The Decline of Anarchism in the 20th Century

No Gods, No Masters – Part 3

Directed by Tancrede Ramonet (2017)

Film Review

Part 3 covers 1917-1939 and uses the terms anarchist and libertarian interchangeably.

For fifty years prior to World War I (see Why Social Studies Never Made Sense in School: The History of Anarchism and The Vital Role of Anarchists in the Russian Revolution) anarchism was the backbone of social change, not only in Europe, the US, China and Japan, but throughout Latin America.

The decline of the anarchist movement would start with World War I, which killed one-third of working men in the countries that participated. Brutal crackdowns against anarchists (mainly in the Soviet Union and the US) in the final years of the war would further decimate their numbers. The US wars against the trade union movement (carried out by the Department of Justice with the help of the Italian Mafia) were unprecedented in global history.

The birth of Bolshevism during the Russian Revolution would also serve to displace anarchism. Not only did Lenin brutally suppress Soviet anarchists, but he would appropriate the anarchist anthem (the Internationale) and many anarchist slogans and teachings. In the US and Western Europe, growing numbers of trade union organizers turned to communism for inspiration, rather than anarchism.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Mussolini and other European fascists also appropriated anarchist symbol – as they simultaneously gunned down and imprisoned members of the anarchist resistance.*

With the crackdown against anarchism in their own countries, many US and Soviet anarchists emigrated to France, where they formed a new international collective under the leadership of Ukrainian anarchist Nestor Makhno. This collective focused most of its energy on Spain, where more than a million** anarchists had been organizing for revolution for 70-80 years.

In addition to covering the tragedy of the US government frame-up and execution of Italian-born anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti, most of Part 3 covers the Spanish Revolution (aka the Spanish Civil War).

This documentary provides a comprehensive outline of the role of Stalin, Spanish communists and Spain’s so-called republican government in launching the counterrevolution that would hand the last remnants of the Spanish republic over to fascist dictator Ferdinand Franco.

A worker-run film company filmed much of the actual Spanish Revolution, offering rare insight into what a true worker-run revolution looks like.


*In the US, the right wing also appropriated the term libertarian.

**See Anarchism and the Spanish Civil War

 

 

 

Spain’s 1936 Revolution – an Anarchist View

Living Utopia: The Anarchists and the Spanish Revolution

Directed by Juan Gamero (1997)

Spanish with English subtitles

 

In this documentary, the history of the 1936 Spanish revolution is told by anarchists* who actually participated in it. What imperialists commonly refer to as the Spanish Civil War, Spanish anarchists refer to as the Spanish revolution. The revolution lasted from 1936-39 before the counterrevolution, led my Franco, Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin (in conjunction with the western powers), overturned it.

The film begins by describing the roots of Spain’s anarchist movement, in Europe’s first workers society, formed in Barcelona in 1840. In 1902, they organized the first free (ie non-Catholic schools) to combat Spain’s high illiteracy rate (50%). In 1910 they formed the CNT (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo) and won an 8-hour day through a series of major strikes. By 1919, the CNT had a membership of 700,000.

Banned in 1923, the CNT organized in secret, until 1931 when the king was deposed. By this point they had one million members. However 90% of them boycotted the 1934 election. This enabled fascists to take control of the government and reverse most of the land and other reforms enacted by the Republic.

CNT Steps Up to Defend Against Franco’s Coup

In 1936, the CNT united with other Spanish leftist groups to elect a National Front government. Under General Franco, the military’s response was to launch a military coup. Failing to organize any  resistance, the government of the Republic crumbled. Thus it was left up to civilians to organize military resistance to prevent the fall of Madrid – as well as to organize basic survival infrastructure in the territory under their control.

The CNT joined with other resistance forces to form the Anti-Fascist Militias Committee. As volunteer militias marched towards the front line, they assisted rural peasants in bringing in the harvest and expropriating barren land from large landowners to put it into cultivation. A total of 7 million peasants voluntarily formed collectives.

Republic Crumbles Leaving Civilians to Re-organize Society

In the cities and villages, working people seized large buildings to provide lodging for the homeless and set up committees to distribute food, clothing and other necessities and put a halt to revenge killings. In Barcelona, the advance guard of the revolution, 80% of factories were seized by workers. Factory owners either fled or joined the worker-run management teams. Participation in the collectivization scheme was totally voluntary.

