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The New International, March 1938



Anarchist Tactics in Spain


From New International, Vol.4 No.3, March 1938, pp.80-82.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Guy A. Aldred

[In anti-parliamentarian movement since 1906; founder of Bakunin Press in London; author of several anarcho-communist pamphlets; arrested for sedition for first time in 1909; editor of Herald of Revolt, Spur, and other journals; now member of United Socialist Movement, whose secretary, Ethel MacDonald, was in Barcelona for eleven months as radio propagandist and editor of English edition of CNT Bulletin; formerly associated with Spanish anarchists, but broke with them and contacted radical sections of Dutch and French anarchists. We print below the important excerpts from Aldred’s contribution to the discussion.]

THERE WAS NO STRATEGY in the CNT leadership. It shut itself up from the world of struggle, a bureaucracy hidden in a big building in Barcelona, and was prepared to pay any price for place and position, miscalled power. It had no strategy. Had the CNT pursued anarchist strategy, the onus of responsibility for the struggle against fascism would have been thrown on the shoulders of the world proletariat. In Barcelona, after July 19, the CNT had the opportunity to socialize life; to destroy all bourgeois credit; to make war on the alien capitalist exploiter; and to render impossible of existence the petty property groups that became the backbone of the Stalinist counter-revolution. It is true to say that the CNT is responsible for this counter-revolution. It lacked revolutionary moral courage, despite the barricade heroism of Durruti, Ascaso, etc. Its foreign leadership rejoiced in the idea of power. Emma Goldman spoke to the Manchester Guardian as the representative of the Barcelona and Valencia governments and defended Montseny’s position. Ethel MacDonald was told that, on July 20, 1936, the CNT Committee secretly met, and declared that the time was not ripe for the revolutionary struggle. Stevens asserted this in the Dutch syndicalist press and challenged contradiction.

The CNT leadership cannot be defended. This does not indict anarchism and even less anti-parliamentarism. It does not indict the rank and file of the CNT or the Friends of Durruti. It indicts the CNT leadership for its departure from, and betrayal of, anarchism. The anarchist leadership in Spain is tending to forget the crimes of Stalinism by a growing flirting with this monstrous evil of Red. fascism. This fact does not justify Trotskyism. And it does not mean the bankruptcy of anarchism; only of reformism as opposed to social revolution.

Anarchism and class collaboration. When Rocker explains the anarchist failure to take power in May 1937, or at least, to resist the Stalinist aggression, by stating that the anarchists “were opposed to any dictatorship from whichever side it proceeded”, he betrays his ignorance of the class issue involved. To be so opposed to dictatorship that you surrender to dictatorship is obviously confusion. Actually, of course, the anarchists surrendered to the anti-fascist or Popular Front government.

When Felix Morrow deduces from this conduct of the anarchists, inspired by various motives, some good, some bad, that anarchism, per se, stands for class collaboration in the period of social revolution, he is writing nonsense. If he is arguing from fact, one can deduce from the events of the Russian Revolution that Trotskyism and Leninism stand equally for class collaboration. Actually, anarchism does not stand for class collaboration but for the conquest of bread and freedom by the working class; for the liquidation of political into industrial or use-value society.

Felix Morrow is quite right when he declares that there exists in Spam today a corrupt, degenerate Spanish bureaucracy. It is quite true to aver that Rudolf Rocker defends that bureaucracy. Emma Goldman does the same. On that account, when she came to Britain, she set to work to destroy the anti-parliamentary movement here and to establish a controlled, dictated anarchist bureau, defended by capitalists and on all fours with the Stalinist bureaus of murder apology. But this is not anarchism any more than Stalinism is communism or socialism.

Felix Morrow denies that Kronstadt is a burning question. At least it is a key issue. Surely Trotsky’s attitude towards the imprisonment and murder of anarchists in the Soviet Republic, the question of the legitimate revolutionary demands of Kronstadt that were drowned in blood, the reactions of Zinoviev arid others, since murdered themselves, Trotsky’s falsehood about Makhno, are historical matters worthy of consideration. If the Stalinists are wrong to believe that history begins and ends with Stalin, what right has Morrow to assume that it begins and ends with Trotsky?

