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The revolutionary message of the 'Friends of Durruti'
iberia | history of anarchism | opinion / analysis Saturday June 04, 2005 14:00 by Alvaro - UNIPA unipa_net at yahoo dot com dot br
Important historical analisys of spanish civil war and of CNT/FAI´s capitulation in this process. Author: Georges Fontenis
The revolutionary message of the 'Friends of Durruti'
Introduction to the writings of the Friends of Durruti
Barcelona, May 1937. The first issue of 'The People's Friend', the organ of the Friends of Durruti, appeared. The police repression of the Republican state had just crashed against the fighters of the barricades who had responded to the stalinist provocations by retaking the road of revolution. But while the combattants of the revolution were taking the fight to the forces of repression of the Catalan Generalitat and of the central state, the anarchist 'leaders' of the CNT-FAI, having become ministers of the bourgeois government, asked the victors of the barricades to lay down their arms, to have faith in their 'leaders' to settle the conflict and to reunite the anti-Franco forces. The result wasn't long in coming: thousands of the barricade fighters found themselves in prison, and the censorship of the press became more brutal than ever. The first issue of 'Friend of the People' was ferociously censored. But at last it appeared and went on to try to be the rallying point for all those who, while struggling against Franco, didn't want to forget the tasks of the revolution. Precisely those tasks which gave meaning to the war against the military and their allies.
The 'Friends of Durruti', and more generally the Spanish libertarian workers, were to fail. Why? and what really was their battle?
After almost half a century since these events, nothing of substance has yet appeared in response to these questions. The leaders of the 'official' anarchist movement, still preoccuppied with hiding the weaknesses and the inconsistencies, blurring the responsibility, avoiding the fundamental theoretical problems, avoid discussion or are satisfied with a few reluctant confessions and regrets. But we still await a profound auto-criticism, a rigorous analysis of the events. Everything has been done to extinguish the most radical critiques, in particular those of the 'Friends of Durruti', and to try to write them out of history.
However they, the 'Friends of Durruti', have supplied more than an outline of such a vigorous analysis and they did it in the heart of the battle itself.
This is why it seems to us to be indispensable to publish their principal writings, still unpublished in France. To contribute to the debate which we wish to clarify, we add here a brief study of the evolution of the libertarian movement and of the Spanish revolution and also, neccessarily, the commentaries that the texts and the facts inspire in the comrades who pursue the struggle for libertarian communism today.
Having said that, our work is not a history of the Spanish revolution which, in our eyes, remains to be written. We have furthermore deliberately left aside the immense episode of economic and social achievements, collectivisations and socialisations, except insofar as they impinge upon our study. These are well covered by the works of Gaston Leval and Frank Mintz, cited in the bibliography. We have only attempted to examine, from a revolutionary point of view, the period from Spring to Summer 1937. A period which we believe was decisive.
The translation of the pamhplet is complete and will be added here as it is sent to me
The anti-fascist camp in the Spanish revolution
It is absolutely necessary - the Friends of Durruti tried to point out - to find a path which allows revolutionaries, without compromising and without falling into an unprincipled anti-fascist front, to have a practical strategy of struggle which unifies the proletarian forces against the violent blows of the reaction, militarism and fascism. One understands why the Friends of Durruti, should have given such importance to the so-called choice 'war or revolution'
But, before addressing the events and their analysis, we must lay out, as briefly as possible, the composition of the forces present on the "antifascist" side, in order to assist the journey of the non expert reader across what one author has called the "Spanish Labyrinth". The bibliography which we give will allow one to find fuller information.
SPAIN AND CATALONIA
The pressure of regional autonomies in Spain, whose unity was imposed by the central government, goes back far. It carries on today, on the institutional level (There exists in various regions, administrations which enjoy limited autonomy), or as subversive action (which is the case in the Basque country). In the 1930's it barely existed outside two regions which were otherwise the most economically developed, Catalonia and the Basque country. The Republic had granted them their own institutions. In Catalonia, a region which was to be in the forefront of the revolution, there was a regional power : the government of the Generalidad of Catalonia, a regional parliament, and forces of public order: the guards of the Generalidad (Mozos de escuadra). The parties and organisations often had a singular composition here, as we shall see.
THE CATALAN PARTIES
In Catalonia there existed organisations without any institutional or historic links with the parties and groups which were found throughout the rest of Spain. We mention the most important.
-The "Catalan Left" (La Esquarra catalana) controlled the Generalidad. It was a party of workers, intellectuals, but mostly elements of the "left-wing" petite Bourgeois. It was the party of Companys, the president of the Generalidad.
-The union of rabassaires (sharecroppers, agricultural small holders) was of a similar leaning.
-The party of the Catalan state (l'Estat Catala) was openly separatist, its nationalism leaned towards fascism.
THE FEDERALIST REPUBLICANS
The federalist spirit appeared in Spain during the 19th century, as a strong current within Republicanism. A certain number of these Republicans saw themselves as being very close to the federalist ideas of the anti-authoritarian wing of the 1st International. The federalist Republicans recruited mainly from the liberal petite bourgeoisie and in certain peasant circles.
In 1936, in the Madrid parliament (the Cortes), there was an astonishing parliamentary extreme left. It was made up of federalist republicans. There was among them, notably, lawyers who defended anarchist and anarcho-syndiacalist activists in court.
These liberals didn't at all want to overturn the basis of bourgeois society but they had radical rhetoric, reasonably close to the declarations of the revolutionaries. The CNT treated them delicately and even supported them, despite it being anti-parliament.
THE LEFT AND THE EXTREME LEFT
The socialist party (socialist workers party of Spain) was a reformist party, composed mainly of petite bourgeois intellectuals and bureaucrats. However, it contained a working class base grouped in a Union organisation, the General Union of Workers (UGT) in so far as the paths of the party and the unions were interlinked. A good example: the socialist leader Largo Caballero, who was to be, for a long time, a pure reformist and repressive minister - was secretary general of the UGT. The leaders of the UGT openly fought the syndicalists of the CNT, however there was, among the rank and file, in many circumstances, a desire for unity of the working class.
