National Confederation of Trabajo (CNT)
The Anarchist movement in Spain was the strongest in Europe. The main support came from the industrial workers of Barcelona and in 1911 activists formed the anarcho-syndicalist trade union, the National Confederation of Trabajo (CNT). The CNT was a union that was willing to accept peasants and unskilled workers who had no opportunity to join unions in their own area.
The CNT was a union that believed in the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. Members hoped that this would eventually take place after the calling of a general strike. Although the CNT operated as a trade union, it also contained subgroups such as Solidarios, a terrorist group led by Buenaventura Durruti.
In 1921 Miguel Primo de Rivera banned the CNT. It now became an underground organization and in 1927 an inner-core of activist established the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI). The FAI was strong in Catalonia and Aragón and members made several unsuccessful attempts to assassinate Alfonso XIII.
After the overthrow of Alfonso XIII the CNT was legalized by the Second Republic. The CNT now reorganized itself into a national labour union. Juan Peiró, the secretary of the CNT argued that collaboration with the government was more effective than terrorism in achieving social reforms. This upset the FAI and they managed to get him ousted as editor of the Solidaridad Obrero, the major newspaper of the CNT.
The success of the right-wing CEDA in the November 1933 elections helped to reunite the warring factions in the CNT. In the next general elections the CNT and FAI supported socialists and other radical candidates. This action enabled the Popular Front government to be established in February 1936.
On the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War the CNT was the largest labour union in Spain. Its immediate response to threat from the military uprising was to reunite with the Federación Anarquista Ibérica. During the first few months of the fighting the CNT held a dominant position in Málaga, Valencia and Barcelona. It also played a prominent role in Castellón, Gijón and Cuenca.
The CNT-FAI set up the Antifascist Militias Committee in Barcelona on 24th July 1936. The committee immediately sent Buenaventura Durruti and 3,000 Anarchists to Aragón in an attempt to take the Nationalist held Saragossa.
Over the first few weeks of the Spanish Civil War an estimated 100,000 men joined Anarcho-Syndicalists militias. Anarchists also established the Iron Column, many of whose 3,000 members were former prisoners. In Guadalajara, Cipriano Mera, leader of the CNT construction workers in Madrid, formed the Rosal Column.
At the beginning of November, 25,000 Nationalist troops under General Jose Varela had reached the western and southern suburbs of Madrid. Five days later he was joined by General Hugo Sperrle and the Condor Legion. This began the siege of Madrid that was to last for nearly three years. On 14th November Buenaventura Durruti arrived in Madrid from Aragón with his Anarchist Brigade. Six days later Durruti was killed while fighting on the outskirts of the city. Durruti's supporters in the CNT-FAI claimed that he had been murdered by members of the Communist Party (PCE).
The Popular Front government attempted to bring the Anarchist Brigades under the control of the Republican Army. At first the Anarcho-Syndicalists resisted and attempted to retain hegemony over their units. This proved impossible when the government made the decision to only pay and supply militias that subjected themselves to unified command and structure.
In the first year of the Spanish Civil War the CNT tried to reorganize the Spanish economy. National and regional conferences of peasants, communication workers, metal workers and railway employees made efforts to introduce collectivization.
In September 1936 José Giral was replaced by Francisco Largo Caballero as prime minister. Largo Caballero brought into his government several left-wing radicals into his government including four anarchists, Juan Garcia Oliver (Justice), Juan López (Commerce), Federica Montseny (Health) and Juan Peiró (Industry).
After taking power Largo Caballero concentrated on winning the war and did not pursue his policy of social revolution. In an effort to gain the support of foreign governments, he announced that his administration was "not fighting for socialism but for democracy and constitutional rule."
In order to help the war effort against the Nationalist Army, on 26th November 1936, the CNT and the UGT merged some of its activities. This had a moderating influence on its policies. This upset the left-wing of the CNT who were concerned by the growing influence of the Communist Party (PCE) in the government. Their fears were reinforced by the attacks on CNT members during the May Riots.
The Juan Negrin government gradually prohibited strikes, altered labour agreements and broke up industrial collectives. When members of the CNT attempted to resist these moves they were arrested.
