Chapter 10: The Constructive Socialist Work of the CNT and the FAI

Submitted by libcom on September 8, 2005

Socialists of all schools, sincere liberals and bourgeois anti-Fascists who had an opportunity to observe on the spot the splendid work of social upbuilding of the Spanish workers, have thus far passed only one judgment on the creative ability of the C.N.T. and have rendered to its labors the tribute of their sincerest admiration. None of them could help extolling the native intelligence, the forethought and prudence and, above all, the unexampled tolerance with which the workers of the C.N.T. had performed their difficult task. So said the Swiss Socialist, Andres Oltmares, professor in the University of Geneva, in a rather long essay from which we take the following:

"In the midst of the civil war the Anarchists have proved themselves to be political organizers of the first rank. They kindled in everyone the required sense of responsibility, and knew how by eloquent appeals to keep alive the spirit of sacrifice for the general welfare of the people.

As a Social Democrat I speak here with inner joy and sincere admirations of my experiences in Catalonia. The anti-capitalist transformation took place here without their having to resort to a dictatorship. The members of the syndicates are their own masters, and carry on production and the distribution of the products of labor under their own management with the advice of technical experts in whom they have confidence. The enthusiasm of the workers is so great that they scorn any personal advantage and are concerned only for the welfare of all."

And, speaking of the adaptation of industries to the war needs, Professor Oltmares declared that in the matter of organization the Catalonian workers' syndicates "in seven weeks accomplished fully as much as France did in fourteen months after the outbreak of the World War." He might have added: and as Russia had not been able to accomplish after two years of Bolshevist dictatorship.
Quite a number of similar reports by impartial and honest observers found their way into the press of every country except Russia and the Fascist states. However one may look upon the C.N.T. from the point of view of world philosophy, he cannot refuse recognition to the unlimited willingness to sacrifice and the constructive spirit of its members. But not only Socialists and honest correspondents of bourgeois papers were obliged to take cognizance of these facts; even Mr. Antonov-Ovs&eactue;enko, the Russian consul at Barcelona, was unable to avoid expressing the same view. Thus in an interview he granted to a correspondent of the "Manchester Guardian," published on December 22, 1936, we find:

"The Consul, of course, denied the well known fact of the interference of Soviet Government in the internal politics of Catalonia. But at the same time he expressed greatest admiration for the Catalan workers, especially for the anarcho-syndicalists.

The sobriety of the Catalan workers surprised and gratified the Soviet Consul no less than their extreme common sense and adaptation to realities. Recalling that it had been necessary in Petrograd in 1917 to flood the cellars of the palaces to prevent drunkenness, Ovséenko related his astonishment at visiting a champagne factory outside Barcelona, which had not only been raided but kept in the most perfect state by the workers' committees.

'The anarchist movement,' the Soviet representative stated, 'was obviously rooted in the Catalan working class, but its best representatives were astonishingly able to realize the needs of the present situation... Their strength is unparalleled in the anarchist movement in any other country. Despite certain fanaticisms the typical worker in the C.N.T. was chiefly interested in working under decent conditions, and for this reason would fight to death against Fascism.'

The Consul has no doubt that the Catalan workers are capable of reconstructing the wrecked industries, their unaided work in the harbor and factories showing that they are capable of running industry themselves. He was impressed with the fact that the political crisis in Catalonia had been resolved in two days with the minimum of disturbance."

Since then seven months have gone by. At that time one still had to proceed with caution so as not to make the Spanish workers and peasants shy off, for, though they knew very well how to fight and to build, they had no experience in the deceptive arts of crafty diplomacy. Their whole lives had moved along roads where one's word was one's word and man's trust in man had not been flung to the dogs, as in Bolshevist Russia.

That the Russian consul's asseverations were never meant seriously, recent events in Spain have clearly shown. They were, from the first, designed to throw dust in the eyes of the working people of Spain and the world and to trick them with statements which the consul did not himself believe. If one can bring any reproach against the leading persons in the C.N.T.-F.A.I. it is that they accorded these false "brothers" a greater confidence than they deserved, and that under the pressure of desperate circumstances they let themselves be drawn into making concessions which could only prove disastrous to them later. Actuated by a thoroughly noble sentiment, they undervalued too greatly the subterranean machinations of a secret enemy who threatens today to prove more perilous to them than open Fascism. The fact the Russian press, for reasons that are easily understood, never uttered one least little word about the efforts of the Spanish workers and peasants at social reconstruction, which the Russian consul at Barcelona "admired" so much, in itself speaks volumes.

