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(en) Australia, Rebel Worker Vol.23 No.2 (185) July-Aug. 2004 - Book Review - Red Barcelona:Social Protest & Labor Mobilisation in the 20th Century

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Wed, 4 Aug 2004 08:28:37 +0200 (CEST)

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Edited by Angel Smith published Routledge
“Left Subcultural Ghetto” or Revolutionary Strategy?
Fundamental to the development of a strategy for workers’ control
directed activity is the setting of priorities in regard to the
deployment of very limited resources and personnel and the facilitation
of a climate favourable to scientific enquiry and debate. Such a climate
must be free of sub cultural codes of behaviour, childish conformism and
“pseudo tribal folkways” - infatuations with the bogus identity politics
- women, queer, indigenous, etc, and its political expressions - the
inter class movements manipulated by middle class elites, of feminism,
black nationalism/autonomism, etc.
These unwholesome features which characterise many “anti-capitalist”
events such as the recent “State of Emergency” Conference held in
Melbourne transform them into Leftist “pseudo tribal ceremonies” or
“corroborees” and are certain to alienate most militant workers. Whilst
precluding the scientific climate essential for effective debate and
rational discussion necessary to develop strategies which would be
relevant to workers’ control directed activity.
Instead recipes for aimless activism and the cultivation of elitist
“activist” identities are manifested and particularly “hot houses” for
the flowering of exotic noxious vanguardist Leftist sects and cults are
provided. Groupings which below the exotic ideological veneer of various
left sub cultural codes and dogmas are based on personal loyalties and
consist of pseudo families for those seeking refuge from the alienation
of capitalist society and life support systems for certain swell headed
“gurus”. Certainly the growth of these exotic leftist weeds must be
seen in the context of the historical legacy of the predominance of
Stalinism and Social Democracy in the Anti-Capitalist movement for many
decades in countries like Australia and the loss of a core of
revolutionary worker activists associated with syndicalist groups such
as the early Industrial Workers of the World. This historical legacy
has led anti-capitalist groups to adopt consciously or unconsciously
the project of forming a sect to some extent infected by
vanguardist/elitist tendencies.
The importance of the book under review lies in focusing upon the
negative consequences for the workers control/revolutionary project of
vanguardist and sectarian elements spotlighted in the takeover of a mass
anarcho-syndicalist labour movement - the C.N.T. - the National
Confederation of Labour by such elements in the early 1930’s and the
associated engulfing of much of the organisation in an hysterical
climate, hostile to rational processes of debate and analysis. This
climate ensured its inability to develop a revolutionary political
strategy, and subsequent collaboration with the Popular Front government
during the Civil War and Revolution of 1936-39. Encouraging the growth
of counter revolutionary forces in the Republican zone.
This volume is comprised of a series of essays by experts on Spanish
History focusing particularly on the development of the Barcelona and
wider Spanish labour movement. The rise and fall of the
anarcho-syndicalist tendency and the initial decline and rise of social
democratic unionism associated with the U.G.T. (General Confederation of
Labour) connected with the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (P.S.O.E.)
and the Communist Party associated C.C.O.O. (Workers Commissions) form a
key back drop to this trajectory. The associated factional struggle
between an ultra sectarian current associated with the Barcelona based
F.A.I. (Iberian Anarchist Federation) and other more coherent
anarcho-syndicalist currents and state socialist groupings is discussed
in detail.
The Rise of Anarcho-Syndicalism
The contributors do a good job in explaining the reasons for the rise
to predominance in the post WWI period of the anarcho-syndicalist
tendency (a current favouring ultra democratic processes, pluralism
amongst its membership, direct action and a workers’ control
orientation). A situation in sharp contrast to other similar sized
Mediterranean industrial cities which developed predominantly
reformist/social democratic (seeking incremental improvements in
workers’ situation, relying on negotiations and avoiding direct action
and without challenging wage labour relations and capitalist ownership
of the means of production) labour movements.
Economic Background to the Rise of Anarcho-Syndicalism
Particularly focused upon is the general hard line attitude of Catalan
employers to all unions regardless of orientation which encouraged
anarcho-syndicalist direct action unionism. This approach stemmed from
the limited room to manoeuvre of Catalan industrialists in making
profits - they were encouraged to stridently oppose wages and conditions
improvements for workers due to the loss of markets for textiles in the
Spanish Empire as a result of the Spanish defeat in the Spanish-American
War of 1898 and the lack of financial capital to finance new labour
saving technology.
In this context, anarcho-syndicalist influence grew in such important
Barcelona unions as the metal workers as forms of direct action
culminating in the General Strike to win demands from intransigent
employers had a wide appeal. Another key area discussed is the
emergence of a radical intelligentsia associated with the militant
labour press which converged with the Ferrer Rationalist School and
cooperative movements.
