Chapter 8: Ideological-Theoretical Discussions in Anarcho-syndicalism in the 1920’s -1930’s

Submitted by Steven. on June 8, 2011

In spite of heavy defeats in a majority of countries, the repressions of dictators, and the politics of communists aimed at subverting the anarcho-syndicalist movement, the period of the 1920’s and 1930’s was a time of lively ideological-theoretical discussions among anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists. The participants in these discussions not only put forth a penetrating analysis of contemporary capitalist society, but also described the contours of a social alternative with great insight.

In all the documents and decisions of the IWA there is emphasis on the basis of unity of anarcho-syndicalists: their common goal (libertarian communism, free socialism) and their common principles and methods of struggle (direct action up to and including social revolution). However within this framework there existed significant divergences within the world anarcho-syndicalist movement. “We are well aware that within organizations and, even more so, within an international association of various national organizations, it is impossible to arrange complete harmony,” said R. Rocker at the 2nd Congress of the IWA in Amsterdam in 1925. “On the other hand, we even consider that different opinions on certain questions within one and the same organization can serve a useful purpose by assisting spiritual development and encouraging independent judgement. We have seen this occurring in the IWA.”

The experience of the Russian Revolution and the outbreaks of revolution after World War I had made a deep impression on the views of libertarians about contemporary society and the alternative to it. It was in this period that so-called “anarchist revisionism” developed. In Italy E. Malatesta and [URL=/tags/camillo-berneri] Camillo Berneri acted as its propagandists.

The former, long known as one of the leading theoreticians of anarcho-communism, while not renouncing his basic ideological principles, now believed as a result of the Russian experience that “for the organization on a broad scale of a communist society one must radically transform the whole of economic life – the means of production, exchange, and consumption – and this can only be done one step at a time.” He believed that during the course of a revolution, anarchists would find themselves in a minority at first and ought not to impose their own ideas and concepts on the whole of society. Revolutions, in his opinion, were liable to lead to the emergence of a pluralistic society, composed of a multitude of communes bound together by communistic, but also commercial, relations.1 Berneri advanced the notion of the coexistence of different economic forms in an anarchist society. “All anarchists are atheists, but I’m an agnostic,” he wrote, “All anarchists are communists, but I’m a liberal, that is, I’m for free competition between co-operative and individual labour and trade.”2

Some anarchists, trying to figure out why the Bolsheviks gained victory in the Russian Revolution, came to the conclusion there was something to be learned from the Bolsheviks in the field of tactics and organization. Thus, the “Platformists” (a group led by [URL=/tags/nestor-makhno] Nestor Makhno and Petr Arshinov) took a position for the acknowledgement of the principle of class struggle in history, and for the creation of a strong organization of anarchists (in fact – a type of party) which could take part as a unitary force in Soviets and in the trade union movement, and play a leading ideological and constructive role in the revolution. Essentially, the “platformists” allowed for stages in the revolutionary process and the fulfilment of governmental functions by soviets. They maintained that in the productive system of the future society decentralization and integration of labour would be technical questions, subject to needs of a unified economy, rather than questions of principle. In fact they adopted the industrial form of organizing production, proposing only to get rid of private ownership and hand over control of production to Factory Committees. A significant number of anarchists (Vsevolod Volin and other Russian emigrants, E. Malatesta, Sebastien Faure) subjected such positions to criticism, considering them a departure from anti-authoritarian principles and the values of libertarian communism.

Another argument against the immediate implementation of anarchist communism is that the notion of a free commune is in contradiction to “the real spirit and tendencies” of the industrial stage of development of society with its striving for universality and increasing specialization. For example, the well known historian of anarchism, Max Nettlau, criticized the “rural-industrial atomization of humanity in anarcho-communism and declared: “Decentralization ... creates something just the opposite to solidarity and multiplies the sources of friction and stress. Our hopes for improvement are based on building solidarity, in federating larger units, and breaking down local barriers and boundaries, and in the collective control of the natural resources and other forms of wealth of our planet.” At the same time, he assumed that the principles of “collectivism” (distribution according to labour) and monetary compensation for labour were more compatible with the industrial form of organizing production.

