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(en) NEA #8 - Platformism and the Spanish Anarchist Movement by Jered Fisher

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Mon, 4 Oct 2004 11:31:23 +0200 (CEST)


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Those who desire to change the world face many difficulties, from
repression to apathy to struggling to keep the vision of creating a
new world in the shell of the old. For anarchists, who struggle
against oppression of all kinds, the difficulties that arise from this
staunch moral philosophy are many. The Dielo Trouda group of
Russian anarchists in exile, who participated in the Russian
Revolution, analyzed why the anarchist idea did not win out. The
product of this analysis was the Organizational Platform of the
Libertarian Communists, which addressed problems of
organization within the anarchist movement. In the
'Organizational Section' they outlined four principles of
organization they believed would lead to a more successful
anarchist movement. They are as follows:

- Federalism, having a free agreement of individuals and
organizations who work collectively towards common objectives.

- Tactical Unity, meaning that common tactics should be used
within the movement, giving it a common direction leading to a
fixed objective.

- Theoretical Unity, that the actions of the movement should be in
concord with its principles.

- Collective Responsibility, meaning that every member of the
movement is responsible for the political and revolutionary activity
of the movement and that the movement is responsible for the
political and revolutionary activity of every member

These four organizational principals, in general, hold true to
creating a more successful movement when observed. They are
worthy of consideration and hopefully adoption by the present
anarchist movement. To make a case for these principles of
organization, a positive historical example of their execution is in
order.

Spain, which has experienced the largest anarchist movement in
history, provides countless examples of the practice of the
organizational principles, which were used without knowing of
their formal articulation, herein to be referred to as the platform.
This led to success in building their revolutionary movement. To
further the argument for the platform, the failures of the Spanish
anarchists must be analyzed from a platformist perspective. This
analysis is not an assertion that the success or failure of
anarchism depends on strict adherence to the platform, but rather,
that conscious, organized attempts at creating a movement based
on anarchist principles can benefit from the platform's
organizational philosophy. In the struggle for and realization of
anarchist ideals in Spain, the practice, and failures, of the
organizational principles outlined in the platform (federalism,
tactical unity, theoretical unity, and collective responsibility) were
decisive factors in the successes and failures of their movement,
as it will be for anarchists today.

The revolution in Spain, spanning the years of 1936-9, was not
merely the result of spontaneous acts of the working class.
Instead, it was the result of seventy years of agitation and
organization building by anarchists in combination with peasant
communal culture and the spontaneous creativity of the working
class.

The communal traditions of Spain made many Spanish people
receptive to the idea of collectivism. A strong anti-clerical
sentiment, due to the church’s collaboration with the
capitalists and royalty of Spain, made the working class open to
anarchism’s atheism. Already wary of electoralism, due to
corruption and political manipulation, the working class was
receptive to the anti-statist and federalist ideas of the anarchists.

Urged by Bakunin, Guiseppie Fanelli went to Spain in 1868 with
the objective of gaining Spanish adherence to the First
International. The few, small workers groups Fanelli spoke to in
Madrid and Barcelona immediately accepted Bakunin's
articulation of anarchism and affiliated with the First
International, calling themselves the Spanish Federation. By 1870
they had their first congress, with 100 delegates, representing 150
workers’ societies in thirty-six localities.

The Spanish Federation had a decentralized structure based on
(immediately recallable) delegates at the local trade and industrial
levels who represented their sector of the workforce. General
federations were established in areas that did not have enough
workers in a common industry. In addition, the delegates would
select representatives (also immediately recallable) to a federal
council. It was the anarchists in the First International who would
help create this structure which would pave the way for the
Workers' Federation (1881-1889); the Pact of Union and
Solidarity (1888-1896); the Federation of Workers' Societies
(1900-1905); Workers Solidarity; and finally, the CNT (National
Confederation of Labor, 1911-current).

