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(en) Review of Pamphlets about the Spanish Revolution 1936-39

From: Research on Anarchism List <ra-AT-alor.univ-montp3.fr>
Date: 21 Oct 2000 20:47:42 UTC   (04:47:42 PM in author's locale)
To: ra-len-AT-jade.univ-montp3.fr
Date: Fri, 20 Oct 2000 18:05:24 +1000
From: Jura Books <ra-l-AT-chaos.apana.org.au>

Reviews of Wrong Steps: Errors in the Spanish Revolution by Juan Garcia Oliver
and Remembering Spain: Italian Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War
by Umberto Marzocchi, both published by Kate Sharpley Library, London,
Each 1.50 pounds. From Rebel Worker Paper of the Anarcho-Syndicalist Network
Vol.19 No.5 (167) Oct.-Nov. 2000 Subs. $12 (Aust) $25 airmail overseas
address: PO Box 92 Broadway 2007 NSW Australia.

Since the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Leninism and Stalinism in much of
the world have been marginalised as an organised tradition and reduced to
congeries of sects. However aspects of the Leninist/Stalinist legacy
particularly vanguardism - the building of a manipulative elite which has
aspirations for dominating the workers movement have permeated much of the
anti-capitalist movement. Despite the adoption of anarchist and
anarcho-syndicalist designer labels by some of these elements.
In regard to Spain in the 1930's which both pamphlets under review focus,
such a vanguardist orientation informed the activity of the Barcelona
based Iberian Anarchist Federation which was able to exert wide influence
over the anarcho-syndicalist labour movement, particularly the National
Confederation of Labour, C.N.T (the largest anarcho-syndicalist labour
movement in the world which at its peak had several million members),
through unscrupulous methods and the taking over of various CNT newspapers
and committees. This vanguardist activity by the Barcelona based FAI
(Iberian Anarchist Federation) a federation of anarchist affinity groups -
friendship based groups in Portugal and Spain) in the early 1930's involved
the orchestration of purges against more coherent anarcho-syndicalist
tendencies within the CNT - the BOC (Worker and Peasants Bloc) and the
Trientistas on the basis of bogus charges in the case of BOC members -that
they were Marxist Leninists and in the case of the Trientistas that they
favoured collaboration with the state and that they weren't doing enough
about the plight of the unemployed in depression era Spain. The hysterical
atmosphere within the CNT associated with these waves of purges, subsequent
insurrectionary whirlwind/massive state repression, and the simplistic
revolutionary strategy favoured by these ultra sectarian FAI elements -
that the CNT was self sufficient for the revolution in Spain, stifled a
climate in the CNT congenial for calm discussion/debate and scientific
research necessary to develop more sophisticated revolutionary strategies
ie a workers/peasants councils/ political assemblies system model.
"Wrong Steps" by Juan Garcia Oliver, consists of extracts from his
autobiography, "El eco de los pasos" or "echoing footsteps" and has been
published in this pamphlet to provide an explanation of the CNT and FAI
participation in the Popular Front Govt. and Anti-Fascist alliance during
the revolutionary period and Civil War 1936-39 by an eyewitness intimately
involved in the affair. Typically as the author was heavily involved in the
ultra sectarian Barcelona based FAI groupings and later on a Minister in
the Spanish Popular Front Republican Govt., his explanation of this process
is quite inadequate. In the pamphlet, Oliver argues that the reason for
CNT and FAI participation in the Govt. stemmed from the influence of
certain "middle class" intellectual FAI/CNT" elements. These elements most
notably Frederica Montseny and Abad De Santillan had cold feet regarding
the prospect of immediately introducing "Libertarian Communism" - abolition
of the centralised state and capitalist ownership of the means of
production and distribution and its replacement by federations of workers
and community associations after the defeat of the military uprising in
Catalonia. Due to fears of an "anarchist dictatorship" and foreign military
intervention. Given the existence of an extensive middle class in wide
sectors of what became the "Republican Zone" or areas liberated from
Francoist forces and the wide influence of the bureaucratic and reformist
UGT (General Union of Workers) associated with the Socialist Party, and
lesser non revolutionary elements and their militias in certain sectors, an
internal civil war in the Republican Zone could easily have been provoked.
In May 1937 in Barcelona and at the end of the Civil War, throughout the
remnants of the Republican zone, such a internal civil wars did occur . In
place of introducing "Libertarian Communism" these elements argued for
accepting a Committee of Anti-Fascist Militias (CAFM) in Catalonia -a
non-elected Govt. incorporating various "anti-Francoist" parties and
unions. The author shows this proposal had similarities to a prior
proposal presented to key FAI/CNT militants by Catalan Generalitat (Catalan
Provincial Govt.) President Luis Companys. These "Popular Front
Front"style Govt. structures spread to the rest of Republican Spain This