The heated discussions and quarrels about the trajectories of social revolution which were carried on in the IWA to some extent served as a continuation of the polemics between anarcho-communists and syndicalists at the beginning of the century. One group were in favour not only of the elimination of Capitalism and the State, but also for the demolition of the industrial system itself with its factory despotism, rigid division of labour, and dehumanizing technology. A second group welcomed industrial-technological progress and hoped to construct a socialist society using it as a base.

Their quarrel was closely connected with the analysis of the latest trends in the development of Capitalism itself – its rationalization of production in its Fordist-Taylorist phase.

This stage of industrial development was accompanied by the introduction of mechanization and conveyor technology on a massive scale, dividing the labour process into a series of operations and severely undermining control on the part of the worker, who lost the sense of the integrity and meaning of their own labour, but in exchange acquired the possibility of mass consumption.

The problems of “capitalist rationalization” were first dealt with at the 3rd Congress of the IWA in Liège in 1928.

The delegates declared themselves in favour of “progress in all fields of endeavour,” but considered its manifestations in the sphere of capitalist production to be negative as far as the workers were concerned. The resolution passed by the Congress appraised the ongoing process as the direct result of a new phase of development of society, which was reflected in the transition from the “old private capitalism” to “contemporary collective capitalism” (trusts, cartels), from untrammeled competition to the exploitation of the whole world by a unified system. It was emphasized that rationalization was being carried out in the interest of capitalists, and its implications for workers involved the undermining of their physical and mental health, along with their subordination to the mechanisms of “industrial slavery.” Rationalization condemned working people to the loss of jobs, unemployment, and, consequently, a worsening of living conditions. The Congress declared that it considered such a transformation of the capitalist economy as a precondition not of socialism, but rather of a future state capitalism. The path to socialism, it was noted in the resolution, is defined not by the constant growth of production, but, in the first instance, by clear thinking and firm will on the part of the people. Socialism is not just an economic problem, it is also cultural and psychological; it assumes people believe in their own capabilities and that work is complex and absorbing – and that all this is incompatible with the ongoing rationalization.

The resolution spoke in favour of decentralization rather than centralization of the economy, for the unity rather than specialization and division of labour, and for the integral formation and development of all the abilities of people. In response to the creation of gigantic national and international structures of capital, the workers should strengthen their own international economic organization, enabling them to struggle for everyday demands as well as for the re-organization of society, for the shortening of the work day to six hours, to resist unemployment, organize international strikes and boycott campaigns, etc.

However such a critical stance towards the process of development of the industrial-capitalist system and the demands for a radical break with it encountered objections from a substantial number of anarcho-syndicalists who, following the Marxists, associated socialism with advances in technology and an increase in the productivity of labour.

They did not consider the new forms of technology and the organization of production as incompatible with socialism.

Such an approach logically entailed the centralization of production and the economy as a whole, and the rejection of the notion of federations of decentralized and largely self-sufficient communes, and therefore rejection of the communist principle of distribution. The old ideas of collectivism were considered much more appropriate for the industrial century. Even Rocker began stating at the end of the 1920’s that, although remaining in principle an adherent of anarchist communism, he considered the collectivist principle “to each the full product of his/her labour” to be more realistic in a period of revolutionary transformations and during the first phases of the creation of a new society. He referred to the inevitable economic difficulties accompanying revolution, to the growth of selfish attitudes in contemporary society, and – like the Marxists – he associated the implementation of communist distribution with material “abundance.”

Souchy, debating these problems with Cornelissen, proposed that only “in a pre-industrial society would it be possible, and then only in small communities, to introduce a pure distributive economy. In a contemporary industrial society and with the current interdependence of global economies, from which an individual country cannot withdraw, the exchange of products inevitably determines values. Speaking more precisely, exchange determines prices which in turn determines wages.” The alternative would be to introduce centralized planning, which is contrary to the principles of anarchism. Such a situation, in his opinion, would obtain at least until the epoch of universal abundance.