A federal structure was maintained by all the unions (largely
anarchists), allowing for bottom-up organization, ensuring local
autonomy, and fostering self-initiative and self-management. The
federal structure also proved to be quite resilient in times of
repression. One of the industrial federations may have been
broken, but the local organizations, even if forced to maintain a
quiet profile, continued to work and struggle. For the goals of
anarcho-communism to be met, such a structure will be
necessary. By creating the structure now, anarchists can engage
in federation-wide projects that have the potential to influence
mass movements with anarchist ideas and, simultaneously, build
a revolutionary anarchist movement.

In 1911, five days after the formation of the CNT, a general strike
was called. Each local federation chose whether or not they would
respond to the call. The tactical choice of a general strike was
seen a great threat to the capitalists and led to severe repression of
the CNT, enough so that it would have to go underground. From
1911 until after WWI, the CNT was not a revolutionary force, but
was slowly regained its strength.

In the wake of the 1917 Russian Revolution there was a great
revolutionary fever which spread across the world. In Spain, an
attempt was made to overthrow the landowning rulers of the state
by a large coalition of groups, ranging from Republicans to
Socialists to anarchists with the intent of instituting a
constitutional government. The CNT and UGT (the socialist
General Union of Workers) participated in this plot by supporting
a general strike. When the movement was repressed, the CNT did
not disappear as it did in 1911, in fact it grew. By 1919 the CNT
had 700,000 members. This was partially due to other unions
dissolving and joining the CNT. Revolution was on the minds and
in the hearts of all of the oppressed working class in Spain.

Shortly after, in the Andualasia region of Spain, there were so
many strikes and local insurrections that the government sent in
the army to put a stop to the movement there in May of 1919. In
southern Spain, martial law was declared, workers centers were
closed down, papers suspended, and thousands arrested. But in
northern Spain this attempt at repression only increased the
membership of the CNT. In Catatonia on January 16th, 1919, all
constitutional guarantees were suspended, but this did not stop
the revolutionary movement though.

From February 6th through March 16th there was a general strike
in Barcelona which paralyzed 70% of the factories in the area. The
strike ended with wage increases, the eight-hour day, recognition
of the unions, back wages, and the reinstatement of all fired
workers. This strike, although not achieving the demand of the
release of all political prisoners, should be considered a success,
albeit a reformist one.

Why didn't this strike and all of the other revolutionary activity in
Spain during this period turn into a full-blown revolution? There
are many answers to this, a few being language differences,
difficulties in coordination, communication, and finally
suppression. The main reason though, was the lack of tactical
unity. When one area of Spain was creating an insurrection why
didn't other areas of Spain join them? The Barcelona general
strike could have turned into a national general strike if other
areas joined in either spontaneously or through coordination by
the CNT.

The CNT used the general strike in combination with
insurrections in various regions of the country and nearly sparked
a revolution in 1919. However, a lack of tactical unity prevented a
general strike on the federal level, thus limiting the possibility of a
nation-wide revolution.

It takes many organizational principles for a revolution to succeed
and theoretical unity is one of them. The actions of a movement
must be in accord with its principles and its activities must be in
adherence to a common theory, thus leading to a common goal.
At the congress of 1919, the CNT declared its theoretical belief in
libertarian communism. The tactical choice of the general strike
was now reinforced by a theoretical belief in usurpation of the
means of production as necessary for the revolution. CNT
propaganda would now proudly proclaim the organization's goals.

Due to severe repression, most acutely felt during the Primo de
Rivera dictatorship of 1923-29, the CNT ceased having federal
congresses in 1919. Although the CNT appeared inactive on the
ground, important theoretical work continued. In 1927, the
Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI) formed with the objective of
keeping the CNT as a revolutionary anarchist organization.

Within the CNT there were two groups of anarchists, the
moderates and the radicals, who made up most of the FAI.
Eventually the moderates, who tried to play down violence and
revolution, were pushed out of the union in favor of the radicals
who were anarchist purists and saw an immediate revolution
approaching. The FAI radicals helped keep the CNT, theoretically
and actively, a revolutionary anarchist organization. Their success
in pushing the moderate elements out of the FAI allowed for
greater theoretical unity, which was soon to prove its relevance in
the 1936 revolution.

