The anti-emancipatory position of the CNT
The pro-political tendency in the CNT in this emergency stands opposed to the brilliant history of the Spanish and international workers movement, whose passion for the cause of human liberation was transmitted to it by the first internationalists. The CNT does not act in accordance with its “revolutionary experiences” from the vantage point of its positions in the institutions of the state, but rather advises the international proletariat to follow its example, urging it to abandon its revolutionary positions, and to set aside the principled anarchist intransigence against authoritarian currents, in order to thus embrace the politicians of “antifascism”, who, as far as the cause of the workers is concerned, are no better or worse than the politicians of fascism, since if there is indeed any difference between them, this would not be a reason for the anarchist-oriented international revolutionary movement to abandon its revolutionary positions, which are characterized by direct action, anti-statism and the anarchist goal, in order to submit to the bourgeoisie represented by “antifascism”.
The improvement of the lives and the working conditions of the proletariat and its liberation, can only be obtained by way of the means of struggle and propaganda that distinguish anarchism, which are solidly and resolutely opposed to all political, statist and authoritarian ideas. Any other practice would amount to cooperating with the enemy, consciously or unconsciously, in order to merely prolong our miserable existence, to which we are reduced by the iniquitous exploitation of the employers and the oppression of the state.
Everyone knows the position of the CNT, but, in order to reveal the pernicious effect that it would have on the world proletariat, especially on the Spanish proletariat, if the IWA Congress were to approve of its governmentalist policies, we shall transcribe some of the points of the “UGT-CNT United Action Program” which, as we shall see, contradicts anarchist principles, and which stands in absolute contrast to the program approved 65 years ago at the Congress of Cordoba that approved the resolutions of Saint-Imier and rejected those approved at The Hague and which demonstrate that now the CNT is practicing the statist theories that were rejected by the Spanish proletariat at that Congress.
“THE UGT-CNT UNITED ACTION PROGRAM1
“The UGT and the CNT recognize the great progress achieved in the creation of the Popular Army with regard to its combat effectiveness and the technical improvement of its command structure and are determined to reinforce all the resources that will facilitate the formation of a regular efficient Army, that will guarantee victory in the war and in any foreign military contingencies that might result from that victory.
“The guiding idea of the UGT and the CNT in their collaboration in seeking to implement these immediate reforms is that of a rapid and overwhelming victory over fascism, to implement a positive democracy in all the aspects of organization and action of the war, to reinforce the Commissariat as a means of purging and strengthening the Popular Army and TO MAKE A PRACTICAL CONTRIBUTION WITH THEIR EXPERIENCE AND THEIR FORCES, IN THE WORK OF THE GOVERNMENT BODIES, ASSUMING A LARGE PART OF THEIR RESPONSIBILITY.
“4. Transport, which is by its very nature of the greatest necessity for the purposes of conducting the war, will be placed at the disposal of the Government, CENTRALIZED AND MILITARIZED, with the provision that it should be required by unavoidable necessity and that production and commerce in the rearguard should not be subject to extortion.
“1. The UGT and the CNT agree that the juridical legalization of the Collectives is necessary and therefore consider that legislation concerning the Collectives is also needed that will determine WHICH COLLECTIVES WILL CONTINUE TO EXIST, rules for their constitution and operations, and state intervention in their affairs. COLLECTIVES THAT DO NOT ABIDE BY THIS LEGISLATION MUST DISAPPEAR.
“2. The state will assist the Collectives that comply with this legislation and whose economic utility is acknowledged.
“3. The legislation concerning the Collectives must be studied and proposed to the Government by the National Council of the Economy.
“WAGES, PRICES AND PROVISIONS.
“2. The creation of strong Consumers’ Cooperatives at the retail level and the establishment of Producers’ Cooperatives must be encouraged, with very restrictive legislation applying to the latter and the establishment of large wholesale sales outlets for export purposes UNDER THE RIGOROUS CONTROL OF THE STATE in accordance with the resolutions of the Council of the Economy.
“3. The UGT and the CNT agree that a minimum wage must be established, one that is pegged to the cost of living, and that takes into account, on the one hand, the professional categories, and on the other, the output of each. In this sense the principle of ‘for more and higher quality production, more pay’ will be defended, without any distinction with regard to gender, or age, as long as the circumstances related to the needs for national reconstruction should prevail.
“10. The Government must promulgate a workers control law in which the responsibilities of the workers with regard to the control of production and the surveillance of their output, their role in the administration and determining the distribution of profits, working conditions and the defense of social legislation, will be established.