The communists were divided and few, their Stalinism was excessive. Their influence grew quickly during the revolution. We shall see why. In Catalonia, the Stalinist party took the name of PSUC, united socialist party of Catalonia, born from the fusion of the small communist party and a socialist Catalan party.
The Trotskyists made up only a few groups whose activity was primarily in the field of theory. Their best known militant Andreas Nin, joined the POUM. It is incorrect to see this 'Workers Party of Marxist Unity' as being Trotskyist. It was, from 1935 on, the guise of the block of communists, essentially Catalan workers and peasants, who had broken with Moscow. It was a party which exercised a certain influence, notably in Barcelona, but it was ceaselessly buffeted between support for the Catalan nationalists and internationalism, between electoralism and the fact that a certain number of its members were in the CNT, between the denunciations of the rulers in Moscow and its proclaimed admiration for Stalin's regime. In Trotskyist jargon, it was a "Centrist" workers party.
THE LIBERTARIAN MOVEMENT
Let's pass on now to the National Confederation of labour. Without going into the details of its history we have to further elaborate on this CNT of which the "Friends of Durruti" were members.
It was founded in 1910, by the workers and libertarian groups which had persisted as inheritors of the Spanish federation of the 1st international. It was inspired by French revolutionary syndicalism, thus at its inception it adopted the form of organisation and struggle of the trade union, but it defined its final objective as being anarchist communism. It saw the union as the fundamental structure towards the realisation of this goal . It was a mass anarcho-syndicalist organisation whose membership came close to 1 million in 1936.
Its history is extremely complex, having passed through numerous conflicts. It contained two fundamental currents which were often opposed. One was purely anarcho-syndicalist and considered that the CNT was the only organisation needed and regarded the existence of organised anarchist groups, outside the CNT, as superfluous or even troubling. On the other side was the current, inspired by the activists, which saw themselves as being primarily revolutionary anarchists and only then members of a syndicalist confederation where they had the mission of combating every reformist tendency. The conflict escalated when, in 1927, the anarchist groups, until then weakly tied together in a very loose federation, formed the famous FAI (Federation of Iberian anarchists) along with some Portuguese groups. We now arrive at the problem of relations between the mass organisation and the organisation of the avant-garde. Even though the relations between the FAI and the CNT weren't relations of straightforward domination, you could find militant anarchists who were opposed to the FAI and who condemned "the FAI dictatorship". In fact while a certain number of the CNT officers were members of the FAI, properly speaking this didn't amount to a dictatorship, rather a dominant ideological influence. The conflict reached a head in 1931, at the CNT congress held in Madrid. It set the activists who proposed a realistic analysis and very considered approach against those activists who wanted to launch the revolutionary uprisings immediately. The former drew up a manifesto, receiving 30 signatures (they were called the "Trente" and their tendency was called "Trentisme"). In the manifesto they denounced the superficial analysis, the simplistic and catastrophic conception of revolution, the cult of violence for its own sake, which seemed to them to be characteristic of the militants of the FAI[*1]. Certainly, it was far from being true that all the members of the FAI were hooligans. However, it is true that adventurist revolutionary attempts had been attempted and were to be attempted in the period that followed, at the instigation, or with the support of some groups of the FAI. These attempts were doomed to failure and resulted in fierce repression. To cut a long story short, the "trentistes" who called themselves prudent, but not any less revolutionary for this, counted in their number some activists who were incontestably inclined towards reformism. One of their leaders, Angel Pestana went on to found the "Syndicalist party" and would become a deputy in the Cortes.
The activists and the unions which rallied to the manifesto of the thirty were expelled from the Confederation and constituted the "unions of opposition". Their influence in some regions was far from negligible. So much so that they were re-admitted into the CNT five years later at the congress of Zaragozza.
We will soon see ministers whose origin was "trentiste" and even militants of the FAI or intransigents who had battled against "Trentism", like Garcia Oliver and Federical Montseny, in the Madrid central government and that of the Generalidad of Catalonia, in Barcelona. Also in September 1937, Pestana joined the CNT.[*2]
If we want to give a brief but relatively complete overview of the currents which were present in the Spanish libertarian movement, we can distinguish:
- a small revisionist "fringe" which ended up in the syndicalist party alongside Pestana.
- a "trentist" current, which saw itself as revolutionary but realistic which included a certain Juan Peiro. It had fought for the creation of Federations of industries in the CNT and had denounced the adventurist practices of some groups of the FAI.
- a traditionalist component consisting of many union officers who didn't always see the utility of a specific organisation bringing together anarchist groups (sometimes they even combated its existence). These militants considered themselves anarchist but for them anarchist groups should simply be centres of thought and general propaganda. This point of view is currently very popular among anarcho-syndicalists[3*].
Consequently, it was far from being the case that the FAI included all the anarchists for whom the trade-union wasn't the answer to all the problems. Furthermore one must distinguish the working class FAI-ists, primarily anarcho-syndicalists like Garcia Oliver and Durruti, from the anarchists from intellectual backgrounds like Federica Montseny.
The Libertarian youth who defended the purity of the "acrate"[4*] ideal and played a large part in the cultural and educational fields especially in Catalonia. On this point it should be stated that the Spanish libertarian movement in its entirety was very concerned with spreading literacy and education(from which came the creation of numerous modern schools, inspired by the teachings of Fracisco Ferrer, and the proliferation of "atheneums" a kind of popular university which were very active).
The "Friends of Durruti", all members of the CNT, most also members of the FAI, formed a specific current from 1937.