Factories and farms were expropriated from the capitalists and
collectivized. In fact, the anarchist collectives in Spain consisted of
three-quarters of the land in the 'Republican' areas, those not
occupied by Franco. The collectives didn't come into existence
through force; they came into being due to the constructive,
creative efforts of the Spanish working classes, guided by the
principle of libertarian communism. The CNT structure served as
a means of coordinating production and consumption, but its role
would have been meaningless had the rank and file not adhered to
anarcho-communist principles. It was theoretical unity that paved
the way for the creation of a new society built on the principles of
libertarian communism. Without theoretical unity the anarchist
movement will fail in winning people to anarchist ideas.

For an anarchist movement to act according to its principles
before, during, and after a revolution, it must do so consciously.
In the Spanish Revolution and Civil War, the successes and
failures of the anarchists were partially dependent on collective
responsibility, meaning the entire movement is responsible for the
political and revolutionary activity of every member and each
member is responsible for the revolutionary and political activity of
the movement as a whole.

After the CNT's 1933 anti-electoral campaign a right-wing fascist
government was elected into power due to leftist working class
absence at the polls. When elections were called for in 1936, a
leftist government was voted into power. The CNT did not call for
abstention this time, leading directly to the leftist victory. Durruti,
a famous Spanish anarchist militant, explained this complex
situation:

"The left bloc declares that if the right wins, they will proceed to
launch the revolution; the right replies that if the left wins, they
will start a civil war. We therefore find ourselves on the eve of
revolution or civil war. We must explain this clearly to the workers
and make them understand that the vote will not solve anything.
The worker who casts a vote and then stays home is a counter
revolutionary. And the same is true for the worker who does not
vote. This question can only be resolved in the street with arms in
hand." Casas, Anarchist Organization: History of the FAI, p.154

In February 1936, the Spanish revolution started, with massive
peasant occupation of the land. When the fascists attempted a
military takeover on July 19th, the civil war started. The fascists
were defeated in many parts of the country and a full scale social
revolution broke out with factory occupations and the like. The
collectivization of factories and farms was massive in scale and
soon whole industries became socialized.

The social revolution and civil war had begun. The working class
was carrying out a social and economic revolution while
simultaneously fighting a civil war against the fascists. From the
beginning, the anarchists played a major role in the events.
Federica Montseny spoke of the scene on July 19th, in Barcelona:

"The day came to an end gloriously in the glow of fires, in the
revolutionary intoxication of a day of popular triumph. The horns
of cars speeding through the streets of Barcelona, filled with
workers with guns in hand, sounded a marvelous symphony:
'FAI, FAI, CNT, CNT'. The letters of the CNT and FAI were
inscribed on all the walls, every building, on all doors and
entrances of houses and cars, on everything. The red and black
banner waving in the wind was a fantastic triumph, a marvelous
picture that we contemplated with enchanted soul, with shinning
eyes, asking ourselves if we were awake." Casas, Anarchist
Organization: History of the FAI, p.186

A large amount of social and economic power lay in the hands of
the CNT. Through the collectivized enterprises the CNT had
massive economic power. "Frank Mintz estimates 1,265 to 1,865
collectives, "embracing 610,000 to 800,000 workers. With their
families, they involve a population of 3,200,000…" (Dolgoff, The
Anarchist Collectives, p.71). Through this economic power the
CNT had a deciding role in Spain.

Even though anarchist principles were not in practice throughout
all of Spain many people were still involved in the fight against the
fascists. Initially, the collaboration took on the form of the
'Anti-Fascist Militias Committee'. This committee was composed
of fifteen seats, which were allotted to different unions and parties.
The CNT decided to join this after the July 20th plenum where
delegates voted to do so. This decision was brought back to the
local and district federations where, on July 21st, it was adopted.
The delegates who represented the movement in this crucial time
were held directly accountable by the entire membership of the
CNT and joining the 'Anti-Fascist Militias Committee' was done
so in accordance with collective responsibility. Yet the very nature
of the committee and the desire of the government in the
committee led to the destruction of collective responsibility.

