Why did the CNT throw it away?

88 posts / 0 new
Last post
Divisive Cottonwood
Offline
Joined: 15-08-04
Sep 20 2006 19:02
Why did the CNT throw it away?

I've watched Libertarias now about three times over the last month.

For those that haven't seen it it really is the best film on the Spanish Civil War - in fact, it could well be one of my favourite films of all time...

I really should read more about the Spanish Civil War - I need to buy the latest revised edition of Beavor's history book.

But I wonder - how did the Communist Party get the upper hand in so short a space of time?

In 1936 the CNT had 3m members while the Spanish Communist Party had only 50,000.

After the Russian Revolution there was 'The Platform' that attempted to right some of the strategic weaknesses that lead the isolation and defeat of Russian anarchism. Has there ever been something comparable in Spain?

xYosefx's picture
xYosefx
Offline
Joined: 14-09-06
Sep 20 2006 22:32

I'd recommend reading Lessons of the Spanish Revolution by Vernon Richards. He does an excellent job explaining exactly how & why the cenetista leadership handed power to the CP on a platter. Another excellent text that covers this is The Spanish Revolution: The Left and the Struggle for Poewer during the Civil War by Burnett Bolloten, which is a revised and much-expanded version of his classic work The Grand Camouflage. Hope this helps.

Blacknred Ned
Offline
Joined: 19-06-06
Sep 20 2006 22:48

I should say steer clear of Beavor's book, frankly I'd be surprised if you learned anything from it about the Revolution. Btw Bookchin's The Spanish Anarchists is worth looking at.

Volin's picture
Volin
Offline
Joined: 24-01-05
Sep 20 2006 23:06

Hi,

The answers are *looks up anarchist quiz book*;

1. The United Front/Anti-Fascism (whereby the working class joined with bourgeois and reactionary forces, including the Communist Party to fight 'against fascism' rather than for its own interests), Soviet-backing (armaments and political support), Bureaucracy (even as democratic as the CNT tried to be it still developed a considerable bureaucratic organisation come the main uprisings) and -dare I say it- Unionism (many would argue that syndicalism, despite its gains, became an obstacle to revolutionary activity by independent workers that ultimately challenged its existence as an organisation - working in the context of wage labour).

2. Towards a Fresh Revolution by The Friends of Durruti. Not 'platformist' but as any good Makhnovista will tell you, within the same line of thought, and crucial if limited in understanding what went wrong.

-

Nah, it's not quite that simple, but in the many discussions we've had these are definitely common points.

The Spanish Anarchists by Bookchin is super, but it only leads events up to the coup itself. I'd probably say Jose Peirat's Anarchists in the Spanish Revolution would be required reading, but I haven't read it yet!

Steven.'s picture
Steven.
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Sep 21 2006 09:22

Yeah it is quite shocking how it happened. I think a big factor would be armaments - the Russians would provide them, but only to Communist-controlled divisions. Communists infiltrated positions of influence within the military - made influential by their push towards militarisation and hierarchy, and did things like starve anarchist units of arms and send them on the most dangerous missions with the highest casualties. The failure of the anarchists to loot the national bank (as durruti wanted to) left them pretty much unable to purchase arms themselves I believe...

Joseph Kay's picture
Joseph Kay
Offline
Joined: 14-03-06
Sep 21 2006 09:45
John. wrote:
The failure of the anarchists to loot the national bank (as durruti wanted to) left them pretty much unable to purchase arms themselves I believe...

really? wasn't that the downfall of the paris commune too? what is this anarchist fetishism of the integrity of bank vaults? pierre 'peoples' bank' proudhon has a lot to answer for.

i've gotta read more on spain actually, since there must be all sorts of practical lessons to be drawn, like rob the fucking bank ffs!

Steven.'s picture
Steven.
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Sep 21 2006 09:53
Joseph K. wrote:
John. wrote:
The failure of the anarchists to loot the national bank (as durruti wanted to) left them pretty much unable to purchase arms themselves I believe...

really? wasn't that the downfall of the paris commune too? what is this anarchist fetishism of the integrity of bank vaults?

Yeah I have no idea. I imagine it would be to preserve "respectability", particularly in terms of getting help from the "democracies", which the anarchists may have thought they would get...

Joseph Kay's picture
Joseph Kay
Offline
Joined: 14-03-06
Sep 21 2006 09:58

can we just say right now then, having learned the lessons of our revolutionary past, that should we find ourselves in a similar situation we'll ignore the liberals and rob the fucking bank? (or ideally have the bank workers syndicate open the vault for us tongue)

i'm not gonna be gunned down by SWP arms funded by galloway's oil cache without putting up a fight wink

BB
Offline
Joined: 12-08-04
Sep 21 2006 09:58

Hi Divisive.
I'd say get a lot of reading under your belt, check the books on the spanish civil war thread, i don't think it's quite as easy as blaming the CP, they had their shootings/imprisonment/influence. You had too major unions the UGT and the CNT, not to mention all the smaller unions and political groups, not including the fascist and falange groups, Germany and Italy.