From July 1936 on the links between the CNT and the FAI became so close that the two emblems appeared together more often than not (People spoke of the "CNT-FAI"). There was even a "libertarian movement" consisting of the three branches: CNT, FAI, FIJL (Iberian federation of libertarian youth). But in the midst of the difficulties of the war we will see an opposition emerge between the direction of the CNT, sacrificing all to the ideology of "resistance to the extreme" and submitting to the instructions of the Negrin government, and the FAI committee for the peninsula which made a late effort to save its honour by denouncing the advance of the counter-revolution.
To finish with this rapid overview, it would be useful to note that the FAI, founded in the beginning by practically underground "affinity groups", was at all stages on the margins of the law and was numerically confined with about 30,000 members in July 1936. From then on it was active in public, and in July 1937 it transformed itself into a Federation of local and district groups, considerably more open to membership than the affinity groups, although the decision making powers of the committees increased. Thus the specific organisation, "la specifica" as the Spaniards said, became a party in the modern style, aiming to become a "specific mass organisation". Without doubt we can consider that the affinity groups were no longer the same with the advent of the period which began in July 1936, but on the other hand how could they not see the poverty and the confusion of their theoretic base which consisted of a declaration of principles of a mere few lines?[*5]
From The revolutionary message of the 'Friends of Durruti'
On to The bourgeois republic and the revolutionaries
1 La CNT en la revolucion Espanola, J Peirats, ed. CNT, tome 1, pages 55 to 58.
2 This was denounced by the Friends of Durruti as a manoeveur of the reformist wing of the CNT (in no. 8 of their Organ, El Amigo del Pueblo)
3 You can frequently find this conception among the German anarcho-syndicalists of the FAUD, the Swedes of the SAC, the Argentinians of the FORA etc...
4 "A-cratie", total absence of authority, often seemed to Spanish anarchists as a clearer term than anarchy, from which comes the use of the adjective "acrate" in place of anarchist.
5 La CNT en la revolucion espanola, J. Peirats, tome 2 p. 328 (ed. CNT, Toulouse 1952)
The bourgeois republic and the revolutionaries
THE REPUBLIC OF 14 APRIL 1931
The bourgeois republic which came to power in 1931, replacing the monarchy was very conservative. The support of the socialists didn't affect this character. The socialist minister of labour, Largo Caballero, was even to be seen participating in the repression of the strikes and insurrections which rose in the face of the incapacity of the new regime to produce even the most basic of changes. The toll of the first two years of the republican power was harsh : 400 dead, 3,000 wounded, 9,000 arrested, 160 deported, 160 seizures of workers newspapers....and 4 seizures of right-wing newspapers[*1]. We can understand why the parliamentary elections of 1933 ended with the defeat of the left : the workers didn't vote. The socialists went from having 116 deputies in 1931 to having 60.
The most important working class force, the CNT, had declared an "electoral strike" in order to bring about the social revolution. It effectively produced a revolutionary movement on the 8th of December 1933. In various regions, in many villages and towns, the masses declared libertarian communism. The repression was brutal. The overtly reactionary government went on to face a powerful insurrection, that of Asturias, in October 1934 where socialists, communists and anarchists fought side by side. The quashing of the insurrection was a veritable bloodbath, accompanied by the severe use of torture and the imprisonment of 30,000 workers, of whom a significant proportion were members of the CNT.
THE POPULAR FRONT
It is understandable that the abstentionist campaign was weaker for the elections of 1936; in fact the CNT allowed its members to cast their votes for the parties of the left, combined under the banner of the "popular front", with the idea that a victory of the left would empty the prisons. It was effective; The right was beaten and the political prisoners were freed.....
The agitation within the army was growing. It was already evident before the elections, to such an extent that two days before the poll, the national committee of the CNT had issued a manifesto calling for mobilisation against a threatened military coup d'Etat : "The proletariat on war footing, against the fascist and monarchist conspiracy!" What was the new popular front government to do? It gambled on passivity, and went as far as to deny all danger, it even praised the loyalty of the military chiefs.
THE CNT PREPARES FOR REVOLUTION
The CNT met on the 1st of May 1936, at the congress of Zaragozza. It tried, despite speeches which were not immune from naivety, to define various aspects of its programme, libertarian communism. It set the conditions for the unavoidable alliance with the UGT in potentially revolutionary circumstances. It specified its position, constructive and critical at the same time, towards the projects of land reform. Under the title "defence of the revolution" the congress addressed the problem of revolutionary power and armed struggle. Certainly, it was then impossible to predict exactly how the potential revolution would come to pass, however the foundations of a politics which was truly a break with the capitalist and statist order were set out : the seizure of economic power on every level, the role of Spain in terms of the international revolution, the abolition of the permanent army, the need to arm the people and to keep the arms under the control of the communes, the role of the "Confederal defence forces" and the efficient organisation of the military forces on the national scale, the crucial importance of propaganda with regard to the proletariat of other countries. Let us not forget the general spirit which presided during these debates : in the resolution which concerned the alliance with the UGT, it was specified that "every kind of collaboration, political or parliamentary" with the bourgeois regime must be rejected.
It is worthwhile to recall all this before looking at the attitude of the CNT two months later, as it was in July that the military uprising occurred.
In effect events unrolled very quickly. From the start of the parliament the deputies of the right in the Cortes issued declarations of civil war. On the 11th of July, the Phalange[*2] seized the radio transmitter in Valencia. The president of the council was warned of the potential uprising of the generals but he refused to take those measures that he could. On the 17th of July, the army took power in Morocco, the massacre of workers and of left-wing personalities started... and the Madrid government declared that it was in control of the situation. Seville fell into the hands of the military. Finally the government of Casares Quiroga ceased issuing reassuring declarations but only so that it could pass the baton to a government of reconciliation, presided over by Martinez Barrio, with the ministry of war offered to General Mola who refused it and declared himself in open rebellion.