(1) Ilya Ehrenburg, letter sent to Marcel Rosenberg (17th September, 1936)
I spoke with Garcia Oliver. He was also in a frenzied state. Intransigent. At the same time that Lopez, the leader of the Madrid syndicalists, was declaring to me that they had not permitted and would not permit attacks on the Soviet Union in the CNT newspaper, Oliver declared that they had said that they were "criticizing" the Soviet Union because it was not an ally, since it had signed the non-interference pact, and so on. Durruti, who has been at the front, has learned a lot, whereas Oliver, in Barcelona, is still nine-tenths anarchist ravings. For instance, he is against a unified command on the Aragon front; a unified command is necessary only when a general offensive begins. Sandino, who was present during this part of the conversation, spoke out for a unified command. They touched on the question of mobilization and the transformation of the militia into an army. Durruti made much of the mobilization plans (I do not know why - there are volunteers but no guns). Oliver said that he agreed with Durruti, since "Communists and Socialists are hiding themselves in the rear and pushing the FAI-ists out of the cities and villages." At this point he was almost raving. I would not have been surprised if he had shot me.
I spoke with Trueba, the PSUC (Communist) political commissar. He complained about the FAI-ists. They are not giving our men ammunition. We have only thirty-six bullets left per man. The anarchists have reserves of a million and a half. Colonel Villalba's soldiers only have a hundred cartridges each. He cited many instances of the petty tyrannies of FAI. People from the CNT complained to me that Fronsosa, the leader of PSUC, gave a speech at a demonstration in San Boi in which he said that the Catalans should not be given even one gun, since the guns would just fall into the hands of the anarchists. In general, during the ten days that I was in Catalonia, relations between Madrid and the generalitat on the one hand, and that between the Communists and the anarchists on the other, became very much more strained. Companys is wavering; either he gravitates toward the anarchists, who have agreed to recognize the national and even nationalistic demands of the Esquerra, or he depends on the PSUC in the struggle against FAI. His circle is divided between supporters of the former and of the latter solutions. If the situation on the Talavera front worsens, we can expect him to come out on one or the other side. We must improve relations between the PSUC and the CNT and then try to get closer to Companys.
In Valencia our party is working well, and the influence of the UGT is growing. But the CNT has free rein there. The governor takes their side completely. This is what happened when I was there: sixty anarchists with two machine-guns turned up from the front, as their commander had been killed. In Valencia they burned the archives and then wanted to break into the prison to free the criminals. The censor (this is under Lopez, the leader of the CNT) prohibited our newspaper from reporting about any of this outrage, and in the CNT paper there was a note that the "free masses destroyed the law archives as part of the accursed past."
(2) Cyril Connolly, New Statesman (21st November 1936)
It is in Barcelona that the full force of the anarchist revolution becomes apparent. Their initials, CNT and FAI, are everywhere. They have taken over all the hotels, restaurants, cafes, trains, taxis, and means of communication, as well as all theatres, cinemas, and places of amusement. Their first act was to abolish the tip as being incompatible with the dignity of those who receive it, and to attempt to give one is the only act, short of making the Fascist salute, that a foreigner can be disliked for.
