A - I n f o s
a multi-lingual news service by, for, and about anarchists
News in all languages
Last 40 posts (Homepage)
archives of old posts
The last 100 posts, according
The First Few Lines of The Last 10 posts in:
First few lines of all posts of last 24 hours |
of past 30 days |
of 2002 |
of 2003 |
of 2004 |
of 2005 |
of 2006 |
of 2007 |
of 2008 |
of 2009 |
of 2010 |
of 2011 |
of 2012 |
of 2013 |
of 2014 |
of 2015 |
of 2016 |
of 2017 |
Syndication Of A-Infos - including
RDF - How to Syndicate A-Infos
Subscribe to the a-infos newsgroups
(en) US, blackrosefed: WORKERS POWER AND THE SPANISH REVOLUTION part II. (3/3)
Mon, 5 Nov 2018 10:15:35 +0200
The Anti-fascist Women's Association (Asociación de Mujeres Anti-fascistas - AMA) was
organizing among the women working in industry. The AMA was a "transmission belt" of the
Communist Party. With the AMA gaining influence in industries, the CNT activists feared
that women would be recruited to the UGT unions. The CNT unions could be pushed aside. To
counter this, the local unions of the CNT opened their union halls to Mujeres Libres. The
unions provided space for child care centers, women's study groups, and literacy classes
and apprenticeship programs for women. In collectivized factories, work would be stopped
to allow activists from Mujeres Libres to give presentations.
An industry where Mujeres Libres had a strong presence was public transit. Pura Pérez was
a member of Mujeres Libres who was one of the first women to drive streetcars in
Barcelona. According to Pérez, the men of the CNT public transit union took women on "as
apprentices, mechanics, and drivers, and really taught us what to do." The compañeros of
the CNT transit union, Pérez recalled, "really got a kick out of" the amazed looks on the
faces of passengers when they realized that a woman was at the controls of the streetcar. (48)
Trajectory of the Spanish Communist Party
Despite the real proletarian revolution underway in Spain, the Spanish Communist Party
(Partido Comunista de España - PCE) insisted that the immediate agenda in Spain was a
"bourgeois democratic revolution," and that the struggle should be seen as simply the
defense of the "democratic republic."
The PCE's stance, and the Communist International's attempt to conceal the actual worker
revolution in Spain in its propaganda in other countries, was designed to re-assure the
western capitalist "democracies," it is often said, especially the USA, Britain and
France. The Communists and their supporters advanced the view that this was the best way
of winning the war against the fascist military.
Much of the historical debate on the role of Communism in the Spanish revolution and civil
war has focused on Stalin's geopolitical designs. The Soviet Union had only just recently
begun to emerge from international isolation, joining the League of Nations in 1934. The
attempt of the Communists' to assuage the fears of the British, American and French
capitalist "democracies" was not only a tactic for obtaining arms shipments but also fit
in with Stalin's fears of German militarism, and his desire to either enter into a
military pact with the western "democracies" or else draw them into a conflict with the
But the PCE developed its own social base in Spain during the civil war. What was the real
social meaning of the Spanish Communist Party for Spain? To answer this question, we need
to look at the class structure of modern capitalism. In the 19th century Marx saw in
capitalism mainly a bipolar struggle between capital and labor.
However, since the end of the 19th century, the emergence of the state-regulated,
corporate form of capitalism brought with it the emergence of a new main class, which I
call the coordinator class. (49) Once capitalist ventures had become too large for the
entrepreneurs to manage themselves, the capitalists had to concede a realm of power to
hierarchies of managers and professionals, in the corporations and the state. The power of
the coordinator class is not based on ownership but on a relative monopolization of levers
of decision-making and other empowering forms of work. The coordinator class have their
own class interests. Moreover, this class has the ability to be a ruling class. The path
pioneered by the Bolshevik Party in the Russian revolution was their use of the state to
construct a new economic system in which the coordinator class rules, without capitalists.
Limiting our focus to the class dimension of social transformation, there are two
different types of anti-capitalist revolution that are possible. A proletarian revolution
is a process that, if successful, unravels the structures of class power of the
capitalists and coordinators so that there is no longer a class that dominates and
exploits the working class. A coordinatorist revolution, however, is a trajectory of
change that, if successful, dislodges the capitalists from their dominant position but
empowers the coordinator class as the new dominating group. The working class remains a
subordinate and exploited group.
The PCE's trajectory in Spain is an example of what I call Left coordinatorism - the
pursuit of strategies and programs that empower the coordinator class, under
anti-capitalist or Left rhetoric. Left coordinatorism is the last defense of the class
system in a social environment where a working class movement is threatening its survival.
The empowerment of the coordinator class was clear in the strategy of the PCE: the
campaign to rebuild the state apparatus; the campaign to build up a hierarchical army and
police and recruit the officer corps to the party; the campaign to recruit, and defend the
interests of, the middle strata of Spanish society; and the moves during the war towards
nationalization and state control of collectivized industries.
The Spanish Communists had a concept of revolution in Spain occurring in stages. The
immediate struggle was a "bourgeois democratic" stage. This notion of stages was clearly
expressed by Georgi Dimitrov, secretary of the Communist International, at a meeting of
the international held on July 23, 1936:
"We should not, at the present stage, assign the task[to the Spanish Communists]of
creating soviets and try to establish a dictatorship of the proletariat in Spain. That
would be a fatal mistake. Therefore we must say: act in the guise of defending the
Republic; do not abandon the politics of the democratic regime in Spain at this
point....When our positions have been strengthened, we can go further." (emphasis added) (50)
There was an international geopolitical struggle between the Soviet coordinator elite and
the capitalist imperialist powers. Capitalist imperialism needs to have as much of the
planet as possible open to penetration and exploitation by peripatetic private capital.
