Anarchosocialist "Democracy"

Anarchosocialist "Democracy"

Under this heading, James Donald claims that "the fact that most modern anarcho-socialists advocate democratic procedures is itself ample evidence that they are not anarchists, for democracy is meaningless unless the majority can compel the minority to submit to its will." However, anarchists are very specific about their support for democratic procedures -- they support it as the only libertarian means for a group to make a decision. The fact that "anarcho" capitalists reject democracy (i.e. self-management) in favour of hierarchy is itself ample evidence that they are not anarchists.

A simple example will prove this point. In a capitalist workplace the employees are told what to do by a manager who is appointed by the owners. The employees are expected to follow orders or leave. Therefore capitalism creates hierarchies which destroy the employees' ability to manage the decisions that affect their lives during work hours. In other words, they are controlled and so governed by a minority. In an anarchist workplace, decisions are reached by majority vote and all individuals can express themselves and help determine what affects them. From this example, it's clear that "anarcho" capitalists are not anarchists -- they support government and authoritarian control.

Donald then goes on to state that "the events in Catalonia suggest that even their advocacy of democratic procedures is also sham. Not only did they implement a government, they implemented an undemocratic and unconstitutional government." Of course, only James Donald really knows what anarchists really think. Like all authoritarians, he knows what the "truth" is, and if his opponents state the exact opposite of what he claims, then their claims are false, not his. Is James seriously claiming that the CNT and FAI militants who put up with years of repression, imprisonment, and assassinations, actually were just waited for the moment to "implement a government"? Hardly, if this was the case they would have stood for elections like the pro-capitalist "Libertarian Party" in the USA (an party which many "anarcho"-capitalists seem happy to join and vote for - apparently in the belief that "anarchy" can come through the state!). As noted, his choice of words is distinctly misleading, as the CNT did not create but joined a government. No matter how many times Donald repeats his lie, it does not make it true.

Donald then goes on to state that "the undemocratic actions of the Anarcho-socialists would not be particularly undemocratic if they had an ideology and their organizations had a constitution whereby the elected leaders have a mandate to do as they please until the next election. Their actions were objectionable because they were taken in defiance of their theory and of the constitutions of their organizations."

We are sure that readers of James Donald's web-pages would be surprised to find out that anarchists have long argued that his point is correct. For example, the plenum held by the CNT militants on July 20th should have organised a full conference of the CNT, UGT and non-unionised workplaces in order to fully discuss what to do. However, given the fact of the recent fascist coup, it's certain that many CNT militants considered it more important to get the militias organised to go free those parts of Spain that were under Franco. This does not justify their actions, but it does explain them.

Now, moving on, Donald states that "similarly there would be nothing offensive in their undemocratic actions if they were real anarchists, but instead they exercised state power in the name of their followers, and did not bother to obtain their followers consent to it."

So "real" anarchists think it's okay to govern people? Doanld's statement says a lot about his claim to be an anarchist. Is he actually suggesting that it's okay for anarchists to act undemocratically and exercise state power as long as they did so in their own name? Given his support for private cops, capitalist hierarchy, and military coups, we can only assume that he is. Obviously "real" anarchists like James Donald think that hier-archy is compatible with no-archy.

He then goes on to quote Burnett Bolloten's The Grand Camouflage, page 159, that the decision to join the government was made "in violation of the democratic principle, it had been taken without consulting the rank and file."

This is true. However, Donald does not raise the important question of why, if the rank and file opposed the move, did they not resist it. Many anarchists opposed the collaboration and argued against it in their newspapers. For example, both the Libertarian Youth and Friends of Durruti published papers in which they opposed the compromises and collaboration of the CNT, arguing their case many times openly and in public. Here is an eyewitness account of a Libertarian Youth conference:

"And then I saw a Libertarian Youth conference which was prepared to vote almost unanimously to condemn without debate the policy of government collaboration. However, the chairman insisted that supporters of collaboration be given a chance to speak and be heard. I saw six young men go to the platform and argue earnestly and eloquently for their viewpoint. There were no interruptions, no booing. The vote remained almost unanimous in favour of opposing collaboration." [Abe Bluestein, introduction to Anarchist Organisation:The History of the F.A.I.]

In addition, we have noted many times the democratic nature of the industrial and rural collectives, in which people could discuss issues in mass assemblies. This means that a democratic means existed to express opinions all across Catalonia and Aragon. In addition, all non-fascist political parties and unions had their own press and used them to put forward their ideas.