All production significantly increased during the revolution, as worker-run committees increased production efficiency and adopted new technology. After seizing Ford, GM and other factories, workers converted them into arms factories. Revolutionary councils coordinated the exchange of commodities between regions and exports, via sympathetic contacts, to other European countries. They also enacted decrees guaranteeing equal rights for women and legalizing abortion.

The Counterrevolution

In May 1937, strengthened by Stalin’s support (the Soviet Union was the only country willing to arm the Spanish Republic against Franco’s coup), the Republican leadership declared war against the anarchists who ran Barcelona when they refused to surrender the telephone exchange. After five days and 500 deaths, Barcelona’s anarchists allowed anarchist ministers who had joined the government to persuade them to accept a ceasefire. According to several interviewees, this was their big mistake and ultimately cost them their revolution.

In view of their vast numerical superiority, it would have made more sense to continue guerilla warfare against both the communists who controlled the government and Franco’s forces.


*Most of the interviewees refer to the movement behind the Spanish revolution as “libertarian” communism,” rather than anarchism.

The 1936 Spanish Revolution – A Pro-Capitalist View

The Spanish Civil War

BBC (1983)

This is the first of two posts concerning the 1936 Spanish Revolution – which the US and its western allies refer to as the Spanish Civil War. This BBC documentary offers a more or less conventional pro-capitalist interpretation of events. Tomorrow I will post an alternative view by Spanish anarchists who actively participated in the revolution.

Ironically, although Spain was the birthplace of guerilla warfare,* Stalin (the only foreign leader willing to sell them arms) forced the Spanish Republic to engage in a conventional war against overwhelmingly superior forces.

Owing to the massive grassroots mobilization behind the Republic, guerilla warfare would have had a far greater chance of success (as it ultimately did in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan).

When Franco ultimately crushed Spain’s first republic in 1939, it would result in a brutal fascist dictatorship lasting 36 years.

Part 1 describes

  • the non-violent fall of the Spanish monarchy in 1931, resulting in the establishment of Spain’s second Republic
  • land reform of a semi-feudal system in which landless peasants lived in virtual slavery
  • the creation of 10,000 non-church schools in a country with 50% illiteracy
  • declaration of emancipation of women and home rule for Catalonia and the Basque region

Part 2 describes

  • the 1934 takeover of the Republic’s governing coalition by fascists, who repealed most land and other reforms
  • the success of socialists, communists and anarchists in winning back the government in 1936 as the United Front
  • the move by 60,000 landless peasants to retake 3,000 farms they lost between 1934-36
  • the coup launched by Franco and thousands of Arab troops and Spanish legionaries from Spanish Morocco
  • how the grassroots resistance led by Spain’s one million anarchists became a revolution, in which they formed revolutionary committees to organize and arm the resistance and seized factories, which they turned into workers cooperatives, and to redistribute food and other necessities which they distribute to the poor.
  • how effective civilian resistance held back Franco’s forces, confining them to regions to the north and west of Madrid for nearly three years.

Part 3 describes

  • how Mussolini and Hitler supported Franco with arms, funding and troops, while western Europe and the US signed a pact of “non-intervention” – allowing Roosevelt to sell Texas oil to Franco but prohibiting any western country to supply fuel or arms to the Republic.
  • how only the Soviets came to the Republic’s assistance by selling them weapons (for Spanish gold), providing air cover and coordinating the International Brigades – 40,000 international volunteers from more than a dozen countries (including most of Europe, Australia and the US).

Part 4 examines Franco’s background and that of the right wing groups that supported his coup.

Part 5 examines life inside the revolution and how Stalin’s agents and supporters in the Republican government systematically crushed it – by murdering anarchist leaders and launching a formal battle (lasting five days and leaving 500 dead) against anarchist forces in Barcelona.

Part 6 covers Franco’s final defeat of Republican forces after Stalin withdrew his support for the Republic (to pacify Hitler). It also examines the irony of Stalin and the communists forcing the Republic to wage a conventional war they couldn’t possibly win – in the country that invented guerilla warfare.