Any revolution - whether coordinatorist, nationalist, or proletarian - that "takes out"
areas of the world from accessibility to imperialist capital will weaken world capitalism
and, for that reason, will tend to be opposed by the capitalist imperialist powers. For
the same reason, any coordinatorist revolution would be in the interests of the Soviet
The slogan of defending the "bourgeois democratic Republic" had two meanings for the
Spanish Communists. First, it was under this slogan that the Communist Party in Spain
worked to recruit members of the small business and coordinator classes, by defending
The second meaning of the PCE's defense of the "bourgeois republic" was their campaign to
rebuild the Republican state apparatus. The Communist Party's long-term revolutionary
strategy was permeationist. With the rebuilding of a hierarchical army and police machine,
the Communists would work to capture control of the officer positions. Their aim was to
use this as the means to eventually take state power in Spain.
At the end of September, the Popular Front government began the process of creating a new
national police force, called the National Republican Guard, with 28,000 members by
December. At the same time, a huge force of 40,000 customs and border police was created
under the direction of Dr. Juan Negrín, a social-democrat and professor of physiology from
a wealthy family. In November, the government decided to replace the worker militias with
a conventional top-down army. The Communist Party was able to gain control of the new
academy created to train officers. The party also controlled the new Commissariat of War
which was set up to exercise political control over the army through a network of
political commissars. The Communists controlled the flow of newspapers to the troops at
the front. Communists put great pressure on officers to take a party card. Those that
didn't were undermined. The PCE demoralized the army by "acting with the wildest
sectarianism," a Left Socialist member of the Unified Socialist Youth recalled. (51)
The PCE in July of '36 started from a weak position. It had less than 40,000 members in
Spain, and very little support within the Spanish working class. The Communists used
several tactics to overcome this weak position. First, they pursued a strategy of
cannibalizing the Socialist Party base. A number of the leaders of the socialist youth
organization (including Santiago Carillo) were taken on tours in Russia and wined and
dined. These secret Communists negotiated a merger between the Socialist and Communist
youth organizations, creating the Unified Socialist Youth (Juventud Socialista Unificada -
JSU). The merger deal had stipulated that the politics of the JSU would be decided at a
congress. The Socialist youth group was larger than the Communist youth organization and
contained many followers of the Caballero-oriented left-wing of the Socialist Party. The
Left Socialists were prevented from gaining control of the JSU by simply not holding the
promised congress. The Catalan Communists had gained control of the Socialist Party
section in Catalonia through a similar merger tactic. In the fall of 1936 Communist
leaders tried to persuade Largo Caballero to agree to a merger of the Communist and
Socialist parties. By then he saw what the result of this policy had been and refused.
Land-owning farmers, shopkeepers, owners of small- to medium-sized businesses, managers
and white collar workers had been the mass social base of the Esquerra in Catalonia. These
middle strata were often frightened by the expropriation of businesses and buildings, and
union management of industry. In other countries threatened by proletarian revolution,
these social strata have become the mass base for fascism. But in Catalonia the middle
strata were anti-fascist because they were Catalan nationalists. The Communists were
successful at recruiting these Republican middle strata throughout the anti-fascist zone
because the Communists appeared to be a much tougher and more disciplined defender of
their class interests than the old Republican parties.
The first fight between the PSUC and the CNT in Catalonia was over a proposed law to
legalize the expropriations of businesses. This fight took place in October, after the CNT
joined the Generalitat. According to Andreu Capdevila, anarchist textile worker,
"The PSUC and the Esquerra fought extremely hard to reduce the number of firms liable for
collectivization while the CNT-FAI held out for the most radical decree possible. The
reason the CNT agreed to collectivization was that we could not socialize, as was our aim.
The workers had taken over the factories...but the victory was not exclusively the CNT's.
We couldn't take over and control the whole economy."(52)
The Communists were most opposed to union socialization of the economy, the process of
linking together the entire economy independent of the state. Preserving privately owned
businesses was a way of blocking union socialization. The law that was passed only
legalized expropriation of firms with 100 or more workers, or firms with 50 to 100 workers
if 75 percent of the workers voted to do so. In practice the CNT simply ignored the fact
that this was inconsistent with the expropriations of large numbers of smaller businesses
they had carried out. The PSUC effort to block moves beyond the market economy was a
tactic that strengthened professionals and managers as well as the small business owners.
The PSUC also organized a union of small business owners and shopkeepers, Gremios y
Entidades de Pequenos Comerciantes e Industriales (Small Commercial and Industrial
Businesses - GEPCI). By the spring of 1937 the UGT in Catalonia had mushroomed to 350,000
members (including 18,000 in GEPCI), nearly as large as the 400,000-member CNT. A lot of
this growth was based on the PSUC organizing of the middle strata of the population. The
Communists had built a powerful counter-weight to the worker revolution in Catalonia.
A third reason for growth of the Communist Party during the war was the prestige and
influence derived from Soviet arms shipments to the Republican government, and the arrival
of the International Brigades during the battle of Madrid in October-November, 1936. At
the end of September, 1936, Lluis Companys and Buenaventura Durruti had visited Largo
Caballero in Madrid to try to get a commitment of part of Spain's gold reserves to provide
resources for the Catalan war industries and militias. Caballero initially agreed to this,
but was persuaded to change his mind by Juan Negrín. On September 13th, Caballero agreed
to let Negrín send the gold reserves wherever he wanted. At this time Spain had the
fourth-largest gold reserves in the world, worth about $800 million ($11 billion in
today's money). The Communists persuaded Negrín to ship 70 percent of the gold reserves to
Russia. The Spanish were given verbal assurances that the gold could be re-exported any
time they wished. Once the gold arrived in Moscow, however, Stalin commented that "the
Spaniards will never see their gold again, just as one cannot see one's own ears."