Trotsky’s falsehood – “The Makhno movement was a kulak movement” – may not be in the same category as the rewriting of John Reed’s Ten Days That Shook the World, the producing of films of the revolution that leave out Trotsky, the re-telling of Lenin’s hiding until Stalin overshadows Lenin; but the earlier, simple falsehood, contains the seeds of the later gigantic crop of lies and slanders. Falsehood is falsehood; and one cannot play at error without expecting ambition to improve on one’s prentice and amateurish beginnings. To my mind, the genius of Trotsky notwithstanding, Trotskyism did pioneer Stalinism. I do not think it would be difficult to develop this point in debate; and personally, I would like to debate it on the public platform. I would be glad of an opportunity of defending the anarchist case against Trotskyism as well as against Stalinism. This is not to defend the Rockers, the Goldmans, or the foreign service of the corrupt, bureaucratic Spanish CNT.


GLASGOW, Dec. 29, 1937

* * *

T.H. Bell

[Anarchist for almost fifty years; personal friend of Kropotkin, Malatesta, Tarrida del Marmol, Tucker, Goldman, Rocker; introduced first Spanish anarchist literature in Mexico in 1891; host in England of released survivors of Montjuich tortures; declares that Rudolf Rocker “will tell you if you ask him that no one in his opinion has any better title than I have to speak for that English-speaking anarchist movement which your article attacked”; frequent contributor to American and English anarchist journals. Below are printed the most relevant excerpts from Bell’s contribution to the discussion.]

BUT ALTHOUGH I admit that some of your criticisms are amply justified, I laugh at your notion that because of the errors it has committed in Spain the anarchist movement is to be dismissed from the scene. It is just coming on to it. For even if the CNT-FAI, and the other radical workers of Spain are to be crushed completely by the Franco-Hitler-Mussolini combination they have already accomplished one great historic feat of the highest importance. For, crushed or victorious, they have stopped that triumphant march of fascism which seemed about to trample on all Europe. You remember how at one time the workers in Northern Italy had seized the factories and we thought the social revolution just on the edge. Alas! they looked for leadership to the men of their political party. These men were lawyers, doctors, journalists, politicians, everything but producers; they felt their own incompetence in matters of production; so they advised the workers to give the factories back; matters would be adjusted by political means. Just then too it became evident to the Italian workers that the affaire in Russia had resulted not in a free society, but in a fresh tyranny. They were discouraged and bewildered for the moment And Mussolini, inspired and taught by the example of Lenin, saw his opportunity and took it. Later in Germany seven millions of social democrats, disheartened, stood patiently to have fetters fitted on their feet; five million communists, “left without orders”, obediently held out their hands for the handcuffs.

The fascists and the Nazis therefore seemed fully justified in their claim that they represented daring and energy; anyhow they marched in triumph onward and onward – till at Barcelona the men of the CNT-FAI, the anarcho-syndicalists, met them – with bare hands and heroic hearts – and stopped them dead. The overblown balloon of fascist reputation went off there with a pop.

The anarcho-syndicalists of Spain have put a stop not only to the triumphant march of fascism; they have put a stop to the westward march of “communism”. You people of The New International are behind the times on the Spanish news. It is true that the Stalinists did seize power in the Spanish revolution; but they were not able to hold it. The indignation of the Spanish people arose to such a degree, and the increased moral influence of the CNT became so apparent – in spite of the blunders of some leaders and the imprisonment or murder of others – that Stalinist Russia has finally recognized its inevitable defeat and quit the scene. Even if the anarcho-syndicalists in the long run are trampled into the mire by the overwhelming forces of the fascist enemy, in the next rising in Europe the workers will begin just where they left off.

In one other important matter the anarcho-syndicalists of Spain have vindicated their doctrine with extraordinary success. Many of your readers are probably aware now that the workers in Russia when they themselves ran the workshops at first – before the communists put in their commissars – organized production with more ability than has been generally conceded to them. Their difficulties lay in the region of exchange rather than that of production. Given a little experience and made to feel the responsibility, they could soon have obtained a considerable degree of efficiency. But the tale of their failure, “necessitating communist control”, has been told so often that those who tell it really take it to be true. It has even affected some of us who ought to have known better. I make my confession here that I was not myself over-optimistic about the immediate success of the workers in organizing industry in Spain, though I knew that a good deal of study had been given to it. It is evident that they have really had magnificent success, a success that should stop once for all the old notion that things can be run at first only by a superior class, a Samurai or a Bolshevik party. The Catalonian workers are not only producing with greater efficiency than ever before the necessities of life, they have developed in an incredibly short time a production of arms and ammunitions which enables them now to face the enemy on something more approaching an equal footing. The anarchist doctrine of the creative ability of a free people has been vindicated nobly.