Lively discussions about the question of industrial development and the nature of the future free society were carried on in the pages of the journal Die Internationale – the de facto organ of the IWA, published by its German section.

If previously FAUD had unequivocally declared itself as the “bearer of communist anarchism” , now many of its leading activists began to oppose the anarcho-communist principle of distribution “according to demand” as a “crazy idea,” calling instead for the study of existing economic categories (Helmut Rüdiger) and adjusting distribution in accordance with the real “productivity” of labour (Gerhard Wartenberg – “Gerhard”). It was even asserted that “rationing” by means of monetary regulation was “fairer” than communist anarchism (Fritz Dettmer). The opinion was expressed that in a “socialist-federative system” there must exist an “industrial interlocking of the productive forces,” a regulated and planned economy, and economic democracy (Fritz Linov). Finally, some found it conceivable that the social functions of the State “should be kept intact” even after revolution (Wartenberg), and a federative system of Councils should be introduced only after a transitional stage, as soon as the revolution managed to put together a “united front” in which the anarcho-syndicalists would be in a minority (Reinhold Busch). On the other hand, a section of the German anarcho-syndicalists continued to insist on the classical anti-industrial principles of anarchocommunism.

Thus, Heinrich Drewes condemned such innovations as “capitalistic thinking” and supported the complete transformation of the existing profit-based economy.

He supported the creation of a non-monetary communist economic system, in which associations of workers would organize planning from below, based on the determination of the people’s real needs. He rejected “gigantomania” and centralization the borrowed from Marxism and was in favour of the re-organization of the economic life based on “agrarianization” as opposed to “industrialization.” In 1932 the leadership of FAUD was almost paralyzed by bitter ideological and theoretical disputes.

The industrialist tendency was strongest in the French section of the IWA – the Revolutionary-Syndicalist CGT. The theoretician and practitioner of French anarcho-syndicalism Pierre Besnard, like many of the syndicalists before the First World War, started from the assumption of the progressiveness of the industrial development of humanity. According to Besnard, technological changes (associated with the production-line, “Fordist-Taylorist” era) opened new, broad perspectives for the social liberation of workers. Workers’ organizations, while carrying on the struggle with capitalism, should arrange their internal structure in imitation of capitalist economic formations, so that immediately after the victorious general revolutionary strike they could take over management of the economy. In other words, the syndicates and their federations emerging within the capitalist structure were destined to become the nervous system of the new society, the organs of economic coordination, planning, etc. The first stage, which Besnard called “libertarian communism,” would involve the preservation of elements of the monetary system and distribution “according to labour.”

Only at the second stage (Besnard named it “free communism”) would it be possible to carry to completion the ideal of a self-managed communist society.

This departure from the principles of anarcho-communism provoked a sharp rejoinder from anarchists in Latin America, above all from those in the Argentine FORA. Its theoreticians set themselves the task of providing a sound basis for their own traditional critique of revolutionary syndicalism (as being semi-Marxist in essence) and European anarcho-syndicalism (as an attempt to synthesize anarchism and revolutionary syndicalism). They raised questions about the conceptions of a syndicalist structure of the postrevolutionary society and about a united class front of the proletariat. Simultaneously they also criticized the notion of “ideological-political” organizations of anarchists separate from the workers’ movement (as proposed by Malatesta, on the one hand, and by the Platformists on the other). FORA countered this by advancing a model of an “anarchist organization of workers,” structured like a syndicate but not limiting itself to strictly economic problems but also taking up issues of solidarity, mutual aid, and anarchist communism.