A boring anecdote for you the first instance of carpet bombing took place in guernica, the condor legions commander (the german airforce in spain) was the nephew of the Red Baron World War one german fighter ace (Manfred von Richthofen).

Barcelona the stronghold of the CNT. Aragon, Libertarian communist comunities. Shit theres to much, I feel i could write a very lengthy piece here, too long...

For an overall, view on the war, Beevors book. It's worth reading.

For an overall, on the CNT/Revolution, Jose Peirat's Anarchists in the Spanish Revolution, although this is a compilation of the 3 books that Peirats wrote as CNT Historian, exiled in france, The CNT in the Spanish Revolution, Vol I by José Peirats.The CNT in the Spanish Revolution, Vol II by José Peirats. Both are available from christie books and the KSL. I'm not sure how part 3's coming along, it's being translated into english...

Towards a Fresh Revolution by The Friends of Durruti, this is a goody as Volin says. Especially covers the Maydays in Barcelona 37' as does the Bookchin book, The Spanish anarchists.

Good luck, i've been studying it for the last 10years, and i wouldn't say one book covers it all, well, not enough anyway. And i've mainly been studying the anarchist texts, i'll get onto the fascists/falange next.

Steven.'s picture
Steven.
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Sep 21 2006 10:03
BB wrote:
i'll get onto the fascists/falange next.

I did wonder what a fascist book about spain would be like... if you find a good one let us know yeah?

BB
Offline
Joined: 12-08-04
Sep 21 2006 10:05
Joseph K. wrote:
like rob the fucking bank ffs!

Can we go to the offie after that, or shall we just loot it as well, although that would mean a conflict with the autonomists on revolutionary discipline...

We want Bread & Roses, oh yeh and booze too!

BB
Offline
Joined: 12-08-04
Sep 21 2006 10:10
John. wrote:
BB wrote:
i'll get onto the fascists/falange next.

I did wonder what a fascist book about spain would be like... if you find a good one let us know yeah?

That's just made me think, what would the parameters be for a good fascist book, my brain is currently in conflict, dogma breakdown, does not compute...

Joseph Kay's picture
Joseph Kay
Offline
Joined: 14-03-06
Sep 21 2006 10:11

the only good fascist book is a dead fascist book wink

Nemo's picture
Nemo
Offline
Joined: 12-07-06
Sep 21 2006 10:13

I would assume that a good fascist book would be fire proof, so that it didn't get destroyed along with the bad non-fascist ones.

the button's picture
the button
Offline
Joined: 7-07-04
Sep 21 2006 10:15
BB wrote:
Joseph K. wrote:
like rob the fucking bank ffs!

Can we go to the offie after that, or shall we just loot it as well, although that would mean a conflict with the autonomists on revolutionary discipline...

We want Bread & Roses, oh yeh and booze too!

Or, if you did it the other way round, "We want booze.... and bread & roses.... and a kebab."

john
Offline
Joined: 9-07-06
Sep 21 2006 10:36

just one thing - if you rob the banks, you realize that makes the money meaningless, right?

I mean money doesn't have an intrinsic value - it's just a trusted repository of value that people use for the purpose of exchange. If you control all the money, but (because it's freely available as you've just robbed the bank) nobody trusts the value of the money - then the money itself becomes value-less.

This isn't an argument for not robbing banks, but just a point that I don't think robbing the banks will necessarily enrich a social movement in a revolutionary situation.

Joseph Kay's picture
Joseph Kay
Offline
Joined: 14-03-06
Sep 21 2006 10:44
john wrote:
just one thing - if you rob the banks, you realize that makes the money meaningless, right?

I mean money doesn't have an intrinsic value - it's just a trusted repository of value that people use for the purpose of exchange. If you control all the money, but (because it's freely available as you've just robbed the bank) nobody trusts the value of the money - then the money itself becomes value-less.

well the bank vaults in question would have contained large volumes of gold (though much less so than today, i would have thought). Unlike a currency collapsing on account of an insurgent proletariat, that gold would have had a value on the world market, and so could have funded arms.

how relevant this is today is up for grabs, its pretty much the case that any revolution would require widespread army defections/mutinies to succeed, its not all bolt-action rifles and hand made grenades anymore, and i don't fancy a 'revolutionary' guerrilla war ... Still, if large sections of the army joined a revolution, the BoE's gold reserves would still be better off in the hands of the workers' councils than the state or statists

john
Offline
Joined: 9-07-06
Sep 21 2006 10:48

oh, yeah, i suppose gold is different

i doubt the international institutions/US govt would allow large amounts of gold to be stolen and then sold on the international market, though

