George Walford: Appendices from Beyond Politics

Appendix A: Anarchism in Spain

One apparent exception to the rule, that the nearer to anarchism a movement stands the smaller and weaker it tends to be, is provided by the strength of the anarchist movement in Spain prior to and during the Civil War. In discussing this I rely mainly on The Spanish Civil War by Hugh Thomas and The Spanish Anarchists; the heroic years 1868-1936 by Murray Bookchin. Thomas writes as a detached scholar, Bookchin as an enthusiast for Spanish anarchism; neither intends to support the conclusion I draw from their work.

Spanish anarchism was divided between the large trade union organisation, the CNT (translating, roughly, as National Confederation of Labour), and the much smaller FAI (Iberian Anarchist Federation). Thomas says that in Barcelona in 1936 there were 350,000 anarchists; that over a million and a half Spanish workers were anarchists in outlook in the 30s, that in June 1931 the anarchists claimed 600,000 members, 250,000 of them in Catalonia. He quotes Balcells as saying the CNT had 58 per cent of the workers in Barcelona and between 30 per cent and 35 per cent of those in Catalonia, and Peirat as saying the FAI was 30,000 strong in 1936. [1] Bookchin claim about a million members for the CNT in 1935. [2] Bearing in mind that the population of Spain in 1936 was only twenty-four million, the anarchist movement there was, as Bookchin says, immense; far greater than systematic ideology would lead us to expect.

The discrepancy largely disappears when we realise that the Spanish ‘anarchists’ thought and behaved differently from the movements known by that title elsewhere. This appears in many ways. Bookchin speaks of the FAI convening assemblies ‘to allow for a full expression of rank and file views,’ and neither the distinction, between rank and file members and others, nor the implied possibility, that full expression of views might not be allowed, is to be found in anarchist movements outside Spain. ‘… dissidents were permitted a considerable degree of freedom in voicing and publishing material against the leadership and established policies.’ Freedom permitted? And leadership? Among anarchists? This is no verbal slip on Bookchin’s part; in the preceding paragraph, also, these anarchists are said to have had leaders, and ‘very aggressive’ ones at that. [3]

If there is one single feature which identifies anarchists (as that term is used in anarchist movements outside Spain and in systematic ideology) it is the repudiation, among themselves as elsewhere, of authority and leadership. The Spaniards behaved differently, Bookchin saying of the FAI: ‘It had been led by its centrist members into shadowy violations of anarchist principle.’ [4] That ‘shadowy’ would be better replaced by ‘gross.’

Thomas confirms: ‘The FAI leader, Abad de Santillan,’ ‘the political leaders of the Anarchists,’ ‘nearly two million workers… organised in the CNT and directed by a secret society, the FAI,’ ‘The CNT, which was from the start dominated by Anarchists,’ the FAI ‘a revolutionary elite dedicated to lead the masses… ‘ ‘the FAI’s aspirations to elite leadership,’ ‘the leaders of the Seville Anarchists,’ ‘the Anarchist leadership,’ ‘Federica Montseney the Anarchist leader.’ [5]

Thomas makes it clear that the presence of leadership and authority within the Spanish movement of which he writes is not a misconception that he, not himself (as far as I know) an anarchist, has introduced: ‘On 27 September the Anarchists, having held the reality of authority’ [!!!] ‘in Barcelona since the rising, accepted it formally by entering the Generalidad’ [the governing body of Barcelona]. This was ‘the first entry of an Anarchist movement into a position of political authority,’ but it was not to be the last. A month later four anarchist leaders became Ministers in the Madrid government, and not as isolated or eccentric individuals. They ‘had previously been elected as the appropriate members of their organisation [the CNT] to join the government at a ‘plenum’ of the movement.’ One of these four ‘anarchist’ rulers became Minister of Justice. As Thomas remarks, ‘libertarian Anarchists of the past would have turned in their graves.’ He has earlier sumarised Bakunin’s views on these matters:

‘All collaboration with parliaments, governments and organised religion was to be condemned. Criminals would be punished by the censure of public opinion.’ [6]

Perhaps I am labouring the point beyond reason. It is, after all, clear enough that people who fight and kill and die in defence of a government, heroic as they may be, are not acting like anarchists in any normal sense of the term.

Appendix B: The Absolute Assumption

The absolute assumption being the assumption of an unlimited, indeterminate condition remains totally undefined; it may equally well be seen as the absence of any assumptions. In taking off from an indefinite base Walsby’s system is at one with psychoanalysis and Pavlovian reflexology and, beyond these, with two systems of thought even more authoritative and widely respected, namely physical science and the theory of biological evolution. None of these starts, as his does, from an explicit absence of definition, but each of them builds on a foundation innocent of the precise demarcations that play so large a part in formal logic, an approach which does much to account for their great scope. No system can account for features taken for granted to get it started; the more indefinite the original condition the more comprehensive the capacity of the system. At the root of Pavlov’s system lies the inborn, unconditioned tendency to make purposeless movements that he termed ‘the freedom reflex.’ In the Freudian view of personal development the id, an incoherent tumult of desire, forms the basis. Biological evolution begins with the single- celled creature, not bound into any organisation and often indefinite in shape, and physical science finds its base in the fundamental particles of matter, neither material nor immaterial (or both at once), and subject to the principle of uncertainty. (While speaking of beginnings we can add Genesis I.2: ‘And the earth was without form, and void …’).

The absolute assumption, the first one to be made, constitutes the undetermined base of the eventual ideological structure, prohibiting interpretation of ideological behaviour entirely in terms of external influences; the assumption of absolute freedom is the one content of the ideology that does not reach it via the senses. It comes to be repressed, but never abandoned, and tension originating in the discrepancy between this assumption and the result of any attempt to externalise (realise) it provides the motivation of ideological development.

Continue reading Beyond Politics by George Walford (1990):
Preface | Introduction | Politics as Ideology | The British Political Series | The World Political Series | From Politics to Ideology | Ideology Beyond Politics | The Beginnings | From Village to Empire | After The Empires | The Eidodynamic | The Origins of Ideologies | The Evolution of Ideology | Conclusion | Appendices | Notes & References | Select Bibliography | Index | Synopsis