Bait and Switch in Catalonia?

James Donald states that "Some of the 'anarchists' justified their exceedingly unanarchist conduct by convoluted rationalizations. Others spoke more plainly. Macario Royo regarded libertarianism as a mere ruse, to disguise the true nature of socialist revolution," i.e. "totalitarian," according to Donald.

Therefore, in this page James Donald quotes from one CNT member in order to "prove" his claim of anarchist "totalitarianism." It's interesting that he thinks that the opinion of one CNT member indicates the "true nature" of the Spanish Revolution better than the facts of this revolution, but we will ignore this and analyze his "case."

Firstly, he quotes Ronald Fraser in order to "set the scene," which he thinks involves "Massive violation of libertarian principles". Frazer is quoted as follows (Blood of Spain, page 349):

"There was no need to dragoon them at pistol point: The coercive climate, in which 'fascists'; were being shot, was sufficient. 'Spontaneous'; and 'forced'; collectives existed, as did willing and unwilling collectivists within them.

Forced collectivization ran counter to libertarian ideals. Anything that was forced could not be libertarian. Obligatory collectivization was justified, in some libertarians eyes, by a reasoning closer to war communism than to libertarian communism: The need to feed the columns at the front. Macario Royo, an Aragonese CNT leader, believed that collectives were the most appropriate organization for ensuring that a surplus was made available for the front."

Firstly, it should be noted that Fraser is actually talking about Aragon, not Catalonia. It should also be noted that Aragon was where the Front Line was. Funny that Donald does not mention this. Does he seriously expect a war zone in the middle of a civil war not to have a "coercive climate"?

Non ideologically driven people can easily see that in a civil war against Fascism there would be a "coercive climate." That Donald is blind to it is an excellent indication of his objectivity and how he presents his "evidence." Given that he maintains that General Pinochet's military dictatorship introduced "economic liberty," he has few grounds to bemoan violence taking place during a civil war.

Secondly, Fraser states that the CNT militia did not force anyone into collectives. However, Fraser states that "spontaneous" and "forced" collectives existed side by side. Now, according to Fraser's own book, the number of "total" collectives was less than 20. We can safely assume that "total" collectives were "forced" ones. On page 366 of Blood of Spain, 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..."

Frazer does not correct this figure, so we can say that of the 450 collectives in Aragon, 95% were voluntary or "spontaneous." This does not fit in well with Donald's claims of "forced collectivisation" by anarchists.

As for the claim that there were "unwilling" collectivists in the collectives: again, this is undoubtably true. We are sure some people joined "just to be on the safe side." The question is how safe did people feel? Was the "coercive climate" caused by the war so bad that most people felt they had no choice but to join? The answer is clear. According to Bolloten's figures, about 70% of the population of Aragon were in the collectives. This is approxmately 300,000 people out of a population of around 450,000. In other words, 30% of the population felt safe enough not to join. This would hardly be the case if the CNT militia had terrorised Aragon and imposed collectives on them.

These two facts indicate that "forced collectivisation" did not in fact occur in Aragon. The collectives were not created by anarchist "terror," and people did not have to join a collective. So much for James Donald's claims.

Thirdly, it should be noted that Fraser states that "obligatory collectivisation was justified, in some libertarian's eyes, by a reasoning closer to war communism than to libertarian communism." This raises the question, did obligatory collectivisation occur? According to the figures Fraser gives, 180,000 people joined collectives. It should be noted that this figure is far too small, but it is the one Fraser builds his argument on. The population of Aragon was nearly half a million. Therefore, according to Frazer's own figures, "obligatory collectivisation" did not occur. If only about half of the population belonged to collectives, it's obvious they were not obligatory.

Therefore, from the facts we get a very different picture of the one presented by James Donald.

Ignoring these facts, Donald continues to quote Royo as "speaking in favor of forced collectivization" by saying the following:

"If each peasant had kept what he produced and disposed of it as he wished, it would have made the matter of supply much more difficult."

However, as is clear from Blood of Spain, Royo is talking about collectives and not "forced collectivisation" as Donald claims he is. He is explaining why, given the need to feed the troops at the Front Line, it was better if collectives were created.