Let me point out that when the anarchists in Spain have blundered and have failed, it has been not when they attempted to apply anarchist doctrines but when they abandoned them. They did quite right not to seize power – and begin another tyranny; though I confess they seem to me to have been too slow to accept responsibility and leadership. (I say, “it seems to me”, because their difficulties were certainly enormous.) One would have expected them to set off with heads up and banners flying direct to their own goal, instead of negotiating and compromising with governmentalists as they did. But, you know, they could not .fight the fascists for long with their bare fists; arms had to be obtained somehow or other; the government at Madrid, if it did not possess the arms, possessed at least the sinews of war. He who pays the piper can insist generally on calling the tune. That excuse, I admit, does not cover the utterly wretched weakness of some of these leaders, such as that praise to Stalin to which you refer. It is evident that when anarchists abandon the methods of anarchism they can make a most deplorable mess of it.


Los ANGELES, Jan. 1938
T.H. Bell

* * *

The Editors

IN ADDITION TO THE contributions of Guy A. Aldred and T.H. Bell, the February 1938 issue of Vanguard, which eagerly seeks to capitalize upon the prominence of its sister-movement in Spain by advertizing itself as the only organ that “presents the authentic position of the CNT-FAI”, devotes almost one-third of its pages to a reply to the article by Felix Morrow on Anarchism in Spain in the January issue of The New International. The article, as readers will recall, ended with an invitation by the editors to anarchist spokesmen to participate in a public discussion in our columns of the criticisms made by the author. The three replies made, two of which are printed in their germane essentials above, require only some brief comments.

1. Reference to the indubitable militancy, bravery and revolutionary spirit which animates every fibre of the masses of Spanish anarchist workers, is, when not demagogic, beside the point under discussion. These qualities of the masses no more justify the treacherous course of the Spanish anarchist leadership than the heroism of the Austrian workers in February 1934 could cover up the perfidy of the social-democratic bureaucracy. The point under discussion is the philosophy and practise of the anarchist leadership as recorded in life by the class struggle in Spain.

2. Notwithstanding all of Vanguard’s hoarse denials of the existence and growth of an anarcho-syndicalist bureaucracy in Spain, the disagreeable fact is too plain and big to be concealed any longer. Guy Aldred, well aware of the facts, does not seek to contest them. Nor can any informed person who knows of the arbitrary and wretched manner in which the CNT-FAI pontiffs excommunicated the Friends of Durruti and left wingers of the Libertarian Youth when they rebelled against the policy of the petty bourgeois cabinet ministers who were the official spokesmen of anarchism in Spain – Mesdames and Messieurs Montseny, Garcia Oliver and consorts. Vanguard says smugly that “a critical evaluation of this [the Spanish anarcho-syndicalist] policy in the light of the accumulated experience of the last sixteen months, is on the order of the day”. But you will look hi vain for such a “critical evaluation”. Is it to be made later, perhaps when it is ... too late? The international anarchist congress in London found not a word of criticism to make; instead it gave an unqualified endorsement to the line of the Spanish anarchist bureaucracy. At the congress of the Union Anarchiste in France towards the end of last year a motion was adopted prohibiting any criticism of the leaders of the CNT-FAI even if uttered in the ranks of the organization! The Stalinist parties have such a motion in practise, but even they have not been brazen enough to adopt it formally.

3. The main point in Morrow’s indictment of anarchist policy in Spain dealt with class collaboration and participation in a bourgeois coalition government. Aldred joins him in condemnation. Bell seeks to make a halting explanation. But in the almost five pages of reply by Vanguard, which discourses on almost everything and everybody, there is not a word – not one single word! – devoted to discussing this most vital point It is hard to believe, but it is true. The anarchists – anti-authoritarian, anti-stateist, anti-governmentalist – for decades derided and castigated the social democrats for entering bourgeois coalition governments even when the argument of “emergency situation” or “need of unity against reaction” was made. Suddenly they too find themselves confronted with an “emergency situation” (i.e., the intensification of the class struggle) in the only country where they are a powerful mass movement and – they become Ministers of State (yes, of the State which is the source of all evil!), ministers of a bourgeois coalition government. And even after they are unceremoniously kicked out, after the May Days in Barcelona when the anarchist workers were massacred by the same government, they whimper and plead for the right to reenter it: “The participation of the CNT in the government is considered [by the “liberal and democratic powers of Europe”] as the strong guarantee of the independence of Spain.” (Augustin Souchy, Solidaridad Obrera, Aug. 28, 1937.)