The theoreticians of the FORA presented a thorough critique of the Marxist-industrial viewpoint on history, contemporary capitalism, and social revolution, one of the first such critiques in the 20th century. Above all, they criticized the theory of linear progress and Marxist historical materialism, affirming (following Kropotkin) that the development of humanity is impelled not just by economic laws, but also by the evolution of ethical concepts and compelling ideas. According, the FORA sharply criticized economic and historical determinism and denied that capitalism and its economic organization were progressive by nature. The theoreticians of the FORA perceived the economic structure of industrial capitalist society (the factory system, sectoral specialization, extreme division of labour, etc.) as an “economic state” – in tandem with the “political state,” i.e. the government. The new, free society should not develop according to the laws of the old society, according to their logic, but represent a decisive, radical break with it. The base of the new society should be the free commune and the free association; their slogan should not be “All Power to the Syndicates!,” but rather “No Power to Anyone!” An anarchist communist system must not under any circumstances be built “within the bowels” of the old social organism, or else it could expect the fate of the Russian Revolution – warned the leading ideologue of the FORA Emilio López Arango. The proletariat was “destined to become the wall which would stem the tide of industrial imperialism. Only by creating ethical values which would enable the proletariat to understand social problems independently from bourgeois civilization would it be possible to arrive at an indestructible basis for an anti-capitalist and anti-Marxist revolution – a revolution which would do away with the regime of large-scale industry and financial, industrial, and commercial trusts.” The purely economic interests of the proletarians within capitalism could be completely fulfilled within the framework of the existing system, mainly at the expense of other proletarians, which was why a united front of the proletariat was an impossibility.

It was important to spread the habits and notions of solidarity and freedom; it was possible to accomplish this in the course of economic direct action, but in doing so the ultimate goal should never be lost sight of. Therefore the anarchist workers’ organization should be not simply “for all the workers,” but, above all for those who share the ideal of anarchist communism.

The most lively debates about tendencies in the development of capitalism and the concomitant changes in the tactics of anarcho-syndicalism unfolded at the 4th Congress of the IWA in Madrid in 1931. This congress took place at the height of the world economic crisis, which the anarchosyndicalist theoreticians understood as a consequence of capitalist rationalization. This rationalization led, on the one hand, to a runaway growth in production but, on the other hand, to a reduction of positions in the workplace and a reduction in the buying power of workers. Two approaches – one industrial and the other anti-industrial, clashed at the congress in a most acrimonious manner. According to Muños Congost, author of historical notes to the publication of materials of the congresses of the IWA, the essence of the discussion reduced to the following. “On one side, the draft of the document about rationalization, prepared by Shapiro and serving as the basis for final editing according to the wishes of the Congress, insisted on the advantages of the new methods of organizing production connected with increasing mechanization. These methods were regarded as fundamental in preparing the consciousness of the working masses, and as the starting point for the future organization of the economic content of the revolution. On the other side, a more anarchist conception was put forward [by Rocker, – V. D.] about the direct responsibility of the producers, who cannot and must not divorce their own productive activities from all the other forms of activity of conscious individuals...

This approach did not oppose rationalization as such, but rather required a balance between the participation of the individuals in social production and the preservation of their own individuality, their personalities.” Rocker “declared that the revolution must transform the slave conception of labour-as-exploitation, as an obligation sanctified by tradition and the church over many centuries, ... into a different form, more compatible with an harmonious organization of human relationships,” on the basis of the integrity of labour. The German anarcho-syndicalist conceded that technical development can humanize life, but not in a capitalist setting, where human beings exist for production. Long before people began talking about alienation and ecological problems, he noted that the production of goods which are harmful to health is “social suicide.” Working according to the monotonous rhythm of a machine destroys a person’s personality. It follows that people must be placed at the centre of the economy, and production – oriented according to the needs of real consumers. He warned: “If the rationalization of labour is preserved in its present form for another 50 years, any hope for socialism will be lost.”

Basing himself on an industrial analysis of the changes which were occurring, although also not agreeing with Shapiro’s proposal about sanctioning the creation of Factory Councils which would take control over the financial management of enterprises, Besnard proposed a “Plan for Reorganizing International Syndicalism.” Since capitalism was now in the throes of “simultaneously carrying out two rationalizations – economic and social,” the syndicalist movement should “position itself on the same level as its opponent” and carry through a “rationalization on a global scale” on its own. He called for a reorganization of the international organization using a model for industrial unions which would be applied in all countries from bottom to top: union Factory Councils joined together in networks up to the national level, and then affiliation to the corresponding international organs. The various structures must be completely independent of enterprises and the State, being the embryo of the economic system of the future. Their task would be the collection of managerial and technical information, the implementation of workers’ control over enterprises, the relocation of work forces, and the preparation of workers for managing production at all levels, including the international level.

