James A. Donald's Reign of Error

James A. Donald's Reign of Error


Section 0 : Introduction
Section 1 : Donald's use of quotes
Section 2 : Getting dates wrong
Section 3 : Ignoring the context
Section 4 : Changing the argument after being proved wrong
Section 5: The strange case of the May Days
Section 6 : What did happen in Aragon?


The debate (if you can call it that) between anarchists and James A. Donald which took place in the mid-1990s on what happened during the Spanish Civil War went going back and forth for some time. In that time, Donald has been continually exposed as speaking nonsense. However, once he decided to call us "totalitarians," it's fitting that we provide a summary of the more outlandish things he has claimed. In that way, you can judge for yourself how accurate his assertion is.

In the course of this article you will discover a continual pattern of misquotes, quotes out of context, events given the wrong date and used as "evidence" for James's "case," creative inventions, and downright misinformation. This pattern, better than anything, indicates how poorly his argument stands up.

The fact of the matter is that we disagreed with James Donald and presented evidence to prove that his argument was wrong. However, he cannot seem to handle people disagreeing with him, presenting evidence to back up their case, and indicating why his "evidence" is nonsense. So, instead of proving our evidence and arguments to be false, Donald merely changes his argument or calls us "totalitarians." This means only one thing, that we are right and he is wrong. This is even more clearly indicated by his "techniques" of debate, namely getting dates wrong, quoting out of context, ignoring relevant facts that undermine his "case," getting facts wrong, and finally, slandering people if they continue to prove that his claims are absurd.

The fact that James does not care about getting facts right, his use of misinformation (for example, real events but dated wrong), and his quoting out of context shows him in his true colours.

The following collection is just a small example of James Donald in action. There are plenty more. I've decided to ignore his pathetic attempts to slander those who dare disagree with him and correct his errors. He does when he is losing the argument, and by two methods. Firsly, as mentioned, general abuse along the lines of calling people "totalitarians," and secondly, quoting people totally out of context.

I hope you all enjoy this short series of examples of James Donald's Reign of Error. Its time someone did this, as he has been getting away with this sort of idiocy for far too long.

Section 1: Donald's use of quotes

James Donald usually likes to quote from a book called Blood of Spain: an Oral History of the Spanish Civil War by Ronald Fraser. Here we indicate how he misuses it.

> "This truly revolutionary measure [...] wasn't well received by large
> numbers of workers, proving, unfortunately that their understanding of
> the scope of collectivization was very limited.  Only a minority
> understood that collectivization meant a return to society of what,
> historically, had been appropriated by the capitalists."

Actually James leaves out a very important point in the omitted material indicated by the dots. The person quoted (not the CNT woodworkers union, as Donald's other statements might lead readers to imagine) is Albert Perez-Baro (listed by Fraser as a "civil-servant" but with no indication of CNT membership), who actually said:

"This truly revolutionary measure -- THOUGH RARELY, IF EVER, APPLIED -- wasn't well received by large numbers of workers, proving, unfortunately that their understanding of the scope of collectivization was very limited. Only a minority understood that collectivization meant a return to society of what, historically, had been appropriated by the capitalists" [p.232 (my emphasis)]

So why did James deliberately leave out "-- THOUGH RARELY, IF EVER, APPLIED --"? For the same reason he does not indicate the source of the quote in general: namely, that it totally undermines his "case." How dishonest can you get?

This is not an isolated example, as can be seen from this "quote" provided by James Donald from page 349:

>    Forced collectivization was justified [..] by a reasoning closer
>    to war communism than to libertarian communism [...] 

Lets read the full quote. "obligatory collectivisation was justified, IN SOME LIBERTARIAN'S EYES, by a reasoning closer to war communism than to libertarian communism" (my emphasis).

Funny what a [...] can hide, eh? How dishonest can you get?

He uses this "quote" to suggest that the CNT supported "forced collectivisation" but it indicates nothing of the kind. So some libertarians thought that obligatory collectivisation was justified. Now, thats the opinion of some libertarians, but did it in fact happen? Nope. On page 366, a FAI schoolteacher points out that forced collectivisation "wasn't a widespread problem, because there weren't more than twenty or so villages where collectivisation was total and no one was allowed to remain outside..."

So, in other words, less than 5% of collectives were forced, obligatory, ones, meaning that most libertarians opposed forced collectivisation and forced collectivisation did not take place. So what is James Donald's "case" amount to? That some CNT militants thought that forced collectivisation was justified but no such thing actually happened in practice.

In other words, he prefers opinions over facts.