The transfer of the gold to Russia was extremely damaging to the Spanish economy and the
anti-fascist war effort. When word got out that the Spanish peseta was no longer backed by
the huge Spanish gold reserve, the value of the peseta fell sharply on the foreign
currency market. By December the Spanish currency lost half its value. This caused a big
rise in the cost of imports, thus undermining anti-fascist Spain's ability to sustain the
war effort. (53)
Hitler, Mussolini, and the fascist regime in Portugal all provided military support to the
Spanish fascist army. In Arms for Spain British researcher Gerald Howson documents in
great detail the arms shipments provided to both sides in the civil war. Howson shows that
the fascist military received far more arms than did the anti-fascist side. The Russians
sent far less war material to Spain than has been previously thought. They sent very few
new weapons. Most was old, obsolete stuff.
It became very difficult for the Spanish anti-fascists to obtain arms at any price due to
an embargo implemented by France, Britain and the USA. An entire system of certificates
for military goods was set up to track arms shipments throughout the world. The FBI
invaded warehouses in Mexico to capture ID numbers of weapons as part of the American
participation in the embargo effort.
The New Deal in the USA was initially inclined to allow shipments of arms to the
anti-fascist side in Spain. An intensive lobbying campaign organized by the Catholic
bishops led to American support for the so-called "Non-Intervention" pact (despite the
fact that the Basque Roman Catholic Church supported the anti-fascist side). In May, 1938,
Joseph Kennedy led another Catholic lobbying effort that successfully stopped an attempt
by liberal congressmen to repeal American participation in the embargo. (54)
Spanish Republican agents had to provide huge bribes anywhere they went in the world to
get arms. The "Non-intervention" pact made the Spanish anti-fascists even more dependent
on the Soviet Union.
Sending the gold to Russia gave the Soviet regime control over the flow of arms in Spain.
For example, late in 1937 Garcia Oliver approached Juan Negrín with a proposal to organize
a guerrilla army in the mountains of Andalusia. Most of Andalusia had been overrun by the
fascist army in the early weeks of the civil war but it was believed that thousands of
anti-fascists were hiding out in the mountains. Garcia Oliver wanted arms and supplies for
an organizing group of about 200 who would filter into the mountains. This core group
would then organize an army that would harass the fascist forces from behind their lines.
Negrín initially agreed to this. But the Soviet representatives refused to authorize the
arms because they didn't want a guerrilla army controlled by the anarchists.
And sending the gold to Russia only made it easier for Stalin to rob the Spaniards. The
Soviets faked the prices of arms by creating a special exchange rate, favorable to
themselves, for the arms deals. The Russians swindled Spain out of $50 million on the sale
of two airplanes alone. Writes Howson: "Of all the swindles, cheatings, robberies and
betrayals the Republicans had to put up with from governments, officials and arms
traffickers all over the world,[the]... behavior by Stalin and the high officials of the
Soviet nomenklatura is ... the most squalid, the most treacherous and the most
"The Spanish Kronstadt"
By early 1937 the Communists felt strong enough to make moves towards obtaining hegemony
in Spain. The PCE had 230,000 members by March, and the Communist-controlled Unified
Socialist Youth had another 250,000 members(56). During this same period the FAI's
membership grew to about 160,000. Only about 40 percent of the PCE membership was working
The Communist intention to move against the worker revolution was made clear in Pravda in
December, 1936: "As for Catalonia, the purging of the Trotskyists and the
Anarcho-Syndicalists has begun, it will be conducted with the same energy with which it
was conducted in the USSR."
Joan Domenech, secretary of the CNT glass workers union, had been in charge of food supply
in the Generalitat government. On January 7th, the CNT-controlled supply organization was
dissolved by orders of the Generalitat. Responsibility for food was transferred from
Domenech to the PSUC. The PSUC put the free market and local businesses in charge - a move
that strengthened GEPCI. The result was a big increase in food prices, due to hoarding and
shortages. In the Communist press the collectives were blamed.
On January 23rd, the UGT of Catalonia, now controlled by the Communists, held a "congress"
of landowning farmers in Catalonia. This was basically a propaganda stunt against the
agricultural collectives. Agitation by the Communists led to an armed uprising by farmers
in Tarragona province, resulting in a nasty clash with the asaltos and the Control Patrols
(militia police formed after July 19th 1936). The conflict escalated when Rodriguez Salas,
a new pro-Communist chief of police, began moves to disarm civilians in Barcelona - an
attack on the CNT neighborhood defense groups. These conflicts led to a Generalitat decree
dissolving the Control Patrols on March 4th.
In November, 1936, when the CNT joined the Popular Front government, Garcia Oliver became
minister of justice. This put him in charge of the Spanish prison system. In October a
thousand right-wing prisoners in Madrid jails had been taken by prison guards to the edge
of town and executed, without authorization. To prevent abuses of this sort, Garcia Oliver
appointed an anarchist, Melchor Rodriguez, head of prisons in Madrid. Meanwhile, the
Communists had gained control of the revolutionary government in Madrid, the Madrid
Defense Junta. On April 20th, 1937, Rodriguez revealed that a secret Communist prison had
been discovered in Madrid. The nephew of a high official in the PSOE was being detained in
that prison, and a number of Socialists had been tortured there. This scandal led the
Caballero government to dissolve the Madrid Defense Junta. Not long after this, the PCE
changed its tune about Caballero. In early 1936 the Communist press had touted Caballero
as the "Spanish Lenin." By the spring of 1937 they were describing him as a senile old fool.