On the morning of July 19th, the paper of the CNT, Solidaridad Obrera, came out, severely censured by the republican government, but the appeal of the Catalan regional committee, an call to arms and for a general strike, escaped the censors. The same regional committee and the local federation of Barcelona Unions demanded that the Generalidad of Catalonia and the civil governor should distribute arms to the popular forces. In vain. However, the militants of the CNT seized the arms stored in the ships in the port. The authorities ordered the forces of public order to take them back but only a tiny amount were recovered. In Madrid, the national committee of the CNT called for a revolutionary general strike over the radio and requested the activists to guard the union offices with arms.
On the 19th and 20th of July the Barcelona barracks were taken by the popular forces and the CNT and FAI activists, who constituted the principal element of these forces, were the uncontested masters of the social and economic life of Catalonia. In Madrid, from the 20th on, the comrades of the CNT, aided by groups of assault guards and by the Socialist youth, made themselves masters of the situation. Elsewhere the struggle was confused, thus in Valencia, due to the procrastination of the government it took 15 days for the military to be defeated.
Wherever it could, the Madrid government made the situation worse : its civil governors and the delegate juntas which it created hurried to end the strikes, to suppress the peoples' executive committees which had risen. Thus it allowed the enemy time to rally, to reinforce its front at Teruel, to consolidate at Zaragozza and in Asturias, to become master of Andalucia. However on the 19th of July, the military uprising could be considered to have failed on the most rich, populous and developed two thirds of the territory.
THE MASSES AND THE LEADERS
It was Barcelona which was going to arbitrate the future of a revolution for which the military uprising was the trigger. What were the CNT and the FAI going to make of the immense power which they had just acquired?
During an initial meeting, Companys, president of the Catalan Generalidad, gave a carte blanche to the representatives of the leading bodies of the CNT. What else could he do since his government had lost all credibility? In fact he was to manouver : he proposed the creation of a committee of antifascist militias but published a decree which tried to transform the militias into a police force under the command of the Generalitat. The representatives of the CNT forced the recognition of a committee of militias made up of delegates from various organisations, but the CNT was only to have an equal representation as the UGT, which was in the minority in Catalonia. It also gave a place to the bourgeois Catalan organisations. Without doubt it was necessary to take forces outside the CNT into account. But in what manner were they to be taken into account? In effect this was to put the government of the Generalitat back into the saddle by giving numerical strength to the conservative forces.
This political line was ratified by the representatives at the regional plenum of local and cantonal organisations of the CNT and FAI on the 23rd of July.
A stupefying false dilemma obscured the debate from the start : "either libertarian communism which is equivalent to anarchist dictatorship or democracy, that is to say collaboration". According to José Peirats (who doesn't cite his sources) Garcia Oliver was its architect. Oliver claims, on the contrary, that he was one of the only militants who took the side of the revolution (everything for everyone) and he accuses Federica Montseny and Santillan of having carried the majority at the plenum against the dangers of 'anarchist dictatorship'. Nevertheless both G. Oliver and F. Monstseny would soon find themselves collaborating within the government.
How do we explain that the vast majority of the CNT and the FAI rallied, it is true more in resignation than with enthusiasm, to the side of collaboration in the midst of state bodies? We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that the Spanish anarchist movement, while it was predominantly working class, was not immune from some of the weaknesses of the international anarchist movement of the period. Bourgeois idealism, ill-defined humanism, the substitution of hollow philosophical talks for solid political reflection, individualism and dilettantism were common especially among the intellectuals who were sometimes closer to radical liberalism than to revolutionary syndicalism. It suffices to read a few of their magazines and pamphlets to be convinced of this. The Congress of Zaragozza was, to a certain extent, a reflection of this situation. It was certainly forced to give a hearing to libertarian communism, but the problem of political power was never clearly posed. Thus there were taboo subjects in the libertarian organisations and the idea of power of the masses as opposed to the state power, a vital, fundamental question, was still surrounded by an embarrassed silence.
Too often the phrase "acrate" and the affirmation of "anarchist purity" took the place of deep consideration. Therefore it's not as surprising as one would imagine, that the mass of activists were caught napping and accepted the crude assimilation of working class power in the streets and factories, in place of a state or party power, or 'anarchist dictatorship'. We will come back to this.
For a while, the collaboration in state power wasn't very evident. Without doubt to save face and to quieten the worries of a certain number of activists, the committee of militias didn't really take on the appearance of a government and remained autonomous to a certain extent, although it had been officially created by a decree of the government of the Generalitat and was merely a congregation of the leaders of the various organisations rather than a body emanating from rank and file committees.
But what is remarkable is the breach which, little by little, was to become established between the politics of the rank and file organisations and those of the committees at the top. Thus the union sections at the bottom took the measures of seizing businesses, workers control and even collectivisation. At the same time as these workers' demands were being carried out, the committees were publishing communiqués insisting on the necessity of returning to work and increasing production while refraining from giving any revolutionary advice with regard to the running of large companies. 2 examples : the communiqué of the Barcelona local Federation of Unions on July 28th and the manifesto of the peninsular committee of the FAI on the 26th which were a collection of romantic, even delirious, declarations extolling the heroism of the workers, appealing for a "new era", but without even the least mention of political power or socialisation. The constructive revolutionary drive (with the de facto alliance of the CNT and UGT) rose from the people, from the unions and from their activists, while the committees followed a course of moderation.[*3] These committees of "officials" were also to find themselves confronted with criticism which was aimed at the organisations which they represented. The criticisms were sometimes well-founded : there were some abusive or unwarranted seizures of goods, arbitrary arrests by groups of individuals without mandate and even summary executions.
We will go on to see how an attempt was made to sort out the problem of what one might call "revolutionary security", but one thing that we can see immediately is that the committees at the top were going to fall into the trap which the central government and that of Catalonia were setting : blackmail by foreign goods and by crude terrorism were used, even by the committee of militias and the higher ranks of the organisations. Certainly it was necessary to guard against any provocations and it is true that war ships of foreign powers had arrived in the port of Barcelona. The Catalan regional committee went so far as to give a list of 87 English firms which were to be respected at all costs. But the republican state shamelessly exploited a few isolated acts of excess and the threat of foreign squadrons to move the situation in the direction of normalisation under governmental authority. However, the governments of Madrid and Barcelona weren't going to achieve their aim without problems.
