BUILDING UTOPIA — The Spanish Revolution 1936-1937 by Stuart Christie. eBook £1.50 (see eBookshelf)

Building Utopia — The Spanish Revolution 1936-1937, Stuart Christie, ChristieBooks, ISBN 978-1-873976-18-0

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Within the Spanish anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist movements there were three distinct points of view on the question of war and revolution. The first, probably the majority view, was that the war would be over in a matter of weeks, after all, a few days had been enough to rout the army in Barcelona and other industrial centres, and that the social revolution and Libertarian Communism as debated and adopted by the CNT’s national congress at Zaragoza in February, five months previously, was an inseparable aspect of the struggle against economic and social oppression. Thus, the movement should proceed immediately to socialise the factories, the land and their communities. READ INSIDE

The second position was that held by members of the regional, national and peninsular committees of the CNT-FAI, the so-called ‘notables’, office holders such as such as Horacio Prieto, Mariano Rodriguez, Federica Montseny, Diego Abad de Santillan, García Oliver, etc. They anticipated a lengthy war and opposed implementing Libertarian Communism until the war was won. They opted instead for compromising alliances with the bourgeois Republican, Catalanist and Stalinist parties.

Their argument was that such a strategy would prevent a situation developing wherein a victorious but exhausted CNT might be overwhelmed by another political force which had been more sparing with its forces ie, the Spanish Communist Party.

It was a fatal strategy that quickly absorbed them, undermined their principles and transformed what had hitherto been a great instrument of the working class into just another rigid bureaucratic institution.

The third body of opinion, a minority one held by militants such as Durruti, Camillo Berneri, Jaime Balius, and so on (and one which I incidentally agree with) also anticipated a lengthy war because of the involvement of Germany and Italy — but held that war and revolution were inseparable.

Only a libertarian revolution could finally destroy fascism because to do so meant destroying the state, since fascism only means a certain mode of the state: all states turn fascist when the threat to the privilege that the state protects — and to a degree also embodies — becomes strong enough, which happens when the participatory procedures of the state can no longer secure that privilege.

Fascism, in other words, is enforced class collaboration, as opposed to the voluntary class collaboration of parliamentary government.

The author’s main contention in this book is, briefly, that between July 21 and the end of August 1936, the so-called ‘notables’ of the CNT-FAI regional, national and peninsular committees (Federica Montseny, Mariano Vázquez, Diego Abad de Santillán and, later Juan García Oliver, etc.) abandoned all pretence of being revolutionaries. Instead, they created a vested interest structure that served, primarily, to apply the brakes to the spontaneous revolutionary activity of the union rank and file and to repress the revolutionary activists of the Libertarian Youth, the confederal defence cadres, the action- and affinity groups. They promoted ‘Anti-fascist unity’ and state power at the expense of anarchist principles and values, and imposed, arbitrarily, the hegemony of the Catalan CNT–FAI leadership over the local revolutionary committees and the general assemblies, not only of Catalonia, but of Aragón as well, particularly the revolutionary Regional Defence Council of Aragón. Their principal aim being to secure and perpetuate their power base, even at the expense of the anarchist principles and values that had inspired the largest mass labour union in Spanish history.

For them the instrumental means had become the organisational end. Not only that; they were now complicit and compromised players in a re-invigorated state dominated not just by middle- and upper-class conservative and anti-working class social democrats, but also by Stalin’s agents serving the interests of Soviet foreign policy. Unfortunately, their influence didn’t end with the sabotage of the revolutionary process in August 1937. Montseny and her colleagues continued, after Franco’s victory, to play a highly sinister, manipulative and cancerous role within the Toulouse-based ‘Movimiento Libertario Espanol’ (Spanish Libertarian Movement – CNT-FAI-FIJL-Mujeres Libres) in Exile — but that’s another story entirely (see Pistoleros! Vols 1, 2 and 3)


The Revolution: Introduction; July 193; August 1936; September 1936; October 1936; November 1936; December 1936; January 1937; February 1937; March 1937; April 1937; May 1937; June 1937; July 1937; August 1937

Background Briefs: Libertarian Communism; Collectivisations in Alcoy; Victor Blanco’s Story; The Question of Money; What Can We Do? (Camillo Berneri); Letter from Sébastian Faure; The Problem of Militarisation; Statement by Vivaldo Fagundes’ Protest before the libertarians, of present and future regarding the capitulations of 1937 by an ‘uncontrollable’ from the Iron Column; Address by Federica Montseny, 3 January 1937; Militarisation — March 1937; Dissolution of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils; February 1937: Memorandum from War Committee of the Iron Column, 16 February 1937; April 1937 —An Open Letter to Federica Montseny; April 1937: Confidential letter from an agent of Negrín, 15 April 1937; May: Unpublished Letter to Max Nettlau from Emma Goldman; September: The international debate on war and revolution; “Catastrophic Revolution” by Brandt; Pierre Besnard’s reply to ‘Catastrophic Revolution; June: Anarchist Intelligence and Security Services.; The POUM: Trotsky and the POUM