The Spanish Revolution, Past and Future: Grandeur and Poverty of Anarchism
How the Working Class Takes Over (or Doesn't), Then and Now
Publisher: Break Their Haughty Power
Year Published: 2013
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX15179
Looking at the Spanish Revolution, arguably the richest and deepest social revolution of the twentieth century.
Despite disclaimers, many of the divisions that have split the Marxist movement, such as reform vs. revolution, recurred in different guise within the anarchist movement. After a period of ebb during the 1880s, anarchism revived, and in 1888 a split took place between labor-oriented and insurrectionist currents. A long-term division existed between a Bakunin-influenced "collectivist anarchism" and the Kropotkin-inspired "anarchist communism." A new upturn in mass struggle in the 1909 "Tragic Week" in Barcelona led to the founding of the anarcho-syndicalist CNT (Confederación Nacional de Trabajo) in 1910, focused, like many syndicalist movements in Europe at the time (Italy, France, Britain, the American IWW) on the strategy of the general strike to usher in the new society. The CNT's influence peaked initially (prior to 1936) in 1919, in the wave of general strikes following World War I, and it created the sindicato unico (single union) to deal with the antagonism between craft and industrial workers, much like the IWW.
Anarchist claims to "apoliticism" and "antipoliticism" were also belied by the electoral participation of the anarchist working-class base, when the CNT-FAI lifted the policy of abstentionism in the 1931 elections, providing the margin of victory for republican forces. Disappointed by the anti-worker and anti-peasant policies of the Republic, anarchists abstained in 1933, elections followed by the hard-right turn of the "biennio negro" (two black years). As a result, the CNT-FAI again lifted the abstention policy for the February 1936 elections -- even Durruti called for a vote for the Popular Front -- and anarchists provided the margin of victory for the left parties.
It is here that we arrive at the nub of this text. The Spanish anarchists had made the revolution, beyond their wildest expectations, and did not know what to do with it. On the night of the victory in Barcelona, top leaders of the CNT-FAI, including Juan Garcia Oliver and Buenaventura Durruti, called on Luis Companys, a Catalan nationalist and head of the Generalitat, the Catalan regional government. The army had dissolved or gone over to Franco; the police had also largely disintegrated, and were being replaced by armed anarchist patrols; the bourgeois state in Catalonia at that moment was reduced to a few buildings. Companys told the CNT-FAI leaders that the power was theirs, and if they wished, he would resign and be a soldier in their army. The CNT-FAI leaders decided to leave standing the skeleton of the bourgeois state and its momentarily powerless head, Companys, and instead formed the Committee of Anti-Fascist Militias, which became for all intents and purposes the effective state power in the following months.
The anarchists, as they put it in their own words, had to either impose a "full totalitarian dictatorship" or leave the parties supporting the Popular Front intact. They chose the latter course, and through the door of the small, powerless edifice, which they did not dissolve, came, in the following months, under the cautious management of Companys, all the forces of the counter-revolution