Felix Morrow

Anarchism in Spain

(January 1938)

Source: New International, Vol. 4 No. 1, January 1938, pp. 6–7.
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Proofreader: Einde O’Callaghan (August 2015).
Copyleft: Felix Morrow Internet Archive (www.marx.org) 2004. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

The appearance of Rudolf Rocker’s The Tragedy of Spain warrants a proposal to the anarchists of the English-speaking world for a basic discussion of the role of anarchism in the Spanish revolution. As events dictate, Rocker’s pamphlet is in large part a damning indictment of the bourgeois-Stalinist counter-revolution. We subscribe to every jot and tittle of that indictment. Our comrades throughout the world have undertaken as their elementary duty the defense of the CNT workers. We stand in unconditional solidarity with them against their oppressors. Our own press has largely subordinated our critical analysis of the strategy of Spanish anarchism to the immediately pressing task of rallying aid for the persecuted anarchist movement. If Rocker’s new work were but such a defense alone, we should be only too happy to solidarize ourselves with it completely.

The Tragedy of Spain is, however, more than a defense pamphlet. It is also an attempt to justify the fundamental strategy pursued by the CNT leadership. More, it “deduces” the bourgeois-Stalinist repressions from Lenin and Trotsky’s theories which “were merely pathbreakers” for Stalin, whose policies are “only the logical result of the work of his predecessors”.

No one can have failed to observe the sudden recrudescence of anarchist and syndicalist attacks on the foundations of Leninism. The struggle for Kronstadt in 1921 is revived as a burning question! Strenuous are the attempts to pronounce Stalinism the natural heir of Bolshevism. Trotsky and other comrades have analyzed such arguments and coped with them at great length. Here, I wish merely to underline one reason for the revival of this stuff: the disastrous course of the leadership of Spanish anarchism has developed a strong semi-Bolshevik current in the anarchist movement. The Friends of Durruti, supported by sections of the Libertarian Youth and the FAI, represent this tendency in Spain itself. Their recognition of the necessity for democratic organs of power (soviets) and organs of repression against the bourgeoisie and its direct allies (dictatorship of the proletariat)—lessons learned not from books but from the hard blows of the Spanish events—have spelled the end of anarchist prejudices against proletarian state power. But this is Trotskyism! The anarchist leadership outside Spain therefore seeks to immunize its followers against this tendency by identifying it with... its merciless persecutor! (Inside Spain, however, this method is employed but little, for the simple reason that the CNT leadership courts Stalin.) This stratagem will not save anarchism from discussing with us the question: the movement led by their Spanish comrades was the greatest single force in the Iberian proletariat; anarchism has thus received its first test on a large scale; what has that test shown?

We contend that the Spanish events have demonstrated the complete bankruptcy of anarchism as a guide to the proletariat on the road to a socialist society. I shall briefly outline some necessary points of discussion:

I. Anarchism becomes class collaborationism in the period of social revolution.

During the period of stable bourgeois rule, anarchist hatred of oppression spurs it to struggle against capitalism. But in the crucible of the revolution, when the bourgeoisie can only weather the flames by offering to collaborate in building the “new society”, anarchist opposition to the dictatorship of the proletariat is revealed as a “non-class” ideology, in other words, class collaborationist. Why didn’t the CNT take power on July 19, 1936, or propose the assumption of power by democratic organs with franchise limited to worker and peasant? Note the answer of Rudolf Rocker—who is concededly the most important figure in world anarchism. Arguing against the Stalinist myth that the CNT was trying to take power in May 1937, Rocker says:

“If the CNT-FAI had really entertained any such plans, they had for a long time after the 19th of July the best opportunity to put their wishes into effect, for their tremendous moral and physical superiority over every other faction was such that simply no one could have resisted them. They did not do so, not because they lacked the strength, but because they were opposed to any dictatorship from whichever side it proceeded. “

Note that the anarchist criterion is not conditioned by the specific Spanish situation; it is a blueprint for all revolutions: class collaboration with any section of capitalists who do not take arms in hand against the masses (they do not because they have not yet the strength!) is at the very heart of the anarchist conception of the road to socialism. Thus the Spanish anarchists—and all who follow them in the future—rehabilitate the bourgeoisie before the masses, nurture them, give them time to restore their strength—and to turn and crush the masses.

II. A coalition government is inevitably anti-working class.

Rocker is less than entirely honest—to put it no more strongly—in writing a pamphlet which does not once comment on the significant fact of CNT participation in the Valencian and Catalonian governments! These coalitions with the bourgeoisie, instruments of class collaboration during a revolutionary period, were the most important means whereby the bourgeois-Stalinist bloc recouped the power from the masses. They did so by the simple device of arrogating more and more power to the government, i.e., to the old bourgeois state for which the CNT served as a “red front”; and they did so with the direct approbation of the CNT leadership.