Besnard’s conception was the subject of a sharp attack by the Argentine FORA, which went much farther than Rocker in its critique of rationalization. One of the Argentine delegates declared at the congress: “Not only political fascism, but also capitalist industrialism is the most dangerous form of tyranny. Comrades are assuming the economic question alone has decisive significance. However the capitalist apparatus, if it remains as is, even in our hands will never be an instrument for the liberation of humanity, a humanity crushed by a gigantic mechanism. The economic crisis has triggered an enormous growth in machines and rationalization, and this growth is by no means limited to urban industry but has also spread to the rural economy. This is a universal crisis which can only be resolved through social revolution.” Consequently, the Latin American delegates at the congress rejected the plan proposed by the French syndicalists to reorganize the international anarcho-syndicalist movement as a global structure of industrial syndicates, capable of taking over the existing system of industrial production in the case of revolution. “Industrialization is not necessary,” they asserted, “People lived without it for thousands of years; happy lives and well-being do not depend on industrialization.” “It must not be assumed that the impending revolution will decide everything once and for all. The next revolution will not be the last. In the revolutionary upheaval all preparations will be thrown overboard, and the revolution will create for itself its own forms of living.” According to one of the Argentine delegates, the French syndicalists “have committed an error in trying to mechanize the IWA. One should not think exclusively about production, but more about people; the main problem is not the organization of the economic system, but the propagation of anarchist ideology.” He spoke against rationalization, since “the people don’t exist for society, but society for the people” and called for “a pure syndicalism: a return to nature, to agriculture, to communes. Only by following these principles can we surmount production for the market and switch to a system of free distribution.”

The objections of the FORA to the plans of Besnard were supported also by the Uruguayan FORU.

The theoreticians of the Japanese labour federation Zenkoku Jiren criticized syndicalist industrialism even more severely than the Latin American worker-anarchists. Their conception of anarchist revolution, which they expounded in detail, implied a cardinal break with the logic of industrial capitalism. The current system, they said, was based on the division of labour and the consequent hierarchy; this division and its attendant mechanization deprived the workers of any responsibility and required coordinating and administrative authorities which were incompatible with the principles of libertarian communism. Therefore the structure of the future free society could not be compatible with the existing authoritarian and capitalist structure. The new society must surmount industrialism with its soul-destroying division of labour and base itself on a different conception of the interrelation of production and consumption, but with the emphasis on consumption. The fundamental unit of this new society must be the self-sufficient, autonomous commune, uniting industry and agriculture.

The Japanese anarchists acknowledged the class struggle as an historical fact, but refused to see in it the basis for libertarian revolution which, in their opinion, would emerge not from the contradictions of capitalism and not from the material interests of classes, but rather from the desire of humanity for freedom and the liquidation of classes generally.

Since “class struggle and revolution are different things,” “it was a great mistake to claim..., that revolution takes place by means of class struggle,” emphasized the Japanese theoretician of anarchism Hatta Shûzô.

Zenkoku Jiren rejected traditional syndicalism, seeing in it elements of the reproduction of the industrial-capitalist model. The continuation of the division of society into groups according to occupation, the preservation of the factory system and centralization, and the organization of society throughout on the basis of professional and industrial unions, would perpetuate the division of labour and the hierarchy of management. “Syndicalism,” wrote Hatta, “will adopt the capitalist means of production, and will also preserve the system of big factories, and first and foremost it will also retain the division of labour and the mode of economic organization which go together with capitalist means of production.” The structure of the syndicates grows out of the capitalist means of production and creates an organization which serves as a mirror image of industrial-capitalist structures. If the capitalist bosses are simply removed and the mines handed over to the miners, the foundries to the foundry workers, etc., then the contradictions between different branches of production and the inequality between individual groups of workers will be preserved. Consequently some kind of arbitrage or organ for resolving disputes between different sectors and groups is required. This creates a real danger of regenerating classes and leads to the appearance of a new state or government in the form of a union bureaucracy. The Japanese anarchists also considered totally wrong any plans of organizing a new society on the basis of a system of Workers’ Councils. Because they originated in production, such councils also reproduced the capitalist division of labour. Moreover, they would also inevitably be power bases and would discriminate against those who did not take part directly in the production of material wealth or who worked in “secondary” branches of the economy. “No matter how the councils were oriented economically,” emphasized Hatta, “it remains clear that their creation would always be accompanied by the emergence of authoritarian rule.”

