A fatal slope
We are using the title of a pamphlet by Sebastién Faure as the title for this section, just as we could have used the title, “Tortuous Paths”, which is the title of an article by comrade Juan C. Romero that was published in the Rosario newspaper, La Fora, or the title, “Slippery Slopes”, which is the title of an article published in the Barcelona journal Tierra y Libertad in May 1936, because it most accurately summarizes the topic we shall address below.
Once the decision that the militants of the CNT and the FAI should participate in the government had been made with such great fanfare, they and their admirers not only did not take into account the counter-arguments offered in opposition to this treacherous position by many anarchist comrades from all over the world, but they initiated an offensive against all those who did not accept the captious arguments they employed to justify this acclaimed reversal in practice.
The obfuscation and the passion they marshaled in their ineffective defense, once their Marxist inclinations had become clear, reached such a point that they copied the style and the very terminology of the Bolsheviks had used in South America to discredit us. They furiously rallied around the principle of authority, which had been so severely maligned by the CNT and the FAI up until recently and they continued to attack us for considering it to be the basis of the State.
We have read one of these attempts at justification, with a degree of shock and bitterness, in the Buenos Aires newspaper La Protesta no less, and we say “no less”, because we did not expect that newspaper to publish such a tactless and insolent piece in a journal that has defended the anarchist ideal for more than forty years, and which has paid the price of so many sacrifices and persecutions to give that ideal life and passion on the part of the committed militants of anarchism in Argentina and which has today lost its way by carrying out a negative and confusionist propaganda.
Let’s take a look at a few paragraphs from “The Hour of Anarchism”, by A. Gilabert, published in La Protesta:
“Some of the enemies of anarchism, disguised as comrades, are now attempting to speak to us about principles, tactics and ideas. They think that anarchism has gone astray from its normal course, and has compromised with the bourgeoisie and repudiated its anti-state principles.
“This critique is not inspired by very healthy intentions. Its intentions are two-fold, and must be unmasked. Of course, anarchism in Spain has undergone a change of course. It has rectified everything that was negative about it. When anarchism was a movement of permanent opposition, it explained that it rejected the entire established order. In Spain, however, we are in the midst of special circumstances. Here, we have ceased to be an opposition in order to become a determining force. Anarchism, rather than denying, must make a new reality. Those who make a new reality will be: those who are victorious.
“We cannot demand of the Spanish people that they maintain the negative position that was that of classical international anarchism. The times are too grave to entertain ourselves by looking to the past. Is there a positive example, an effective precedent from outside of Spain that can help guide our conduct? International anarchism is of too little significance to dictate orders to Spanish anarchism. We must proudly say that Spain must serve as an example for the anarchists of the entire world.
“… As anarchists we have the obligation and the duty to criticize and to wage the war against fascism and the revolution against capitalism, not only from below, from the base, but also by assuming positions of responsibility in the institutions that rule the destiny of the country.
“Those who criticize the position of the anarchists are enemies in disguise, agents of the bourgeoisie, individuals who are not very satisfied by the libertarian influence that radiates from the Spanish people. This is the hour of anarchism, and we must accept the struggle in all of its consequences, assuming full responsibility in these decisive moments!
“Barcelona, November 5, 1936.”
Even more explicit and decisive, displaying just how intoxicated the cenetistas and faistas are with authoritarianism, is the article published in the Puigcerdá newspaper, Sembrador, on December 6, 1936. This article is full of slander and threats. It reads as follows:
“We anarchists are advocates of serene, noble and well-documented criticism, but we only grant this right to those who are doing everything in their power to defeat fascism. But we have to be very careful with this criticism. Now is the time for deeds, for positive realization, rather than criticism. As a general rule, the latter is a weapon that is skillfully utilized in the ambushes carried out by the ‘fifth column’, by those whom we must silence, those whom we must eliminate.”
This article insinuates that the comrades they are criticizing could very well be “fascists”.