Spanish anarchism is a doctrine which has gone through three stages. The first was the conception of pure anarchy which grew out of the writings of Rousseau, Proudhon, Godwin, and to a lesser extent, Diderot and Tolstoy. The essence of this anarchist faith is that there exists in mankind a natural trend towards nobility and dignity; human relations based on a love of liberty combined with a desire to help each other (as shown for instance in the mutual generosity of the poor in slum districts in cases of sickness and distress) should in themselves be enough, given education and the right economic conditions, to provide a working basis for people to live on; State interference, armies, property, would be as superfluous as they were to the early Christians. The anarchist paradise would be one in which the instincts towards freedom, justice, intelligence and "bondad" in the human race develop gradually to the exclusion of all thoughts of personal gain, envy, and malice. But there exist two stumbling blocks to this ideal - the desire to make money and the desire to acquire power. Everybody who makes money or acquires power, according to the anarchists, does so to the detriment of himself and at the expense of other people, and as long as these instincts are allowed free run there will always be war, tyranny, and exploitation. Power and money must therefore be abolished altogether. At this point the second stage of anarchism begins, that which arises from the thought of Bakunin, the contemporary of Marx. He added the rider that the only way to abolish power and money was by direct action on the bourgeoisie in whom these instincts were incurably ingrained, and who took advantage of all liberal legislation, all concessions from the workers, to get more power and more money for themselves. "The rich will do everything for the poor but get off their backs," Tolstoy has said. "Then they must be blown off," might have been Bakunin's corollary. From this time (the Eighties) dates militant anarchism with its crimes of violence and assassination. In most of its strongholds, Italy, Germany, Russia, it was either destroyed by Fascism or absorbed by Communism, which has usually seemed more practical, realisable, and adaptable to industrial countries; but in Spain the innate love of individual freedom, a personal dignity of the people, made them prefer it to Russian Communism, and the persecution which it underwent was never sufficient to blot it out.
Finally, in the last few years it has gone through a third transformation; in spite of its mystical appeal to the heart anarchism has always been an elastic and adaptable faith, and looking round for a suitable machinery to replace State centralisation it found syndicalism, to which it is now united. Syndicalism is a system of vertical rather than horizontal Trade Unions, by which, for instance, all the workers on this paper, editors, reviewers, printers and distributors, would delegate members to a syndicate which would negotiate with other syndicates for the housing, feeding, amusements, etc., of all the body. This anarcho-syndicalism through its organ, the CNT, has been able to get control of all the industries and agriculture of Catalonia and much of that in Andalusia, Valencia and Murcia, forming a more or less solid block from Malaga to the French frontier with considerable power also in the Asturias and Madrid. The executive militant spearhead of the body is the Federacion Anarquistica Iberica, usually pronounced as one word, FAI, which partly owing to acts of terrorism, partly to its former illegality, is clothed in mystery today. It is almost impossible to find out who and how many belong to it.
The ideal of the CNT and the FAI is libertarian Communism, a Spain in which the work and wealth is shared by all, about three hours' work a day being enough to entitle anyone to sufficient food, clothing, education, amusement, transport, and medical attention. It differs from Communism because there must be no centralisation, no bureaucracy, and no leaders; if somebody does not want to do something, the anarchists argue, no good will come of making them do it. They point to Stalin's dictatorship as an example of the evils inherent in Communism. The danger of anarchism, one might argue, is that it has become such a revolutionary weapon that it may never know what to do with the golden age when it has it, and may exhaust itself in a perpetual series of counter-revolutions. Yet it should be an ideal not unsympathetic to the English, who have always honoured freedom and individual eccentricity and whose liberalism and whiggery might well have turned to something very similar had they been harassed for centuries, like the Spanish proletariat, by absolute monarchs, militant clergy, army dictatorships and absentee landlords.
(3) Raymond Sender, The War in Spain (1937)
The rebels sowed desolation during the seven days in which the village was in their hands. There was not a single peasant's house in which some relation had not been murdered. The chiefs of the syndicate were marched on foot to the cemetery, where they were forced to dig their own graves. Whilst they were digging, the gentry of the Falange taunted them: "Don't you say that the earth is for those who labour in it? Now you see you are going to get your share. You can keep that piece of land over you until the Day of Judgement." Others of them said: "You needn't dig so deep; it is already deep enough for a dog's grave.' Or they would advise them to leave a little step where the head would lie, "so that they would be more comfortable." The peasants went on digging in silence. One of them tried to escape, but they caught him after wounding him in the leg. They compelled the unfortunate man to open a grave, telling him that it was for someone else, and when that was done they made him lie down at full length in it, "to see if it would hold a human body." When he had done so, they fired on him and without seeing if he had been killed, ordered the grave-digger to fill in the grave. He said to them: "He seems to be moving still." The Falangists pointed their revolvers at him and warned him to take care, because "many a man is hung by his tongue."