In effect, beside the committee of militias which kept a revolutionary appearance, "popular patrols", 700 men divided into 11 units, were created to take care of revolutionary security. On this occasion the CNT respected the balance of forces between the organisations. The government of the Generalidad went along with it but it knew that this was an embryonic armed popular force and it would decree the dissolution of the patrols as soon as it was able to.
For their part, the rank and file organisations pursued the work of socialisation and a Council of the Catalan economy was created by a decree on August 13th.
THE GOVERNMENTS FIRST OFFENSIVE
At the beginning of August, the central government decreed the mobilisation of classes 33, 34 and 35. In Barcelona, the youth who were in these classes came out into the streets and refused to go to barracks. They held demonstrations crying "down with the army, long live the popular militias". A number of these men were already members of the militias and were preparing themselves to leave for the front. This time the regional committee of the CNT, the groups of the FAI and the newspaper Solaridad Obrera were on the side of those who refused militarisation. In this a reasonable reaction of the bottom against the plans emanating from governmental spheres can be observed and this was a massive popular reaction.
However, a compromise solution was to prevail under the aegis of the committee of militias and the council of defence : the youth went to barracks, but under the authority of the council of militias. The CNT and the FAI approved. It seemed that the most important thing had been conserved despite the concessions. While the career soldiers of various levels would be utilised in the technical field, the command would be assumed by councils of worker-soldiers, composed of elected soldiers and delegates from the organisations and parties. But lets not forget that a 'council of defence' had just been created, at the heart of the government of the Generalitat, which had military authority over Catalonia. We will describe what this council of defence amounted to, but we should note that the initial buzz of opposition arising from the mobilised youth had tremendous energy : during an immense rally which was held in Barcelona on the 10th of August, the various orators of the CNT and FAI reaffirmed the importance that the people should not be disarmed under any pretext.
The general impression which emerges from all this first period is an impression of ambiguity. The revolutionary values seemed to have been defended intransigently while at the same time concrete measures had been taken which went towards the abandonment of the radical line of social and political transformation. Here is another example of this. At the same time as the CNT and the FAI were refusing popular disarmament, they were creating with their partners a committee of accord which gave a great position to the UGT (which was only beginning to develop in Catalonia) and to the PSUC which declared itself to be "the party of revolutionary order, in the sense of respect for private property" and which was to drain the petite-bourgeois forces in the course of becoming a significant party. Incontestably the creation of a committee of accord illustrates the politics of the leaders and is itself already a sign of an abandonment of real revolutionary politics. Having said that, in the context of the chosen direction, it is difficult to understand how the CNT and FAI accepted only having as many representatives on the committee of accord as did the UGT and the PSUC. This would come to weigh heavily in the course of the months to come.
TOWARDS OPEN COLLABORATION WITH THE GOVERNMENT
In Madrid, at the start of September, the government of Giral was replaced by the government of Largo Caballero who bemoaned the non-participation of the CNT. 2 months later, on the 30th of October, Largo Caballero revealed, in an interview with the Daily Express, reproduced in all the papers, the desire of the CNT to share the responsibilities of government.
Meanwhile, on the 3rd of September, issue 41 of the CNT-FAI information bulletin had published a violently anti-statist article, but in mid September the national plenum of the regional organisations proclaimed the necessity of participation in "a national body equipped to assume functions of leadership" this body being a "national council of defence" composed of 5 delegates of the CNT, 5 from the UGT and 4 "republicans", under the presidency of Largo Caballero. Certainly, the replacement of the ancient institutions by regional councils of defence, in a way that was called federalist was declared, but everything, including the representation of the organisations in the councils, was decided by the leaders of these organisations, and did not rise out of popular assemblies and their delegates. It was a real party power which was put in place. Public power was going to be wielded by Largo Caballero and his ministers who were modestly called "councillers".
In fact, the leaders of the CNT wished to join the government but had to save face and quieten the worries of their militants found it difficult to accept the open abandonment of their sworn principles.
On the 30th of September, a meeting of the national plenum of regional organisations of the CNT ratified participation, or rather according to its own wording, acceded to the insistent demand for the creation of a national council of defence.
In between time, on the 27th of September, the entrance of the CNT representatives into the government of the Generalidad, taking the title "council of defence" was announced, causing the dissolution of the committee of militias. Thus the situation of dual power had passed. The struggle against "uncontrollables" was to get more intense, and the necessity of strong discipline was to be reaffirmed. Durruti's ambiguous phrase "we renounce all except victory" was used as cover for the operation, turning it into a warning against the counter-revolution, while Durruti was at the same time declaring to the Madrid press : "We, on the other hand, carry on the war and the revolution at the same time".
How had the CNT and FAI been able to come to this? How were their leading committees able to get a mandate for such a fundamental change? Had the problems posed by the war and by the revolution really been truly addressed?
The documents of the epoch are silent. Nothing was treated in depth, analysis had been replaced by speeches and declarations.
If in the international anarchist movement, discussion was alive, even heated[*4], apparently in Spain there was resignation.
BIRTH OF AN OPPOSITION
In reality the situation was more complex than it appeared. One must take account of two important objective factors : on one hand many militants were at the front, they were at war and political problems were not at the top of their lists since the were fighting in particularly difficult conditions and with armaments which were often worse than deficient. On the other hand many of the comrades in the rear were consciously advancing their affairs: the socialisations and collectivisation's were going full steam ahead. the popular militias and the popular patrols appeared at least partially like the embryo of a real popular, anti-bourgeois power. Both groups were to be surprised by the evolution of events. The ever harsher retaking of governmental power, the elimination of popular bodies or attempts at establishing dual power. Nevertheless the forces opposed to the politics of the officer corp and struggles for the maintenance of the base of a workers power, could be observed. In the militias at the front resistance to militarisation remained alive and the advances of socialisation and collectivisation were to be maintained despite the decisions of the government.