*The term was first used in 1808, when Spanish guerillas repelled Napoleon’s invasion of Spain. It refers to the use of a small, mobile force competing against a larger, more unwieldy one.

 

 

 

 

Anarchism: It’s Not What You Think it Is

Anarchism in America

Pacific Street Films (2009)

Film Review

Despite its 2009 release, this fascinating documentary is largely based on 1980s interviews with America’s most prominent anarchists, including Karl Hess, Molly Stermer, Murray Boochkin and Ed Edamen. As well as a rare interview with Emma Goldman at age 64 (1933) when she was granted a 90-day permit to return to the US.

There is also footage from the 1919-1920 Palmer Raids, in which thousands of anarchists (including Goldman) were rounded up and jailed and/or deported; the global protests triggered by the police frame-up (1920) of Boston anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti; the Spanish Civil War (during which 3 million anarchists ran their own towns, schools, clinics and cultural centers for three years); and the anarchists involved in civil disobedience during the 1980s anti-nuclear movement.

Dispelling many common misconceptions about anarchism, the filmmakers depict anarchist political philosophy as the belief that people are capable of governing themselves independent of any state or hierarchical authority. They challenge all hierarchy – whether in male-female relations, the family, schools or work. Instead they champion decentralized participatory democracy.

Several of the anarchists interviewed view anarchism and distrust of authority as innate in the American cultural identity. This is evidenced by pervasive anti-government and anti-corporate sentiments among the greater US population. Hess asserts that right wing writer Ayn Rand borrowed most of her so-called “objectivist” philosophy from anarchist Emma Goldman.

Edamen asserts that at the end of the 20th century (before it was captured by the Koch brothers and other corporate elite), there were more anarchists in the US libertarian movement than any other group.

The filmmakers also highlight the anarchist roots seen in worker-run cooperatives and the homesteading (now called “prepper”) and anti-government punk rock groups such as the Dead Kennedys.

A Cuban Novel About Trotsky’s Assassination

the man who loved dogs

The Man Who Loved Dogs

By Leonardo Padura

Translated by Anna Kushner (2013)

Book Review

The Man Who Loved Dogs is a fictional account of the Stalinist Conspiracy to assassinate Leon Trotsky in Mexico in 1940. Havana author Leonardo Padura uses three distinct perspectives to relate his story: that of Trotsky and his family, that of his assassin Roman Mercader and that of a failed Cuban writer who accidentally encounters Mercader on a Cuban beach in the 1970s as he’s on the verge of death.

The conspiracy is vaguely reminiscent of the JFK assassination conspiracy, in that it was meticulously planned and took three years to set in motion. Mercader was a Spanish Communist recruited by Stalin’s agents and brought to the USSR for specialized intelligence training. Posing as a Belgian journalist, he cultivated an American Trotskyite girlfriend to facilitate his entry into the high security compound where Trotsky’s family lived in Coyoacan Mexico.

The early part of the book contains long sections about the Spanish Civil War. These focus on Stalin’s brutal efforts to undermine the Spanish Revolution by assassinating anarchist and Trotskyite rivals, including members of the International Brigades. He then proceeded to abandon Spain’s Republican government to Franco’s fascists to improve his negotiating position with Hitler.

The History of Trotsky’s Exile

The narrative from Trotsky’s perspective begins with his forced exile to Turkey in 1929. He’s eventually offered asylum in France and Norway, both of which expel him (under pressure from local communists) after a few months. These sections also focus on Trotsky’s dismay regarding Stalin’s decade of show trials and executions, which systematically eliminated the primary Bolshevik luminaries responsible for the 1917 revolution, as well as one-third of the leadership of the Soviet Army.

Prior to 1990 Books About Trotsky Banned in Cuba

The narrative based on the fictional Cuban writer focuses on the intellectual and artistic repression that characterized the early Castro regime and the severe hardship (literal starvation in many cases) that began when the USSR collapsed in 1989 and Cuba ceased to have access to cheap soviet oil essential to their system of industrial agriculture.

Prior to the 1990s, books by or about Trotsky were banned in Cuba, as they were in the USSR. As Padura reminds us in his acknowledgements, Cubans of his generation grew up totally unaware that Trotsky or Trotskyism even existed. From this perspective, one can’t help but marvel at his extensive research into Trotsky’s personal and political history, as well as the Spanish Civil War and Stalin’s show trials.

