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Excerpt from GOALS AND MEANS: Anarchism, Syndicalism, and Internationalism in the Origins of the Federación Anarquista Ibérica, by Jason Garner

Posted on March 4th, 2016 in AK Book Excerpts

Goals and Means: Anarchism, Syndicalism, and Internationalism in the Origins of the Federación Anarquista Ibérica is back from the printer. This book is a detailed and fascinating history of the formation of the CNT and the relationships among the various players, especially syndicalists and the anarchists in the FAI.

You can get yourself a copy (at 25% off for another few weeks) here. Below is a brief excerpt about the debates around the the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks, and the invitation they gave the CNT to join the Cominterm…


Belief in the victory of the Russian Revolution meant belief in the victory of a Spanish revolution. However, from late 1918 onwards the supporters of the October Revolution began to differentiate between support for the social revolution in Russia and support for Bolshevism as a political ideology. This was most evident in the pages of Solidaridad Obrera where, as Antonio Bar has pointed out, a series of editorials had been equally qualified in their treatment of the revolution, praising its achievements whilst using language that made the ‘statist’ orientation of the Bolsheviks clear by constant reference to the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, seizure of power, ‘government of the people,’ et cetera.[11]

This change in attitude was also evident in anarchist circles. In November 1919, the Catalan Anarchist Federation reappraised its previous ideological stance vis-à-vis Bolshevism in a manifesto which differentiated between economic and political organisations: “Syndicalism – a means of struggle based on direct action – ends in the implantation of libertarian communism … whilst State socialism – a means of labour struggle based on multiple action – ends in the implantation of authoritarian communism.”[12] The essential point in all the ideological debates was the growing realisation that Bolshevism did not encompass the libertarian principles of Spanish revolutionary syndicalism. However, this did not lessen support for a revolutionary overthrow of an imperialist state. Whatever the arguments surrounding the merits of the Bolsheviks, the CNT’s connections with Russia remained at the level of press commentary and factory debate. Beyond the solidarity of one revolutionary workers’ force with another there was no contact. This changed as news of the decision to establish a new International in Russia arrived in Spain.

The CNT’s membership of the new International was discussed at its national congress held in Madrid in December 1919, the first since 1911. The dramatic rise in social agitation had led to a sharp increase in membership of the CNT. The congress provided a necessary forum for taking stock of the changes that had occurred both in Spain and within the CNT’s own ranks since 1911. As if to emphasise the confederation’s priorities, the main debate of the congress revolved not around Bolshevism but the proposed unification of the CNT and the socialist Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT). After the debates over the situation in Spain and internal CNT matters, the congress turned its attention to the Russian Revolution.

A resolution on Russia was split into two parts. The first referred to the means of combating the blockade of Russia by international capitalism whilst the second dealt with international relations, specifically whether or not the CNT should join the Third International. Buenacasa opened the debates with a strong defence of the revolution as a fact in itself but did not broach the question of the International, which was surprising, given the attention he had given to the issue in the pages of Solidaridad Obrera since 1917. The debates also demonstrated that information about the exact nature of Bolshevism was still scarce. Hilario Arlandis from the Levante urged that the CNT unconditionally join the Comintern. Basing his arguments almost entirely on a report on the first Comintern congress (held in March 1919), he accepted that differences existed between the Bolsheviks and the CNT but felt that this was because it was “very difficult to find a concrete formula to unite all the proletariat of the world and satisfy all the tendencies.” However, he concluded, the Third International “exemplifies all our aspirations,”[13] Significantly, Andreu Nin, at this point a member of both the Socialist Party and the CNT, concurred: “I am a supporter of the Third International because it is a reality, because above the ideologies it represents a principle of action, a principle of coexistence between all the clearly revolutionary forces who aspire to implant communism immediately.”[14] Both Arlandis and Nin would soon become staunch supporters of Moscow.

Doubts about the dictatorial tendency inherent in Bolshevism were raised by the Asturian Eleuterio Quintanilla. Quintanilla agreed that the CNT should welcome the Russian Revolution but also argued that the revolution did not “embody, in principle, the ideals of revolutionary syndicalism.” The CNT needed to be wary of the Bolshevik Party’s principles because “the way in which the Russian dictatorship has acted represents a serious danger to us.” His main point was the evident conflict between the tactics and aims of revolutionary syndicalism and Bolshevism. The followers of the latter believed that the unions should be “subject to the demands of the state and offered themselves to it unconditionally,” he said. The Comintern, Quintanilla continued, was simply Bolshevism on an international level, and, as such, was a “specifically political organisation … where we have no reason to be represented.” Instead the CNT should help to build a “pure” International that was “specifically syndicalist [and] would conserve CNT principals and follow the tradition of the First International.”[15]

Salvador Seguí, the most respected and influential militant of the Catalan section of the CNT, accepted Quintanilla’s criticism, but argued that the CNT must be represented in the Third International. “Not due to its theories which we oppose, but for the need to be realistic, we support entering the Third International because this is going to endorse … the call that the CNT is going to make to the syndicalist organisations of the world to form the true, the unique, the genuine workers’ International.”[16] Furthermore, he argued, as the CNT was the largest labour movement in Spain, its position needed to be recognised internationally, and being associated with the International in Moscow would reinforce its revolutionary credentials. In the end, the congress compromised, provisionally adhering to the Comintern whilst at the same time stressing that support for the Comintern was due to its revolutionary and not ideological character and stressing that the CNT’s ideological base rested on the anti-authoritarian wing of the First International:

The National Committee…with reference to the theme of the Russian revolution, proposes the following:

First. That the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo declares itself a firm defender of the principles that guided the First International, as conceived by Bakunin.