Thus a choice was posed: the commune or the industrial union? industrial rationalization or integration of decentralized industrial and rural economies? The majority of the sections of the IWA occupied an intermediate position between these extreme positions. The 1931 congress decided to submit the question about “international re-organization” to a referendum of the sections. In 1935 the regular IWA congress in Paris, meeting at a time when the Latin American organizations had been shattered by government terror, approved the proposal of the French Revolutionary-Syndicalist CGT. But this decision about re-organizing the IWA was not in fact implemented.

The conceptions of the FORA contained a critique of the alien and destructive character of the industrial-capitalist system which was brilliant for its time – the FORA’s proposals anticipated by half a century the recommendations and prescriptions of the contemporary ecological movement.

Nevertheless their critique had a point of vulnerability – a categorical refusal to elaborate more concrete notions about the future society, how to get to it and how to prepare for it.

According to the thinking of the Argentine theoreticians, to do so would be to infringe on revolutionary spontaneity and the improvisations of the masses themselves. The achievement of socialism was not a matter of technical and organizational preparation, but rather the dissemination of feelings of freedom, equality, and solidarity – insisted the Argentine worker-anarchists. Nevertheless, objected the European anarcho-syndicalists, such an approach provides no protection from authoritarianism, and could be conducive to the appropriation of the gains of the Revolution by some kind of elitist “vanguard.” Thus from the Marxist reluctance to imagine the forms and mechanisms of functioning of a socialist society logically ensued the rule of “scientific socialists” over immature and ignorant masses. At the moment of Revolution these masses already know what they don’t want, but don’t yet have an understanding of what is required for a new, liberated life. Instead they end up with the Enlightenment or Jacobin concept of an “educational dictatorship.” “The Social Revolution must be prepared in detail, in order to be crowned with success. It doesn’t make any sense to wish to improvise everything,” argued the Swedish delegate Albert Jensen at the 4th IWA Congress, “Such a position can be exploited by political demagogues in order to get control of the Revolution, restore political power, and establish a dictatorship.” At this moment special attention was focused on the anarcho-syndicalists of Spain – a country where social revolution was soon to become a reality. That is why the delegates of the CNT at the 4th Congress of the IWA supported Besnard’s proposal.3 “It is necessary to nourish the constructive capabilities of the workers. Capitalism won’t die by itself. Constructive action is more important than barricades,” declared Victor Orobón Fernández. “Destruction by itself is not at all creative. The most important day of the Revolution is the second day, when new construction begins.” He referred to the example of Russia, where “the anarchists fought, while the Bolsheviks started building on their own.” The more people are prepared for revolution, the better they will know what to do after the overthrow and expropriation of Capital and the State, the easier and less painful it will be to carry out the Revolution, and the less danger there will be of usurpation by an avant-garde. The significance of the arguments of the European anarcho-syndicalists lay in their insistence on the insufficiency of just spreading libertarian values and ideas.