The International Syndicalist Movement
A key ingredient which led to the emergence of the C.N.T. which the
contributors fail to adequately discuss is the emergence of a
syndicalist current within the U.G.T. in Barcelona which was inspired
by developments in the international syndicalist movement such as the
adoption of the Charter of Amiens by the C.G.T.(General Confederation of
Labour) Bourses du Travail Confederation in France. This charter
provided for a union movement independent of political parties and
committed to the revolutionary project. This current crystallised into
Solidaridad Obrera (SO) - a local alliance of Barcelona unions of
differing political tendencies in 1907. The contributors go on to
chart the initial rise of the C.N.T. which formed in 1910 as S.O.
expanded into a national confederation particularly stemming from
economic expansion associated with Spanish industries supplying
combatant powers during WWI and the rise in workers’ morale and
revolutionary contagion associated with the outbreak of the Russian
Revolution of 1917. The central role of the C.N.T. in the post war
strike wave and revolutionary upsurge, the volume shows was greatly
contributed by the adoption of the “syndicats unics” structure
involving the setting up of local industrial unions. Whilst the
C.N.T.’s pursuit of aggressive large scale industrial action led to an
employer and state backlash which resulted in much violent conflict
encouraging the emergence of an ultra militant anarchist tendency which
was heavily involved and intoxicated with street fighting/urban
guerrilla activity.
“Anarchist Vanguard Party”
This grouping crystallised into the Barcelona based F.A.I. (Iberian
Anarchist Federation) formed in 1927 which adhered to a very simplistic
concept of a revolutionary strategy - that the C.N.T. Was self
sufficient for the revolutionary project and the formation of an
“anarchist workers movement”. The book looks at the influence of the
Argentine F.O.R.A. (Argentine Regional Workers’ Federation) and such
influential militants as Diego Abad de Santillan, an ex-F.O.R.A.
activist in adopting this anti-syndicalist orientation. The book
goes along to discuss the destructive impact of the Barcelona based
F.A.I. following its seizure of various commanding heights of the
C.N.T. such as the editorial boards of mass circulation newspapers like
Solidaridad Obrera and Defence Committees. The books does a
particularly effective job in showing how the C.N.T.’s defencive direct
action against the Depression era employer attacks led to a major crack
down by the Republican state preventing conventional mass union
activities and mobilisations which played into the hands of F.A.I. urban
guerrilla extremists.
The book shows that this takeover led to the adoption of the “Trabazon”
between the C.N.T. and the F.A.I. which provided for the direct
intervention of F.A.I. groups in C.N.T. Affairs. The book examines
this groupings’ campaigns against more coherent anarcho-syndicalist
tendencies such as the BOC (Worker Peasant Bloc) formed in 1931,
previously associated with the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees,
later to largely comprise the P.O.U.M. (Workers Party of Marxist
Unification) and the Trientistas (a tendency which favoured a more long
term, gradualist build up of the C.N.T. organisation avoiding massive
state repression and the destabilising of the Republican State). The
hysterical climate in the C.N.T. encouraged by F.A.I. propagandists and
heavy state repression precluded any considered discussion of the
Trientistas’ manifesto and BOC initiatives, and a more sophisticated
revolutionary strategy for the C.N.T. involving the grassroots of
other rival union and political organisations. The book makes
the interesting point that this takeover and subsequent sweeping of the
C.N.T. into a whirlwind of sectarian conflict and hopeless insurrections
and associated waves of employer and state repression contributed to
the decline of the C.N.T. as the predominant labour union in Barcelona
from the early thirties. Through alienating many groups of workers and
creating openings for the resurgence of various Marxist and Leninist
groupings associated union movements and the massive growth of
reformist unionism in the shape of the U.G.T. heavily influenced by
Stalinism at the Catalan leadership level during the Civil War. The book
focuses on some key issues in which this struggle was most explicitly
manifested - unemployment and revolutionary strategy.
Spain in the Great Depression
The early thirties manifested high levels of unemployment particularly
in Spain associated with the global depression and the rise of fascist
movements such as the Nazis in Germany which won over a portion of the
working class entailing demoralised unemployed. The book shows that
the Barcelona based F.A.I. took a simplistic and ultra militant
approach to the growth of unemployment with its notion of “revolution
around the corner” resolving the problem and encouraged a cycle of
unsuccessful insurrections and resort to such initiatives as mass
shoplifting and threats of bombings against employers to employ
workers. A key by product of these “revolutionary gymnastics” the book
outlines was massive repression affecting the C.N.T. and also rival
groupings, leading to vast membership losses, less frequent membership
assemblies and the growth of Marxist party affiliated unions.