And then, on the purely political front, resistance nevertheless showed itself. It was often shouted down, hidden by the speeches of the leaders, it was sometimes alive and clear in meetings, especially visible in the press : Ruta, the organ of the Catalan libertarian youth, which was to be a paper of opposition right up to the end of the war, the review Acracia from Lérida, the daily Nosotros from Valencia supported by the "iron column".
A weakness which was not to be surmounted until the spring of 1937 by the Friends of Durruti was that the opposition remained on the level of "acrate" purism, rather than on the level of the necessary analysis of the underlying problems.
Another weakness was the dispersion, the lack of cohesion, of co-ordination. The opposition wasn't made up of a tendency which would struggle to be able to express themselves in the Confederate press. And this isolation was such that most militants, especially those who were at the front, didn't even know that there was an opposition.
What's more the opposition was trapped by the blackmail for antifascist unity, by the necessity to disguise disagreements in the face of the enemy.
The committees at the top didn't hold back from using underhand manoeuvres like the speedy convocation of a plenum for which the mass assemblies wouldn't have time to prepare, or incomplete agendas which allowed them to propose important points, unannounced, at the last moment[*5]. Finally the cult of the leader, the charismatic power of the decision maker was at play in the libertarian organisations, like in every grouping.
To sum up, under the cover of the magic phrases, federalism and autonomy, the leaders hung on to power within the CNT and the FAI. We would have to wait until the government and the forces which supported it went violently on the offensive against the revolutionary sectors to see at last the rising of an opposition which attempted to address fundamental problems, "Los Amigos de Durruti".
Up until then reasonable reactions were certainly seen but they were improvised and lacked political content. As in mid October '36 the CNT-FAI column, "the iron column", was to leave the Teruel front for a brief incursion in the rear. It was intended to denounce parasitism and the forces of repression, to demand the disarmament and dissolution of the civil guard, the sending of the armed troops in the service of the state to the front, the destruction of institutional files and archives and the seizure of funds and precious metals for the purchase of arms, etc. That "cleansing" incursion in the rear saw much blood spilled during the battles with the forces of repression. The iron column published a manifesto explaining its concerns that the combatants should not be betrayed in the rear and they expressed their political choice clearly: "We fight to make the social revolution a reality". Whatever may be one's view on the adventurist or inconsequential aspect of this affair, one can only be struck by the feeling of the militia members that they should not be toys of the institutions of government and bourgeois parties, to be "refashioned" by the high politics of the rulers, the will of these men to fight, on the condition that they do it not for any republic whatsoever but for the revolution.
We will soon see more reactions of this type.
THE REPRESSION INCREASES
It is precisely from the moment that the CNT-FAI participated in the government, that the repression was given free reign. It is certain that the participation was experienced as a setback by the militants, including those who supported it, and as a sign of weakness by their adversaries, extremely happy to ensnare the principal revolutionary force in the web of laws and decrees, and within governmental "solidarity".
The central government left the threatened city of Madrid and retreated to Valencia. Madrid was then governed by a delegate junta of defence, of which the president, General Miaja, had as a first duty to replace the checkpoints and watch guards of the militias with security units and assault guards. Clashes occurred, CNT activists were found assassinated.
The repression also took an insidious track. The bank of Spain possessed a vast treasure of gold as well as large cash deposits in England and in the bank of France. The policy of non-intervention allowed Great Britain and France to refuse the use of these deposits but Stalin's Russia was to receive the Spanish gold in exchange for arms and supplies. The Russian arms only reached the sectors controlled by the communist party. The organ of this party, Mundo Obrero, pretended to be outraged by the inactivity of the Aragon front, which was mainly held by confederal divisions which didn't receive arms, while the well-armed stalinist units watched in the rear. Thus, little by little, a campaign of slander was set in motion, of which the CNT was not the only victim. The POUM was the first target. The conflict between the POUM and the PSUC precipitated a crisis of government in Catalonia. A new government was installed, hypocritically composed of "social categories" and not of parties. Thus the representatives of the unions (CNT and UGT), of the Catalan left representing the petite-bourgeoisie and the rabassaires (small peasants) were to be found in it, while the POUM was excluded. This didn't shame the CNT which described the new government as apolitical! During this period the stalinists had organised demonstrations against the lack of vitals until the arrival of Russian ships which brought the "gift of the Russian workers" to the proletariat of Barcelona, paid for by Spanish gold.[*6]
The number of incidents was to increase : assassinated comrades, suspended newspapers, detentions in the special prisons of the stalinist agents where prisoners were tortured. The Cheka was moving in...Meanwhile on the 21st of January 1937 the committee of accord, set up on the 11th of August(see above), appealed once again for fraternity, with the signature of the CNT, FAI, UGT and PSUC.
Otherwise, with much reticence in the confederal columns, militarisation of the militias went ahead. The higher committees of the CNT went to the front to convince the militia members that this militarisation, which tended towards the revival of the old military reasoning, was well-founded . Some militia members left the columns but in the end, even the Iron column accepted the new regulations.
The Stalinist provocations went on and a crisis was to be provoked in Barcelona by a decree of the 4th of March 1937 from the councillor of public order ordering the disbandment of the popular patrols and of various armed bodies; the disarmament of the popular forces for the benefit of the state force.
The confederal and anarchist activists arose against their representatives in the Catalan government. The federation of anarchist groups of Barcelona, the regional committee of the CNT, the workers and soldiers councils, demanded the annulation of the decree.
Companys, the president of the Generalidad, tried many legal formulas to resolve the crisis. A new government was formed on the 26th of April with 4 representatives of the CNT, but nothing was resolved.
