We, the Anarchists!: A study of the Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI) 1927–1937

By Stuart Christie

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(1946 - ) ~ Scottish Anarchist Publisher and Would-Be Assassin of a Fascist Dictator
Stuart Christie (born 10 July 1946) is a Scottish anarchist writer and publisher. As an 18-year-old Christie was arrested while carrying explosives to assassinate the Spanish caudillo General Franco. He was later alleged to be a member of the Angry Brigade, but was acquitted of related charges. He went on to found the Cienfuegos Press publishing house and in 2008 the online Anarchist Film Channel which hosts films and documentaries with anarchist and libertarian themes. (From : Wikipedia.org.)

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Author’s Preface ‘With the crowd of commonplace chatterers, we are already past praying for: no reproach is too bitter for us, no epithet too insulting. Public speakers on social and political subjects find that abuse of anarchists is an unfailing passport to popular favor. Every conceivable crime is laid to our charge, and opinion, too indolent to learn the truth, is easily persuaded that anarchy is but another name for wickedness and chaos. Overwhelmed with opprobrium and held up to hatred, we are treated on the principle that the surest way of hanging a dog is to give it a bad name.’ Elisée Reclus Since the official birth of organized anarchism at the Saint Imier Congress of 1872, no anarchist organization has been held up to greater opprobrium or subjected to such gross misrepresentation than the Federación Anarquista Ibé... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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1: Roots: 1872–1910 The First International Anarchism in Spain has its roots in the so-called ‘Bourgeois’ revolutionary period of Spanish history between 1868 and 1873 when the pillars of the old semi-feudal regime finally collapsed and the State became transformed into an organ of bourgeois government. The new dominant bourgeois class did not spring from the still small and weak industrial bourgeoisie but from an agrarian-based mercantile bourgeoisie whose political and economic objectives were liberal agrarian capitalism. The tension between a State-supported agrarian capitalism on the one hand and the growing economic power of industrial capitalism which came to a head at this time set the stage for the political and economic struggles of the period. The breakup of Church lands and the entailed estates in the middle of the nineteenth century was not simply an anti-clerical measure implemented by a liberal governmen... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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2: The Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) 1910–23 The founding of the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo in Barcelona in 1910 was, for many, the most significant event in the history of organized labor in Spain after the formation of the Spanish section of the first International in 1869. Anarchist workers, inspired by the anti-authoritarian, anti-state and federalist principles of syndicalism as outlined in the 1906 Charter of Amiens and, in particular, the writings of French syndicalist Fernando Pelloutier, saw in the direct action and anti-parliamentarism of industrial unionism an ideal vehicle for introducing anarchist ideas to the workers and the means for overthrowing the State. ‘The school for the intellectual training of the workers aims to make them acquainted with the technical management of production and economic life in general, so that when a revolutionary situation arises they will be capa... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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3: The Dictatorship 1923–1927 The attitude of the new regime towards the CNT was made clear within 10 days of the coup d’état. On 24 September 1923, Martínez Anido was appointed under-secretary of the Ministry of the Interior. General Arlegui, Anido’s ex-chief of police in Barcelona, the architect of governmental terrorism, was made director general of Public Order. Government strategy, however, proved not to be the expected brutal onslaught on militants or the outlawing of the anarcho-syndicalist union. The method of attack was an oblique one. By selective use of the law the authorities made it impossible for the CNT to continue functioning as a union: delegates collecting union dues were arrested on charges of embezzlement, records and membership lists were seized in government audits of accounts. In Barcelona, the nerve center of the CNT, police pressure was intense. Finally, on October 3, the anarchist activists i... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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4: The Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI) 1927 On 27 July 1927, at the height of the summer fiesta, 20 delegates or so from local, regionally federated and exiled Spanish and Portuguese groups met in the house of Aurora López in Patraix, in the suburbs of Valencia. This assembly was the founding conference of what was to become the most misrepresented anarchist organization in history — the Federación Anarquista Ibérica, better known by its initials FAI, the Iberian Anarchist Federation. The Valencia Conference was to last two days. To ensure security it was held in two separate locations. The second session took place under cover of a picnic in a pine forest bordering a beach to the south of the city in the area known as the Grao de Valencia. Progreso Fernández, a Valencian anarchist who until recently had been living in France, was one of the org... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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5: Founding Aims The raison d’être of the meeting was: to aggregate, formally, into one peninsular association, the anarchist affinity groups of the three parent organizations, the exiled and dispersed anarchist groups of the Iberian peninsula — Spain’s National Federation of Anarchist Groups, the Federation of Spanish Speaking Anarchist Groups in France and the Portuguese Anarchist Union; and also to propagate anarchist ideas among the people. But most important of all, for the majority of those present, was the need to promote, through the CNT, the parent body to which most of those at the meeting belonged, the Libertarian Communist vision of society and the anti-political and direct-actionist principles adopted at the La Comedia Congress of 1919; and to defend these from the reformist threat presented by union leaders such as Pestaña. Although it was never referred to directly in the minutes of the Val... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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6: Secret Society — Revolutionary Elite? It has often been affirmed by Marxist and liberal historians that the FAI was a secret and elitist organization. In fact, the FAI never constituted a secret organization, nor did its militants operate in any covert way in relation to the CNT or attempt to keep their affiliation secret from nonmembers. Certainly, under the conditions imposed by the dictatorship or in periods of repression, membership of the FAI was not something to broadcast widely, but this is a far cry from the ‘mysterious and powerful… clandestine organization… made up of kindred groups similar to Masonic Lodges under the authority of a secret Mainland Committee’, as claimed by Trotskyist historians Broué and Témime. An indication of the lack of secrecy and poor security that surrounded the FAI can be seen in the fact that Primo de Rivera’s police and intelligence... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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7: ‘Dirty Tricks Department’? FAI members have also been accused of being ‘other worldly’, criminals or psychopaths. On closer examination these charges prove to be nothing more than highly subjective, untestable conjectures intended to suit the author’s prejudices. In the few cases where ‘proof’ is adduced it turns out to be hearsay evidence from hostile witnesses. The criminal pathology of Spanish anarchism can only be refuted by empirical study rather than the abstract theories of indolent or malevolent historians. George Woodcock, for example, apparently unaware that the FAI consisted in the main of rank-and-file cenetistas, states that apart from ‘hard working trade union leaders and the theoreticians of Spanish anarchism’ (most of whom didn’t join the FAI until 1934, by which time it had ceased to be a revolutionary instrument) it also contained a ‘dubious continge... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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8: A Parallel CNT? Trotskyist historian Felix Morrow described the FAI as ‘a highly centralized party apparatus through which it maintained control of the CNT’. American liberal historian Gabriel Jackson who depicted it as ‘the tightly organized elite, which, since 1927, had dominated the CNT’ shared this view. Contemporary participants do not share this view of the FAI. Francisco Carrasquer, a faista, noted: ‘Each FAI group thought and acted as it deemed fit, without bothering about what the others might be thinking or deciding, for there was no intergroup discipline such as was found between communist cells in respect of territory, etc. Secondly, they had no competence, opportunity or jurisdiction — though they might have preferred that — to foist a party line upon the grassroots. They were like the rest, no more. Had it been otherwise how... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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9: Unionism versus Anarcho-Syndicalism By the winter and spring of 1927–28 the dictatorship had lost the support of the officer and professional classes and was drawing uneasily to a close. This led to a corresponding upsurge in working-class militancy. The CNT began to regroup its scattered forces. On 16 and 17 January 1928 the official FAI delegate to the CNT National Plenum held in Madrid proposed the trabazón, the joint defense and solidarity committees, as the most efficient and suitable way to link both organizations and prepare them for the task of confronting the dictatorship and easing the eventual reemergence of the confederation from clandestinity. ‘It is not proposed’, stated the delegate, ‘to create a new organization, but to connect like-minded organizations for the realization of activities and resolving problems common to both, forming committees or general councils which will harmonize an... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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10: 1930 – A Revolutionary Instrument By the beginning of 1930 the unionist faction held the upper hand; they had their own paper, Acción, and were in full control of the National Committee. Pestaña’s meeting with General Mola had secured legal recognition for the union, which was now beginning to reorganize nationally. More and more of the leading cenetistas openly began to press for closer contacts with republican politicians, not just in a tactical alliance but also as a strategy to ensure the future growth of the union. The degree to which tactical collaboration led to reformism and tied in the leadership of the anarcho-syndicalist union with the bourgeois republican politicians became clear with the publication of Inteligencia Republicana in March 1930. This political and statist document had been signed by Joan Peiró and other well-known confederal leaders such as M... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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11: The Bourgeois Republic The Second Spanish Republic was declared on 14 April 1931. The people of Spain who saw in it the engine of change and the promise of new beginnings welcomed it with enormous popular enthusiasm. Article No. 1 of the new Constitution read: ‘Spain is a democratic republic of workers of every class, organized in a regime of liberty and justice. The powers of all its organs emanate from the people. The Republic represents an integral State, compatible with the autonomy of the municipalities and regions.’ The CNT leadership had contributed much to the new Republic. In a truly Pilatesque speech Joan Peiró confirmed, with obvious satisfaction, that the CNT had acted as midwife to the Republic: ‘Our subversive labor from Solidaridad Obrera and from the tribunes, contributed directly to the electoral triumph o... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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12: The ‘Storm Petrels’ Return The declaration of the Republic permitted the return from exile and the regrouping of the dispersed younger anarchist activists who were to challenge the campaign engineered by Pestaña’s Solidaridad group aimed at weaning the CNT away from its anti-statist and anti-political statutes. As well as confronting what they saw as the institutionalized leadership of the older generation, these young men were to infuse the Spanish anarchist movement with a fresh revolutionary ardor that was to enable it to resist, successfully, a military uprising and lay the foundations of one of the most profound social revolutions in history. Prominent among these were the members of the old Los Solidarios and Los Treinta group. A few days after his return from exile, textile worker Buenaventura Durruti, one of the better-known members of the old Los Solidarios, clarified the anarchist posi... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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13: 1931 — The Conservatorio Congress The 1931 CNT Congress was opened by Ángel Pestaña on behalf of the solidly Catalan fourteen-man National Committee. These men represented a generation of leaders who had been compromised through their relationship with Catalan politicians and who had opted for pragmatic social reform. Their main criterion was that the Republic had to be supported until the organization could be consolidated and all threats of a rightist military coup overcome. They wished to transform a union committed to revolutionary change into the defender of the status quo. The hostile undercurrents boiled to the surface early on in proceedings. Congress quickly became a battlefield in the struggle between the two tendencies. Francesc Arín and Joan Peiró spoke on behalf of the National Committee, reviewing the recent activities of the organization and outlining CNT collaboration, since 1923, w... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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14: ‘The Manifesto of the Thirty’ The bitter conflicts between unionists and revolutionaries finally exploded in late August 1931 with the publication of what was to become known as the Treintista Manifesto. While unionist influence had been steadily eroded over the previous year by the polarized political situation and the failure of the reformist leadership to defend working-class interests, an increasingly radicalized rank and file had adopted the FAI as its voice. The violence of the strikes that summer and the increasingly revolutionary atmosphere appeared to presage disaster for the union leaders. Thirty CNT members, from the editorial group of Solidaridad Obrera and the National and Regional Committees of the CNT, many of them members of the Solidaridad group, met during August to draw up a manifesto; it was a final gamble to force the issue to a head and isolate the revolutionaries. ‘With it’, sa... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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15: 1932: Insurrection — The Revolutionary Gymnasia For anarchists, social revolution is the ultimate collective instrument of the oppressed against the hierarchical and exploitative social and economical structure under which they are forced to live. It is the only means by which the old order can be displaced. Compromise with capitalism and collaboration with the State through the parliamentary process serves only to institutionalize misery, injustice and violence in its broadest sense. With the coming to power of the Alcalá Zamora presidency in January 1932, working-class discontent with the frustrated and impotent bourgeois Republic boiled over into violent confrontation. The first incidents of the New Year took place in Arnedo, in Logro–o, on 5 January, when a number of people were killed in clashes between the Civil Guard and strikers. The wave of revolutionary militancy steadily gathered momentum. On 18 Januar... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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16: Legitimacy Crisis By 1932 it was clear to all sections of the population that liberal democracy was not working the way it was supposed to. Dissatisfaction with government affected everyone, cutting across class and regional lines. The politicizing effect of the democratic surge that accompanied the Republic had led the people to make political demands on the State that could not be met. Disappointment was inevitable and confidence in the Republic began to wither. The year 1932 was dominated by uninterrupted agrarian and industrial unrest. Strikes and violent confrontations were a daily occurrence. The specter of revolution haunted the agrarian, industrial and commercial bourgeoisie and the semi-feudal landed elite of Spain alike. On 29 May a National Plenum of CNT Regionals had organized a successful nationwide day of protest against governmental repression and anti-CNT legislation such as the jurados mixtos. The Law of Profession... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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17: The Road to 1936 As the world crisis bit deeper into the economy, with unemployment affecting almost every working-class family, Spanish workers became increasingly more radicalized. Industrial Barcelona was particularly affected. The number of armed robberies and petty thefts in the city escalated. In response to this crime wave, which was laid at the door of the anarchists by the bourgeois press, the FAI launched a propaganda campaign to convince the workers that individual solutions were not the answer to their problems. Collective action and the revolutionary general strike were emphasized as the only enduring solutions to exploitation and injustice. Coming from such legendary ‘expropriators’ as Durruti, Ascaso, Oliver, etc., all of whom had abandoned their underground lives and were now respected and dedicated union and community activists, there could be no confusion in the thinking public’s mind that ‘banditry&rsqu... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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18: December 1933 — Millenarians or ‘Conscious Militants’? As expected, the right won the elections. With an abstention rate of 32 per cent in Spain as a whole and 40 per cent in Catalonia, the authoritarian left, with an estimated loss of one and a half million votes, was roundly defeated. The socialists took just 60 seats against 116 in 1931. With the right victorious it was now the turn of the socialists to be on the receiving end of some of the repression they had been party to as members of the previous administration. On 3 December the Minister of the Interior declared a state of emergency. For the anarchists the bienio negro, the ‘Black Biennium’ as the repressive period that was to follow was dubbed, was merely a continuation of the repression that had begun in the summer of 1931. The ‘victorious’ abstentionism of the CNT in the November 1933 elections should not be viewed as a mere passive... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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19: The Planners Move In By early 1934, with most of the revolutionary anarchists in jail or in hiding, the changes which had begun to take place in the FAI since the previous year became more noticeable, both structurally and in membership. From being the ‘cutting edge’ of the CNT rank and file it became the seedbed for a new breed of bohemian intellectuals, administrators and publicists. There was a clear shift towards centralization and greater emphasis on turning the FAI into an organizational ‘center of excellence’ that would ‘sharpen the weapons of revolution’. Santillán, one of those maverick intellectuals, who had joined the FAI in mid 1933 on his return from Argentina, was the principal architect of this shift away from what he described as ‘resistance to capitalism’ and towards ‘revolutionary preparation’: ‘The emphasis now s... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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20: Interregnum — 1934–1935 In the recriminations that followed October, the CNT’s alleged lack of solidarity was singled out by the Marxist press as a prime contributory factor to the ignominious collapse of the rising. From exile in Paris, the Socialist Party leader, Indalecio Prieto, claimed in a statement to the United Press Agency that one of the reasons for the failure of the rising — which they, the socialist leaders had not wanted, regarding it as premature and inadequately prepared — was the abstention of the CNT. Rafael Vidiella, the Catalan PSOE leader, who wrote in Leviatán, did not share this opinion: ‘So what happened that on the morning of 7 October the Generalitat was to surrender without offering any resistance and without being defended — after a few brief hours…? Quite simply, what happened is that today’s revolutions... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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21: Plots, Plans and the Popular Front A series of economic and social crises and major scandals in late 1935 involving the bribery and corruption of government ministers finally brought down the right-wing government of Alejandro Lerroux. The Estraperlo Scandal, the one that attracted most publicity, involved the presentation of gold watches to members of the government and Radical Party in return for the licensing of ‘fixed’ electrical roulette wheels in casinos. New elections were arranged for February 1936. The electoral campaign of the right, centered round Gil Robles, whom President Alcalá Zamora disliked and had been avoiding appointing as prime minister, was aimed at establishing a totalitarian regime. The left, on the other hand, unwilling to go into the elections disunited, formed a ‘Popular Front’ coalition consisting of socialists, republicans, communists and other Marxist groupings, as well a... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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22: 19 July 1936 A rightist coup was imminent. Precise information as to the date of the military rising had been obtained as early as 13 July by CNT–FAI the CNT Regional Defense Committee of Catalonia from their informants in the barracks. The anti-fascist initiative was taken by the Defense Committee, who began to speed up their plans to resist the military, but their work was deliberately obstructed by a governmental decree on 14 July that ordered the closure of all CNT locals – a gesture intended primarily, no doubt, to appease the right, in the hope of defuzing the growing political tensions. On 16 July the Catalan CNT convened a Regional Plenum to finalize resistance plans. That same morning the Generalitat requested a meeting with representatives of the Regional Committees of the CNT and FAI to discuss collaboration against the approaching ‘fascist danger’. A special five-man committee was ap... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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23: The FAI Turned Upside Down From 21 July onward the FAI, led by Diego Abad de Santillán, ceased to operate as an independent entity. The trabazón and the Civil War had fuzed both organizations into an entity known as the CNT–FAI. However, the sharing of power with the other political parties, first through the Militias Committee, then, later, through the Generalitat and central governments, also meant the sharing of values. It was not long before the bourgeois utilitarian strategy of expediency displaced traditional anarchist concern for the values of social justice. From 21 July onwards, as we have seen, social revolution was removed from the agenda of the joint CNT–FAI committees. The revolutionary events that were, by that time, moving into top gear in industry and in the countryside, particularly in Aragón, were ignored. Other than calling off the general strike declared on 19 July the higher com... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Arnold Lunn, Spanish Rehearsal, London, 1937, p. 272 Noam Chomsky, ‘Objectivity and Liberal Scholarship’, American Power and the New Mandarins, New York, 1967, p. 76. Pere Gabriel, Anarquismo en España, in G. Woodcock. Ibid. For the full text of the Preamble and Program of the Alliance see Sam Dolgoff (ed.), Bakunin on Anarchism, Montreal, 1980, pp. 426–428. Diego Abad de Santillán, Contribución a la historia del movimiento obrero español, Mexico, 1962, Vol 1. p. 116. Rudolf Rocker, Anarcho-Syndicalism, London, 1938, p. 86. Gabriel, op. cit., p. 364. ‘Out of a total membership of 26,585 in 1911, some 12,000 were from Catalonia, some 6,000 were Andalusians and a little more than 1,000 Valencians.&rsqu... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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