formula also left in tact the faƁade of the pre-coup bourgeois state
structures such as the Generalitat. These structures gradually regained
their old role and became key agents of counter revolution in the
Republican Zone.
The pamphlet particularly discusses the role of the Catalan CNT plenum - a
meeting of delegates on the 23<M>rd July 1936 which approved the CAFM
proposal. Oliver reasons that due to the exceptional circumstances the
Plenum delegates met in haste and lacking prior discussion of the proposals
were swayed from the revolutionary course by previously ultra militant FAI
elements. However,had the CNT not been swept into a state of hysteria
associated with the purging of the BOC and Treintistas in the early 30's, a
workers/peasants council system formula which would both incorporate all
working class forces and secure and expand revolutionary achievements could
have been developed and adopted by the CNT and rapidly introduced after the
defeat of the military uprising avoiding Popular Front Govt. collaboration.
Concurrent with the emergence of the Popular Front Governmental structures
throughout Republican Spain was the rapid appearance of a militia system
controlled by unions and political parties. The lack of unity of command,
and coordination, rivalries and intrigues particularly involving the
Stalinist oriented Communist Party in the anti-fascist militias contributed
to disastrous reverses for the militias against the Francoist armed forces
and an inability to more rapidly liberate areas in the early days of the
Civil. War. These problems of co-ordination and rivalry and associated
inefficiency and military defeats were used by Stalinist and Bourgeois
forces later on to push for a centralised People's Army with an officer
corps, necessary to develop and carry out military plans. The Peoples Army
and associated militarisation of the militias rapidly played into the hands
of counter revolutionary forces with large parts of the officer corps being
taken over by the Communist Party in part due to its increased sway over
the Popular Front Republican Govt. associated with its reliance on Soviet
arms for the war effort. Subsequently Stalinist and Bourgeois controlled
elements of the People's Army in 1937 became engaged in attacks on
revolutionary achievements such as the collective farms in the province of
Aragon and attacks on revolutionary forces such as the CNT and the
anarcho-syndicalist oriented POUM in Barcelona and elsewhere. The adoption
of the workers/peasants councils system and general militias not based on
specific organisations but tied to the councils would have contributed
significantly to combating this trajectory into counter revolution.
"Remembering Spain" by Umberto Marzocchi, focuses upon his personal
recollections of the role of Italian anarchists in the anarcho-syndicalist
side's armed struggle during the Spanish Civil War. Particularly
highlighted is the unique role played by these militants in diverse aspects
of this struggle - acquiring arms, activity in commando, fortification and
in militia units and dare devil raids and attacks against Francoist forces
on the Aragon Front . The disastrous consequences for the anti-Franco war
effort of the anti-fascist militia structure which created opportunities
for destructive rivalries and associated sabotage is graphically highlighted.
A particular incident recounted was the battle of Alumudevar in November
1936. The capture of this town was important in regard to breaking
communications between the Aragonese towns of Zaragoza and Huesca which
were under siege by militias. However during the attack , the Stalinist
controlled Karl Marx Division refused to supply promised reinforcements
necessary to ensure the capture of the town, causing the failure of the
operation. The pamphlet concludes with an account of a major example of
Republican and Stalinist sabotage and counter revolution, resulting from
the CNT's collaboration in the Popular Front Government - their coup
d'etat in Barcelona in May 1937 against militants of the POUM and most
importantly the CNT and its organisation. The author recounts the failure
of the Italian Anarchist militia fighters in Barcelona to respond rapidly
and adequately to this attack and the death of key militants particularly
the anarchist philosopher Camillo Berneri during the confused street
fighting in the city. The author's allegation that Berneri was murdered by
Stalinists for political reasons is possibly contradicted by new
information on the case presented in "Arms For Spain" by Gerald Howson.
This information points to the role of a corrupt Socialist Party Minister
in the Caballero Government and a diverse cabal of criminal elements
including ex-Italian anarchists who feared the exposure of their corrupt
activities by Berneri.
In conclusion, both pamphlets inadvertently throw important light on the
grave consequences of vanguardism which prevailed in the Spanish
anarcho-syndicalist labour movement of the 1930's. A malady which must be
avoided at all costs today to ensure the resurgence of an international
revolutionary union movemen and the success of a renewed offensive against
the bulwarks of global capitalism.
Mark McGuire

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