On April 25th, a PSUC activist, Roldán Cortdada, a former treintista, was assassinated in
Bajo Llobregat - an anarchist stronghold. A leading anarchist activist in Bajo Llobregat
was accused but no proof was ever provided. The funeral of Cortada was the occasion for a
massive street demonstration - a Communist show of force.
In an atmosphere of increasing tension, the conflict between the Communists and CNT
exploded on May 3rd when a large force of Communist-controlled police attacked the
worker-controlled telephone exchange building in Barcelona, with coordinated assaults on
telephone exchanges elsewhere. The telephone system in Spain was being run by a
CNT-controlled worker federation. CNT workers had been listening in on calls of government
officials in order to keep tabs on them. This was used by the Communists as a pretext for
trying to seize the telephone system. The PSUC was not against the practice of listening
in on calls, however. As a close associate of PSUC leader Juan Comorera later recalled:
"Of course, had the PSUC been in a position to listen in on telephone conversations, it
would have done so also. The party always wanted to be well-informed."(57) It was a
question of power.
Word of the attack on the telephone exchange spread rapidly. Within hours the CNT
neighborhood defense committees went into action against the Communist-controlled police
and began building barricades. The POUM and the Libertarian Youth joined the fray and soon
armed worker groups were in control of most of the city and the suburbs. A general strike
spread throughout the Barcelona area. The government forces retained control only in some
parts of the central area.
This whole fight was a fairly spontaneous reaction of the working class against an armed
power play by the Communists. The regional and national committees of the CNT tried to
negotiate an end to the fighting, and prohibited CNT army units from intervening. On May
4th the CNT appealed via loudspeakers and the union radio for an end to fighting and for
everyone to return to work. Both Federica Montseny and Garcia Oliver, anarchist ministers
in the national government, appealed over the radio for an end to the fighting. A member
of the POUM described what happened at a barricade in reaction to Montseny's radio speech:
"The CNT militants were so furious they pulled out their pistols and shot the radio. It
sounds incredible but it happened in front of my eyes. They were absolutely furious, and
yet they obeyed. They might be anarchists, but when it came to their own organization they
had tremendous discipline." (58)
On May 6th workers began to dismantle the barricades. The PSUC immediately took advantage
of the situation to seize the telephone exchange. The CNT leaders seemed to believe that
everything would return to the situation that existed before the fighting, now that "our
members have shown their teeth." It didn't play out that way.
A large force of heavily armed paramilitary police were sent to Barcelona to re-impose
government authority. Large caches of weapons were seized from the CNT. On May 11th, the
mutilated bodies of twelve young anarchists were dumped at a cemetery near Ripollet. On
May 5th, the Italian anarchist Camillo Berneri, a philosophy professor and exile from
Italian fascism, was murdered by Communists, along with another Italian anarchist.
At a cabinet meeting of the Popular Front government on May15th, the Communists proposed a
motion banning the CNT and the POUM. Caballero responded that this could not be legally
done, and that he would not allow it as long as he remained head of the government. The
two Communist ministers then walked out of the meeting. When Caballero said, "The Council
of Ministers continues," the social-democrats, Republicans, and Basque Nationalists also
walked out, backing up the Communists. Only the three Left Socialists and the four CNT
ministers supported Caballero.
The central government and the PCE were the main victors from the May struggle. The CNT
was ousted from both the national government and the Generalitat.
Soon, the central government deprived the Generalitat of control over its local police and
eventually repealed the autonomy of Catalonia. Companys and the Esquerra were completely
marginalized. Caballero was replaced with Juan Negrín - a social-democrat who was
sympathetic to the Communists. The Communists moved against the Left Socialists, using the
police to seize the main newspapers controlled by the Caballero faction of the PSOE.
Negrín approved the repression against the POUM that Caballero refused to do. Soon, Andreu
Nin, the POUM leader, was arrested, tortured and assassinated by Communist agents. On
August 15th, a decree was issued authorizing the Military Investigation Service (Servicio
Intelligencia Militar - SIM). SIM was a secret political police, riddled with Soviet GPU
(military secret police) agents. There were 6,000 SIM agents in Madrid alone.
Bill Herrick was a member of the American Communist Party from New York City who served in
the Abraham Lincoln battalion in Spain. In his memoir, Herrick describes how he received
angry stares as he walked around Barcelona in his International Brigades uniform in late
1937...and people spit on him. He reports that he was forced by a party boss to witness
shootings of young revolutionaries in a SIM prison. He describes the execution of a girl
who shouted Viva la revolución! before a SIM thug fired a bullet through her brain. The
murder of that girl haunted Herrick and led to his eventual break with the American
Communist Party after his return to New York City(59).
The Popular Front strategy was based on the idea of trying to get the capitalist
imperialist powers to allow arms shipments to the anti-fascist side in Spain. This was not
a very realistic strategy. The main worry of the British elite was Bolshevism, not
fascism. That's why the British government in the '30s made endless concessions to Hitler.
The Popular Front strategy led naturally to viewing the struggle as a conventional war.
But in conventional military terms, the fascists had the advantage. They had a trained
army and access to more arms, via Hitler and Mussolini. The failure to organize guerrilla
war behind fascist lines derived from this picture of the struggle as a conventional war.
But guerrilla warfare would have made use of the anti-fascist side's advantage in popular
support to tie down large portions of the fascist army.