It cannot be denied that a “majority” of the “leaders” of the CNT and the FAI have thrown overboard the imperishable anarchist principles, tactics of direct action and emancipatory concepts, and have striven to bring the hotspots of the social revolution that have emerged in various regions to a dead halt, in order to devote themselves, from their posts in the government, to channeling the activities of the people towards the sole purpose of “winning the war”.
We do not have to follow in detail the course of the many arguments that have been offered in defense of this serious error.
We cannot understand people who are well-grounded in anarchist theory, yet who, overnight, change course so suddenly, when they know that this change of course signifies a betrayal of the postulates that they had defended, in order to become instead props of the state, and therefore ridiculous bosses of the Spanish people and of their own comrades in the cause, until just recently. The definitive proof of this is provided by Article 15 of the Unity Pact between the CNT and the UGT:
“We agree to undertake joint action to liquidate the harmful activity of the groups of uncontrollables, because, due to either a lack of understanding or bad faith, they are endangering the realization of this program.”
And not only in the text of this Pact, but in practice, as well, the passion to give orders and make them obeyed is revealed, since those who rebelled against these authoritarian policies were punished and imprisoned.
We must also add that the converts to “ministerialism” conducted their oral and written propaganda in a distinctly authoritarian tone. What is regrettable is the fact that they should use our concepts, which are clearly in opposition to the new ways they have adopted, since it is surprising that, after having sacrificed their entire glorious past they should nonetheless speak in a language that does not suit them.
It is logical that some of the comrades who went to Spain to contribute their efforts to help the social revolution to be victorious, and many comrades from all parts of Europe and America, should issue warnings and protests about the precipice upon which the “majoritarians” of the CNT and the FAI are poised.
We believe that it is appropriate to convey some of these opinions. Sebastién Faure, in the pamphlet entitled, The Fatal Slope, sets forth his disagreement with the statist position assumed by the cenetistas and faístas, which is summarized in the following paragraphs:
“… The fact that a politician who belongs to a political group should accept a ministerial post in a government cabinet, that he should have such an ambition, that he should solicit this honor and its advantages, is very natural; this man plays his cards, he takes his ‘chance’, he follows the paths that he has embarked upon and takes good care not to miss his opportunity. But that an anarchosyndicalist, that an anarchist, should accept a post in a government cabinet, that is altogether a different matter.
“The anarchosyndicalist has inscribed on his flag in giant letters: ‘Death to the State’.
“The anarchist has inscribed, in letters of fire, on his flag: ‘Death to Authority’.
“Both are connected by a clear and precise program, based on clear and precise principles. Nothing and no one forces them to support these principles. It is with complete independence and full awareness of the reasons, deliberately, that he has subscribed to these principles. That he has upheld, propagated and defended this program.
“This being so, I maintain that the anarchosyndicalist must prohibit himself from joining those who have the mission to pilot THE SHIP OF STATE, since he is convinced that this ship, ‘this famous ship’, must be absolutely destroyed.
“And I say that the anarchist has the duty to reject all authoritarian positions, since he is fully convinced that all authority must be destroyed.
“There will be no lack of those who will object that, by reasoning in this manner, I am only taking principles into account and that it often happens that the course of events, the circumstances, the facts, that is, what is commonly called REALITY, contradicts our principles and causes those who make a cult of love and respect for principles to necessarily distance themselves provisionally from their principles, and that they soon return to their old positions when the new REALITIES make such a return possible.
“I understand this objection and here is my response:
“First: either our principles are false, or THE REALITY THAT CONTRADICTS THEM is false. In this case we must immediately abandon these principles. In this case we must have the honesty to publicly confess the falsehood of these principles and we must have the courage to fight them with as much passion and activity as we once used to defend them; we must immediately engage in the search for more solid principles and this time they must be correct, precise, infallible.
“Or, to the contrary, the principles upon which our ideology and our tactics is based retain, regardless of the what happens, all its consistency and are just as valid today as they were yesterday and in this case we must remain faithful to them. To depart—even in exceptional circumstances and briefly—from the line of conduct that our principles have traced for us, to renounce the method of struggle that is in conformance with these principles, this means committing a mistake and a dangerous and reckless act. To persist in this error would mean committing a mistake whose consequences gradually lead to the provisional abandonment of our principles and from one concession to another until the definitive abandonment of our principles.