At the end of April and the start of May elements of the police disarmed some militants of the CNT and arrested them. On the 2nd of May, at 3 in the afternoon, large contingents of the state forces, under the command of the general commissioner of public order, launched a surprise attack on the telephone exchange. They could only get as far as the ground floor and the confederal militants in the working class areas were alerted. Against the state forces (assault guards, national republican guard - ex. civil guard, security service, guard of the Generalitat), the PSUC and the Catalan separatists, were ranged the popular forces CNT-FAI, libertarian youth, POUM, popular patrols, benefiting from the technical assistance of the confederal committees of defence. The barricades were raised and the battle was at least as fierce as that of July 19th 1936 the mastery of the town. was at stake.
The confederal ministers of the Generalitat hoped to obtain the annulation of the orders which had been given to the state forces and the sacking of their colleagues who had abused their positions. But the other parties didn't want to give way. The attitude of president Companys was equivocal and he opposed any sanctions against the perpetrators.
A general strike was launched. The popular forces made themselves masters of the outlying areas and the majority of the centre. The barracks were taken and the government's resistance weakened despite the superior arms of the PSUC and Catalan state.
On the 4th of May, the popular forces were already, to a large extent, victorious[*7]. But the upper committees appealed for the weapons to be laid down whether they be held by the commanders of the provoking forces or by the regional committees of the CNT weapons. Garcia Oliver, a minister in the central government, was sent by that committee to find a solution, by appealing to anti-fascist unity. It certainly seems that the Catalanists, the communists of the Generalitat and the president himself wouldn't have been disposed to take heed of the doings of Garcia Oliver and his friends, but the anti-aircraft guns of Montjuch were in the hands of the CNT-FAI and the cannons were ready to fire at the presidential palace.
On the 5th of May, the Catalan government resigned en masse. The confederal forces didn't dare to carry the matter to its conclusion owing to the calls for a truce and a cease-fire. But the malcontent towards the committees grew. It was thus that the "Friends of Durruti" appeared, whose pamphlet condemning the attitude of conciliation was disowned by the confederal committees in a communiqué circulated on the night of the 5th to 6th of May. A manifesto signed by the CNT and UGT of Barcelona was broadcast on the radio. It appealed for a return to calm ...Meanwhile the police forces made attempts to improve their positions and units of the navy entered the port. The central government took public order into its hands and sent a large contingent of assault guards to Catalonia.
The appeals for calm of Garcia Oliver and Mariano Vasquez[*8] were not heeded. Federica Montseny, the envoy from the central government, having miraculously escaped the enemies gunfire, managed to get to Companys and provisionally removed him from his duties in the name of the government. It seems that Companys had been awaiting the arrival of the British squadron which was in effect sailing towards Barcelona.
The CNT and the FAI, on the night of May 6th made new propositions for an end to the conflict but the fighting went on. However, during the morning of the 7th, calm seemed to fall and forces of the government entered central Barcelona, forces which guards of confederal origin had joined when it was composed, and of which the commandant was himself and old militia man of the "Terra y Libertad" column.
The regional committee of the CNT considered the "tragic incident" to be over. But there were 500 dead and 1000 people wounded. The intervening armistice was accompanied by the promise of the release of prisoners on both sides. The confederals carried out this promise while the government and the tchekists kept their prisoners and even carried out new arrests. In fact, in the Chekist prisons, many prisoners were executed and up till the 11th of May many mutilated bodies were found.
The events of May 1937 had repercussions in the whole region, so much so that confederal columns and those of the POUM remained to prevent the stalinist elements of the 21st division from heading towards Barcelona.
We wouldn't be able to conclude this brief outline of events without entering into evidence the assassination, on the 5th of May, of the Italian anarchist militants, Cammillo Berneri and Barbieri[*9]. Berneri, wrongly presented as the leader[*10] of the "Friends of Durruti" by the communists, was, as he writes himself, in a "centrist" position. However his denunciations of stalinist crimes and his sharp and cutting criticisms of government policy (including the CNT ministers) were hitting the mark.
The governmental and stalinist repression was not to stop with the armistice. The disbandment of the popular patrols, ordered in the decree of March the 4th was to be carried out. The campaigns against the CNT were to continue and there was also to be the monstrous case of the POUM
But now we shall let the "Friends of Durruti" do the talking.
On to The 'Friends of Durruti' and the 'People's friend' (part 1)
1 Consult Histoire des républiques espagnoles by Victor Alba
2 At the core of the forces of the right, the "Phalange" was the fascist party, its links with Italian fascism and the Nazis were openly declared.
3 It is however in these achievements of self-management that the Spanish libertarian movement was able to show its capacity and its value and thus write the most beautiful page of the revolution.
4 For example the paper edited by Prudhommeaux L'Espagne antifasciste had to leave Barcelona for French territory to avoid cénétiste censorship. Guerra di classe the paper of the Italian volunteers, inspired by Berneri had to suspend its publication
5 It is edifying to consult the work of José Peirats on this matter. La CNT en la revolución espanola, tome 1, page 275 forward. In the 1955, Buenos Aires edition.
6 See the bottom of page 164 of la CNT en la revolucion espanola by José Peirats, tome 2, ed. CNT.
7 This is true in general for Barcelona, It is impossible to predict
what would have happened on an overall scale if the "ceasefire" had not taken place.
8 Garcia Oliver and Federica Montseny, ministers of the central government, members of the CNT and the FAI, Mariano Vasquez, first regional, then national secretary of the CNT.
9 There are solid theories according to which the assassins were far right Catalan seperatists, linked to Italian fascists. The archives of Mussolini's secret police, the OVRA, seized after the fall of fascism, led Berneri's family and friends to draw this conclusion. Elsewhere, in his book Los Ecos de los Pasos, on page 431 and
432, Garcia Oliver, the minister of justice at the time of the killing, questions the anarchist "obsession" with blaming the communists for every crime, and is inclined to see the hand of the OVRA in the murder of Beneri.