No appeal was made on a class basis to workers in other countries because the Popular
Front strategy did not portray the fight as essentially a struggle for working class
power. As George Orwell wrote:
"Once the war had been narrowed down to a ‘war for democracy' it became impossible to make
any large-scale appeal for working class aid abroad ... The way in which the working class
in the democratic countries could really have helped Spanish comrades was by industrial
action - strikes and boycotts. No such thing ever began to happen." (60)
The main advantage the anti-fascist side had was the revolutionary enthusiasm of the
people. Communist maneuvers to gain control of the army, and curtail or destroy worker
management of industry, contributed to demoralization.
In August, 1937, the Negrín government decreed the abolition of the CNT-controlled Defense
Council of Aragon. Army troops under the command of the Communist general Enrique Líster
broke up collectives, gave land back to landowners, and arrested 600 CNT members (and
killed some of them).
To justify the rampage in Aragon, the Communists accused the anarchists of operating a
forced collectivization regime. They claimed they were there to liberate the campesinos.
The anarchists, for their part, portrayed the collectivization of the agrarian economy of
Aragon as the product of local initiative, a movement of emancipation from rural employers
and exploitative landlords. There is evidence to support both pictures.
According to Macario Royo, a campesino member of the CNT regional committee in Aragon,
some element of coercion was inevitable in a revolution. The dominating classes will
inevitably oppose the liberation of the working class. But how far should this coercion
extend? Communist policy on agriculture had been a source of conflict with sectors of both
the CNT and the UGT Land Workers Federation (FNTT).
The main dispute was over the policy towards the large- to medium-sized landowners who
didn't flee in reaction to the army coup. These people had enough land to hire laborers to
work for them. They were the equivalent to the kulak class in the Russian revolution of
1917. In most of the anti-fascist zone both the FNTT and CNT usually took the position
that landowning campesinos should only be allowed to retain as much land as their own
family could farm. The aim of the CNT and FNTT was to do away with the hiring of wage
labor in the countryside.
But the PCE was opposed to expropriation of any landowners who hadn't fled. However, the
more prosperous land-owning farmers were usually right-wingers, and were often the old
right-wing caciques (political bosses) in the villages. The Communist policy of defending
them - even to the point of helping them take back land that had been collectivized -
strengthened the right-wing element in the countryside.
Actual CNT practice of rural collectivization differed by area. In Andalusia, the CNT's
policy was the same as that of the PCE. The CNT in Andalusia expropriated no land at all.
They set up collectives on estates of owners who fled, and using the small plots that
campesinos voluntarily brought with them(61).
The dispute about Aragon was also about the extent to which small-holding campesinos who
did not hire wage-workers were forced to merge their small plots into collectives. Doing
this was contrary to Kropotkin's advice in The Conquest of Bread and was not pursued by
the CNT in other areas of the anti-fascist zone.
Saturnino Carod was the son of a landless farm laborer in Aragon and the leader of a CNT
militia column. Carod was well aware of how the campesinos were attached to their little
plots of land. "It's a part of his being. He's a slave to it. To deprive him of it is like
tearing his heart from his body. He must not be forced to give it up to join a
collective," Carod said(62). But Carod's advice was not always heeded in Aragon.
The village of Angüés is an example. In Blood of Spain, Ronald Fraser quotes a couple from
Angüés. Both were staunch CNT supporters: the man said he would give his life to defend
the CNT. When the collective was set up, they were happy to get out from under the major
landowners who had been grinding them down.
But they described the town as being managed by a committee of 20 men who went around with
pistols on their waists and did no work. None of the landowning campesinos were allowed to
stay out of the collective. Farmers who tried to leave couldn't buy fertilizer or seed
since money had been abolished and the resources were controlled by the collective. The
committee running the town were also lining their pockets. All the best food ended up in
their houses, the CNT couple alleged.
The committeemen rode around in cars that had been expropriated from well-to-do families.
Unlike the other women in the village, their wives were also exempt from work. Village
assemblies were rarely invoked and there was no procedure for recall of the committee
members. The CNT couple said there was great discontent. They believed that another
revolution would have been needed to get rid of this new managerial elite (63).
Communist propaganda portrayed all of Aragon as being like that village of Angüés. In
fact, there were other towns where the situation was very different.
Mas de las Matas was a prosperous town of small-holding farmers in Aragon, with about
2,500 residents. Before the war, the CNT union had about 200 members. The anarchists
initiated the collectivization of the town by calling an assembly of the residents. The
assembly elected an Anti-fascist committee - half were CNT members and half were
supporters of the Left Republican party. The assembly and elected committee became both
the new government of the town and a means of socializing the town's economy. This is an
example of what the Spanish anarchists called a "free municipality." This is one of the
few places where the anarchists actually constructed this type of geographic,
assembly-based governance structure during the revolution.
Numerous farmers brought their small plots into the town collective, agreeing to work the
lands collectively. An advantage of this was that it made it more feasible to use
machinery, which the town bought for use in the farming operation. The secretary of the
collective was a 26-year old self-employed anarchist cabinet-maker. He brought his own
tools into the collective. The collective controlled all services. The political power
exercised by the town collective is illustrated by the fact that they banned the hiring of
anyone to work for wages. They also banned gambling and sale of alcohol. (64)
A group of 50 landowning farm families in the village refused to join the collective and
joined the UGT. However, not all of the wealthier farmers opposed the collective. When one
of the most well-off men in the village was asked by a visitor why he had joined the
collective, he replied: "Why? Because this is the most human system there is."
The UGT in Aragon did not always oppose collectivization. In the village of Andorra, a
majority of the collective members belonged to the UGT (65).
When Líster's troops invaded Aragon in August, 1937, an assembly of residents was called
in Mas de las Matas and, with police presiding, anyone who wanted to quit the collective
was allowed to do so. The membership in the collective dropped to 1,500. Thus 60 percent
of the residents still voluntarily supported the collective, despite the threatening
presence of Communist troops.