Anarchism and the Spanish Civil War

last great cause

The Last Great Cause

V.G. Tenturini

Search Foundation (2010)

Book Review

The Last Great Cause is a virtual encyclopedia of Spanish political history, starting from the Napoleon’s invasion in 1808. Although I was chiefly interested in the history of Spanish anarcho-syndicalism, the book also provides a comprehensive overview of the fascist coup Franco launched in 1936, the International Brigades who fought (unsuccessfully) to save the second Spanish Republic, the so-called “transition” following Franco’s death in 1975 and more recently efforts by the crusading Spanish jurist Baltasar Garzon to achieve justice for tens of thousands of victims of the Franco regime.

Venturini begins by identifying unique features of 19th century Spanish society that provided fertile ground for a major anarchist movement. Among these were Spain’s failure to achieve industrial revolution (except in Catalonia), the absence of a Spanish middle class and strong separatist movements in Catalonia and the Basque region of Spain. Unlike socialism, which historically develops among middle class intellectuals, Spanish anarchism had its origin in the working class.

The Rise of Spanish Anarchism

In 1868, a group of disconnected generals led the first major effort to depose the Spanish monarchy. The same year, Mikhail Bakunin, known as the father of collective anarchism, sent his disciple Giuseppe Fanelli to Spain to organize Spanish farm laborers. Within five years, the number of anarchists in Spain totaled 50,000.

The resulting “glorious revolution” produced in the First Republic. It lasted eleven months before the monarchy was restored.

Spanish history between 1902 and 1929 was marked by profound political and economic turmoil. During the early 1900s, Spanish anarchists merged with the Syndicalist* movement. In 1911, they formed the CNT.** CNT membership grew from 14,000 to 700,000 by 1919. In 1917, the CNT joined forces with the UGT*** to stage the first general strike.

In 1929, continuing popular unrest would lead to Alfonzo XIII’s removal from power and the creation of the Second Republic in 1931.

The Forces Backing Franco’s Coup

From the outset, the Republic faced powerful opposition from the Catholic Church, the Spanish military, wealthy landholders and Spanish and European Banks. Spain was embroiled in virtual civil war from 1933 on, as the forces of reaction engaged armed thugs (as the Falange Espanola) to thwart governmental efforts to carry out land and other democratic reforms.

These forces of reaction also assisted in planning and implementing the fascist coup Franco launched in 1936. The Republic was at a clear disadvantage in resisting the coup, owing to the major support Franco received from fascist Germany and Italy and the covert support he received from Britain and the US.  According to Venturini, Britain, which had major business interests in Spain, directly aided Franco with intelligence and naval support. American oil companies also provided him with oil (while refusing to sell it to Spain’s legitimately elected government), and Ford and other US manufacturers supplied him with trucks.

The International Brigades

Venturini estimates 40,000-50,000 volunteers from 53 countries participated in the International brigades. When Franco captured Catalonia in January 1939 500,000 Republican soldiers and civilians fled across the border to France. Many of the anarchists joined the Maquis, where they played a vital role in liberating France from the Nazis.

Venturini emphasizes that no allied troops fought in the South of France – that these regions were liberated by the Resistance – in many instances before the liberation of Paris.


*Syndicalism is a type of economic system in which industries are owned and managed by the workers.
**CNT Confederación Nacional del Trabajo National Confederation of workers.
***The Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT, General Union of Workers) is a major Spanish trade union, historically affiliated with the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE).
****Rural guerrilla bands of French resistance fighters.

A History of British Anarchism

slow burning fuse

The Slow Burning Fuse: the Lost History of British Anarchists

by John Quail

Granada Publishing (1978)

A number of chapters are available free on-line at Libcom.org

Book Review

The Slow Burning Fuse is the first (and only?) textbook of British anarchism, a social movement that’s virtually invisible in mainstream British history books.

According to Quail, anarchism evolved out of the 1830-48 European revolutions.* He describes it as a reaction to the ease with which electoral reform and democratic socialism snuffed out popular desire for genuine revolution. Proudhon, Bakunin and Kropotkin were the primary architects of anarchist thought.