Joseph Kay's picture
Joseph Kay
Offline
Joined: 14-03-06
Sep 21 2006 10:51

i doubt arms dealers would care

god bless the free market tongue

Bobby
Offline
Joined: 22-09-05
Sep 21 2006 11:02

A range of factors which people have already mentioned on these boards not least the fact that the regional and central committees of the CNT were more committed to to putting 'anti-fascist unity' above social revolution. Niether do i think that it is as simple as suggesting that the cheerleaders from FAI were completely responsible for the CNT entering Govt as it seems that vast majority of rank and file in principle were supportive although the later events in May changed minds.
Hence we have, President Companys after the initial defeat of the fascist uprising saying,
"today you are the masters of the city(barcelona) and of course Catalonia because you alone have beaten the fascist army. If you do not need me, or if you do not want me as President of Catalonia, tell me know and i will be one more soldier in the struggle against fascism."

By Novemember after the CNT had entered Government columns of Solidaridad Obrera were claiming,
"The Government....has ceased to be a force of oppression for the workers. Similarly, the state is no longer an organism which divideds society into classes. And both will be even less oppressive with the participation of elements of the CNT."

Oh, how things had changed?

gav's picture
gav
Offline
Joined: 22-09-03
Sep 21 2006 11:10

If we ever get in a revolutionary position, we should invent a fictitious counter revolutionary faction. Then we start putting out statements that the faction will take back control of the country shortly, that the majority of military generals, senior police, politicians, business executives, etc are involved. Once we've sufficiently talked up this organisation, we launch 'war bonds' which can only be paid for with arms, oil, etc. The bond will guarantee for every one pound of goods sold now, remuneration of 20 pounds will be made after the successful crushing of the revolution. Then we tell the investors to drop off the guns at Luton airport, where we can conveniently pick them up, and get the Thameslink back to London.

martinh
Offline
Joined: 8-03-06
Sep 21 2006 11:18
Quote:
How did the CP get the upper hand in such a short space of time?

There are lots of factors. The CP grew exponentially after the revolution as the petit bourgeoisie and middle classes flocked to join it. It had the backing of one of the only 2 countries willing to sell the republic arms (the other being Mexico). Stalinists had been practicing backstabbing and manipulation for decades - while anarchists were in the main immune to this, it meant the Socialist parties and unions were easy prey for the CP. The CP's monopoly of arms was also used to great effect - famously CP-aligned police in Barcelona were better equipped than militias on the front. This is not surprising - they had much more to fear from the workers of Barcelona!

Nor should we forget that the CNT leadership explicitly rejected an "anarchist dictatorship" in July 36. While I think this is OK, what they should have done is smashed the state anyway and set up workers councils. There are all sorts of reasons that they didn't and hindsight is a wonderful thing. This has been gone over on loads of other threads before.

BTW, most Spanish anarchists, esp. the women, really don't like "Libertarias". I've not seen it so can't comment, but the CeNeTistas I've asked prefer "Land and Freedom".

Regards

martin

BB
Offline
Joined: 12-08-04
Sep 21 2006 11:19

Nice one Bobby!

Joseph Kay's picture
Joseph Kay
Offline
Joined: 14-03-06
Sep 21 2006 11:22
gav wrote:
... Once we've sufficiently talked up this organisation, we launch 'war bonds' which can only be paid for with arms, oil, etc ...

fucking genius mate grin

we need to invent an honorary medal of machiavellian anarchy for this kind of thing wink

we'd have to be careful it didn't take on a life of its own like al Qaeda mind neutral

AndrewF's picture
AndrewF
Offline
Joined: 28-02-05
Sep 21 2006 11:45
Volin wrote:
2. Towards a Fresh Revolution by The Friends of Durruti. Not 'platformist' but as any good Makhnovista will tell you, within the same line of thought, and crucial if limited in understanding what went wrong.

This is online at http://struggle.ws/fod/towardsintro.html and as a PDF at http://www.zabalaza.net

Also well worth reading is the translation of the AL publication 'The revolutionary message of the 'Friends of Durruti'' at http://struggle.ws/spain/FODtrans/preface.html PDF at http://struggle.ws/pdfs/fodmess.pdf

Incidentally Nick Heath had an obituary in Tuesdays Guardian for the last member of the FoD who just died in Britiian aged 99

Finally there is a huge amount of documentation on the Spanish revolution at http://struggle.ws/spaindx.html

BB
Offline
Joined: 12-08-04
Sep 21 2006 12:03
JoeBlack2 wrote:
Incidentally Nick Heath had an obituary in Tuesdays Guardian for the last member of the FoD who just died in Britiian aged 99

Cheers for that Joe, i've just picked it up off another poster i work with.