“The UGT and the CNT announce their support for the NATIONALIZATION OF THE LAND, which must be conveyed in usufruct preferentially to the agricultural Collectives and Cooperatives and, among the latter, especially to those formed by the UGT and the CNT, respecting the will of the peasants who prefer to cultivate their land individually, and also entailing the implementation by the state of a policy of assistance for the existing Collectives, with preference for the UGT and the CNT and those which shall be voluntarily constituted, IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE LAW, by the workers in the countryside.
“The rights of the small-scale landowner, as a direct cultivator of the soil, will be respected as long as he can prove that his land WAS LEGALLY ACQUIRED AND AS LONG AS HE ABIDES BY THE RELEVANT LEGISLATION.
“The Government will undertake to study formulas for family compensation, to be legally implemented.
“The two Organizations proclaim their commitment to ensure that at the end of the conflict against fascism the right of the Spanish people and especially the working class TO ENDOW THEMSELVES WITH THAT FORM OF GOVERNMENT that responds to the sacrifice that they are now making and to maintain a true democracy in our country will be guaranteed.”
These passages clearly demonstrate just how deeply implicated the CNT was in the statist principle. They represent a distinct contrast to the Congress of Saint-Imier, whose resolutions were approved by the Spanish proletariat at the Congress of Cordoba 65 years ago and liberated the international proletariat from falling in chains between the hammers of politics and the state, thus pointing out to the workers of the world the revolutionary path that will lead them to their total emancipation. The CNT practically rejected the intellectual patrimony and efforts of the most valiant figures of anarchism, represented in the brilliant history of anarchism in the workers movement, which allowed it to assume an extremely elevated place among revolutionary positions, acquired in bloody struggles and from precious lessons.
These passages also show how the Spanish proletariat was forbidden all independence of action, of free organization and propaganda, of revolutionary experimentation and any aspiration for a future free from the oppressor state. And how all its activity, as producer and in terms of propaganda, was to be controlled and authorized by the state. With these practices the CNT handcuffed the workers, subjecting them to the yoke of wage labor, so that they would continue to be victims of exploitation by private or state capitalism, and rendered all freedom of action on their part for the defense of their interests and their liberty impossible.
“The reign of injustice is thereby perpetuated, by allowing for the continued existence of the privileges of the drones of the human hive and an existence full of privation and suffering for the workers, who are the real producers of social wealth and progress.” (The Federal Council of the First International)
From what we have seen, it would appear that the anarchist militants of Spain, due to a lack of coherence in their activity, a confused focus on social problems and the unstable nature of their anti-state and anti-political convictions, have allowed certain Marxist methods and conceptions to take root and flourish among them that openly contradict the terms that they use in their propaganda.
We shall not follow the Pestañas and the Peirós in their confused adventures that led to the formation of the “syndicalist” political party, for which the former was to serve as a deputy in the representative bodies of the “Popular Front”. Many others among the CNT “elite” acted and thought in accordance with authoritarian perspectives. Nothing is more illuminating at this juncture for the purpose of explaining the deviations that took place during the civil war and that were endorsed by the leaders of the CNT and the FAI, than the following article published in May 1936 in Tierra y Libertad, entitled “Slippery Slopes”, in which the authoritarian current is identified and which features the following observations:
“All the slopes are slippery, and one false step will cause us to fall, and lead us to tumble headlong into the abyss. If on flat and familiar terrain one can advance without any concern, without noticing insignificant obstacles, without paying any attention to the occasional difficulties, when we have to climb mountains, with high peaks and dangerous summits, all our senses must be alert in order not to make a disastrous misstep, in order not to go astray without any way out.
“The road of the revolution is not flat; it is riddled with dangers, with difficulties, with well equipped enemies. We have to go forward calmly, avoiding the obstacles that we are not in a position to destroy, overcoming difficulties and skirting not a few deadly abysses. Nonetheless, our friendly hand is always open for those who, aware of all these dangers, undertake the risk when they can and when they dare, so that humanity can take a step forward. The revolution implies sacrifices, energetic struggle, but also a calm and clear view of what we want and the means that must be employed to achieve our goal.
“Over the course of several decades of existence as an idea and movement, anarchism has established its trajectory, its ideas and its methods. By the time that almost all of us were born, anarchism had already existed, delineated in its aspirations and tactics. This does not mean that it is complete and perfect, that it will not admit any more enrichment, or more conclusions derived from experience, and that we have to bind ourselves in dedication to what our predecessors have said. We have proven that we are iconoclasts, that we are always ready to embrace any idea, any initiative and to subject them freely to evaluation, in order to derive from them the maximum benefit for our great cause. We are not unalloyed and petrified doctrinaires, enemies of all innovation, of all bold thinking, of all initiative for action that disturbs the stagnant and the immobilized. And that is why we are tolerant; that is why we always oppose everything that cuts off the freedom of thought in our own camp and everywhere.