Although British anarchism never became the mass movement it did in France and Spain, it had a major influence on the British trade union movement and British socialism.

In the UK, anarchism grew out of the Chartist** and Radical*** clubs and their demands for an end to the aristocracy and the privilege of unearned income (enjoyed by the royal family and Church of England clergy), abolition of the House of Lords, home rule for Ireland and nationalization of major industries. The most vocal proponents were German, French and Russian refugees who fled to Britain (as Karl Marx did) following the passage of antisocialism legislation in their native countries. For many years, all German revolutionary and anarchist literature was produced in London.

British anarchism reached high points during significant periods of working class unrest (1889-94 and 1910-19). Its influence declined after 1920 for four main reasons:

1) Police infiltration and false flag events (the British police appear to be responsible for most of the major bombings attributed to British anarchists).
2) The incorporation of anarchist supporters into the fledgling Labour Party (aka Socialist Labour Party) which first assumed power in 1924
3) The absorption of anarchist supporters into the British communist party following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. News of Lenin’s brutal treatment of Russian anarchists was very slow to reach the UK. Initially most British anarchists jubilantly supported the Bolshevik Revolution.

In their heyday, British anarchists boasted an active membership (ie participating in street protests) of 4,000, although 7,000-8,000 subscribers bought their newspapers and magazines.

In the early twentieth century, members of the anarchist movement collaborated with socialists, suffragettes and trade union syndicalists in staging major strikes and mass

Anarchism experienced a brief resurgence during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) and campaigned for British volunteers to join the International Brigades fighting Franco’s fascist coup.


*1830 revolutions

  • France
  • Belgium
  • Netherlands
  • Poland
  • Switzerland

1849 revolutions

  • Italy
  • France
  • Germany
  • Hungary
  • Galicia (Ukraine)
  • Switzerland
  • Poland
  • Ireland
  • Danubian principalities (Romania)
  • Schleswig (Denmark)

**Chartism was a working class movement between 1836 and 1848 with a principal aim of gaining political rights and influence for the working class.
***The Radicals were a parliamentary political grouping in the UK who helped to transform the Whigs into the Liberal Party

The Global Movement for Participatory Democracy

Beyond Elections: Redefining Democracy in the Americas

Directed by Silvia Leindecker and Michael Fox

Film Review

Beyond Elections is about the global participatory democracy (aka direct or deliberative democracy) movement – the grassroots effort to replace so-called representative democracy (aka polyarchy*) with a process in which citizens participate directly in policy decisions that affect their lives. Historically participatory democracy began in ancient Athens, where people governed directly through large public assemblies (unfortunately assemblies were limited to free born men, who comprised only one-fifth of the population).

According to the filmmakers, participatory democracy died out until 1989, when the Brazilian Workers Party resurrected it in Porto Allegre Brazil by creating participatory budget assemblies. In my view, this isn’t strictly correct, as the Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin, who the Marxists expelled from the First International** , advocated for a system of participatory democracy called “collective anarchism.” Workers used participatory democracy to run the 1871 Paris Commune, as did numerous Spanish cities during the Spanish Civil War.

The Spread of Participatory Democracy

The documentary explores how this new style of local government spread throughout Brazil and to other Latin American countries, as well as to Europe, Africa and even parts of Canada (Guelph Ontario and parts of Montreal). A few US activists are campaigning for more American communities to adopt participatory democracy (several are described in the 2012 book Slow Democracy), but most Americans have never heard of it. The only aspect of participatory democracy widely adopted in the US are workers cooperatives.

Beyond Elections presents numerous examples of participatory democracies in the various Latin American countries that have implemented it. Under representative democracy, local councils are nearly always controlled by local business interests, and elected officials typically enact budgets that benefit these interests. When ordinary people control the budgeting processes through popular assemblies, they spend the money on programs benefiting the entire community, eg on clean safe housing, health centers and basic sanitation.

The Venezuelan Example

Following Hugo Chavez’s election in 1998, the Venezuelan government called a constitutional assembly to write a new constitution. The latter enabled Venezuelans to directly govern their communities through communal councils, as well as water committees, workers committees (to set up and run workers cooperatives), health committees and land committees (to implement land reform and set up farmers cooperatives).