The collectivization in Aragon had a dual purpose. To the extent the initiative was local,
the motivation was community self-management and equality. But the labor army in Aragon,
only a few kilometers from the villages, did not have a very reliable line of supply to
Catalonia and Valencia where the militias had been formed. The Aragon villages also had
the role of providing food for the labor militia.
Often, money was abolished and a system of rationing imposed. By controlling the
consumption of the local population, a surplus could be generated to supply the
revolutionary army. Working for the anti-fascist militia for free was a matter of pride
for the supporters of the Left in the villages, and a source of resentment among the
But the abolition of money was itself another source of discontent among the campesinos.
According to the CNT president of the village collective in Alcorisa, the campesinos
didn't like the idea of taking things for free from the common store because they felt it
was like begging (66). They believed they earned a right to a certain level of consumption
through their work.
The anarchist secretary of the successful collective at Mas de las Matas said that the
abolition of money "turned out to be one of our biggest mistakes." He believed that it
would have been better to pay people for work, and provide additional allowances for the
needs of dependents.
If able-bodied adults earn an entitlement to consume based on work, this allows each
individual to tailor their requests for products to their own desires. Without that, there
is only the set of things offered to everyone by the collective. Absence of money led to
inefficiencies like people throwing away bread because it was free.
Saturnino Carod believed that the abolition of money had been based on a confusion of
money with capital. He insisted that there was a need for a system of social accounting
(67). This would require a monetary unit to encapsulate the value to us of the resources
used to produce things. Capital is a social relation of domination, exercised through
market purchase of means of production and hiring of workers, to make a profit. Money need
not imply the continued existence of that capitalist economic arrangement.
The real aim of the Communists wasn't the destruction of the collectives. The Communists
had helped to form agricultural collectives in other areas. The Communists' aim in Aragon
was the destruction of CNT power. While the Communist troops were attacking the CNT in
Aragon, the CNT leadership did not allow CNT army units in the area to intervene. The
effect of this whole episode was the undermining of morale. This contributed to the
fascist army's conquest of Aragon a few months later.
The Friends of Durruti
During the May Days fight between the Communist-controlled police and their working class
adversaries in Barcelona, an alternative to the CNT leadership's policy of Popular Front
collaboration was proposed by the Friends of Durruti Group (Agrupación Los Amigos de
Durutti) - a FAI group. The Amigos distributed a leaflet during the fighting calling for
the CNT to overthrow the Generalitat, replacing it with a revolutionary council (junta) in
Catalonia controlled by the CNT unions. Their leaflet also called for complete
socialization of the economy and disarming of the police.
The Amigos had been organized in March 1937 on the initiative of CNT militia members who
opposed the creation of the new hierarchical Republican army. The group was named for
Durruti because of his last fight in the CNT in October, 1936. Horacio Prieto, wanting to
make use of Durruti's popularity, had tried to get him to be one of the CNT ministers in
the Popular Front government. Durruti refused. "When the workers expropriate the
bourgeoisie, when one attacks foreign property, when public order is in the hands of the
workers, when the militia is controlled by the unions, when, in fact, one is in the
process of making a revolution from the bottom up," said Durruti, this is simply
incompatible with maintaining Republican state legality. (68)
The Amigos were libertarian syndicalists trying to revive the Defense Council program that
the CNT had advocated in September-October 1936. Two of the leading activists in the
Amigos were Liberto Callejas and Jaime Balius. In September and October 1936 both Calletas
and Balius had been staff members of Solidaridad Obrera during the campaign for the
Defense Council proposal.
In the actual events in May of 1937, the Amigos did not have sufficient weight in the CNT
to bring about a change of direction. The Amigos had some influence among the CNT militia
units and the CNT neighborhood defense groups. But the main weight in the CNT in Catalonia
were the local union militants, the delegados on the local labor councils and the
workplace councils in the collectivized industries. If the viewpoint of the Amigos had
prevailed among the labor councils, they could have gained control of a regional plenary
and ousted the Popular Front collaborationist regional committee.
When people find themselves pursuing a course of action, they want to feel that they are
justified in doing so. This means there is a tendency for people to find justifications
for their actions. By May of 1937 leading anarcho-syndicalists had been following the
Popular Front strategy and occupying positions of hierarchical authority in the government
and in the army for some time. This was bound to change their outlook. A good example is
Joan Garcia Oliver. In July and August of 1936 he had been a champion of the CNT "going
for broke," overthrowing the Generalitat, and taking power in its own hands. By March,
1937 his viewpoint had changed; he had become a defender of the Popular Front coalition.
This change was shown dramatically by his conduct during the May events, opposing any
attempt to broaden the struggle, to seize power for the unions.
In their main pamphlet, the Amigos criticized the CNT's failure to take political power in
July of 1936:
"What happened had to happen. The CNT...did not have a concrete program. We had no idea
where we were going....When an organization's whole existence has been spent preaching
revolution, it has an obligation to act whenever a favorable set of circumstances arises.
And in July the occasion did present itself. The CNT ought to have leapt into the driver's
seat in the country...In this way we would have won the war and saved the revolution.
But[the CNT]did the opposite. It collaborated with the bourgeoisie in the affairs of
state, precisely when the state was crumbling away." (69)
In addition to the advocacy of the union-controlled national and regional Defense
Councils, the Amigos also advocated the formation of the "free municipalities" -
governance structures based on neighborhood or village assemblies of residents - which the
CNT had advocated in the program adopted at Zaragoza in May, 1936. Balius called the free
municipalities "an authentic revolutionary government." The Amigos also held to the
syndicalist program of socialization of the economy from below through union management.
