Ready for Revolution

The CNT Defense Committees in Barcelona 1933-38

By Agustín Guillamón
Book Review Details
Author: Agustín Guillamón
Publisher: AK Press
Edition: 2014
Page Details
Section: Book Reviews =>
Subjects: Anarchism, Revolution & Rebellion
Posted: Modified:

Translated by Paul Sharkey

Morpheus: ‘I didn’t say it would be easy, Neo, I just said it would be the truth’[1]

I remember seeing Frederica Montseny speak in Barcelona in 1986 for the 50th anniversary of the Spanish Revolution. I was on holiday with Ian Bone and our girlfriends and as we looked up at Montseny I remember Ian slagging her off and being a bit embarrassed that this ‘brave’ woman who must have been through so much was not getting the respect she deserved.

Of course at the time I was a young naïve 19 year old who believed that the revolution would have been successful if it wasn’t for those pesky fascists/communists etc. and that the CNT/FAI[2] were a god like happy family and that scumbags like Frederica Montseny, Mariano Vasquez, Diego Abad de Santillan etc. were heroes.

The real heroes, as usual, were the thousands and thousands of working class anarchists who died on the battlefields through lack of weapons or who were arrested, tortured and murdered by the Stalinists for being ‘uncontrollable’ – all with the blessing of the CNT/FAI leadership.

Just like his ‘Friends of Durruti’ book[3] , Agustín Guillamón’s Ready for Revolution looks at the real heroes of the Spanish Revolution, the people who operated in the CNT defence committees in Barcelona (1933-38). Without them there would have been no revolution and the fascists would have been successful on day one of the army mutiny.

The Defence Committees were, of course, already well organised before July 19th 1936. Each Committee was based in the working class area where the members lived and worked, so obviously they knew who their friends and enemies were, where the guns were kept, where best to build barricades, what buildings to seize etc. etc. Coming from the working class they knew they could count on working class support. They had been tried and tested in numerous strikes, demonstrations, insurrections etc. So when the army mutinied they knew exactly what to do, despite having few weapons; the politicians fearing the working class more than the fascists had given them nothing – not one gun!

Unfortunately for the Spanish working class the leadership of the CNT/FAI refused to seize power saying this would lead to an ‘anarchist dictatorship’! The disgusting naiveté of this statement is astounding when your members consist of 70-80% of the Barcelona working class, when your members have fought (sometimes bare-handed) and defeated the fascists with no help from any other political group; you have a moral obligation to seize power!

So what happened instead? Leaders like Montseny, Santillan etc. who did absolutely no fighting, allowed the terror stricken bourgeoisie and Stalinists to breathe a sigh of relief, re-group, re-arm and wait for the right moment to seize back power. Of course the CNT masses weren’t stupid. With their Defence Committees they already had embryonic working class power. The Committees organised in their districts distribution of food, work and defence. These were the people who rejected collaboration and who would be later referred to as ‘uncontrollables’.
Unfortunately, the next two steps; ousting the collaborating CNT leadership and seizing power were not taken. That would have meant dissolving the redundant CNT/FAI and setting up and extending democratic organs of working class power; essentially linking up all the Committees. But as Guillamón explains, bitterness towards the collaborating leadership was growing. At the Plenum of Anarchist groups in Barcelona a decision was made to end collaboration. Montseny was constantly and loudly heckled at a monster mass meeting, so much that she said she ‘would never speak in Barcelona again’ (if only!).

This of course meant that there was a constant battle between the militant anarchist working class who could see that everything they had given their blood for being taken away by a bourgeoisie aided by a heavily armed Stalinist police force trying to re-establish their control and wipe out the Committees and the ‘uncontrollables’. The ‘May Days’ of 1937 were inevitable . With the exception of the ‘Friends of Durruti’, the May Days exposed the total lack of ideas and any sort of programme from the CNT leadership save more collaboration and laying down your weapons! After May it wasn’t long before their Committees were wiped out and any sign of working class power was gone forever.

(LG 18-06-14)

  1. [1]The Matrix (Andy Wachowski & Lana Wachowski, 1999) [Back...]
  2. [2]The Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT; “National Confederation of Labour”) is a Spanish confederation of anarcho-syndicalist labour unions affiliated with the International Workers Association (IWA; Spanish: AIT – Asociación Internacional de los Trabajadores). Historically, the CNT has also been affiliated with the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (Iberian Anarchist Federation – FAI). In this capacity it was referred to as the CNT-FAI. – Wikipedia [Back...]
  3. [3]Agustin Guillamon, The Friends of Durruti Group 1937-1939, trans. Paul Sharkey (AK Press, 1996) [Back...]

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