(4) Edward Knoblaugh, Correspondent in Spain (1937)
Largo Caballero began to realize the need for immediate drastic action. As president of the U.G.T., he summoned the sub-leaders of this Revolutionary Socialist group and impressed upon them the desperateness of the situation. The result was a round-table conference among the U.G.T., the heads of the Syndicalists National Confederation of Labor (C.N.T.), The Federation of Iberian Anarchists (F.A.I.), The Trotsky Communists (Partido Obrero Unificado Marxists - P.O.U.M.), The Stalin Communists and the Left Republicans. In the first agreement which these divergent factions had been able to reach since the beginning of the war they approved the immediate mobilization of all able-bodied men in Loyalist territory. A decree to this effect was issued. Whether they wanted to join or not, all men between the ages of 20 and 45 were pressed into military service. From this moment on, the Loyalist army ceased to be a voluntary army.
(5) Ethel MacDonald, News From Spain (1937)
There is no doubt that the magnificent struggle of the Spanish workers challenges the entire theory and historical interpretation of parliamentary socialism. The civil war is a living proof of the futility and worthlessness of parliamentary democracy as a medium of social change. It clearly demonstrates that there is but one way, the way of direct action. And that but one class can make the change - the working class. Social democracy has lived too long. It is said Spain has killed it. And now it is merely necessary that the corrupted body be burned.
The struggle in Spain is maintained by the Anarchists and without the Anarchists the war would have been lost for the workers before this. And it is because of this fact that the Socialists, and those who call themselves Socialists, refuse to have anything to do with the Spanish Revolution. It is true that those persons organise collections for the poor children of Madrid who have lost their parents as the result of barbarous bombardments, and it is true that those persons are collecting clothes and food and dispatching them to Madrid. But that is all. The Spanish conflict is regarded as a case for charity, something on the same footing as the poor of the Salvation Army. This is typical of the social democrats. It exposes them clearly as petty bourgeoisie with hearts that beat warmly for the poor starving children of Madrid. But speak to them about the revolution and they gooseflesh all over. To them revolution is illegal and unlawful, and as good law abiding citizens and subjects, they refuse to have any association with it. That is the treachery that is perpetrated on the working-class by those individuals and parties. They claim to be socialists and with that label attached to them they seduce the working-class.
(6) Manchester Guardian (31st August 1936)
Life in Malaga goes on calmly enough on the surface. There are, of course, the burned houses and the flags, and one sees fewer well-dressed people than in ordinary times.
Only foreigners wear a tie, for ties are now the sign that one is a "senorito." The letters U.G.T., C.N.T., U.H.P., F.A.I., and a good many more denoting the various parties are painted on walls, on cars and lorries, on trees, on any surface that will take them. One cannot buy a melon in the market-place that has not got some initials scratched on it. There are also a good many militia about, dressed in their new uniforms of blue cotton overalls with red armlets.
The Committee system which come into existence in Spain when popular feeling, impatient of corrupt and incompetent bureaucratic methods, demands some outlet in action. But there is one committee new to Spain - the Committee of Public Health and Safety, - which came into existence on the day on which the Governor left the city, the 12th of this month. It is the Spanish equivalent of the Russian Cheka.
Here is a brief description of the workings of the committees in general. At the head is the Comité de Enlace, or Union, which decides the general policy. It is composed of twenty members, one of whom is the Governor, who seems otherwise to have only nominal powers, and it supervises all the other committees, those of Supply, of Labour, or Transport, of War, of Public Health and Safety, and so on. All the various parties of the Left, from Republicans to Anarchists, sit on these committees, and my impression of their work is that they are remarkably efficient. The ordinary machinery of Spanish local government could never have done half as much.
The Committee of Public Health and Safety investigates charges of hostility to the regime, provides safe conducts, organises search parties for wanted people, and shoots them. In five days it shot well over a hundred people in Malaga alone. To begin with it shot some thirty prisoners who were kept on a ship in the harbour. Some of these were senior police officers who refused to join the Government; others were prominent people of the Right; one was a marquesa caught using a private transmitting set. They were taken to a cemetery and shot. Then came the people who were dragged out of their houses at night, put in cars, driven off to some quiet road, and killed there. Their only crime as a rule was affiliation to the Ceda, the Right Catholic party, or their having offended some workman or other. Some of these people have been killed with shocking violence. One I saw had his head bashed in; another who had not died at the first volley had had his throat cut; others had their fingers, ears, or noses sliced off, after death, of course; they are cut off to be taken away as trophies.