In addition, there were numerous CNT conferences and plenums during the revolution. In September 1936, for example, there were National and Regional CNT plenums where the decision to join the government was made. On September 24th, 1936, a Regional Plenum of Syndicates was held in Barcelona at which 505 delegates representing 327 syndicates which agreed that the CNT should join the Government in Catalonia. It should be pointed out that the CNT was a minority in this government, which was made up of the following numbers - 3 CNT, 5 republicans, 2 PSUC and 1 POUM.

This figure clearly shows that James Donald's claim that the CNT "created" the state is a lie. If the CNT was as powerful as he claimed, would they have "created" a state in which they were in a minority? Of course not.

Donald then quotes Fraser's Blood of Spain, page 184:

"But more was evidently needed. The choice was between working class and popular front power. There were no alternatives.

The decision in favor of the latter was reached at a secret meeting [...] The decision was kept secret. [...]

"The Catalan CNT sprang its surprise: Three CNT ministers were joining the new Generalitat government: The militia committee was to be dissolved, and with it all the local committees. "

It should be pointed out that the last quote ends with "all the local committees were to be replaced by new town councils" in which all Popular Front and unions were to be represented.

Donald then states that "Ronald Frazer does not draw any conclusions from the fact that these decisions were made in secret by an organization that was supposedly functioning by participatory democracy." However, Fraser does mention the following:

"The CNT would determine its own decisions. At the end of August, it did so. . .Again the majority opted for 'collaboration' -- but with a difference; this time it was to accept the invitation, repeatedly made by President Companys, to participate in the Generalitat government" [p. 184]

This "secret meeting" referred to by Fraser is thus this August meeting and that decision was confirmed by the September one. These were plenums of CNT unions' "shop stewards" and so were "secret" to outsiders. These CNT shop stewards were not full-timers but militants from the shop-floor and so were aware of the feelings of the CNT membership. Again, these plenums had heated discussions before the decision to collaborate was decided.

The reasoning behind this decision was far from the James Donald seems to be suggesting. Basically, unless they collaborated, the CNT would have been denied arms and resources and so marginalised -- "The war made the decision inevitable; the CNT couldn't allow itself to betrampled on by the political parties, it had to join the government" [p.186]

As for the local committees being replaced, this was the idea of the Republicans and Communists. As Bolloten points out, they "hoped that this participation, by enchancing the government's authority among the rank and file of the CNT and FAI, would facilitate the reconstruction of the shattered machinery of the state. . .they further hoped that the CNT's entry. . .would hasten the supplanting of these committees. . .by regular organs of administration that had either been thrust into the shade or has ceased to function from the first day of the Revolution" [Op. Cit., p. 212] We have already noted that these committees were not replaced without a struggle. Therefore, in practice, the powers of the state were pretty weak. It did not attempt to crush the revolution until May 1937, months after the CNT had joined the government as a minority.

James Donald then states the following: "Since this announcement was a surprise, I draw the inference that the local committees were not consulted and therefore that they were a mere pretense, like the workers Soviets of the Soviet unions, powerless and impotent, mere window dressing to maintain the charade of mass participation in the affairs of the masters and mass support for whatever the masters happened to will at that particular moment."

However, as noted, what Donald does not quote is the reference to the CNT regional plenum of August in which the decision was made. This meeting was made up of members of local CNT union committees. As indicated from Bolloten, Fraser, and many other sources, CNT plenums were held and decisions reached by the debate in these meetings. In other words, his inference is false. This can be seen from some quotes from Frazer which Donald strangely does not provide:

"The decision in favour of the latter [collaboration] was reached at a secret meeting [the Catalan CNT plenum of unions in August] and was taken . . .by the Catalan libertarians alone; only they could decide a matter which affected their region - though its impact was national. The decision was kept secret" [p. 184-5] and "While heated discussions continued in Madrid, the Catalan CNT sprang its surprise." [p. 186] In other words, the local committees were consulted and the decision was made locally.

He then continues, "Because they were not functioning in accordance with their own theory and constitution, I infer that they were not functioning in accordance with any theory or constitution." This is partly true, the CNT had made so many compromises that a leadership had developed and had become increasingly separated from its base. However, it is false to suggest that "they" were functioning as tyrants. Taking an example from May 1937:

"At a conference of local unions in Barcelona, the leadership sought and obtained the support of the unions to continue to collaborate with the government of Catalonia after the May Days. However, the unions refused to withhold financial support for the Libertarian Youth, who opposed the policy of collaboration vigorously in their publications. And the unions also refused to call upon the transit workers not to distribute these opposition publications in the public transit system, or the milk drivers to stop distributing the Libertarian Youth papers together with the daily milk." [Abe Bluestein, introduction to Anarchist Organisation: The History of the F.A.I.]