“Once again: it is the machinery, it is the fatal slope that can lead us very far.
“Second: But I think that the experiment undertaken by our comrades in Catalonia, far from compromising the strength of our principles and weakening or destroying justice, can and must have as a result, if we know how to learn the precious lessons that it contains and to avail ourselves of these lessons, that our principles and their power are proven to be correct.
“… The anarchists have resolutely waged, AGAINST EVERYTHING AND EVERYBODY, a merciless struggle; they are determined to prosecute this struggle relentlessly until they achieve victory. This struggle entails, on the one hand, DOING WHAT IS NECESSARY, REGARDLESS OF THE PRICE, and on the other, NOT DOING WHAT IS NOT NECESSARY REGARDLESS OF THE CONDITIONS. I am not unaware of the fact that it is not always possible to do what it is necessary to do; but I do know that there are things that it is rigorously necessary to prohibit, and as a result to never do them.
“The Spanish experiment can and must serve us as a lesson. This experiment must serve as a warning against the danger of concessions and alliances, even under particular conditions and for a limited period of time. To say that all concessions weaken those who make them and strengthen those who are their beneficiaries is to merely utter an indisputable truth. To say that any agreement, even a temporary one, consented to by the anarchists with a political party that, theoretically and practically, is anti-anarchist, is a deceit and that it is always the anarchists who are the victims, is a truth that is proven by Experience, by History and by simple Reason. Over the course of the road taken alongside the authoritarians, the loyalty and the sincerity of the anarchists are always entangled in the perfidy and cleverness of their provisional and circumstantial allies….”
Even more forceful and precise, however, are the arguments set forth by the French General Confederation of Labor-Revolutionary Syndicalists [CGT-SR], in an article entitled, “The Decisive Moment”, published in the newspaper, Le Combat Sindicaliste, an article that produced a sensation among the international circles of anarchist militants and a great deal of anger among the government collaborators of the CNT and the FAI. The article contains the following observations:
“WHERE THE CNT IS BEING LED BY ITS LEADERS.
“The workers of the world want to know. The emotions aroused by the bombing of the ‘Deutschland’ and by the atrocious repression inflicted on the population of Almería have spent their fury. After some Platonic protests whose purpose was to silence the cries of horror that arose from all sides (keeping in mind that we are only talking about the common people) the curtain slowly descends on the tragedy, smothering the moans of the innocent victims.
“Diplomacy has remained impassive, and has now returned to its traditional ‘activity’. Everyone knows what that means. The foreign offices of London and Paris, backed by Washington, have not lost all hope of imposing their peace on Spain. Their plan has not changed and it is expected, both in London and in Paris, that the last German resistance will be overcome and that the Russian plan, whose essential point is a preventive war, will definitely be torpedoed.
“After a period of eclipse, mediation is once again the order of the day.
“This obliges our international movement to examine as meticulously as possible the Spanish situation as a whole, both on the domestic as well as the international arena, to study the position and tactics of the CNT, the Trade Union Central representing the IWA in Spain, with regard to the war and the Revolution.
“Such an examination was already undertaken in November 1936; it demonstrated that there is total and general disagreement between the CNT and all the other affiliated trade unions of the IWA in regard to their points of view. For, whereas the CNT considers it to be its duty to accept the militarization of the militias, the suppression of the free municipalities, the replacement of the Trade Union Economic Council by a Governmental Economic Council, participation in the Barcelona and Valencia Governments, it also agrees to grant priority to the war, and thus situates the Revolution on a secondary level, all the other affiliated Trade Union Central Organizations are of a totally different opinion.
“Nonetheless, in order to preserve intact the unity of our international movement and having received assurances that the CNT will undertake the indispensable rectification of this situation when circumstances allow, the Plenum of the IWA declared that it ‘understood’, without endorsing, the position adopted by the CNT.