The men who do this belong to the F.A.I., the anarchist organisation which is so extended in Barcelona and Saragossa and also provides the shock troops and gunmen for the Fascist party, Falange Espanola. They buy them by giving them work at good wages, with extra payment for assassinations, and as the membership of the Falange is secret they often remain at the same time both Fascists and anarchists.
But there has been a great change in the last few days. The anarchist bands who were dragging harmless people out of their houses after midnight and shooting them have been put down. Some have been shot, and militia patrol the streets and have orders to fire on any cars with armed men in them whom they see about after midnight. No one can be arrested and no house searched without a warrant signed by the Governor. The Committee of Public Safety have advisory powers only.
Another change is that red flags have been forbidden, and, except in some of the poorer quarters, the only colours now to be seen are the Republican. The explanation of this is that there has been a tightening up of the "Popular Front" in Madrid. The Governor of Malaga, who had just returned from a conference there, told me that an agreement had been arrived at between the Republican parties and the Socialist and Communist parties, with all their affiliated bodies, by which any form of Communism or dictatorship of the proletariat was entirely ruled out.
It seems hardly worth while, in the shambles that Spain is becoming, to deny any stories of atrocities. Yet I would like to say that reports published in the English papers of nuns led about naked in the streets of Malaga are the purest invention; on the contrary, they were taken either to the Town Hall for safety or to their own houses and were treated with perfect respect throughout. Sisters of Charity still go about the streets in their uniforms. Those killed are killed brutally but quickly; the truth by itself, without ornaments, is bad enough.
Yesterday some bombs were dropped in Malaga. A tank of oil and a smaller supply of petrol were set on fire, making a prodigious blaze, but other bombs that fell on a popular quarter killed about forty people and wounded a hundred and fifty, mostly women and children. If Germans had been living all over London during the last war and if the whole of the police and almost every soldier had been at the front I think there might have been some lynchings after air raids.
And, in fact, a mob marched that evening to the prison, took out forty-five prisoners, and shot them. Those who point to atrocities of this sort on the Government side often forget the provocation and the circumstances. When soldiers and police have to go to the front because other soldiers and police have rebelled, who is left to keep order among an enraged population?
(7) Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko,General Consul of the Soviet Union in Barcelona , top secret document sent to NKVD (14th October, 1936)
The relationship between our people (the Communists) and the anarcho-syndicalists is becoming ever more strained. Every day, delegates and individual comrades appear before the CC of the Unified Socialist Party with statements about the excesses of the anarchists. In places it has come to armed clashes. Not long ago in a settlement of Huesca near Barbastro twenty-five members of the UGT were killed by the anarchists in a surprise attack provoked by unknown reasons. In Molins de Rei, workers in a textile factory stopped work, protesting against arbitrary dismissals. Their delegation to Barcelona was driven out of the train, but all the same fifty workers forced their way to Barcelona with complaints for the central government, but now they are afraid to return, anticipating the anarchists' revenge. In Pueblo Nuevo near Barcelona, the anarchists have placed an armed man at the doors of each of the food stores, and if you do not have a food coupon from the CNT, then you cannot buy anything. The entire population of this small town is highly excited. They are shooting up to fifty people a day in Barcelona. (Miravitlles told me that they were not shooting more than four a day).
Relations with the Union of Transport Workers are strained. At the beginning of 1934 there was a protracted strike by the transport workers. The government and the "Esquerra" smashed the strike. In July of this year, on the pretext of revenge against the scabs, the CNT killed more than eighty men, UGT members, but not one Communist among them. They killed not only actual scabs but also honest revolutionaries. At the head of the union is Comvin, who has been to the USSR, but on his return he came out against us. Both he and, especially, the other leader of the union - Cargo - appear to be provocateurs. The CNT, because of competition with the hugely growing UGT, are recruiting members without any verification. They have taken especially many lumpen from the port area of Barrio Chino.