He went on to fight with the Iron Column. He'd written 3 books all in spanish, one of them about his experiences called Relato Poetico. Damn my ignorance!

syndicalist
Offline
Joined: 15-04-06
Sep 21 2006 12:58

For another view of the Spanish Revolution, folks may want to view "Looking Back After 70 Years… Workers Power and the Spanish Revolution" by Tom Wetzel:

http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=74&ItemID=10703

While I do not agree with everything Tom has written, I think it's worthwhile to read his piece.

I suspect all revolutions are complex, with all sorts of problems beyond either our control or imagination. I think it was Casas Gomez who even hinted that, in spite of decades of agitation, the Spanish comrades were not prepared for the final moment. That is to "unilaterally" exert strength or not.

Here's some links to other sites that have a weath of information on the Revolution:

Sites in English language:

http://flag.blackened.net/revolt/spaindx.html
http://www.anarchosyndicalism.net/archive/spain36
(http://www.tvhastingschristiebooks.com/documents/homepage.html)
http://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/

In French:

http://www.fondation-besnard.org/

In Spanish:

(http://www.cnt.es/Documentos/cineyanarquismo/home.htm)

Steven.'s picture
Steven.
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Sep 21 2006 15:04
JoeBlack2 wrote:
Incidentally Nick Heath had an obituary in Tuesdays Guardian for the last member of the FoD who just died in Britiian aged 99

ah i wondered if that got in. Was sad to hear about that, especially as I only heard of him existing a few months ago (from Nick, IIRC)

Divisive Cottonwood
Offline
Joined: 15-08-04
Sep 21 2006 16:41
John. wrote:
JoeBlack2 wrote:
Incidentally Nick Heath had an obituary in Tuesdays Guardian for the last member of the FoD who just died in Britiian aged 99

ah i wondered if that got in. Was sad to hear about that, especially as I only heard of him existing a few months ago (from Nick, IIRC)

Here it is:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/otherlives/story/0,,1875463,00.html

I've never heard of him before

Caiman del Barrio
Offline
Joined: 28-09-04
Sep 22 2006 00:49

There were also a succession of mergers of tankie and social democrat groups, presumably rather fuckin scared by the revolution occurring around them. Also it's probably worth noting that many of these groups were offical political parties, some of whom had (or had had) members elected to the Republican Government. Thus the conflict in Catalonia and north east Spain naturally drifted towards class lines.

MalFunction
Offline
Joined: 31-10-03
Sep 22 2006 10:30

Re the original question.

I suspect hindsight rather obscures the difficult position the CNT was in(and it wasn't a unitary organisation but a federal one) in the immediate circumstances of the attempted military coup.

Not least because of the way the coup had been successful in some areas and defeated in others, with no way of knowing whether the fight against it would be a very quick one or a long drawn out affair.

Also nobody knew what all the factions were going to do - realtions between the CNT and UGT were fraternal in some areas but not others. The international reaction was yet to unfold - would the "democracies" come to the aid of a legitimate republican government (so don't rock the boat) ; would the fascists pour in arms and men to back the military coup etc.

There's a also the point that the CNT-FAI were highly decentralised, with different approaches to the coup being takne in different areas, with sometimes heroic, sometimes tragic results (compare what happened in Barcelona to Zaragoza.)

(And no-one knew what the Assault Guards and Civil Guard would do - check the chronology which shows that some elements of the police etc were fighting the fascist militias before the military coup took place. Some stayed loyal to the republican government others sided with the fascists. Would they have supported an anrchist "regime" at the start - unlikely? This could have made the arming of armed resistance even more difficult than it was. Without the support of these elements in Barcelona it is likely the fascist coup could have succeeded much quicker than it did.

As for the communists - opportunist scum who took every advantage they could to bolster their position against other factions including jailing and killing those who opposed them. (but without Russian tanks and planes the republican forces were hopelessly out-gunned and vulnerable to aerial assault.)

very interesting chronology here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Civil_War_chronology_1936

I suspect that people's assumption that the CNT "threw it away" is based on the fact that most anarchists only read anarchist accounts of the civil war / revolution and don't see the bigger picture?

(I'd agree that joining the government was an abrogation of basic principles - but given the circumstances - an understandable one. Given the strength of the CNT compared to all the other factions, to have declared war on the republican government as well as fighting the fascists, would have been suicidal. (but the eventual outcome proved to be almost as bad.)

all in all a horrible messy tragic situation, not one where there's any easy answers to the problems that were faced.