Abert Meltzer: Reply to the Article Entitled “The Anarchist Police Force”

The article “The Anarchist Police Force” contains the usual inaccuracies and generalisations of articles of this nature.

There is an abysmal ignorance of the anarchist anarcho-syndicalist movement in Spain in this, country and its history (pre-organisational; years of struggle; civil war; after; today). But superficial Marxist observers have some flip answers. All agree that in the period of the civil war “the Anarchists” behaved pretty disgracefully, “the workers” very well. However they all give totally different and incompatible versions of what they did. (It may be remarked that the Civil War represents three years out of a hundred and that the Resistance subsequent is totally ignored). Stalinists and Maoists, giving a Marxist analysis, say they did not collaborate with the Republic – Trotskyists and offbeats therefore say they did. One side says they sacrificed anti-fascist unity for revolutionary aims; the other side, using the same Marxist analyses, says the precise reverse. Your article to some extent follows the trotskyist line, though this distributes praise (to “the workers”) blame (to “the anarchists”) equally. The main criticism may be summed in the words – Anarchists enter government ha-ha after all they said. The problem was however that if the movement was subordinate to the people as a whole it had perforce to join in the general anti-fascist struggle. It had to collaborate because the whole of the Spanish workers wanted it that way anyway, and it was they who influenced the organisation. In itself the CNT (anarchist labour movement) had no bureaucracy, but this enabled hundreds of militants to enter the government bureaucracy and repressive forces, in the name of anti-fascism (not of anarchism).

Most anarchists would not have had it so but that is the way it was. Anarchist “leaders” did not enter the Government – those well known Anarchists who did so, entered without seeking the authority of the movement. Some entered the police. Does this invalidate anarchism since it is utterly opposed to anarchist ideas?

One can ask a similar question of all movements. Pacifists in great numbers in world war Two entered armies, joined governments and so on. Does this therefore mean pacifism is impossible? Trade unionists who entered national governments did so generally as Labour Ministers whose, job was to put down the strikes. Does this mean trade unionism is impossible? On the contrary, any government in times of crisis uses precisely these contradictions. In England, pacifists were in the Home Office imprisoning conscientious objectors; trade union veterans in the Ministry of Labour stamping down wage claims; Conservatives were flown out to contact and inspire communist resistance movements because it was not generally believed they would normally be in sympathy with their ultimate aims, but that is only the opposite side of the same coin. It was logical the Spanish republic should use those anarchists they had in government positions, in positions where their record showed they were ostensibly against it. That this would lead, at the end of the civil war (had it been victorious) to a clash between police emanating from the libertarian ranks, and those remaining in it, was generally accepted.

GW confuses anarchism with State socialism in his quote from Herbert Read’s poem of the lemon grove, “Forty Men own it” and no one is a slave. If twenty-four million owned it, it would be a collective of the State (impossible to envisage a collective of twenty-four million) and there would be “slaves.” It is true that in a sense it is a form of petty bourgeois private ownership. But that is not to say it is not libertarian. Isn’t “petty bourgeois” another typical Marxist criticism (confusing old and new meaning of the term)?

The belief that industrialism did not exist in Spain is one held by many writers. They are quite wrong. Catalonia was a highly industrialised part of Spain. But people had not sold their souls to the company store, i.e. to capitalism. The real reason for Anarchism becoming a mass movement lies elsewhere. The Socialist movement compromised with the State, entered the Prime de Rivera dictatorship, and so on. Except in Asturias, it was never a serious attempt at organising the working-class. Elsewhere the labour movement, in many countries, polarised between anarchism – or revolutionary syndicalism – and Marxism or social-democracy. Generally Marxism won thanks to the belief that it had been successful in Russia; or social democracy won out of sheer enervating apathy. The Socialist or Marxist road for the labour movement was clogged by virtue of the Socialists taking an easy road just at the moment the dictatorship was taking over; and it ruined their chances for a long time. Now they have a new opportunity. But so too do the Anarchists.

See also:
George Walford: The Anarchist Police Force
Abert Meltzer: Reply to the Article Entitled “The Anarchist Police Force”
George Walford: Reply to the Reply

from Ideological Commentary 3, December 1979.