accordance to the “circumstances”, even in politics. Thus, the new Secretariat of the IWA said, in a somewhat vague way, in his report to the member organizations, that it was established that, “the goal and tendency of anarchosyndicalism remains faithful to federalism”, and that, as a result, “the IWA concedes to its Sections the greatest possible freedom of action in the struggle for the final goal”.

The anxious moments now being experienced by the world proletariat do not allow one to expect that the IWA can continue to develop in a normal way. It is therefore to be hoped that when circumstances allow the exchange of opinions, the FORA and the FORU must attack these collaborationist reforms and will work to see to it that these “innovations” are not included in the Declaration of Principles, but rather that the anarchist concept that is proudly upheld by both organizations is reaffirmed.

  • 1 The reader may wish to consult a substantially different translation of this resolution that may be found in José Peirats, The CNT in the Spanish Revolution, Volume 2, edited and revised by Chris Ealham, translated by Paul Sharkey and Chris Ealham, ChristieBooks, Hastings, 2005, pp. 196-197; the book is also available online at: [Translator’s Note].



10 years 1 month ago

In reply to by

Submitted by syndicalist on June 16, 2014

Let me suggest comrades view this piece by the IWMA Secretariat on and the CNT.