Culminating in the Communist Party influenced U.G.T. unions gaining a
substantial membership base of 85,000 in Catalonia, mostly in Barcelona
prior to the outbreak of the Civil War and was well sited for counter
revolutionary activity. A more constructive C.N.T. initiative to counter
the working class impoverishment of the depression particularly in
regard to the unemployed which the book discusses was its support of a
city wide mass rent strike in 1931. In contrast, rivals to the C.N.T.
and F.A.I. such as the P.O.U.M. campaigned for such measures as the
state subsidising of the unemployed through the heavy taxing of the
rich, the 6 hour day, etc. So as to preclude the kind of desperation
amongst the unemployed which would turn them to support fascism.
In regard to revolutionary strategy, such groupings as the P.O.U.M. and
its associated union confederation - the F.O.U.S. (Workers Federation of
United Unions) sought to build a united front of workers’ organisations
to oppose employers and the rise of fascism. Whilst the F.A.I. elements
who viewed the C.N.T. as self sufficient for the revolutionary project
fought furious battles to establish and preserve C.N.T. closed shops
leading to violence between workers of different unions in sectors
such as the Barcelona Textile industry.
A deficiency of the book is that it fails to consider the “affinity
group” basis of the F.A.I. as a significant contribution to its ultra
sectarian path and wild slandering of rival groups. In such groups
often personal loyalties get in the way of rational considerations.
In examining the differences between the C.N.T. and its rivals, the
book shows how the C.N.T. largely organised blue collar workers in
Barcelona, whilst its Marxist rivals organised particularly amongst
white collar, specialised crafts and service sectors. Although due to
F.A.I. antics, these unions were steadily eroding the C.N.T. base in
key bastions. Elements in such white collar sectors as banking were
later to play during the Civil War an important role in the Republican
State sabotage of collectivisation championed by the C.N.T. by
frustrating the financing of the collectives. Whilst, non-working class
elements hostile to the revolution and collectivisation such as small
employers joined the U.G.T. en masse, and established branches of the
U.G.T. affiliated G.E.P.S.I. (Corporations and Bodies of the Small
Retailers and Industrialists). Technicians whose power and privileges
were threatened by collectivisation were also attracted to the U.G.T.
and Stalinism which favoured nationalisation of industry preserving the
hierarchical management and elite of technicians structure.
Anarcho-Syndicalist Eclipse & Decline
The book sketches the decline of the C.N.T. and revolutionary forces
generally during the Civil War after initial dazzling achievements
such as widespread collectivisation of industry, rationalisation of
production in industries, a single wage for workers of the same
category, reductions in wage differentials, etc particularly following
the May Days events of 1937 orchestrated by Republican State and
Stalinist forces. The book looks at the role of the C.N.T. which had
become bureaucratised at various levels through participation in Popular
Front Govt. structures in assisting the counter revolution through its
agreement in 1938 to state control of armaments and large scale
industry and the privatisation of other sectors. The book makes the
interesting point that the Republican state used nationalisation of
collectivised industry as a key step toward privatisation.
Subsequent essays examine the post WWII community based resistance
movement in Barcelona to the Francoist Regime, the further
marginalisation of the C.N.T. and anarchist forces which were unable to
develop an appropriate strategy to cope with the highly repressive
Francoist State and the rise of the “Workers Commissions” a genuine
grass roots assemblyist movement which became active within the Franco
State controlled “vertical unions”. A movement which the Communist
Party lacking effective rivals was able to successfully infiltrate and
control. Finally, the contemporary predominantly reformist oriented
Barcelona labour movement is discussed in the context of the decline of
manufacturing industry.
In conclusion, the book under review definitely provides an excellent
discussion of the development o f the Barcelona labour movement in late
19th and 20th centuries, brilliantly capturing its complexity and
detailing its internal struggles. In this discussion it provides a
devastating critique of vanguardist and sectarian elements and the great
threat they pose to the workers control project.
Certainly, it must be understood that the contemporary success of the
employer offensive is related not just to the intensifying pace of
new work organisation, speedups, the various tentacles of the A.L.P. and
union hierarchy octopuses and associated low morale and
disorganisation of grass roots on the job organisation.
I t must also be seen in the context of the lack of outside the job
organisation which could help short circuit the disorganising impact of
employer attacks and union officialdom’s manipulation in regard to
building militant on the job organisation. Unfortunately much of what
could help form this critical “catalyst” for workers self organisation
is lost in vanguard, sect and exotic subcultural antics.

Mark McGuire
"Rebel Worker" is a Paper of
Anarcho-Syndicalist Network in Australia

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