When these little details are pointed out, the mouth of the Vanguard writer suddenly fills up with water. He does not even mention anarchist participation in a bourgeois coalition government, but in a shamefaced manner makes an implicit defense of it by reference – to whom? – to Lenin! “As is known, the revolutionary elements (Bolsheviks included) made a united front with the petty bourgeois elements of the so-called Kerensky democracy.” Quite so, in the struggle against Kornilov. Only, the Bolsheviks never entered the bourgeois government of Kerensky; the Mensheviks and Social-Revolutionists did. Therein lies the difference.

4. It is not anarchism that is bankrupt; the collapse is due to the abandonment of anarchism. Thus argue Aldred and Bell. We cannot agree. The source of the failure in Spain is to be found in the very heart of anarchist philosophy itself. Anarchism is not a proletarian class doctrine. It is based upon a petty bourgeois idealistic conception of the state. The bourgeoisie admonishes the workers: Don’t take power, it is corrupting by its very nature. The anarchists echo this warning. The state is not a class organ to them; it is, per se, Evil Incarnate, regardless of what class is in power. They do not, therefore, counterpose the proletarian state to the bourgeois state. It is not surprising, then, that when the concrete “emergencies” of real life jerk the anarchists out of the blue sky of abstraction; when, as a mass movement imminently imperilled by fascism, they find themselves forced to employ all the weapons of power they can lay hands on, including die most concentrated weapon of power, namely, the machinery of state – they do not try to create such a political weapon in a new (proletarian) form but simply fall back upon it in its existing (bourgeois) form. Why? Because in their doctrinaire narrowness, they consider a proletarian state no different from – and therefore an unnecessary duplication of – the bourgeois state. That is why the Spanish anarchists did not develop the embryonic organs of proletarian power, but simply capitulated to the democratic bourgeois state of Azaña-Companys-Caballero-Negrin-Diaz. That is the essence of the matter.

How significant it is that in the face of so monstrous a disavowal of the basic traditional anarchist principle, not one of the bishops of the anarchist movement has cried out against the CNT bureaucracy in the tone and spirit of Lenin, when he called for a break with the Second International for its war betrayal. The Goldmans, Rockers, Souchys, Fremonts, Santillans – to say nothing of the lesser novices of Vanguard – take anarcho-bourgeois coalitionism in their stride as though it were a bagatelle. When it is referred to at all, it is justified on the ground of “emergency”, as if, in Trotsky’s words, anarchist principles were a raincoat that is good on sunny days but, alas! leaks badly on those “emergency” days when it rains.

5. As for the sempiternal question of Kronstadt and Makhno, we again refer our readers to John G. Wright’s article in our last issue and to an article by Leon Trotsky on the same subject in our next issue. The present-day anarchist pother about Kronstadt is usually calculated to becloud the burning question of their policy in Spain. It is more than a little hypocritical for the anarchists to thunder about the “Kronstadt massare”, when their leaders covered up the murder of Durruti by the Stalinists for the sake of ministerial unity with the latter; when they sat in one government with the Stalinists while the latter censored and suppressed their papers and imprisoned or assassinated scores of anarchist and other revolutionary militants; when, for the sake of governmental unity with the Stalinists, their leaders sing the praises of Stalin; when the same leaders, who could not reconcile themselves to Leninism or the Bolshevik revolution, officially join in Barcelona with the Friends of the Soviet Union (read: Friends of the GPU) to celebrate the triumph of the Stalinist counter-revolution on November 7, 1937. Kronstadt may have been a great historical tragedy of 1921. But it is not, after all, a paint brush to be used on any and all occasions to whitewash the bankrupt anarchist bureaucracy of 1938. For that job, there is no brush big enough.

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