They have offered our people two posts in the new government - Council of Labour and the Council of Municipal Work - but it is impossible for the Council of Labour to institute control over the factories and mills without clashing sharply with the CNT, and as for municipal services, one must clash with the Union of Transport Workers, which is in the hands of the CNT. Fabregas, the councillor for the economy, is a "highly doubtful sort." Before he joined the Esquerra, he was in the Accion Popular; he left the Esquerra for the CNT and now is playing an obviously provocative role, attempting to "deepen the revolution" by any means. The metallurgical syndicate just began to put forward the slogan "family wages." The first "producer in the family" received 100 percent wages, for example seventy pesetas a week, the sec- ond member of the family 50 percent, the third 25 percent, the fourth, and so on, up to 10 percent. Children less than sixteen years old only 10 percent each, This system of wages is even worse than egalitarianism. It kills both production and the family.
In Madrid there are up to fifty thousand construction workers. Caballero refused to mobilize all of them for building fortifications around Madrid ("and what will they eat") and gave a total of a thousand men for building the fortifications. In Estremadura our Comrade Deputy Cordon is fighting heroically. He could arm five thousand peasants but he has a detachment of only four thousand men total. Caballero under great pressure agreed to give Cordon two hundred rifles, as well. Meanwhile, from Estremadura, Franco could easily advance into the rear, toward Madrid. Caballero implemented an absolutely absurd compensation for the militia - ten pesetas a day, besides food and housing. Farm labourers in Spain earn a total of two pesetas a day and, feeling very good about the militia salary in the rear, do not want to go to the front. With that, egalitarianism was introduced. Only officer specialists receive a higher salary. A proposal made to Caballero to pay soldiers at the rear five pesetas and only soldiers at the front ten pesetas was turned down. Caballero is now disposed to put into effect the institution of political commissars, but in actual fact it is not being done. In fact, the political commissars introduced into the Fifth Regiment have been turned into commanders, for there are none of the latter. Caballero also supports the departure of the government from Madrid. After the capture of Toledo, this question was almost decided, but the anarchists were categorically against it, and our people proposed that the question be withdrawn as inopportune. Caballero stood up for the removal of the government to Cartagena. They proposed sounding out the possibility of basing the government in Barcelona. Two ministers - Prieto and Jimenez de Asua - left for talks with the Barcelona government. The Barcelona government agreed to give refuge to the central government. Caballero is sincere but is a prisoner to syndicalist habits and takes the statutes of the trade unions too literally.
The UGT is now the strongest organization in Catalonia: it has no fewer than half the metallurgical workers and almost all the textile workers, municipal workers, service employees, bank employees. There are abundant links to the peasantry. But the CNT has much better cadres and has many weapons, which were seized in the first days (the anarchists sent to the front fewer than 60 percent of the thirty thousand rifles and three hundred machine guns that they seized).
(8) Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, General Consul of the Soviet Union in Barcelona , top secret document sent to NKVD (18th October, 1936)
My conversations with Garcia Oliver and with several other CNT members, and their latest speeches, attest to the fact that the leaders of the CNT have an honest and serious wish to concentrate all forces in a strengthened united front and on the development of military action against the fascists. I must note that the PSUC is not free from certain instances that hamper the "consolidation of a united front": in particular, although the Liaison Commission has just been set up, the party organ Treball suddenly published an invitation to the CNT and the FAI that, since the experience with the Liaison Commission had gone so well, the UGT and the PSUC had suggested that the CNT and the FAI create even more unity in the form of an action commission. This kind of suggestion was taken by leaders of the FAI as simply a tactical maneuver. Comrade Valdes and Comrade Sese did not hide from me that the just-mentioned suggestion was meant to "talk to the masses of the CNT over the heads of their leaders." The same sort of note was sounded at the appearance of Comrade Comorera at the PSUC and UGT demonstration on 18 October - on the one hand, a call for protecting and developing the united front and, on the other, boasting about the UGT's having a majority among the working class in Catalonia, accusing the CNT and the FAI of carrying out a forced collectivization of the peasants, of hiding weapons, and even of murdering "our comrades."