Here's another quote with a crucial point omitted by Donald:

> He [Fraser] quotes Macario Royo, an Aragonese CNT leader who speaks with
> startling frankness:
>    To establish libertarian communism means making the revolution.
>    Revolutions are made by force.  Everything that is imposed by 
>    force has to be maintained by force.  The outcome may be
>    communism but it is not libertarian.  If it were, it would not
>    be communist, for the simple reason that the mass of the people 
>    are not communist.

However, the full quote is as follows:

"Revolutions are made by force. Everything that is imposed by force has to be maintained by force. The outcome may be communism but it is not libertarian. If it were, it would not be communist, for the simple reason that the mass of the people are not communist. Libertarian communism could be established only if the majority of the people already supported communism and then started to organise that communism freely" [pp. 349-50]

And Fraser indicates many, many times that the revolution was a popular one, with ordinary people themselves organising it freely -- for example:

"Very rapidly collectives...began to spring up. It did not happen on instructions from the CNT leadership -- no more than had the collectives in barcelona" [p349]

Or again:

"the pressure [to collectivise] came from the base, from the mass of workers who had been imbued for years with the CNT's revoluntary ideas" [p. 229]

And, again:

"The CNT representatives had stressed that no one was to be maltreated" [p. 360]

This means that to use Royo's quote to show the authoritarian nature of the revolution gives a false impression of that happened. In other words, James Donald prefers the opinion of one CNT member to the actual facts of the revolution. The collectives, in other words, were not imposed by CNT force as James implies using this quote - they were organised by "the mass of the people."

James also makes statements like these:

> (One of his
> criticisms of the communists is that they were not tough enough at
> crushing the peasants: p373)

But when we look at the page, nothing of the kind is indicated. Let's examine it. What is James referring to? Could it be the fact that, because the rural economy had collapsed, the Stalinists decided to legalise collectives "during the current agricultural year" (thus giving good evidence of the popular nature of the collectives)?

Looking over the page in question, I realise why James did not quote anything from it. There is nothing there to back up his statement beyond references to the fact that the Stalinist terror against the collectives had totally undermined the economy.

In addition, he makes statements like, "there are many examples of this happening in Blood of Spain," yet he does not even give page numbers. Strange that.

Here is just one example. James states that CNT was unable to get any show of support in response to "numerous similar communist outrages."

When asked to provide evidence, he declines, saying "If there had been such a show of support, you, or Frazer, would have reported it." Clearly he is admitting that no evidence for his statement exists and that he was making it up.

Does this man feel no shame?

Section 2 : Getting dates wrong

James argued that:

> Furthermore Catalonia after November 1936 fits your unusual definition
> [of totalitarianism] well enough [...] This strongly
> suggests that anyone who expressed a dissenting viewpoint after
> November 1936 found himself on a one way trip to a little field in the
> hills, as so many people did find themselves going.

But all the examples he uses to back up his statement come from pages 146 to 154 of Blood of Spain, which relate to the period just after the defeat of the fascist coup in July 1936. This is long before November 1936. Donald claims that we, by pointing this out, are "nitpicking detail on dates and details," clearly implying that facts and accurate evidence don't matter to him. And he expects us to take him seriously?

In response to our criticism, James did provide what he claimed to be "an example of terror in spring 1937" to prove his argument about a "totalitarian" state in Catalonia from November, 1936. Unfortunately, however, the example he used (p. 359) was from Aragon, from the "autumn of 1936." So, in order to "prove" that the CNT created a "totalitarian" state in Catalonia in spring, 1937, James presents an example from Aragon from autumn, 1936. This is just one example, btw. There are more.

Or consider the case of food crisis and the May Days, about which Donald claims:

> One factor that presumably had an adverse affect on morale was the
> food crisis.  Since the Joan Domenech exercised direct command control
> over food, and people were going hungry, the CNT would undoubtedly be
> blamed for that hunger, rightly or wrongly.

This interesting theory has one slight problem with it, namely, it's nonsense. Joan Domenech had been replaced in December 1936 [p. 375]. Joan Comorera (PSUC) replaced him and created a free market in food, meaning that people were hungry because of the free market, not the CNT.

In a later post he says the following:

> Edmond Valles, page 376, says that people went
> hungry starting in the winter of 1936, and that food distribution was
> erratic, capricious, inefficient, and arbitrary. This complaint is
> consistent with Joan Domenech's own description of his organizational
> methods on pages 144, 145.

Food production in Catalonia fell by 20% after July 1936 (probably because collectivisation was not widespread) and the city had a large influx of refugees due to the war. To claim that people were doing hungry due to the food supply committtees is false.