According to Balius, the workers' initiative in the May events in Barcelona showed "the
proletariat's unshakeable determination to place a workers' leadership in charge of the
armed struggle, the economy and the entire existence of the country. Which is to say (for
any anarchist not afraid of the words) that the proletariat was fighting for the taking of
power which would have come to pass through the destruction of the old bourgeois
instruments and erection in their place of a new structure based on the committees that
surfaced in July." (70)
From a social anarchist point of view, a key issue about the proposed Defense Councils
would be their accountability to the assemblies at the base. The Amigos proposed that the
Defense Councils be elected by the union assemblies. But what about the making of policy?
A possible solution here would have been to make the Defense Councils get their marching
orders from the regional and national People's Congresses proposed in the CNT's Zaragoza
program of May, 1936. These would be deliberative bodies, made up of delegates elected by
the base assemblies, and with major issues sent back to the base assemblies for decision.
The CNT also proposed that the Defense Councils be prohibited from intervening in
management of the economy, which would be controlled by a system of worker-managed
industrial federations and a system of social planning.
Thus it seems to me that the syndicalist proposal for Defense Councils and a unified and a
union-controlled people's militia was a tactic at least potentially consistent with social
How would the Defense Council proposal have differed from the Leninist concept of "taking
power"? I think the difference is clearest if we look at the debate in the Russian
Communist party in 1921. At that time, Nicholai Bukharin, Alexandra Kollontai and a number
of other Bolsheviks proposed a system of management boards for the Russian economy elected
by the unions. Lenin denounced this as an "anarcho-syndicalist deviation" because it would
give economic power to the "non-party masses" who made up 90 percent of the membership of
the unions. By the logic of Lenin's position, he would have to denounce the CNT Defense
Council proposal because it would give economic, political and armed power to the
"non-party masses" in the unions.
For José Peirats, however the "strength of the anarchosyndicalists" after July 19th 1936
lay in the dispersed pattern of power in the anti-fascist zone, broken up into a myriad of
local and regional committees (71). Peirats, who was active in the Libertarian Youth in
Catalonia, opposed the CNT joining the Popular Front government but also opposed the
alternative of replacing the Republican central government with a CNT-UGT national defense
council. Peirats said the Defense Council proposal was "just a government under another
name." But couldn't that be said of any polity that would provide overall governance for
Spain as a whole? Peirats was editor of a journal in Catalonia called Acracia - the name
means "No power." It seems that Peirats' "No power" anarchism was opposed to any sort of
overarching polity or governing structure for Spain.
But this was simply not possible. A unified command was needed in the armed fight against
the fascist military. The workers of the CNT and the UGT would insist on unity in the
struggle. There were only two ways this could be achieved. Either the CNT took the
initiative to replace the existing state apparatus in Catalonia and at the national level,
uniting the workers of the CNT and UGT into a working class-controlled governing power, or
else the Communists would be successful in uniting the population behind a rebuilding of
the state apparatus and a hierarchical army. This was the fundamental dilemma that faced
the CNT after July 19th 1936.
If the CNT had overthrown the Generalitat and created a structure of national and regional
CNT-UGT governing councils and a unified people's militia, controlled by the unions, the
CNT could have blocked the Communist proposals for a hierarchical army and for sending the
gold to Russia. The CNT could have blocked the PCE's strategy for gaining state power. By
failing to pursue this path, the CNT made the Popular Front strategy inevitable, and thus
facilitated the Communists' growing power. Given the fascist side's superiority in arms
supplies, creating a working class-controlled polity in Spain was not a guarantee of
victory. But it would have improved the chances of success.
To their credit, Balius and the Amigos saw that libertarian syndicalism presupposes a
polity - a structure of political self-governance - to replace the state, if the working
class is to be successful at liberating itself.
Traditional anarchism was ambiguous or inconsistent on the question of what replaces the
state. There was a lack of clarity about the need for a new type of polity to perform the
necessary political functions - making the basic rules, adjudicating accusations of
criminal conduct and disputes between people, and defending the basic social arrangement
against internal or external attack and enforcing the basic rules. The political functions
of society cannot be done away with any more than social production could be. But the
political functions can be carried on by a structure of popular self-governance, rooted in
the participatory democracy of assemblies in the communities and workplaces.
Tom Wetzel is active with Worker's Solidarity Alliance in the San Francisco Bay Area and
has organized around housing and transit issues in San Francisco. The text has been
lightly edited for clarity from the original.
If you enjoyed this piece we recommend Tom Wetzel's review of the classic "For Workers
Power" by Maurice Brinton looking at the Russian Revolution.
1. Abel Paz, Durruti: The People Armed, p. 181.
2. Alberto Balcells, Cataluña contemporanea II (1900-1936), p. 17, cited in Ronald Fraser,
Blood of Spain: An Oral History of the Spanish Civil War.
3. Colin M. Winston, Workers and the Right in Spain, 1900-1936.
4. Information on the Barcelona rent strike of 1931 is from Nick Rider, "The Practice of
Direct Action: The Barcelona Rent Strike of 1931" in For Anarchism: History, Theory, and
Practice, David Goodway, ed.
5. Antony Beevor, The Spanish Civil War, p. 29.
6. Jerome Mintz, The Anarchists of Casas Viejas, p. 268.
7. Quoted in Ronald Fraser, Blood of Spain: An Oral History of the Spanish Civil War, p. 544.
8. Victor Alba and Stephen Schwartz, Spanish Marxism versus Soviet Communism: A History of
9. Diego Abad de Santillan, El organismo económico de la revolución (translated into
English under the title After the Revolution).