Hence it can be seen that, while not as it should be, the internal democracy of the CNT was working to some degree. As is evident from Bolloten's account and, in passing, from Fraser's, the decision to join the government was made by a CNT plenum, not a CNT committee acting alone, as James Donald suggests in his diatribe. This is not to say that everything was "ideal," just to point out it was not as bad as Donald makes out.

He then does on to state: "A collectivist anarchist condemned the formation of the militia committee as follows" and quotes from an article on the Spanish revolution. Here is the quotation (put in the correct order):

"Instead of pursuing anarchist policies (and past CNT policy as indicated from congresses), the committee members started to pursue their own policies. Far from NOT seizing power themselves (as the Trotskyites lament, their definition of 'workers power'), the CNT and FAI committee members seized power within their own organizations.


"In practice the committees had been separated from the rank and file and their members transformed from delegates into representatives ("leaders" in every sense of the word) who started to make policy decisions on the rank and files behalf, without bothering to consult them.


"This shows clearly the role of the CNT committee members (see also "Towards a Fresh Revolution" by the Friends of Durruti). They used their new found influence in the eyes of Spain to unite with the leaders of other organizations/parties but not the rank and file. This process lead to the creation of the "Central Committee of Anti Fascist Militias"


"This first betrayal of anarchist principles led to all the rest, [...]"

It makes interesting reading to see what is hidden by the deletions indicated by James Donald's use of dots within brackets ([...]). The anarchist writer in question argues that "the leading committees [of the CNT] decided off their own backs not to talk of libertarian communism but only of the fight against fascism" and that the "state and government was not abolished by self-management, only ignored" -- in other words, he points out that the CNT did not introduce anarchism into Catalonia but instead cooperated with other unions and political parties in order to fight the fascists. The author of the article`s major mistake, we should point out, lies in ignoring the responsibility of the rank and file CNT members, a point we will discuss below.

James Donald then goes on and says that "He complains that the 'Central Committee of the Anti Fascist Militias' was not organized in accordance with anarcho-socialists principles" which is true, in a way. He actually argues that this body should not have been created at all and instead argued that a "genuine federal body" based on "workplace, militia and community assemblies" should have been created. In other words, that the CNT should not have compromised its anarchist principles in the name of anti-fascist unity and smashed the state.

Donald then argues: "But the Central Committee created a police force with a special privilege of exercising force, impermissable to ordinary mortals," which is false. As noted, during the periods around July 19th 1936 and May 1937, the working class of Catalonia were armed. In other words, "use of force" was "exercised" by "ordinary mortals." Its strange that James Donald seems to forget this little fact, along with the fascist coup that resulted in these arms being distributed to the population. It makes one wonder whether his account can be trusted.

Donald then asks, "Are we to conclude that if the Central Committee was organized in accordance with anarchist principles, it would have been perfectly in accord with anarchist principles for it to create a police force?" Interesting question. As James Donald supports the idea of private police forces, it's hard to understand what to make of this point. He obviously has no quarrel with police forces as such. Now, the question arises: if the revolution in Catalonia had proceeded in an anarchist fashion, would it have been "in accordance with anarchist principles to create a police force." The answer to this is that it would have depended on what people wanted. If the individuals in their various communities had thought that "police forces" were required, then we are sure they would have organised them. So, there is no answer to this question. One thing is sure, however: allowing companies to employ private cops does not equal a libertarian society any more than ignoring the state does.

Lastly, James summarises as follows: "In effect he makes the same complaint for Catalonia as for every other socialist revolution. 'If only the leaders had been more virtuous.'" More like General Pincohet, perhaps? But no, the anarchist in question is indicating what happened, and he asks in part two of his article whether "the defeat in Spain [was] a defeat of anarchist theory and tactics OR a failure of anarchists to apply their theory and tactics." He concludes that it was the latter.

Whether anarchists are happy with it or not, the simple fact is that the rank and file of the CNT allowed the CNT leadership to join, and continue to stay in, a government. As indicated above, they had ample opportunity to hear arguments against collaboration and to express themselves in union and collective meetings. Even after going on strike and taking to the streets during the May Days against the communist-led attack on their revoluntary conquests, they returned to work after the CNT leadership asked them to. This suggests that, like many CNT and FAI leaders, they considered collaboration as the lesser evil to Fascism, and so sacrificed their principles in the hope that the capitalist-backed totalitarianism of Franco could be stopped.

Unfortunately this did not happen. It is clear that the Communists, Republicans, and Liberals preferred fascism to even the slightest hint of anarchism. As did, it should be noted, the capitalists in Spain and internationally. The tragedy of Spain is that many anarchists did not apply their ideas in practice and instead collaborated with the state in the name of "anti-fascist" unity. They did so for noble reasons, but the results just reenforced the conclusion that statism and capitalism do not work.


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