10 In Grido del Popolo, the official organ of the Italian communist party, the secretary of which was Togliatti.
The 'Friends of Durruti' and the 'People's friend'
WHO WERE THE FRIENDS OF DURRUTI
We saw, in part one, that opposition began to show itself against the lawyers who were, to a greater or lesser extent, accustomed to ministerial collaboration. Notably the Catalan Libertarian youth had declared their refusal to "become accomplices by staying silent" and they had even added "we are ready to return to illegal existence if necessary..."
In the spring [*1] of 1937 a grouping of opposition militants began to come out in public under the name of the "Amigos de Durruti" and before the May days, they wrote in a leaflet[*2]:
"The revolutionary and anarchist spirit of the 19th of July has lost its focus... The CNT and FAI who, during the early July days, best embodied the revolutionary direction and potential energy of the streets, today find themselves in a weakened position since they failed to trust in themselves during the days evoked above. We accepted collaboration, as minor partners, while we were by far the major force on the streets. We reinforced the representatives of the decrepit, counter-revolutionary petit-bourgeois.
In no way can we tolerate the adjournment of the revolution until the end of the military conflict.
The glorious workers' militias... are facing the danger of being transformed into a regular army which doesn't offer the least safeguard to the working class."
In this leaflet, the Friends of Durruti draw attention to the threat that the 'public order' project for Catalonia was posing. The project was postponed but was to raise its head again. It aimed to replace the revolutionary forces in the rear with a repressive body, "neutral, amorphous, capitulating in the face of the counter revolution". Prophetically, the Friends of Durruti added that "if such plans come to hold sway, it will not be long before we once again fill the prisons. "
During the May days they published a leaflet and a manifesto which were warmly received by the workers. Here are the contents of the leaflet (written in the midst of the action, the style is sober).
"CNT-FAI, 'Friends of Durruti' grouping:
Workers, let us not abandon the streets. A revolutionary junta. Execution of the guilty. Disarming of the armed bodies. Socialisation of the economy. Dissolution of the political parties who have attacked the working class. We salute our comrades of the POUM (Workers party of Marxist unity) who have been at our sides in the streets. Long live the social revolution!"
But who made up the "Friends of Durruti"? They called themselves an 'agrupacion', that is to say, not a group, but more a grouping, a rallying. They were all CNT activists, many were also members of the militias who had not agreed with militarisation, some had even left the militias when militarisation had been put in place. Others were members of the popular patrols. A good number of them were still at the front in the predominantly confederal units which had emerged from the 'iron column', the 'Durruti column' and others. But after the May days they were slandered, treated as 'uncontrollables', as 'provocateurs', even as Stalinist agents by the leadership of the CNT and FAI, or as fascist agents by the Stalinists and their allies.
It should be added that the officials of the libertarian movement were to voluntarily classify them as Trotskyists, due to their courageous defence of the POUM and its activists. The Trotskyists, extremely happy with this godsend, tried to give some credence to the rumour. Recently, issue 10 of 'cahiers Leon Trotski' (published by the institution of the same name which is made up of various groups of the Trotskyist persuasion) published a study by F.M. Aranda on the "Friends of Durruti". The author laboriously attempts to demonstrate the collaboration between these militants and the Trotskyists of the period. What is the truth of the matter?
The sole established fact, out of all the alleged secret agreements, is the relations between a few of the Friends of Durruti and one, yes one single Trotskyist activist, as it happens the German Hans Davis Freund, known by the pseudonym Moulin. Nothing is said about the nature of these relations, none of the names of the members of the "Friends of Durruti" in question is specified... But this seems sufficient to this 'historian' to speak of a "close association"! On page 83 of the same issue of the same publication, Pierre Brouff recalls, more honestly, that the "Friends of Durruti" "rejected a meeting to plan common activities"...the file is thus extremely thin.
As for the defence of the POUM, this would appear logical. The Stalinists wanted to destroy the POUM, which opposed their hegemony and defended the victims of the Moscow show-trials. Not being able to directly take on the CNT-FAI, the Stalinists blocked every alliance which was independent of them (for example the collaboration between the libertarian youth and the POUM's youth wing). We have seen that the leaders of the CNT-FAI accepted the expulsion of the POUM from the government but that in May 1937, the libertarian workers fought side-by-side with those of the POUM.
Having said this, it should be pointed out that the politics of the POUM leadership was as disastrous as that of the CNT-FAI.
In fact, the myth of the Trotskyism of the Friends of Durruti came from the libertarian movement and the Trotskyists tried to give the myth a significance which it never had. They took advantage of the fact that the anarchist leaders, rejecting all rigorous analysis coming from their own ranks, were trying to discredit the "Friends of Durruti" and were assisting in their repression. In a milieu where the worst insult was to be labelled a 'Marxist', this also allowed them to avoid dealing with their urgent problems and their proper responsibilities.
In any case, the "Friends of Durruti", who went on to publish a newspaper instead of leaflets as their mouthpiece, were to stridently stand their ground, proclaiming their adherence to revolutionary anarchism despite the disavowals and slanders that the highest circles of the official libertarian movement never failed to hurl at them. This paper EL Amigo del Pueblo, the people's friend, was published from July to September 1937, in eight issues. In the first issue, on page 4, two long articles throw light on the attachment of the Friends of Durruti to the libertarian movement. We read, in an article entitled
"Introducing ourselves. Why we are publishing, what do we want, where are we going?.
We have appeared publicly without in the least wanting to engage in personal squabbles. Our aims are loftier. The success of our aspirations is measured in days of triumph and passion for our ideas and desires.
We feel a pure love for the National Confederation of Labour and for the Anarchist Federation of Iberia. But this very attachment which we profess for these organisations which is of the same s
Thu 17 Apr, 03:04
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