The PSUC leaders-designate agreed with me that such tactics were completely wrong and expressed their intention to change them. I propose that we get together in the near future with a limited number of representatives of the CNT and the FAI to work out a concrete program for our next action.
In the near future, the PSUC intends to bring forward the question on reorganizing the management of military industry. At this point the Committee on Military Industry works under the chairmanship of Tarradellas, but the main role in the committee is played by Vallejos (from the FAI). The PSUC proposes to put together leadership from representatives from all of the organizations, to group the factories by specialty, and to place at the head of each group a commissar, who would answer to the government.
The evaluation by Garcia Oliver and other CNT members of the Madrid government seems well founded to me. Caballero's attitude toward the question of attracting the CNT into that or any other form of government betrays his obstinate incomprehension of that question's importance. Without the participation of the CNT, it will not, of course, be possible to create the appropriate enthusiasm and discipline in the people's militia/Republican militia.
The information concerning the intentions of the Madrid government for a timely evacuation from Madrid was confirmed. This widely disseminated information undermines confidence in the central government to an extraordinary degree and paralyzes the defense of Madrid.
(9) George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia (1938)
Roughly speaking, the C.N.T.-F.A.I. stood for: (1) Direct control over industry by the workers engaged in each industry, e.g. transport, the textile factories, etc.; (2) Government by local committees and resistance to all forms of centralized authoritarianism; (3) Uncompromising hostility to the bourgeoisie and the Church. The last point, though the least precise, was the most important.
The Anarchists were the opposite of the majority of so-called revolutionaries in so much that though their principles were rather vague their hatred of privilege and injustice was perfectly genuine. Philosophically, Communism and Anarchism are poles apart. Practically - i.e. in the form of society aimed at - the difference is mainly one of emphasis, but it is quite irreconcilable. The Communist's emphasis is always on centralism and efficiency, the Anarchist's on liberty and equality.
Anarchism is deeply rooted in Spain and is likely to outlive Communism when the Russian influence is withdrawn. During the first two months of the war it was the Anarchists more than anyone else who had saved the situation, and much later than this the Anarchist militia, in spite of their indiscipline, were notoriously the best fighters among the purely Spanish forces.
From about February 1937 onwards the Anarchists and the P.O.U.M. could to some extent be lumped together. If the Anarchists, the P.O.U.M. and the Left wing of the Socialists had had the sense to combine at the start and press a realistic policy, the history of the war might have been different. But in the early period, when the revolutionary parties seemed to have the game in their hands, this was impossible. Between the Anarchists and the Socialists there were ancient jealousies, the P.O.U.M., as Marxists, were sceptical of Anarchism, while from the pure Anarchist standpoint the 'Trotskyism' of the P.O.U.M. was not much preferable to the 'Stalinism' of the Communists. Nevertheless the Communist tactics tended to drive the two parties together. When the P.O.U.M. joined in the disastrous fighting in Barcelona in May, it was mainly from an instinct to stand by the C.N.T., And later, when the P.O.U.M. Was suppressed, the Anarchists were the only people who dared to raise a voice in its defence.
So, roughly speaking, the alignment of forces was this. On the one side the C.N.T.-F.A.I., the P.O.U.M., And a section of the Socialists, standing for workers' control: on the other side the Right-wing Socialists, Liberals, and Communists, standing for centralized government and a militarized army.
(10) Emma Goldman, speech at the International Working Men's Association in Paris (1937)
I have seen from the moment of my first arrival in Spain in September 1936 that our comrades in Spain are plunging head foremost into the abyss of compromise that will lead them far away from their revolutionary aim. Subsequent events have proved that those of us who saw the danger ahead were right. The participation of the CNT-FAI in the government, and concessions to the insatiable monster in Moscow, have certainly not benefited the Spanish revolution, or even the anti-fascist struggle. Yet closer contact with reality in Spain, with the almost insurmountable odds against the
aspirations of the CNT-FAI, made me understand their tactics better, and helped me to guard against any dogmatic judgment of our comrades.