The projects carried out by the communal councils and various committee were funded by grants from the central government. Despite endemic corruption in the Venezuelan bureaucracy, these new grassroots-run structures succeeded in bringing health care, decent housing and basic sanitation to Venezuelan slums for the very first time.

The film also examines the adoption of participatory democracy in Bolivia, Ecuador and parts of Mexico controlled by the Zapatistas.

The film is in 16 parts of roughly 5 minutes. Each successive segment starts automatically as the preceding segment finishes.


*In a polyarchy, power is closely guarded by a wealthy elite and the population remains passive except for periodic “free elections” in which they vote for the elites of their choice. When a tiny minority controls nearly all the wealth, “free elections” are only possible if the majority is systematically controlled with psychological propaganda. See Emancipate Yourself from Mental Slavery
**The First International Working Man’s Association was an international organization which aimed at uniting a variety of different left-wing socialist, communist[1] and anarchist political groups and trade union organizations that were based on the working class and class struggle.

Portrait of a Working Class Revolutionary

 revolution

Revolution

by Russell Brand

Ballantine Books (2014)

Book Review

Russell Brand introduces his new book Revolution as an answer to a question Jeremy Paxman asked him in the interview that went viral on YouTube. Brand maintained that voting was a waste of time – that there needed to be a revolution. Paxman’s response was “And how, may I ask, is this revolution going to come about?”

This book never really answers Paxman’s question. In fact, it’s really more a memoir than a political treatise. Like his two earlier books (his 2009 My Book Wook and 2010 Booky Wook 2 ), Revolution mainly concerns Brand’s struggle with addiction. In this third book, however, he delineates a clear link between this struggle and his radicalization.

That being said, his new book is a funny, courageous, brutally honest account of the conscious personal changes that have kept him sober for the last eleven years.

Brand’s Personal Demons

Brand describes quite poignantly the demons that plague many working class people – the constant inner voices telling us we are worthless losers and will never amount to anything. This loser mentality, which starts in the working class home, is brutally reinforced in the public school system, through bullying and emotional abuse by teachers. It’s further compounded by TV advertising hammering on our worst insecurities and promising relief through the continuous purchase of products.

Brand experienced it as a constant anxiety in the pit of his stomach, which he could only relieve with drugs and alcohol, compulsive sex and eventually the adulation of an adoring audience. To overcome these addictions, he had to systematically reprogram himself to see how TV advertising was messing with his mind. A life centered around fulfilling our selfish needs is totally empty and sterile. None of us are the center of the universe. Both spiritually and scientifically (according to quantum physics), each of us in only a small part of a much larger whole.

For Brand a new-found belief in God and a recognition of the pivotal role a deeply corrupt capitalist system plays in all human misery were pivotal in this transformation.

Although I take strong exception to the way 12 step programs ram God down the throats of recovering addicts, I totally agree with Brand’s premise that activists must move out of their selfish individualism to have any hope of making successful revolution. True revolution must be aimed at the collective good. If people do it for their own selfish needs, they only end up replacing the old elite with a new one, as happened in the Soviet Union.

Stateless Participatory Democracy

What Brand favors is a political-economic system run on the lines of anarchist participatory democracy. He would have ordinary people running their own neighborhoods, communities, regions and workplaces through popular assemblies and consensus decision making. He gives the example of the popular assemblies that play a direct role in local governance in Porto Alegre Brazil.

The historical revolution he most admires is the Spanish Civil War, though this would seem to contradict his stance on strict nonviolence. Brand is inspired by the way workers pushed aside the capitalist stooges who were running the cities, factories and businesses and started running everything themselves. Unfortunately he seems to overlook the historical reality that these capitalists didn’t step aside voluntarily – that this was accomplished by force.

A Great Read

Despite being a little light on the pragmatics of mass organizing, I found Revolution a great read. Brand is incredibly witty, as well as a classic magpie who remembers everything he reads. His book attempt attempts to synthesize the views of a wide range of political thinkers and activists, though he clearly favors architect and systems theorist Buckminster Fuller, anarchist and Occupy activist David Graeber and political commentator and anarcho-syndicalist Noam Chomsky.

Also posted at Veterans Today