Moreover, what Valles actually said was "But the communists were no better at organising food supplies. To live on one's rations was to go hungry" (p. 376) He then goes on to take about the faults of the system as described by James, in other words James Donald is attributing the PSUC caused problems to the CNT!

It was Comorera who introduced rationing, not Domenech, Valles is talking about the PSUC run system. As is clear from Blood of Spain. However, this is not ideologically correct so James Donald decides to change what Valles was referring to. James bases his "case" on Valles who is clearly talking about what happened under Comorera, not the supplies committtees.

How dishonest.

But James is right -- the food crisis was causing an adverse affect on morale, but it was caused by the PSUC and the free market!

And as for Joan Domenech exercising "direct command control" of the food supplies, this is false. Borkenau states: "Comorera... did not substitute for the chaotic bread committees a centralised administation." [The Spanish Cockpit, p.184]. So much for Domenech's "direct command control"

Donald uses examples of incidents reported in Fraser's a book but ignores when and where they happened. This is not a mistake, as he has continually followed this procedure from the start. And he wants us to take him seriously?

Section 3: Ignoring the context

James Donald has an amazing ability to ignore the context of the passages he quotes as well as any evidence which may place his "case" in doubt from the same sections.

For example:

> Random flipping through the chapter on Barcelona produces the
> following little gem:  One of the activists reports:  (page 146)  
>    Day after day we found ourselves on the committee repeating 
>    "why these assassinations?" [...] A man was killed because his
>    sister was a nun. [...] They called a man a fascist simply 
>    because he went to mass.  President Companys said "you are 
>    drowning the revolution in blood"  [...] "Tell Companys not 
>    to come here again" Durrutti said to me and Tarradelas.   If 
>    he does I will fill him full of bullet holes.

Before continuing, it should be noted that the third [...] actually says a bit more than James suggests. here is the real quote:

"President Companys told them they were drowning the revolution in blood. 'We shall lose the war for this reason.' The libertarians went pale. When Companys from time to time put in an appearance at the committee, we of his party stood up; the communists half rose, the libertarians remained stolidly seated. 'Tell Companys not to come here again,' Durruti said to me and Tarredellas. 'If he does, I'll fill him full of bullets...'"

Notice how James changes the quote to suggest that Companys remark caused Durruti's threat, while in fact nothing of the kind is actually stated. It could have been, I agree, but there is no evidence that it was. But what is dishonest is James Donald changing the quote in order to explicitly suggest that it did.

How dishonest can you get? Does the truth mean nothing to James Donald that he is happy to change quotes in order to present his "case"?

Moving on...

> This discouraged debate about the methods the "libertarians" used to
> enforce the revolution.

Actually, the quote above is not from the chapter on "Barcelona" but from the section on what happened in Barcelona immediately after the Fascist uprising had been put down. James "forgets" to mention this fact, thus implying that the assassinations were occuring in a normal city.

James uses this section of the book to imply that the CNT leadership was organising these assassinations. However, the facts are quite different. According to the eyewitness quoted above, "The libertarians controlled all the most important 'secretariats' -- but in reality power lay still in the streets" [Blood of Spain, p. 143]

As another eyewitness points out:

"There was a deep, very deep wave of popular fury as a result of the military uprising which followed on so many years of oppression and provocation" [p . 151]

It seems that James expects a whole population, which had been subject to much repression over the previous 20 years, not to take revenge on those who had oppressed them. He must think people are angels. However, those of us with a firmer grasp of human nature realise that after an attempted fascist coup and 20 years of repression, people are going to do nasty things, things that we are opposed to.

All this clearly indicates that the CNT-FAI was powerless to stop the bloodshed initially and were not the source of the terrible acts happening in Barcelona in those days. The CNT and FAI did try to stop it. As Fraser points out, the CNT and FAI both opposed assassinations. Page 149, "leading CNT militants, like Joan Peiro, fulminated openly against such actions" and "both the CNT and FAI issued statements categorically condemning assassinations" The FAI stated: "we must put an end to these excesses." In fact, the CNT-FAI acted to stop assassinations. To quote Fraser, "Anyone proven to have infringed people's rights would be shot -- a threat which was carried out when some anarcho-syndicalist militants were executed."

And let's not forget that Fraser states that "it should be noted that in Barcelona and elsewhere the FAI was automatically blamed for assassinations and crimes" [p. 148] Seems like James is doing the same thing.

Lastly, this quote should indicate exactly how James works and how important context is:

> He [Eduardo Pons Prades, p. 223] also reports unanimous re-elections [in
> the woodworkers union]. 