They maintained it was necessary to prepare people technically and organizationally so their grasp of production was such that they could take over management of production after the Revolution. “It’s quite indisputable: in order for a certain ideal to triumph, it must be ingrained in the heads of those who will defend it. Insufficient preparation of the people leads to vacillations, always fatal for the matter being defended. That’s why we recognize that before proceeding to the anarchist organization of society, it is quite essential that the people be prepared beforehand,” emphasized V. Márquez Sicilia in the theoretical journal of the Spanish anarchists La Revista blanca. He maintained that, although the Revolution will be violent, the main path to the new society is propaganda: “Victory can only be gained as the result of a general effort which, moreover, will be contingent on the support of a majority of the people. And this combined action, this support of the majority of the people, can be achieved only in the course of a prolonged period of ideological propaganda, but propaganda which is competent, serious, deliberate, and responsible...” J. Masgomieri, another author of La Revista blanca indicated it was not a matter of an interminable process of waiting until all the people became anarchists: “In order for the anarchist social revolution to become ... an invincible and triumphant force which embraces the whole population, it is first necessary that everyone knows and understands without any kind of intellectual effort the organizational mechanism of the new order of things. And this clear understanding, this material knowledge of the new system, to a much greater degree than abstract and philosophical studies, will give rise to revolutionary consciousness which will become the surest guarantee of development of the Revolution.” The Spanish anarchists categorically rejected the notion advanced by some syndicalists about the difference between an anarchist society and libertarian communism: vague ideas about Anarchy as the simple removal of any sort of restrictions can only give rise to some kind of “sad state of affairs” which amounts to “unconscious sabotage of one’s own ideal and paves the way for the schemes of newly minted politicians.”

In the Spanish CNT there existed tendencies close both to revolutionary syndicalism with its notion of the “syndicalist construction of society,” and to the conception of “libertarian communism.” The debate was ongoing about what to do after the Revolution triumphed by means of a general strike and insurrection. The communitarians, following the anarcho-communist tradition, believed the basis of the future society should be the libertarian commune (“free municipality”), autonomous and self-sufficient to the maximum degree. Correspondingly, they ascribed less significance to problems of economic linkages and the management of coordinated activities between such communes, assuming that any surpluses could be exchanged on an unpaid basis. The industrialists were partial to the revolutionary syndicalist scheme, according to which after the Revolution centralized factory management structures and forms of organization of the economy would be preserved and transferred from private or State control into the hands of the associated syndicates (labour unions). Their strong point was working out solutions to economic problems according to libertarian planning principles. The best known theoreticians of the communitarians were the writer and publicist Federico Urales (editor of the theoretical and literary magazine La Revista blanca) and the physician Isaac Puente. Urales combined Kropotkin’s reasoning with the traditions of the Spanish village communes, which he considered the most suitable base for realizing the collective principles of solidarity.

He maintained that the Revolution would break out after a phase of capitalist crisis, and result in the regeneration of the communal traditions in the free villages. At the same time, Urales and his supporters counted on the presence of revolutionary spontaneity.

Other anarchists considered it essential to formulate ideas about a free society which could provide guidelines for experiments in workers’ insurgency. (Such was the viewpoint of the activists of the Nosotros group, which was behind many of the anarcho-syndicalist uprisings of 1932-1933.) These ideas were popularized by Puente, one of the leaders of the uprisings, in his book The Goal of the CNT – Libertarian Communism. It contained a plan for the creation of a system of libertarian communism in Spain and arguments in favour of its being put into practice. Similar to Urales, Puente followed Kropotkin’s understanding of the social inclinations of humanity. He rejected the idea of a revolutionary or post-revolutionary elite and a transition period.

He believed that the communitarian movement was in tune with the social instincts of mankind. The author proceeded from the assumption that libertarian communism could be established in Spain which would then withstand the capitalist world. Puente conceded that the commune as a popular organ (general assembly of all inhabitants) could exist only in villages and small cities, and that in large population centres its functions would be carried out by the organs of syndicates (associations of producers). But, in the anarchocommunist tradition, he emphasized the voluntary nature and social-economic self-sufficiency of the communes. He was skeptical of “the architects of the new world,” to managerial planning and industrial development. Social wealth, the means of production, and the products produced with the help of these means, would become the property of everyone; each member of society had an obligation to work to the extent of their own powers and in exchange would receive the possibility to satisfy their own needs. Money in any form whatsoever was not required; wealth would be distributed “in proportion to the demands for it.” Finally, the economy of the country “would be the result of coordination between various localities,” which would make arrangements between themselves at the lowest level about combining their efforts at plenums, congresses, and through industrial federations. [193] The book enjoyed a huge popularity in anarchist circles; it was reprinted and widely discussed. One of the main theoreticians of the industrialists was Diego Abad de Santillan, who arrived in Spain from Argentina and renounced the views of the FORA. His work The Economic Organism of the Revolution embraced contemporary industry and emphasized the necessity of planning and economic coordination. He criticized Kropotkin for economic localism and declared free communes an anachronism, a “reactionary utopia.” Abad de Santillan ascribed great significance to free experimentation, allowing for various forms of a future society. But in principle he favoured a comparatively rigid syndicalist structure for the whole of society, similar to the ideas of Besnard. Moreover, like many of the other industrialists, he interpreted libertarian communism as a sort of transitional society on the way to complete anarchy (communism), in which in the beginning a departure from communist principles of distribution (“according to needs”) was permitted.