The revolution in Spain was the result of a military and fascist conspiracy. The first imperative need that presented itself to the CNT-FAI was to drive out the conspiratorial gang. The fascist danger had to be met with almost bare hands. In this process the Spanish workers and peasants soon came to see that their enemies were not only Franco and his Moorish hordes. They soon found themselves besieged by formidable armies and an array of modern arms furnished to Franco by Hitler and Mussolini, with all the imperialist pack playing their sinister under-handed game. In other words, while the Russian Revolution and the civil war were being fought out on Russian soil and by Russians, the Spanish revolution and antifascist war involves all the powers of Europe. It is no exaggeration to say that the Spanish Civil War has spread out far beyond its own confines.
With the most fervent desire to aid the revolution in Spain, our comrades outside of it were neither numerically nor materially strong enough to turn the tide. Thus finding themselves up against a stone wall, the CNT-FAI was forced to descend from its lofty traditional heights to compromise right and left: participation in the government, all sorts of humiliating overtures to Stalin, superhuman tolerance for his henchmen who were openly plotting and conniving against the Spanish revolution.
Of all the unfortunate concessions our people have made, their entry into ministries seemed to me the least offensive. No, I have not changed my attitude toward government as an evil. As all through my life, I still hold that the State is a cold monster, and that it devours everyone within its reach. Did I not know that the Spanish people see in government a mere makeshift, to be kicked overboard at will, that they had never been deluded and corrupted by the parliamentary myth, I should perhaps be more alarmed for the future of the CNT-FAI. But with Franco at the gate of Madrid, I could hardly blame the CNT-FAI for choosing a lesser evil - participation in the government rather than dictatorship, the most deadly evil.
Russia has more than proven the nature of this beast. After twenty years it still thrives on the blood of its makers. Nor is its crushing weight felt in Russia alone. Since Stalin began his invasion of Spain, the march of his henchmen has been leaving death and ruin behind them. Destruction of numerous collectives, the introduction of the Cheka with its 'gentle' methods of treating political opponents, the arrest of thousands of revolutionaries, and the murder in broad daylight of others. All this and more, has Stalin's dictatorship given Spain, when he sold arms to the Spanish people in return for good gold. Innocent of the Jesuitical trick of 'our beloved comrade' Stalin, the CNT-FAI could not imagine in their wildest dreams the unscrupulous designs hidden behind the seeming solidarity in the offer of arms from Russia.
Their need to meet Franco's military equipment was a matter of life and death. The Spanish people had not a moment to lose if they were not to be crushed. What wonder if they saw in Stalin the saviour of the antifascist war? They have since learned that Stalin helped to make Spain safe against the fascists so as to make it safer for his own ends.
The critical comrades are not at all wrong when they say that it does not seem worthwhile to sacrifice one ideal in the struggle against fascism, if it only means to make room for Soviet Communism. I am entirely of their view - that there is no difference between them. My own consolation is that with all their concentrated criminal efforts, Soviet Communism has not taken root in Spain. I know whereof I speak. On my recent visit to Spain I had ample opportunity to convince myself that the Communists have failed utterly to win the sympathies of the masses; quite the contrary. They have never been so hated by the workers and peasants as now.
(11) Jane Patrick, CNT-FAI radio broadcast (29th March, 1937)
What do you think of the situation in Spain now? Do you think that the revolution is progressing? For my part I see it slipping, slipping, and that has been the position for some time. However, perhaps it will be possible for it to be saved. Let us hope so, but it seems to me that reaction is gaining a stronger hold each day. What do you expect Britain and France to do about Italy, now that she has so openly declared her intentions? Do you think they will rush an armistice or will they just let things slide? In my opinion they cannot afford to let things slide as there is no limit to what the Duce will do, and I don't think they will be prepared to declare war, so the only alternative, so as as I can see, is an armistice. I think an armistice would be a disgraceful thing, and the Anarchists of Spain would not stand for it. But I am afraid the government cannot be trusted. The government and its Communist Party allies are capable of anything. What will follow? Of course, I do not know what will take place. It is all speculation on my part but things seem to me to be in a very bad way.