However, in reality we find that Prades also reports non-unanimous elections. He indicates that "despite these objections, the first Annual General Meeting renewed ALMOST all the posts unanimously" [my emphasis, p. 223]

Could it be that the workers in the industry thought that "socialisation was working well" [p. 223] and they had no call not to re-elect the people occupying the posts in question? James is aware of the correct quote, but decides to misrepresent it and rip it from its context, following his usual custom.

Section 4: Changing the argument after being proved wrong

Usually James discovers that his statements cannot be backed up with facts, and indeed, his statements are often directly the opposite of what the evidence suggests. Here is just one example of his getting facts totally wrong and then acting like nothing happened.

According to Donald:

> The woodworkers union (which coercively closed down the small, mostly
> non unionized woodworking shops and herded everyone into one big shop)

But according to Fraser, "A union delegate would go round the small shops, point out to the workers that the conditions were unhealthy and dangerous, that the revolution was changing all this, and secure their agreement to close down and move to the union-built Double-X and the 33 EU" [p.222]

This is not "coercive," which means that Donald deliberately stated the opposite of the facts reported in the book from which he was quoting. When the facts were pointed out, he just changed his argument! Suddenly he did not really mean what he said. No, he was talking about "the immediately preceding paragraph." However, a look at that paragraph shows that there is no reference to closing down any shops. This clearly indicates that James was actually refering to the above quote, but when it was proved he was drawing nonsensical inferences from it, he tried to claim that he wasn't "really" talking about it at all.

And he expects us to take him seriously.

Section 5: The strange case of the May Days

James Donald's "case" has one strange loophole in it, namely the May Days in Barcelona in 1937. He tries to argue that this was not a popular revolt. To admit to it being a popular revolt means admitting that the mass of Barcelona workers went on the streets to defend a "totalitarian" state, which is hardly likely. James knows this and so attempts to rewrite history.

First there is the strange case of the assault guards during the May Days events. James originally claimed:

> The uprising was quelled by five thousand guards

But the facts are different. Lets see what Fraser says about these 5,000 guards: "By Friday, the city was almost back to normal: 5,000 assault guards arrived from Valencia and took over 'like a conquering army'" [p.382]

The assult guards arrived after the workers went back to work and played no part in the May events. Therefore, James was claiming that the revolt was "quelled" by troops that did not arrive until it was over. Strangely, when we pointed this out, he never mentioned it again, although this was a key aspect of his original argument.

Moving on, James claims that "the mass of the workers failed to mobilize" and that"the masses looked on apathetically."

However, according to Fraser, "By dawn on Tuesday, the barricades had gone up. With the exception of the area around the Generalitat, CNT and POUM workers held almost the whole city" [p. 378]

Faced with this obvious fact, James has to "explain" it, so he claims that:

> CNT controlled the militia patrols (cops).  Thus they started out
> holding the whole city without having to fight for it.  

However, there is two slight problems with this "theory." Firsly, according to Frazer, these patrols did not exist at the time in question. "Within six months [of the CNT joining the government in September 1936] the Esquerra republicans and PSUC felt strong enough to order the dissolution of the armed workers' patrols" [p. 376]. Secondly, even at the time these patrols did exist, they had only 325 CNT members in them [p. 150]. So even if James were correct in his statement about when the patrols existed, he would be claiming that 325 people took over a whole city and imposed a general strike!

Instead of admitting the obvious, namely massive support for the CNT and the Revolution along with a rank-and-file revolt in defense of both these things, James Donald invents a "theory" which must be one of the most stupid ever hatched from the brain of an "anarcho"-capitalist.

Having nowhere else to turn, James Donald claims that Blood of Spain refers to "middle-level militants" of the CNT and that these did the fighting, not the rank and file. He quotes the following to "prove" his "case":

> Blood of Spain, page 381, Frazer explaining the decision to make war:
>    "What carried real weight in the CNT was the neighborhood 
>     defense committees, the middle-level militants who had made 
>     the revolution by taking over factories and workplaces in 
>     the early days, and who felt that their revolution was 
>     being betrayed."

Yes, Blood of Spain on that page does refer to these militants, but it does not say that they started or did the fighting. What Fraser actually says is:

"A small anarchist organisation, the Friends of Durruti, came out openly against the CNT leaders, calling for a revolutionary junta, with the POUM's participation because the party had come out on the worker's side. Until then, its relations with the POUM had been notably cool. The call found little echo. What carried real weight in the CNT was the neighborhood defense committees, the middle-level militants who had made the revolution by taking over factories and workplaces in the first days, and who felt that their revolution was being betrayed."