These theoretical and tactical differences led to splits, the most important of which was the withdrawal from the organization of supporters of a more reformist and pragmatic syndicalist approach, formulated in 1931 in the “Manifesto of the Thirty” (Juan Peiró, Ángel Pestaña, and others). In the middle of the 1930’s it became clear that Spain was on the verge of a social revolution, and that the CNT was faced with the urgent problem of converting the generalized positions of the anarchist “program” into a real plan for the transformation of society on the bases of free communism.

The congress of the CNT in Zaragoza in May 1936 approved a document which was one of the first in history to set out an anarchist program of concrete measures for social revolution – “The Conception of Libertarian Communism.” It combined the ideas and approaches of both currents, but was heavily dependent on the scheme of Puente. Libertarian communism (principle: from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs within the framework of economic possibility) must be established without any kind of “transition period” immediately after the victory of the social revolution. At the basis of the future free society must lie a dual organization: territorial (free communes and their federations) and industrial (syndicates as association of producers and economic organs of the communes).

The program endorsed decentralized planning from below on the basis of the statistical determination of needs and production possibilities. Money was liable to be abolished and replaced by cards for producers/consumers – the only function of such a card was to show that its possessor was actually working. “Once the violent phase of the Revolution is finished, private property, the State, the principle of authority and, consequently, classes, will be abolished... Wealth will be socialized, organizations of free producers will take the direct management of production and consumption in their own hands. In each locality a Free Commune will be established, which will initiate a new social mechanism. Producers united in labour unions in each industry and profession will freely determine the form of their organizations in their own work places.” It was proposed to entrust the coordination of economic and social life, functions of defense, etc. to communes, syndicates, and their federations. The program emphasized the communist principle of distribution, transformation in relations between the sexes, and education – especially the free development of art and science. The State and permanent army were slated to be abolished and replaced by federations of communes and workers’ militias.

  • 1 E. Malatesta, “Quelques considerations sur le regime de la propriete apres la revolution” in Articles politiques (Paris, 1979), pp. 379-390.
  • 2 Cited by: P. Adamo, “Anarchismo tra ethos e progetto,” A – Rivista anarchica, 1997, no. 1 (233), Febbraio, p. 36.
  • 3 This position was by no means shared by all members of the CNT. At the 3__ Congress of CNT in June 1931 a bitter dispute flared up regarding the plan for rebuilding the organization on the basis of industrial unions, as proposed by the syndicalist wing led by Juan Peiro. The anarchists spoke out against this plan. “Supporters of industrial federations have arrived at this position because they have lost faith in ... the goal, and are pinning their hopes on the efficacy of machines,” declared, for example, the prominent anarchist Jose Alberola. “But I say that a machine cannot create vital forces but rather depletes them, and in this sense we are creating a mentality which contradicts everything that speaks to the initiative of the individual... We need an ideal, and in the final analysis this capitalist machine will sooner or later destroy our ideal.” In the end the draft resolution was adopted by 302,000 votes to 91,000, but in fact was never applied in practice. See: A. Paz, op. cit., pp. 219-222 (n64); J. Peirats, Les anarchistes espagnols..., pp. 63-64 (n46).