Second. Declares that it affiliates, provisionally, with the Third International, due to its revolutionary character, whilst the International Congress is organised and held in Spain, to define the basic principles that will govern the true International of workers.[17]

The affiliation of the CNT with the new International did not represent an acceptance of the principles of Bolshevism as was clear from the adoption of a motion put forward by various delegates (and supported by the national committee) which was attached to the resolution on the Comintern:

Bearing in mind that the tendency that has the greatest force at the heart of the workers’ organisations of all countries is that which leads to the complete, total, and absolute liberation of humanity morally, economically and politically, and considering that this objective cannot be achieved until the land and the instruments of production and exchange are socialised, and the tyrannical power of the state disappears, propose to the congress, that in agreement with the essence of the proposals of the workers’ International, [it] declares that the ultimate goal of the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo in Spain is libertarian communism.[18]

So at the very moment that the confederation agreed to join the Comintern, it made a clear commitment to an ideology that was fundamentally at odds with the centralised and politicised doctrine of the Third International’s founders. This contradiction can only be explained by the continuing confusion over Bolshevism, the belief that revolution in Spain was imminent, and more specifically the belief that the Comintern would be an autonomous revolutionary International and not be dominated by the Bolsheviks. Having decided to join the International, the CNT then had to select delegates to go to Moscow to present its membership as well as to find out more about the Bolshevik regime. At first, Quintanilla and Pedro Vallina (who had attended the International Revolutionary Syndicalist Congress in London in 1913) were chosen but both declined, so instead the committee chose Eusebio Carbó (a prominent member of the Valencian region of the CNT who spoke both French and Italian) and Salvador Quemades (a member of the committee of the Catalan CRT).

 11 Bar, La CNT en los Años Rojo, 436–51, 525–37, provides the best overall analysis of anarchist and syndicalist reaction to the revolution. Of the books published in English, only Meaker, The Revolutionary Left in Spain, 103–8, 222–24, 243– 48, treats the subject in any depth. See also the articles by Iwan Kurok on Russia in the anarchist publication Acracia, November 15 and 22, 1918, and in an article entitled “Qué hacemos pro-Rusia?” in Guerra Social (Valencia), December 20, 1919. Opinions in the only periodical publishing in late 1918–19 of which sufficient numbers remain (except for Solidaridad Obrera, which was proscribed in January 1919 and did not reappear again until 1923) – Acción Social Obrera – remained confused, and even as late as July 12, 1919, an article by Pedro Gaspert, “Bolcheviquismo,” appears to confuse the aims of Bolshevism with those of anarchism.
12 El Comité de la Federación de Grupos Anarquistas de la Región Catalana, “Los anarquistas en nuestro puesto,” Espartaco (suplemento), November 8, 1919.
13 For Arlandis’s intervention, see Memoria del Congreso celebrado en el Teatro de la Comedia de Madrid, los días 10 al 18 de diciembre de 1919 (Barcelona: Cosmos, 1932), 347–52. Thereafter Memoria (1919). Despite admitting that he had seen few documents on the subject, Eusebio Carbó speaking at the Congress, , 352, gave unqualified support for the Bolsheviks, mainly due to the fact that the reformist socialists were criticising them. Carbó, along with Arlandis, was one of the major defenders of Bolshevism at the Madrid congress. Their views may have been influenced by their meeting with two Finnish Bolsheviks who were sent to Valencia to gain support for the CNT’s affiliation to the Comintern. Archives Nationales de France, Paris, F/7/13440, police report, September 23, 1919.
14 For the information on Nin’s affiliation with the CNT, see Pelai Pagès, Andreu Nin: Su evolución política 1911–37 (Bilbao: Zero, 1975), 73–74. For more general texts on Nin, see Victor Alba, Dos Revolucionarios: Joaquín Maurín, Andreu Nin (Madrid: Seminarios y Ediciones, 1975); F. Bonamusa, Andreu Nin y el movimiento comunista en España (1930–37) (Barcelona: Anagrama, 1977).
15 Memoria (1919), 355–67. Quintanilla’s position was echoed by the delegate from the Madrid Toymakers Trade Union (either José Cernada or Tomas de la Llave): “At the moment, the Russian revolution has many defects; it embodies, more than anything, the Marxist principal, and we, revolutionary syndicalists, have as our base Bakuninist principals. Up to now, the Russian revolution has not managed to implant more than a type of communism, a type of socialism that kills individual energies.” Translated from ibid., 346.
16 Ibid., 367. Seguí’s position throughout this period was remarkably consistent, as evidenced by his intervention in the Madrid debates and at the Zaragoza conference in June 1922 as well as his articles on the subject. For example, see Salvador Seguí, “A Organizacao sindical,” A Batalha, October 29, 1920; Salvador Seguí, “La posicion doctrinal de los sindicalistas libertarios frente a las internacionales socialistas,” Cultura y Acción, October 21, 1922.
17 Translated from Memoria (1919), 372–73. The resolution was drawn up by the national committee.
18 Ibid., 373. The resolution was drawn up by twenty-four militants, including six of the eight members of the national committee, and was not intended as an attack on Bolshevism. Rather it related to the concerns of a number of militants about what they perceived as a growing reformism within the CNT.