Then he quotes Fraser's paraphrase of Macario Royo:

"And revolution always meant imposing the will of an armed minority 'In this case an anarcho syndicalist minority';"


James Donald then quotes Macario Royo at length from a footnote.


"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 organize that communism freely."

Donald then says that "Royo says twice, in two different ways, that the 'anarchists' were a minority that imposed their will on the majority by force."

Pretty damning, eh, the opinion of one CNT member? There are other CNT members who gave the opposite opinion, namely that the collectives were not imposed by a minority. But opinions get us nowhere. Let's look at the facts.

As noted above, Fraser indicates that the collectives were not created by the CNT militia. As he points out, "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." [Blood of Spain, page 349] As indicated above, 95% of the collectives were voluntary and 30% of the population of Aragon felt safe enough not to join. This indicates their popular nature -- they were not created by the orders of the CNT leadership.

As an example of "forced collectivisation" by an "armed minority," this "proof" leaves a lot to be desired. In other words, James Donald bases his case on the opinion of one CNT member. What the actual facts show is that the CNT membership of Aragon (who were a minority) took the opportunity given by the destruction of the state to suggest the creation of collectives (something they had been arguing for before the revolution). The majority of the population decided to join and a large minority stayed outside. If the collectives had been created by an "armed minority," then everyone would have joined and all the collectives would have been "total." This did not happen.

James Donald, after not proving his case, goes to to state that "most modern 'anarcho'-socialists seem to find the minority part vastly more embarassing than the force part, though real anarchists do not care whether it is the majority imposing its will by force or the minority. Honest peaceful people should be left alone, regardless of their numbers."

As indicated, the collectives were not imposed by force. Fraser explicitly states this in at least two places. What violence that did occur was directly attributable to the fact that a civil war against Fascism was being conducted and one of the front lines was in Aragon. Donald is correct, of course, that real anarchists do not wish the majority to impose its will on a non-oppressive minority (real anarchists, however, consider it essential to overthrow capitalism because in capitalism a minority controls the majority). As can be seen from the experiences of the collectives, the minority were left peacefully alone and felt safe enough not to join.

While not strictly relevent to this discussion, it should be noted that James Donald thinks that military coups are "justified" in some cases, and most importantly, has said that Pincohet's military dictatorship in Chile introduced "economic liberty." It is therefore appropriate to question Donald's actual concern for minority or majority rights or his horror of violence.

Seeking to back up his claims, he goes on to quote Juan Peiro, another CNT militant who, Doanld claims, "unlike Macario Royo, seems unhappy about this betrayal of libertarian ideals." He then quotes Burnett Bolloton in The Grand Camouflage in order to "set the context for Juan Peiro's remarks":

"Although CNT-FAI publications cited numerous cases of peasant proprietors and tenant farmers who had adhered voluntarily to the collective system there can be no doubt that an incomparably larger number doggedly opposed it or accepted it only under extreme duress." [Page 70]

Very true. However, James presents a very false picture of what was happening in the countryside at this time. As Bolloten himself points out, "If the individual farmer viewed with dismay the swift and widespread collectivisation of agriculture, the farm workers of the Anarchosyndicalist CNT and the Socialist UGT saw it as the commencement of a new era." [The Spanish Civil War, p. 63] Both these organisations had large memberships, totalling hundreds of thousands. The CNT had 30,000 members in Aragon alone and the UGT Land Workers Federation had 500,000 members. Both these unions supported the collectives.

Therefore to suggest that the claim that all the inhabitants of the countryside opposed the collective system is false. Of course, if one considers only the interests of property owners as important then obviously the popular nature of the collectives can easily be ignored. The question arises, though, why this should be the case? However, as Bolloten himself points out, many of the 450 collectives of the region were voluntary," [page 74] and the figures presented by Fraser back this up. This means that those who opposed the collectives were not forced to join them.

Donald then quotes Bolloten again, Page 72:

"As a consequence, the fate of the peasant owner and tenant farmer in the communities occupied by the CNT-FAI militia was determined from the outset; for although a meeting of the population was generally held to decide on the establishment of the collective system, the vote was always taken by acclamation, and the presence of armed militiamen never failed to impose respect and fear on all opponents."