Rocker is guilty of a vulgar anti-Stalinism which does not take into account the role of the bourgeois state, for which Stalinism merely served as the most efficient bloodhound.

“If one can bring any reproach against the leading persons in the CNT-FAI,” says Rocker, “it is that they accorded these false ‘brothers’ [the Stalinists] 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.”

This, and other equally vague statements of the same kind, remind one of those academic admissions of error which Stalinism gives as lip-service to critical Marxism, but the exact contents of which are discreetly left for future turns and twists. The fact is that the basic crimes of the CNT leadership were committed during the first weeks of the Generalidad government (September 26 on), when the Stalinists were still hopelessly weak in Spain and when no Russian arms had yet arrived. What were those basic crimes? Joining with the bourgeois-Stalinist bloc in issuing a series of decrees wiping out the revolution: the decrees dissolving the Central Committee of Anti-Fascist Militias and turning its powers over to the Ministries of Defense and Public Order; the decree dissolving all the revolutionary committees throughout Catalonia; the decree establishing municipal governments based on fixed ratios of representation from the various parties; the decree disarming the workers; the decree providing for compensation to the landlords and factory owners; the decrees militarizing the militias under the bourgeois military code. I mention only those decrees which the bourgeoisie proposed and the C.N.T. approved. I shall not even mention those necessary measures for the social revolution which the CNT failed even to propose (nationalization of banks, land, etc., etc.).

Can one speak of this systematic legislation, approved by the CNT, as an “error”? No, CNT approval flowed from a basic tenet of anarchism: the refusal to distinguish between workers’ states and bourgeois states, hence CNT collaboration in a bourgeois state, CNT approval of legislation to strengthen the bourgeois state against the workers. The crimes of the CNT leaders cannot be laid to their trustfulness in the Stalinists. As a matter of fact, I can adduce page and chapter to demonstrate that they understood who their Stalinist confrères were. Much deeper were the roots of this collaboration with reformists and bourgeois counter-revolutionaries: it flows from anarchist theory.

III. There is today in Spain a corrupt, degenerate anarchist bureaucracy.

Doctrinairism can explain much: leaders pursuing false theories will not admit the falsity of their theories, despite the impact of events. But this is not the only explanation for the present course of the CNT leadership. Fifteen months of class collaboration, of occupying bourgeois governmental posts, etc., has crystallized a bureaucratic layer in the CNT which feels its affinity with the communist and socialist bureaucracies rather than with the masses of the CNT. Despite all the experiences of the first coalition governments, this CNT bureaucracy seeks only to return to the government, under the face-saving formula of the “anti-fascist” front, which is nothing but a re-baptized People’s Front. This bureaucracy concealed from the workers on the barricades in the May days the government’s sending of troops from Valencia, the Generalidad’s violation of its agreements, the massacre at Tarragona, etc., etc.—intent only on getting the workers to capitulate. This bureaucracy calls upon the masses to put its faith in Caballero—the same Caballero who headed a government which boycotted Catalonian economy, prevented systematic development of a war industry in Catalonia, starved the Aragon front of arms, established political censorship of the workers’ press, organized praetorian forces in the Assault, Civil guards and carabineros, etc., etc. This bureaucracy praised Stalin, suppressed all criticism of the Moscow trials, and thus facilitated the bloody work of Stalin’s hangmen. This bureaucracy did not lift a finger to save the Friends of Durruti, its contenders for leadership of the CNT, from being outlawed by the government. One can no longer speak of this CNT bureaucracy as just making mistakes.

Yet anarchist comrades, particularly in the English-speaking world, in the name of unity of action, of defense of the Spanish workers, remain silent about these crimes and thus join in bearing the responsibility for them. While the late Camillo Berneri and Joaquin Ascaso, among others, have not hesitated in Spain publicly to denounce the policies of the CNT bureaucrats, while more and more local papers of the CNT movement speak out, we find the American anarchists especially silent about the tragic course of the CNT. Who is served by such silence? Certainly not the masses of any country. Certainly not the theoretical foundations of the revolution in any country. We have opened the discussion. What do the anarchists have to say?



As indicated in the article of Felix Morrow, the Editors of The New International are ready to open its pages to a discussion article on the subject by a responsible advocate of the policy of the Spanish anarchists.


Last updated on: 21 August 2015