“Six months have passed since that time and, unfortunately, all the fears expressed by the Plenum of the IWA have been realized. The suppression of the militias has placed a regular army in the hands of the Central Government, an army that poses a constant danger to the Revolution. The disappearance of the free municipalities returned all the country’s administrative machinery to the hands of the Central Power. The liquidation of the Trade Union Economic Council has deprived the workers organizations of their direction and control over the economy. The CNT’s participation in Power has allowed the Valencia and Barcelona governments to share their responsibilities with the CNT without the latter having practically any opportunity to impose its points of view.
“The fact that the putsch of May 6 could take place in Barcelona, after so many other events of the same kind had already taken place in Cerdaña and Catalonia, demonstrates the nullity of the CNT Ministers in their government positions.
“For we must admit that they were completely in the dark, that everything was prepared and executed without them knowing anything. So what kind of anti-fascist governments are these, in which some of their ministers are unaware of what the other ones are plotting, preparing and executing? What kind of governments are these in which a handful of people run everything and the others do nothing? And what is the role of those who are kept in the dark, except that of fools and hostages, responsible officials upon whom the conspirators pass the buck, when the time comes, of the weight of their faults and their crimes against the country and the Revolution?
“Such a policy is utterly reprehensible. It is precisely what the Plenum of the IWA declared in November 1936 to be radically false. It has ended up causing the CNT to lose all the positions conquered in major battles, with arms in hand.
“It has permitted the politicians whose power was liquidated on the day after July 19, to return to take the helm of the destiny of the country. It has definitively compromised the triumph of the Social Revolution, subordinating it to a war that can only benefit international capitalism and its representatives. This policy of the CNT has allowed the Spanish Communist Party, which was non-existent only recently, to show the claws of its dictatorship which will do nothing but favor the restoration of the ‘Democratic Republic’.
“In short, this policy has ended up facilitating the greatest revolutionary collapse in History.
“And it is at the very moment when all of this is confirmed, when the corpses of the comrades of the CNT who were assassinated by the communists, by the Valencia and Barcelona police, are still warm, that thousands of anarchists have been imprisoned, that the press of the CNT has been muzzled, that no one can go to Spain or leave it as they please, that the CNT, once again offers to participate in the Government, in this Government of capitulation presided over by Negrín, the same Negrín who hunted them like animals (Solidaridad Obrera, June 2, 1937). It is at this very moment that the CNT bows down at the feet of Largo Caballero, that crafty old politician, whose life is nothing but one long betrayal; at the feet of that Largo Caballero who was, successively, the right-hand man of Primo de Rivera, of Azaña and of Stalin; that Largo Caballero who is the author of the laws for the defense of the ‘Republic’, of Casas Viejas and Villa Cisneros.
“You might think that you were dreaming as you read so many such things in the press of the CNT, but it is unfortunately nothing but the truth. One asks oneself just how far the aberration of the ‘leaders’ of the Spanish labor federation will go.
“It is necessary for this to come to an end. It is necessary for the General Staff of the CNT to understand its mistake or for the workers to make it understand.
“One thing is for sure, in any event. Such a position has given rise to the indignation of all the sister affiliates of the CNT, those that will not allow themselves to be dragged into a collapse such as the CNT is leading the Spanish Revolution.
“It is indispensable for this to be said, that the whole world should know it; that judgment should be passed and positions defined.
“However sure of themselves these leaders might be—we will wait for a moment, but just for one moment!—they will not be able to uphold their position on this terrain, in the face of all the workers of the world, who have supported and assisted the Spanish Revolution. They must be warned that this Revolution will be defended against them, against their errors and against their faults.
“It is necessary for them to understand that there are currents they cannot resist, however strong they think they are. A great wave has brought them to where they are, and another, even bigger wave, can drown them and save the Revolution. It is likely, after all, that this wave will break with the same power within as it did from without.
“In any case, one can be sure that we shall not allow them to crush it, without saying or doing anything in favor of the Spanish Revolution. It is twice ours. We shall know how to defend it, and how to defend it against all those who would betray it or abandon it.
“More than ever: Long live the Spanish Revolution!”
(CGT-SR) [General Confederation of Labor – Revolutionary Syndicalists]