An Anarchist FAQ version 15.2 released (19/07/2019)

An Anarchist FAQ (AFAQ) is now at version 15.2. The main part of this release is a slight revision of the appendix on refuting the various Leninist accounts of the Spanish Anarchist movement and key episodes in its history. The changes are mostly improving various references, indicating page numbers where possible of works previously referenced by URLs. However, a few new passages have been added here and there in anticipation of its full revision later.

As such, this appendix can be considered as a supplement to section I.8 and has been released today to mark the anniversary of the start of the Revolution, on 19 July 1936.

To mark the revolution, two translations are included in this blog. The first is a statement by the National Committee of the CNT issued in Solidaridad Obrera 16 February 1936 which summarises the libertarian perspective well. The second, included at the end of this posting, is the Libertarian Youth's 1932 "Statement of Principles."

With the electoral victory of the Popular Front, reactionary forces plotted to overthrow the result and the CNT warned its members to be vigilant and prepare to meet the threat of fascism with social revolution -- as they were soon to do, on the 19th of July. This statement was included in a slightly abridged form by Jose Peirats in his The CNT in the Spanish Revolution, volume 1. We have revised it to include the missing text.

A Warning Voice

National Committee, Confederacion Nacional del Trabajo (C.N.T.)

Solidaridad Obrera, 16 February 1936

Proletarians, on a war footing against the monarchist and fascist conspiracy!

Day by day the suspicion is growing that rightist elements are ready to provoke military intervention. It is even public knowledge, due to the left-wing newspapers which are constantly issuing warnings of the once secret, now blatant, intrigues being hatched by the military reactionaries in the barracks and in the civilian and ecclesiastical quarters of the counter-revolution...

Morocco seems to be the main focus and epicentre of the conspiracy. Insurrection has been deferred pending the outcome of the elections. They will implement their planned and preventive scheme if there is a leftist victory at the polls.

We are not the defenders of the Republic, but we fight against fascism relentlessly, we will contribute all of the forces that we have to rout the historical executioners of the Spanish proletariat.

Furthermore, we have no hesitation in recommending that, wherever the legionnaires of tyranny launch armed insurrection, an understanding be speedily reached with antifascist sectors, with vigorous precautions being taken to ensure that the defensive contribution of the masses lead in the direction of real social revolution, under the auspices of libertarian communism.

Let everyone be vigilant. Should the conspirators open fire and should their fascist rebellion be defeated in its first stages, then the act of opposition must be pursued to its utmost consequences without tolerating attempts by the liberal bourgeoisie and its Marxist allies to hold back the course of events. If, on the other hand, the struggle is hard, that recommendation will be redundant, for no one will stop until such time as one power or the other has been eliminated; and during the people's victory its democratic illusions would be dispelled; should it be otherwise, the nightmare of dictatorship will annihilate us. Once someone begins hostilities in earnest, democracy will perish between two fires because it is irrelevant and has no place on the field of battle. Either fascism or social revolution. Defeating the former is the duty of the whole proletariat and all those who love freedom, weapons in hand; that the revolution be social and libertarian must be the deepest concern of Confederates. Our being the most influential inspirers of the masses and they putting into practice ways of living infused with the spirit of our libertarian ideas and being the impregnable barrier against the authoritarian instinct of whites and reds, depends on our intelligence, our unity of thought and action.

From now until the reopening of parliament – if the grounds for the danger we highlight persist – militants ought to meet frequently in each locality in their usual liaison bodies and keep in touch with the confederal committees so that they inform them of the progress of the attacks and coordinated activity can be undertaken. Even if it is in an irregular manner, it is necessary to demonstrate the will to fight. Anything, rather than remain hesitant and through incredulity be robbed of our existence by the dark hordes, our burden of chains made heavier chains... and others can bear the regret of humiliation, of not having rightly appreciated the current time and spurned their place in the battle of which they were warned.

Once again: eyes peeled, comrades! It is better to move prematurely with courage, even if wrong, than to lament our inactivity.

14 February 1936, Zaragoza

As with libertarians elsewhere (not least, the Italians who fought the original fascists -- see section A.5.5 for details), the Spanish anarchists recognised the class basis of fascism and how, in order to really defeat it, it was not enough to defend the status quo: genuine alternatives were needed for the system, capitalism, which created it. More, effective resistance had to be rooted in working class organisations and communities -- it is no surprise that the Italian fascists suffered their greatest defeats when they were meet by the resistance of working class people willing and able to take direct action to stop them. Likewise in Spain, where the CNT ensured that Franco -- unlike Hitler facing a Marxist labour movement in Germany -- was stopped in his tracks by mass direct action.