“We cannot, however, cease to be what we want to be; we cannot deny ourselves in our social meaning, precisely at the moment when all social and political values have failed and our libertarian solution is the only remaining hope for human redemption.
“A thesis has often been repeated in public confederal proceedings, by some of our comrades, one that anarchists no longer discuss, just as we do not discuss many other matters that have been definitively addressed. I am speaking of the conquest of Power, of the seizure of Power, of the creation of revolutionary armies, etc., which amounts to a confession that anarchism has no reason to exist and that we must return to the methods of authority, the systematic and reasoned critique of which distinguishes the position that we have taken.
“This is not the first time that these attempts to rehabilitate the authoritarian methods of revolution have taken place. Rebellious passion causes some to believe that the anarchists are moving too slowly, that the solution is to take the shortcut of the coup d’état, the road to the conquest of Power. There is talk now of demanding that the current Government hand over Power to the workers organizations. All of this is not just a misstep; it is a headlong plunge down a slippery slope! The fact that these things have always been advocated in the enemy camp, and that the possibility of carrying out the revolution by decree has been proposed by these people, is to be expected; but that these things should be said in the name of anarchism, by anarchist comrades, cannot be allowed to go unnoticed. Cordially, with all the cordiality of which we are capable, we invite these comrades to reflect, to stop for a moment to contemplate the abyss into which they are falling from the slope on which they find themselves and to return to the good road of freedom, which is not just an ideal aspiration, but a tactical instrument, a method of struggle, an interpretation of action.
“This advocacy of the seizure of Power, regardless of the intentions of its partisans, can only benefit the parties that pin the hopes of their revolutionary doctrine on the Conquest of Power. We do not want to seize Power, we want to destroy it, and not just destroy it, but to prevent it from ever being reconstructed, and we are not too fastidious about the means required to achieve this end!; there is only one road that has proven to be impractical for the destruction of Power: its conquest. Apart from this means, all roads and all weapons seem to be good as far as we are concerned.
“We believe that a brief pause for reflection, outside the impassioned arena of propaganda, will make these comrades understand, whom we do not want to lose, and of whose association we do not want to be deprived, that they have departed from the libertarian channel, from the good road accepted by the anarchists, to which they should return, avoiding dangerous confusion. For now that is all.”
Our inclusion of this article here does not mean that we accept all of its propositions. We have included it for the sole purpose of demonstrating the existence of a powerful Marxist current—which it denounces—that was undermining and destroying the structure, the practices and the ideological concepts that up until then had been the predominant essence of the CNT.
The authoritarian theory that was identified and (ineffectively) combated by the editorialist of Tierra y Libertad was already a cancer on the Iberian peninsula and a virulent epidemic that also made itself felt in our circles, against which, more than once, we have gone on the offensive, advising the workers to immunize themselves against these pestilential bacilli.
Nor were we the only ones. With regard to this question it seems most pertinent to recall the critical concepts advanced, in June 1936, by the old master Max Nettlau—I beg your pardon, iconoclasts against the venerable bearded ones—who was logically alarmed by the rapid propagation of the confusionist virus, which appeared in various countries under different names.
Here is the passage from Nettlau:
“For forty years anarchism has been subjected to infiltration, so-called pure syndicalism, nationalism, dictatorship, transitional period, platformism, etc., and the current fashion, which is not in itself anything new, electoral anti-abstentionism, belongs in the same series. The very distinction between ‘questions of principles’ and ‘simple tactical questions’, which implies that, for ‘tactical’ reasons, one should be prepared to trample all over one’s principles, does not possess the least resemblance to the anarchist view. The anarchist principle knows only ‘one’ formula, rather than ‘two’: either one professes its ideas, or one abandons them ‘by overcoming one’s scruples’. These infiltrations inevitably destroy within their victims any trace of a libertarian sentiment and sooner or later, but generally quite rapidly, transform them into nationalists, fascists, Bolsheviks, politicians, or workerists.
“This unavoidable debris is the result of a kind of auto-purgation of weak and inconsistent elements, who think they are anarchists without ever really having been anarchists at all. And just as a big river cannot be polluted by the harmful substances dumped into it, so, too, does the long-lived and worldwide current of anarchism automatically purify itself and continue on its way.
“It is becoming clearer with each passing day that the final struggle will be neither economic, nor political, between classes and parties, but intellectual and ethical, and will take place, under multiple forms, between the progressive individuals of an ethical bent who possess some intellectual capacity, and the underdeveloped stragglers. It is necessary to openly say this: complete Anarchy must issue as the outcome of this struggle, integral, healthy and robust, and not that miserable abortion that is engendered by the tireless efforts of the ‘infiltrators’ whenever they get the chance.”
Max Nettlau (from Solidaridad)
- 1 Excerpts from the text of the March 1938 UGT-CNT Unity Pact [Translator’s Note].