10. The idea of participatory planning was first developed in the 1970s by a number of
radical economists. The most well-known version is the "participatory ecoomics" model
developed by Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel. An early version was "Participatory
Planning" in Socialist Visions, Steve Rosskamm Shalom, ed.
11. Excerpts from the Zaragoza congress vision document are translated into English in
Robert Alexander, The Anarchists in the Spanish Civil War, Volume One, pp. 48-67.
12. Peter Kropotkin, "Modern Science and Anarchism" in Kropotkin's Revolutionary
Pamphlets: A Collection of Writings by Peter Kropotkin, Roger N. Baldwin, ed., pp. 183-184.
13. In the words of Cesar M. Lorenzo, Los anarquistas y el poder, p. 92.
14. Dionisius Ridruejo, interviewed in the early 1970s, Fraser, op cit, p. 320.
15. Fraser, op cit, p. 71.
16. Fraser, op cit, p. 110.
17. Abel Paz, op cit, p. 213.
18. According to Ricardo Sanz, interview in the 1970s, quoted in Fraser, op cit, p. 110.
19. This debate is described in Fraser, op cit, p. 112.
20. This account of the debate is from Juan Garcia Oliver, "Wrong Steps: Errors in the
Spanish Revolution," Mick Parker, translator. (This pamphlet is an English translation of
excerpts from Garcia Oliver's memoir, Eco de los pasos.)
21. On the composition of the Anti-fascist Militia Committee, Cesar M. Lorenzo, op cit, p. 86.
22. José Peirats, Anarchists in the Spanish Revolution, p. 161. (This is a translation of
Los anarquistas en la crisis española.)
23. Cesar M. Lorenzo, op cit, p. 98.
24. Cesar M. Lorenzo, ibid, p. 180.
25. Cesar M. Lorenzo, op cit, pp. 180-181.
26. José Peirats, op cit, p. 163.
27. Ronald Radosh, Mary R. Habeck, and Grigory Sevostianov, eds., Spain Betrayed: The
Soviet Union in the Spanish Civil War, p. 48.
28. Interview with Eduardo de Guzmán, early 1970s, in Fraser, op cit, p. 186 and pp. 335-336.
29. José Peirats, op cit, pp. 185-186.
30. Agustin Guillamón, The Friends of Durruti Group: 1937-1939, p. 24.
31. Burnett Bolloten, The Grand Camouflage: The Communist Conspiracy in the Spanish Civil
War, pp. 43-44.
32. Interview in the early '70s, Fraser, op cit, p. 220.
33. Gaston Leval, Collectives in the Spanish Revolution, pp. 253-264.
34. Gaston Leval, ibid, pp. 240-245.
35. Quoted in Burnett Bolloten, op cit, p. 50.
36. Quoted in Fraser, op cit, 221.
37. Fraser, op cit, p. 223.
38. Augustin Souchy, Nacht über Spanien, excerpt translated in Sam Dolgoff, ed., The
Anarchist Collectives: Workers' Self-Management in the Spanish Revolution 1936-1939, pp.
39. Fraser, op cit, p. 233.
40. Gaston Leval, op cit, pp. 264-278.
41. Gaston Leval, ibid, po. 245-253.
42. Fraser, op cit, p. 212.
43. Quoted in Robert Alexander, The Anarchists in the Spanish Civil War, Volume One, p. 487.
44. Quoted in Fraser, op cit, p. 229.
45. Diego Abad de Santillan, statement from December, 1936, appended to the 1937 addition
of After the Revolution, p. 121.
46. Quoted in Fraser, op cit, p. 218.
47. Gaston Leval, op cit, pp. 289-295.
48. This information about Mujeres Libres is from Martha A. Ackelsberg, Free Women of
Spain: Anarchism and the Struggle for the Emancipation of Women.
49. Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel, "A Ticket to Ride: More Locations on the Class Map"
in Between Labor and Capital, Pat Walker, ed.
50. Ronald Radosh, Mary R. Habeck, and Grigory Sevostianov, op cit, p. 11.
51. Sócrates Gómez, quoted in Fraser, op cit, p. 333.
52. Quoted in Fraser, op cit, p. 215.
53. Antony Beevor, op cit, p. 124
54. Antony Beevor, ibid, p. 174.
55. Gerald Howson, Arms for Spain: The Untold Story of the Spanish Civil War, p. 151.
56. Report by André Marty to Soviet authorities, March 1937, translated in Ronald Radosh,
Mary R. Habeck, and Grigory Sevostianov, op cit, p. 145.
57. Quoted in Fraser, op cit, pp. 377-378.
58. Juan Andrade, quoted in Fraser, op cit, p. 382.
59. Bill Herrick, Jumping the Line.
60. George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia, p. 69.
61. Fraser, op cit, p. 371.
62. Quoted in Fraser, op cit, p. 364.
63. Fraser, op cit, pp. 367-369.
64. Gaston Leval, op cit, pp. 136-143.
65. Gaston Leval, ibid, pp. 123.
66. CNT village committee president, quoted in Fraser, op cit, p. 362.
67. Saturnino Carod, quoted in Fraser, op cit, p. 363.
68. Quote from Durruti in The Spanish Civil War: Anarchism in Action, Chap 4 ().
69. The Friends of Durruti Group, Towards a Fresh Revolution (translation of Hacía una
revolución nueva) ()
70. Jaime Balius, quoted in Agustin Guillamón, op cit, p. 92.
71. José Peirats, op cit, p. 183.
A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E
By, For, and About Anarchists
Send news reports to A-infos-en mailing list
A-Infos Information Center