The committee was refused arms from other countries. It was a
form of social organization that was too radical for foreign
governments to support. The anarchist movement realized that
the committees could not win the civil war without more arms. So
after the plenum, the three main parts of the anarchist movement
in Spain, the Libertarian Youth, CNT, and FAI decided that the
CNT should take an invitation that had been extended to join the
government.

This was the end of collective responsibility in the Spanish
anarchist movement. Although, whenever possible, decisions
were sent to the CNT rank-and-file, the nature of government
does not allow for direct democracy. There was still an anarchist
movement in Spain and a struggle for a libertarian society. Yet the
CNT made the fatal mistake of collaborating with the state.

Once arms started to come to Spain from Russia, through the
government, the power dynamic shifted. With guns from Stalinist
Russia came control from Stalin. Stalinists were weaving and
manipulating their way into the government and all other social
and economic areas of life in Spain. Finally, in 1937 the Stalinist
Negrin was put into the position of Generalitat. In May of 1937
the Communist government attacked the anarchist collectives and
they were eventually wiped out all across Spain. The collectives
were replaced with a top-down, dictatorial style Soviet 'collective'.

After the May Days the CNT and FAI pulled out of the
government and the FAI was deemed an illegal organization. The
revolution was lost, as was the civil war. By 1939 the fascists had
taken all of Spain. Those who couldn't escape into exile were sent
to concentration camps and killed. Not until the 1970s, when the
fascist dictator Franco died, could anarchism be publicly spoken
of in Spain.

With collective responsibilty lost, the revolution in Spain appeared
to be hopeless. The only options that were considered were either
collaboration with the parties and State or an anarchist
dictatorship. Neither option was in line with the principles of
anarchism, and the results of either would have been terrible.

It is difficult to say what could have been done instead. One group
in Spain called the 'Friends of Durruti' proposed and fought for an
alternative that would have preserved anarchism. Wayne Price
tells this of the Friends of Durruti:

"They proposed a national council elected by workers from their
mass unions. Their program, 'Towards a Fresh Revolution' states:
Establishment of a Revolutionary Junta or National Defense
Council…Members of the Revolutionary Junta will be elected by
democratic vote in union organizations. This is similar to the
program for workers and peasants councils (although not quite as
good since it required working through the existing union
structures). Of course, they wanted themselves and others of like
mind to be elected to the national council, but what they were
proposing was a popular democratic structure, not a party-state.
Unfortunately, it was too late for the Spanish Revolution." Price,
A New World in Our Hearts, p.50-51

In Spain the anarchists waged a fierce and passionate struggle,
unmatched in the history of anarchism. They failed at times and
ultimately in 1936 in part due to their commitment or
non-commitment to platformist principles. The Spanish
anarchists, in their struggle came to the same conclusion as the
Dielo Trouda group. They realized that certain organizational
principles needed to be followed for their revolution to succeed.
Although they never laid out these principles in the manner that
the Dielo Trouda group did, they were conscious of their
necessity. At the founding congress of the FAI it was said that
"each group was free to carry on whatever activities they wished
while aiming for unity in action and propaganda through the
federation" Casas, Anarchist Organization: History of the FAI,
p.109.

This passage shows their commitment to theoretical and tactical
unity. Delegates were directly recallable, collectively responsible,
and federalism was used by all anarchist organizations. When
these principles were not observed, revolutionary waves of strikes
were crushed and delegates joined the government. The success
or failure of anarchist movements relies heavily on observance of
these principles. What has been learned from their struggle will
further the present struggle. Their mistakes and successes, and
their passion for a new world based on liberty and communism
will be attained. The struggle will never end, and if it is to
continue it must be critical of its past and present, so that the
future may be better.

===============

Jered Fisher is a member of Firebrand Collective, the Portland,
OR affiliate of the Federation of Northwest Anarcho-Communists
(FNAC).


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