Saturday, March 9, 2013

Historical analysis: did revolutionary coyness destroy the Anarchist Revolution in Catalonia in 1936-37?

The analysis by Barry Biddulph at The Commune today, which I essentially subscribe, claims so:

Barcelona 1936-37: social revolution or republican State?

On the 18th of July 1936, President Luis Companys ,leader of the Generalitat, the state in Catalonia, refused to hand over arms to workers organisations in Barcelona, when it became known that  Franco was about to stage a military coup.  Like other Republican politicians, he feared popular power more than the Fascists. The next day his greatest nightmare became a reality. The working class of Barcelona  had rallied to protect working class interests and communities. They built barricades ,formed committees, fought street battles to defeat the army units loyal to Franco and successfully stormed the army barracks . The answer to fascism was Revolution. The workers organisations, controlled the entire city with over 90,000 captured rifles. The state had no army,the police, assault guards and civil guards had either gone over to the people or were unreliable.

Companys met with the armed leaders of the insurrection,including Durruti and Garcia Oliver, on the 20th July. What could Company do,he was powerless. Furthermore,  he had a record in government of repressing Anarchists and the revolutionary left. But he had a phantom of power, in the sense that he had a history of state authority. He stated the all too obvious facts: you are now in control of the city of Barcelona because you alone routed the Fascists.  He then played a crafty republican card. He invited them to take all the power, but  added that if he  as a symbol of the Republic  could  assist the Anti Fascist cause, above all Anti fascist unity in the war against Fascism, he would.  This tactic of let’s co-operate(class collaboration) and concentrate on winning the war was a tactic to deflect Social revolution.

Companys suggested setting up  a revolutionary  sounding, Central  Anti Fascists Militia’s Committee. His intention was to preserve  the empty shell of the Bourgeois state. The CNT- FIA had the vast majority of revolutionary workers on the streets,but only a minority of seats  on the committee. The middle class republican organisations had more representatives than the CNT-FIA and had the back up of the Stalinists. More importantly, the republican politicians had control over the banks ,the financial system and the Gold reserves.  The leaders of the CNT began to accept the logic of  a minority position in the  war against Fascism, which would take priority over revolution.Meanwhile, Companys was biding his time and planning to build up  Republican political strength so that the Committee could be dissolved and the full authority of the Generalitat restored.

Felix Morrow, takes a slightly different point of view. The central   Anti Fascist Militia’s Committee was “unlike a coalition government which in actuality rests on the old state machine,the CAFMC  dominated by the Anarchists rested on workers organisations and Militia’s” (1)  In fact, CAFMC  was a top down structure  from the republican and Anarchist  leadership. It was not a direct delegate body from the grass root militia’s which would have made it a revolutionary council or  an alternative to the republican state:  it still had one foot in the Capitalist state. In effect, it was a sub Committee of the Generalitat.   David Freund a Trotskyist active in the revolution, had a more accurate assessment from experience : “the CAFMC in Barcelona was the expression, on the one hand of the victory of the anti fascist insurrection and on the other of the continued existence of the structure of the bourgeois state”(2)

Andre Nin, the leader of the POUM, described the situation as “the government does not exist.We collaborate with them,but they can do more than sanction what is done by the masses”(3) If the masses were calling the shots why collaborate with the republican government? Why give them authority when they had none? Why not focus on how the workers could articulate their power against the state? This political ambiguity on the state as if the destruction of the state could be placed on one side, fitted into the first win the war ideology which won out against the position of completing the revolution. The latter was described by the Anarchist leader,Federico Montseny, as an unrealistic demand of anarchist dictatorship. It was considered more realistic to have confidence in politicians and parties who had a history of persecuting Anarchists and revolutionaries of all kinds.

... continue reading at The Commune

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