This position is, of course, radically different than that pursued by the so-called "libertarians" of the right. As discussed in more detail elsewhere ("Propertarianism and Fascism", Anarcho-Syndicalist Review, No. 75 [Winter 2019]), rather than fight fascism the Austrian "classical liberal" Ludwig von Mises eulogised it (in the late 1920s) and actually advised the Austrian fascists when they were power (in the early 1930s). Like many reactionaries of the period, he saw fascism as a means of breaking the rise of socialism (whether authoritarian or libertarian) and so supported it as a short-term solution for that perennial problem of capitalism -- working class people who refuse to accept their position at within the social hierarchy. Combine this with his belief that unions and state welfare programmes (even the limited ones in Austria at the times) caused the mass unemployment of the Great Depression, the appeal of fascism (at least for the short-term) as the means of crushing the labour movement was obvious -- although it must be stressed that the crushing of the labour movement by the Austrian fascists did not reduce mass unemployment.

To return to this update of An Anarchist FAQ.

This appendix aims to debunk the most common myths about the Spanish Anarchists and concentrates on two writers, Eric Hobsbawm and Felix Morrow. The former is most responsible for the notion that they were "primitive rebels" while the latter produced the standard Trotskyist account of the Spanish Revolution, namely Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain (first published in 1938).

Hobsbawm's account -- as shown in section 1 -- was skilfully debunked by Jerome R. Mintz's excellent The Anarchists of Casas Viejas. For all Hobsbawm's Marxism, his account was notable by its lack engagement with the actual workers involved, unlike Mintz who -- as an anthropologist -- actually conducted interviews with the survivors of the 1933 uprising and 1936 revolution and consulted the libertarian press. While Hobsbawm approached his sources with the aim of proving his prejudices, Mintz produced a work of genuine "history from below."

Sadly, being proven completely wrong has not seemed to have impacted on Hobsbawm's reputation as a great historian -- but, then, Marx's vision of revolution simply confirming Bakunin's critique has not impacted his status in certain circles either...

Felix Morrow's book is of note for its idealised account of the Russian Revolution. As the appendix recounts, time-and-time again, he proclaims that the Spanish Anarchists had implemented "proletarian" solutions to various problems of revolution while never mentioning that the Bolsheviks systematically destroyed said tendencies when Lenin and Trotsky ruled the roost. Thus he praised workplace self-management (section 17) and militia democracy (section 11) and fails to mention that these were destroyed a few months after the Bolshevik seizure of power.

It is, for example, extremely ironic to read a Trotskyist -- denounce the POUM for not allowing the election of officials in their militia when Trotsky himself before the start of the civil war proclaim "the principle of election is politically purposeless and technically inexpedient, and it has been, in practice, abolished by decree" in the Red Army in early 1918 and, after its end, state that "Red Army was built from above, in accordance with the principles of the dictatorship of the working class." ["The Path of the Red Army", How the Revolution Armed, vol. 1, p. 47 and p. 8] And best not mention, like Morrow himself, that Trotsky during the 1930s -- as he had in the 1920s when fighting Stalin in Russia itself -- was defending the necessity of party dictatorship!

But, then, much of Trotskyist writing seems to be wishful thinking on Trotsky's actual politics -- for example, many decades latter David McNally made similar (false) claims as Morrow about how Trotsky kept alive Leninism's "democratic essence" in the face of Stalinism. Nor did McNally ponder how Trotsky's statement the Red Army being build "from above, in accordance with the principles" of proletarian the dictatorship fitted in with his, and others, claims that only Leninism is "socialism from below"? More, as noted in section 12, Morrow's vision of revolution echoes Bakunin and Kropotkin rather than Marx or Lenin. Which shows that it is still the case that in Spain Anarchism failed because the CNT did not apply its (key aspects of) ideas while in Russia Bolshevism failed because the Bolsheviks did apply its ideas.

So Morrow's work says far more about the lack of awareness of Trotskyists about the Russian Revolution than anarchism -- indeed, it is little more than a repeat of the usual claims against anarchism trotted-out (pun intended) time-and-time again and which section H.2 discusses in more detail. Still, it is useful to address the more specifically Spanish ones. It must also be noted what while the CNT, FAI, POUM, UGT, etc. all massively increased their membership during the revolution, the Trotskyist grouplet Morrow goes on about remained at around 20 members -- although, by the end of the civil war the number of Trotskyist groups did double (it split). All it seemed to have managed was to annoy the membership POUM to such a degree that none of those closest to it politically were willing to join it....