In Spain, however, the attacks of the Stalinists were directed not merely against these efforts, but against all the accomplishments which had been born of the events of July, 1936. It was they who zealously urged upon the government the suppression of the workers' patrols by the police; it was they who played themselves up as defenders of the middle class, in order to turn these against the workers; it was they who suggested to the government at Valencia a censorship of the press under Russian supervision; it was they who at the time of the heaviest battles against Franco and his German and Italian allies provoked one governmental crisis after another in Valencia and Barcelona in order to bring their secret plans in the interest of England and France to fulfillment; and it was they who sought earnestly to concentrate all power in the hands of the central government in order to institute through this agency that "neutral dictatorship" for the "tranquilizing of the country" which had been so warmly recommended by the leader of the English Tories, Winston Churchill.

The Communist press of the whole world and its allies among the socalled neutral powers are trying by an infamous propaganda of falsehoods to deceive their readers as to the real state of affairs, telling them that the attitude of the Spanish Stalinists is dictated purely by the need to avoid driving the middle class and the small land-owners into Franco's arms, as the "ridiculous socializing campaign" of the C.N.T. is doing.

But in this respect also matters are really quite different. The C.N.T. from the beginning regarded the petty bourgeois and small farmer as natural allies in the struggle against Fascism. Its press has all along pointed out that during this transition period it recognizes any economic form which does not have as its objective the exploitation of man by man. For this reason it has put no obstacles in the way of family management in the country or of small enterprises in the city. To be sure the C.N.T. attacked with all its energy speculators and cut-throats with union cards in their pockets who wanted to profit from the confusion; and that is altogether understandable.

In its work of socialization the C.N.T. has imposed upon itself the greatest moderation and has gone about its task with a tact and prudence that only pure malevolence would dare to deny. Wherever small farmers have preferred individual operation to agrarian collectives, they have been left their free choice. Their small pieces of land have not been touched; they have even been enlarged in proportion to the size of the families. It is a fact that after the great days of the July revolution many hundreds of small employers and small farmers voluntarily put their plants and their land at the disposal of the workers' syndicates and hailed the social revolution with genuine enthusiasm. In Aragon, for example, an overwhelming majority of the small farmers declared for collective agriculture. There exist there at present about four hundred collective enterprises, of which only ten have joined the U.G.T., while all the others belong to the C.N.T. syndicates.

In reality a very friendly relation has existed for a long time between the C.N.T. and the anti-Fascist bourgeoisie. This did not change until the disruptive work of the Stalinists set in, and the Communists began to play up the petty bourgeoisie as their trump cards against the workers. Only then did it become possible for "Treball," the Communist Party sheet in Barcelona, to proclaim with proletarian pride that "the totality of the petty bourgeoisie" was organized in the Catalonian U.G.T. This was written by the same men who earlier had used tones of profound contempt to designate their Socialist opponents of both the right and left as "petty bourgeois." With bitter irony, but most convincingly, the daily paper "CNT" in Madrid characterized this Jesuitical duplicity of the Communists:

"The Communist Party wishes to make us believe that the revolution is to be furthered by favoring small businessmen, safeguarding private ownership, standing up for the interests of small industrialists, excluding labor organizations from a share in the government, sabotaging the village collectives of the peasants, showing oneself amenable to the wishes of foreign capital, and, above all, by denying that the present situation in Spain is favorable to a social revolution. That same Communist Party is doing this, which only a few years ago, when it was setting itself for the first time to disseminate its ideas in our country, had assigned to the social revolution the first place on its order of the day.

In other words: For the Communist Party the revolution will be made with the help of the counter-revolution, and the counter-revolution with the help of the revolution. And if anyone says that this is nonsense, he is reminded that we are not here setting forth our own views, but the latest theory of unadulterated Marxism-Leninism."