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Mieczyslaw Bortenstein (M. Casanova)

Spain Betrayed

How the Popular Front Opened the Gates to Franco

3. And the CNT?

You mention the CNT. The Barcelona working class is in its overwhelming majority Anarchist. We do not understand why it did not act, or at least try to act, to save Barcelona. It has produced heroes, like Durruti and Ascaso, who are the pride of the international working class. What did the CNT do in this tragic crisis?

The CNT is a story of its own. Of course Durruti, Ascaso and thousands of nameless heroes will, like the Paris Commune, remain forever inscribed in the hearts of the proletariat; but as for the policy of the ‘anti-politicos’ and the ‘anti-statists’, the policy of the so-called leadership of the CNT, it was grossly reformist, petit-bourgeois and objectively criminal towards the proletariat and the revolution.

At this time of general ideological disarray, when Anarchist ideas can have a certain attraction for those who are disorientated, such a policy can instruct the workers of the entire world as to the value of the theory, and especially the practice, of Anarchism. This consistent work of criticism, which Marxists alone can do, will be done. Pamphlets are necessary, and perhaps even books.

In the past, I mean in 1936 and in 1937, these anti-statists used to abolish and sometimes even burn money in the little villages of Aragon where they set up libertarian Communism and the rule of love and brotherhood, but the idea of laying their hands on the big banks never occurred to them. The branch office of the Bank of Spain in Barcelona stands directly opposite the regional committee of the CNT, the seat of the Anarchist general staff, but the anti-statist leaders go on tiptoe in the presence of high finance. [19] They believe it to be an original sin to talk about a workers’ state, or of the formation and extension of workers’ committees. And, whilst working methodically at rebuilding the bourgeois state, they kept talking about Anarchism. [20] During May 1937 they betrayed the workers of Barcelona to the Stalino-bourgeois counter-revolution. A few weeks later the bourgeoisie, having no further need of them, and feeling itself sufficiently strong, dismissed them from the government.

A year later, in April 1938, at a moment of danger (the smashing of the Aragon front), they were offered the decorative and unimportant portfolio of Public Instruction in the second Negrín cabinet, which they accepted with a very un-Anarchist eagerness. The bourgeoisie knows that it is dealing with domesticated and well-trained creatures. From then on the CNT and even the FAI covered up the policy of social reaction by the Negrín government. Négrin’s 13 points [21], and the counter-revolutionary decrees dissolving the proletarian institutions, were all covered up by the CNT and the FAI.

Moreover, even the formal distinction between the frankly chauvinist and reformist language of the Stalinists and Socialists and the verbal revolutionary language of the CNT, a distinction that existed during the first year of the revolution, disappeared during 1938. The press was ‘gleichgeschaltet’, that is to say, put in step. Solidaridad Obrera, the central organ of the CNT, portrayed the conflict between the London Stock Exchange and that of Berlin as an ideological conflict between the democracies and the dictatorships. Every day it praised Roosevelt, the representative of Yankee imperialism, as an apostle of peace, and naturally explained that the security of the empires required intervention in Spain, thus giving lessons in patriotism to Chamberlain and Daladier.

For several months the regional committee of the CNT was disoriented and did not know what slogan to adopt. It finally found one in November.

What was it?

Just this: a councillor’s post in the Catalan Generalitat had to be given to the CNT! The honesty, the sense of justice and above all the idealism of the noble men carrying on a constant struggle “contra los sucios maniobras politicos” (against the dirty manoeuvres of politicians), demanded satisfaction for the crying injustice committed after May 1937, when the representatives of the CNT were kicked out of the Catalan Generalitat. [22] Besides, we read in the Soli [23] that the regional committee demanded a ministerial post, not for the base motives that characterise politicians – for example to attain a political objective or perhaps simply to get a ministerial job – but for altogether idealistic reasons.

As for me, vulgar materialist that I am, I do not altogether overlook the practical interest attached to the post of Councillor to the Generalitat. It opens up for the comrade pleasant prospects, of being ‘plugged in’, as they say over there, but it is a bit thin as a slogan for a situation that is rather more serious.

At the last moment the CNT and FAI could still have saved the situation. Yes! They could have done so, and in any case they should have tried to save it. But they didn’t even make the effort. Because for that they would obviously have had to break with the policy that was leading to the abyss, the policy that is called the Popular Front.

Let us be concrete. In spite of the demoralising effect of the policy of Negrín and Comorera, 15 days ago in Barcelona there were still several thousand workers, most of them young people, ready to mount the barricades once more and die, if need be, for the revolution. They were ready to join the regiments of the Libertarian Youth, but had no confidence at all in the Republican commanders, who went over to the enemy whenever they got the chance. The appeals of the official bodies went unheeded. For example, inside the factories numerous methods of coercion were necessary to pull fake ‘specialists’ into the army (that was the term used for the workers, or specialists, who were exempt from military service on account of their technical skills). [24] Just one example. The National Committee of the Libertarian Youth, which supported the line of the National Committee of the CNT, observing that only a few of the young people affiliated with the Libertarian Youth enlisted in the official regiments of the Ejercito Popular, published a very characteristic communiqué. In this communiqué the National Committee assured the young members of the Juventudes Libertarias that they need have no fear of enlisting in the government’s regiments of mixed volunteers because the National Committee had a representative on the organisation committee of the regiments! This ‘assurance’ did not convince the youth, who were waiting in vain for a voice that they could trust.

In brief, the CNT left its adherents without instructions and without a plan of action at the final moment. Thus on Thursday night, 26 January, the same day as the entry of the Fascists into Barcelona, I was in a little town near Gerona. I went to see the local committee, the ‘junta’ of the CNT. The comrades had no liaison at all with the centre, did not even know where it was, and asked for my advice.



19. Abolishing money in the little villages of Aragon whilst preserving El Banco de España curiously reminds me of the fable of Krylov, The Inquirer. The inquirer, who had visited the zoological gardens, is describing what he managed to see. He makes reference to insects as small as a pin, but nowhere mentions the elephant. [Author’s note] Ivan Andreevich Krylov (1769-1844) was the leading Russian writer of fables. [Translator’s note]

20. A reading of the four pamphlets by the CNT ex-ministers in the Caballero government published by the National Committee of the CNT is very instructive in this respect, and is to be highly recommended. [Author’s note]

21. Negrín’s 13 points were the programme for the re-establishment of a bourgeois republic. [Author’s note]

22. The Generalitat was the regional government established by the Statute of Catalan autonomy in 1932.

23. Soli was the common nickname of the Anarchist daily paper, Solidaridad Obrera.

24. In order to recruit volunteers in the most important arms factories in Barcelona, called Fabrica A, the factory committee had to shut the exit doors because the workers tried to escape. [Author’s note]

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Last updated on 27.7.2003