As can be seen, Fraser is referring to what happened during the May Days, not to who started the fighting or took part in it. So according to James Donald, the "middle-level militants" started and took part in the fighting. Wrong, the mass of the population took part (as indicated above), and the initial call for action was done by the "Friends of Durruti" who "mobilized the masses" [p. 381]. "The masses" then took over the city.

Elsewhere, the fact that the mass of worker took part in the May Days is clear, as is their support for the CNT. Thus a Barcelona CNT leader is quoted as saying, "their members have 'shown their teeth'" [p.381]. Similarly, a POUM member thought that "The POUM lacked political credibility ...to swing over the mass of CNT workers from their own organisation and leadership" [p.382]

I would also add the following quote: "The POUM leader explained that this was a moment of rupture: the working class had risen, held arms. The movement, which had started spontaneously, must either go forwards or back" [p. 380)] And let's not forget that Orwell, in Homage to Catalonia, reports a general strike and the residents of whole streets building barricades.

It is at this point that James stops arguing. Why? Simply because his "case" falls apart in the cold light of reality. The simple fact is that the May Days of 1937 was a popular revolt of the CNT membership in support of their revolution, with the rank and file taking the initiative.

To sum up, James Donald's lack of success in explaining the May Days of 1937 indicates that his argument that the CNT created a "totalitarian" state by that date is simply false. If it is not false, he has to explain why an oppressed population rose up in support of the organisation that was" repressing" them.

The May Days of 1937 is the best evidence possible that the CNT did not create a "totalitarian" state. From James Donald's sad attempts to rewrite history in an effort to "explain" these events, it is clear that his case does not hold water.

Section 6 : What did happen in Aragon?

James A. Donald claims that the CNT "enserfed" the peasants of Aragon and says the following:

> In "Blood of Spain" by Ronald Frazer on page 367 [...] armed
> guards on the roads to prevent the enserfed former peasants
> from fleeing: [...]

This is not a quote from "Blood of Spain", btw. What one of the two people does say is that "the committee had guards posted on the roads" (p. 368) and that she could not leave the dictatorship in her village. Frazer also points out that, for "extraneous reasons" he could not "talk to supporters and detractors of the collectives... in the Angues collective... The testimony of Fernando ARAGON and his wife - a view of the inherent undemocratic dangers contained within the collectivisation experiment - must stand on its own" (p. 369)

It should be pointed out that the other 3 collectives in his book were nothing like Aragon's one. According to one member of the Beceite collectives, "it was marvellous...to live in a collective, a free society where one could say what one thought, where if the village committee seemed unsatisfactory one could say. The committee took no big decisions without calling the whole village together in a general assembly. All this was wonderful" [p. 288]. This was in Aragon, along with the two other democratic collectives Frazer talks about.

Or how about another Aragon collective, in which "Once the work groups were established on a friendly basis and worked their own lands, everyone got on well enough, he recalled. There was no need for coercion, no need for discipline and punishment.... A collective wasn't a bad idea at all" [p. 360]. This collective, like 95% of the 450 collectives, was voluntary, "I couldn't oblige him to join; we weren't living under a dictatorship" [p. 362]

So, to recap, James Donald claims that the CNT "enserfed" the peasants. If the collectives were formed by anarchist "terror" why were 95% of the collectives in Aragon voluntary? Why did only 70% of the population in Aragon take part? Why were they run by mass assemblies and elected committees? Why was collectivisation less widespread in Catalonia? Why did they exist in areas outside Catalonia and Aragon?

It seems strange that James is happy to ignore the overall picture and instead concentrate on one collective. As Frazer notes, the testimonies of the eye-witnesses about this collective was not checked against other people's. So, from this one example, James Donald claims that this is "typical" of what happened in Aragon. However, as can be seen, this is false. As James himself knows.

B. Bolloten, The Spanish Civil War states the following: "But in spite of the cleavages between doctrine and practice that plagued the Spanish Anarchists whenever they collided with the realities of power, it cannot be overemphasized that notwithstanding the many instances of coercion and violence, the revolution of July 1936 distinguished itself from all others by the generally spontaneous and far-reaching character of its collectivist movement and by its promise of moral and spiritual renewal. Nothing like this spontaneous movement had ever occurred before" [p. 78]

So, what does James Donald's case come down to? The testimony of two people from one collective. The actual evidence from Catalonia and Aragon indicates that forced collectivisation was not widespread and the collectives had popular support.

So, did the CNT-FAI "enserf" the peasants? Nope, as the evidence indicates the collectives were mostly spontaneous created, were almost always voluntary and run by mass assemblies and elected committees.


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