Again, we should point out that 95% of collectives were voluntary and as Fraser notes, the militia did not force people to join them. Of course, there can be no denying that the collectivists often refused to provide the benefits of the collectives to non-members and that they often prevented non-members from hiring labour to work their fields. However, as a supporter of capitalism James Donald would be the last to suggest that companies should be forced to give their profits to others or that individuals should ignore tresspassing laws and squat unused land.

That economic pressures often "forced" peasants to join a collective is true. However, economic pressures also "force" workers to work for a capitalist. At least the collectives were democratic and based on self-management. Therefore, as an example of the collectives' anti-anarchist nature, such pressures make a pretty weak case. And the question again arises why a minority of property owners should determine what the rules are and not the majority?

So how popular were the collectives? Bolloten sums up the rural revolution as follows:

"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" [page 78]

"Spontaneous" movements are not created by an armed minority. In addition, as we have indicated elsewhere the collectives were run by mass assemblies and elected committees. An "armed minority" imposing a revolution does not create democratically run organisations based on free debate and elected officials.

Lastly, James Donald attempts to show that the collectives were created by an "armed minority" by quoting Juan Peiro, one of the leaders of the CNT, writing in Libertat, September 29, 1936:

"Does anyone believe. . .that through acts of violence an interest in or a desire for socialization can be awakened in the minds of the peasantry? Or perhaps that by terrorizing it in this fashion it can be won over to the revolutionary spirit prevailing in the towns and cities?

The gravity of the mischief that is being done compels me to speak clearly. . . . The first thing they have done has been to take away from the peasant all means of self defense. . .and having achieved this they have robbed him even of his shirt.

If today you should go to different parts of Catalonia to speak to the peasant of revolution, he will tell you he does not trust you, he will tell you the standard-bearers of the revolution have already passed through the countryside: In order to liberate it? In order to help it liberate itself? No. They have passed through the countryside in order to rob those who throughout the years and throughout the centuries have been robbed by the very persons who have just been defeated by the revolution." [Emphasis added]

Firstly, Peiro is discussing Catalonia (not Aragon) and it's very clear that he is not attacking the creation of collectives. He is arguing, in line with CNT policy, against the use of force and indicating its self-defeating nature. The end part of the quote clearly indicates that Peiro is condemning the uncontrolled requisitioning of food and weapons by the militias as they went to the front (i.e. "passing through the countryside"), not referring to "forced collectivisation". This requisitioning was a real problem and the CNT did its best to stop it.

Now, the question arises: is the picture James Donald is trying to paint with this quote an accurate one? Did the CNT create forced collectives in Catalonia (as proved, they did not in Aragon)? The answer is to be found in the facts. Fraser does not mention any examples of forced collectivisation in Catalonia. He even points out that collectivisation was less widespread in Catalonia compared to other parts of Spain. The figures speak for themselves -- 450 collectives in Aragon, 80 in Catalonia (figures from Leval's Collectives in the Spanish Revolution. These Catalonian collectives were surrounded by an ocean of smallholders and were the exception to the rule. In other words, "forced collectivisation" was not conducted in Catalonia either.

Do not get us wrong. We are sure that when the militias passed through Catalonia, "acts of violence" did occur and requisitioning did take place. We are also sure that some CNT members acted against CNT policy in some locations and in some villages forced peasants to join. We do not think that every member of the CNT acted in an anarchist manner. However, the CNT itself argued against such abuses by "irresponsible elements" and acted to stop them. A few local "excesses" do not paint a picture of the CNT creating "actually existing socialism."

That the CNT was successful in controling these "irresponsible elements" in Catalonia is indicated by the fact that collectivisation was less widespread than elsewhere in Republican Spain. In other words, those 80 collectives that did exist were created by CNT and UGT rural labourers on the land of pro-fascist big land owners, and the majority of the peasant population seized the land they worked but did not own. Given that James Donald considers that the CNT created a state in Catalonia, run by the leaders of the CNT, this fact further weakens his case. If Catalonia was ruled by the "masters" of the CNT you would think that collectivisation would have been more widespread than elsewhere in Spain. It was not.

So, to conclude, what does James Donald's "evidence" amount to? The opinion of one member of the CNT, which is not backed up by the facts, and the argument of a CNT member for all CNT members to follow CNT policy. The facts indicate a drastically different picture of what happened from the one James Donald tries to construct round these two quotes.

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