Finally, the redesign of the AFAQ's index page should be noted. While this happened a few months ago, it is worth mentioning now and indicate why it was done. Simply put, the previous page was old -- this is the first redesign since AFAQ was launched back in the 1990s. Also, AFAQ has been published since then and so the new design reflects that. Hence the two columns reflecting the two volumes. Also, reflecting the books, all-bar-one of the appendices have been moved (the one on "The Symbols of Anarchy" remains, as this was included in volume 1). As these are, in the main, unrevised and unpublished, so placing them in a "supplementary material" section makes sense. Hopefully it is an improvement.

The long term aim is still to revise the remaining appendices (or supplementary material). How soon this will happen remains a moot point, but material will be added to An Anarchist FAQ blog regularly (if not frequently!).

We end with this classic statement of libertarian principles, which was agreed at the founding Congress of the Federacion Iberica de Juventudes Libertarias (Iberian Federation of Libertarian Youth), held in Madrid between the 22nd and 24th of June, 1932. It was included by Jose Peirats, in Volume 2 of The CNT in the Spanish Revolution (Hastings:, 2005).

Statement of Principles

Federacion Iberica de Juventudes Libertarias (F.I.J.L.), June 1932

The new entity is formed with the following objective:

The association of young people of both sexes, regardless of race or colour who may have social preoccupations and a wish for improvement such as may make of man a being socially and individually free and the equal of his fellows socially and economically.

To these ends, the F.I.J.L. is to campaign against property, the principle of authority, the state, politics and religion.

Against property because it is an inhuman injustice that a man should hold wealth produced by other men, or land which belongs only to mankind and is an attribute of society, as sacred as life is for the individual.

Because it has its origin in a violent and criminal pillaging of the weak by the strong, creating the odious existence of the parasites upon the hive of humanity who have no role in society other than to live by the labour of another through the exploitation and misery of others.

Because it gives birth to capitalism and establishes the law of wage slavery that condemns man to permanent economic subjugation and to the vagaries and consequences of its unbalanced economy.

Because it is the cause of prostitution, the most iniquitous and degrading offence which society may inflict upon human conscience, by condemning woman to make an item of commerce of the purest and most exquisitely sensitive features in the treasury of the ethical and moral feelings of human beings: her maternal sentiments and her womanly love.

Against the principle of authority because this implies erosion of the human personality when some men submit to the will of others, arousing in these instincts which predispose them to cruelty and indifference in the face of the suffering of their fellows: and because authority is the instrument used to force an individual by violence to submit to the interests of property.

Against the state because it hinders the free development and normal pursuit of ethical, philosophical and scientific activities by peoples and because it is the basic foundation maintaining the principle of authority and defends property by means of its armed forces, police and judiciary.

Because it maintains the army and navy, whose destructive function is inhuman in that pits some peoples against others, destroying the feelings of sociability and solidarity proper to the human being, becoming instead the wherewithal of the domination of the stronger peoples over the weaker ones.

Against politics because it presupposes the abdication of individuality through surrender of one's will to the will of another, misrepresents collective interests by means of a phoney parliamentary majority and is the system whereby the interests of property and laws for the care and defence of the state are legitimised.

Against religions, because they are an affront to man's free thought, by creating a moral hierarchy which predisposes him to accept any tyranny without complaint and they distort social relationships through terror and fanaticism which are the very opposite of reason and scientific progress.

This Association shall strive to invest young people with a libertarian conviction, as to equip them individually to struggle against authority in all its forms, whether in trade union matters or in ideological ones, so as to attain a libertarian social arrangement wherein the individual's role and activities in the sphere of production may not be subject to any economic tyranny, but rather to his professional potential, assuring him of economic equality by means of free co-operation and mutual aid and, in his relationships, free affinity ungoverned except by solidarity and love: investing in the minds of the people generally and particularly of its members with the conviction that until such time as economic equality is a fact, true equality between men will be an impossibility and that economic equality will not be feasible either as long as property and the state exist and that, this being so, property should be held in common so that efforts may be the better utilised: without there being any other bar between the individual and the community than the need to marshal efforts so as to keep up industrial production and coordination of the communes, one with another, for the purposes of exchange and transportation, and, in moral and material terms, through affinity between individuals and solidarity between communes.

To achieve these ends, an active campaign of propaganda is to be pursued by means of talks, lectures, rallies, periodicals, leaflets and whatever other means may be available to us.