Posts by AK Press

Imagine a World Without Prisons: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Superheroes, and Prison Abolition

Walidah Imarisha is the co-editor (along with adrienne maree brown) of Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements, a book we’re publishing in April in collaboration with the Institute for Anarchist Studies. The project is a fascinating and exciting one, and we’re looking forward to holding the final product in our hands (as are [...]

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Review of Ready for Revolution, by Jorge Valadas.

A really sharp review of Agustin Guillamon’s Ready for Revolution: The CNT Defense Committees in Barcelona, 1933-1938 was just published on H-net. Links to the original below.

Agustin Guillamon. Ready for Revolution: The CNT Defense Committees in Barcelona, 1933-1938. Translated by Paul Sharkey. Oakland: AK Press, 2014. 260 pp. $14.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-84935-142-3.

Reviewed by Jorge Valadas
Published on H-Socialisms (December, 2014)
Commissioned by Gary Roth

CNT Defense Committees

A vast literature on the Spanish Revolution already exists, and one tends to think that everything about it has been written previously. This is just not true! Augustín Guillamón brings us new proof of how rich and complex this episode of history is and how full of contemporary relevance it remains. The author is an independent historian, who has already written several books on the period.[1] Based on extensive archival research, Guillamón views these events from the side of the radicals. His previous books are centered on the autonomous activity of workers; in other words, the actions taken by workers independently of the organizations which claimed to represent them. In particular, he analyzes the actions, tactics, and strategies of the large institutionalized organizations from the perspective of the rank and file.

In Ready for Revolution: The CNT Defense Committees in Barcelona, 1933-1938, Guillamón revisits the Spanish Revolution. The Defense Committees were rank-and-file organizations created by members of the anarcho-syndicalist union Confederación National del Trabajo (CNT), which was by far the dominant union force in Barcelona in the 1930s. If the Defense Committees were tied to the union locals of the CNT, they were also independent of the CNT affiliate, the Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI). Guillamón describes the revolutionary process through the life of these committees, their debates, hesitations, decisions, and actions. He begins with the formation of the Defense Committees.

After the failure of the 1933 insurrection, the CNT was both disorganized and greatly diminished in size and effectiveness. Massive state repression had sent its most active militants to prison. During the Asturias working-class insurrection of 1934, the CNT was unable to take part in its stronghold in Barcelona. In the beginning, the debate in the Defense Committees focused on the question of armed direct action in order to counteract underworld assassins who targeted union activists at the behest of individual employers and employer associations. These committees later became local rank-and-file organizations, based in the politically and socially vibrant working-class districts of Barcelona.[2] Guillamón recounts the internal debates within the Defense Committees as they quickly enlarged their fields of activity from self-defense to include other aspects of the social movement.

What is particularly pertinent in Guillamón’s work is the insistence he places on the gap which existed between the political positions of these committees and the strategies of the majority of the anarchist leaders. Even before the participation of the anarchist leaders in the Republican government, a clear separation existed between the rank and file and the top echelons of the anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist movement, the so-called Higher Committees of the CNT-FAI. The CNT was far from being a monolithic organization, as is poignantly described by Guillamón. Its leadership was not unified, members did not necessarily follow or accept decisions made by its leadership council, and a variety of ideologies, strategies, and tactics were pursued simultaneously. It was precisely this great diversity of ideas and actions that made the CNT so vibrant and powerful. One can say that there was not one CNT, but several CNTs. That being said, specific ideologies and tactics came to the fore, especially during moments of crisis, often accompanied by fierce resistance and controversy. The pattern of leadership-imposed resolutions and the opposition to them was especially evident in the decision to participate in the post-July 1936 national government, and later on, in the conciliatory attitude adopted during the May 1937 events.

Guillamón also shows how, even before the July 1936 military revolt, military questions and the role of violent action were essential to the debates inside the Defense Committees. In response to the military coup, these questions immediately became topical. Guillamón provides a detailed and precise account of this development, especially the suddenness with which such decisions were made. What comes to the fore is the initiative and creativity of the rank-and-file CNT workers who embraced an outright fight against the military. The Defense Committees had been preparing for such a situation, but ultimately things did not happen as hoped. In any case, it was their experience making autonomous decisions rather than following the dictates of the organized political parties and unions that allowed them initially to overwhelm and defeat the fascist soldiers and their allies.

After the victory over the military, the Defense Committees assumed the task of organizing the ongoing defense of the city. For a few short weeks, they also took over the functions normally handled by the city administration. This gave them real power. It was precisely this new rank-and-file power which the bourgeoisie was eager to destroy when the Higher Committees of the anarchist movement decided to participate in the coalition government, thereby neutralizing the thrust of the Defense Committees towards working-class self-governance. This was the first battle lost by Defense Committees. As Guillamón shows, a fierce debate, with considerable opposition, took place inside the anarcho-syndicalist movement between its leadership in the Higher Committees and the rank and file that identified with the Defense Committees. The government’s concern was the militarization of the appointed local defense groups, the Control Patrols, and their subsequent integration or wholesale replacement within the government’s security forces.

Guillamón’s hypothesis is worth considering. According to him, the Defense Committees had the potential to evolve into revolutionary organizations in the working-class districts. Their evolution was blocked by the strategies and tactics used by the CNT’s Higher Committees. For this, the Control Patrols were armed by the government in October 1936 as a means to neutralize and disband the locally constituted Defense Committees. It should also be noted that the Defense Committees in any case were not organs of direct democracy and did not represent the working class at large. They were not elected, but instead included CNT members known locally as the most militant. Their composition was based on local networking relations, rather than a directly democratic process. This characteristic explains, in part, their inability to effectively oppose the Higher Committees and maintain their autonomy.

Finally, the struggle over supplies became the critical crisis for the Defense Committees. On that question, the Defense Committees confronted again the government’s bureaucracy and security forces, since the departments in charge of economic distribution were under the control of the Stalinists of the Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia (PSUC). The pages in which Guillamón describes the debates between the Defense Committees and the Agriculture and Economy Department in the Companys government are most helpful in understanding the Stalinist point of view. Joan Comorera, a hard-line communist in charge of the department, was one of the most violent opponents of the independent leftists clustered in the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification (POUM) and the CNT radicals in the Defense Committees, who, he suggested, acted as “agents provocateurs … poisoning militants’ minds” (p. 142). To defend the state bureaucracy, he accused the Defense Committees of creating their own separate bureaucracy and falsely accused them of having ties to the local mafias. To counteract their influence, he also established a marketplace and retail distribution network that bypassed them altogether. In this confrontation, the Defense Committees did not have the full support of the CNT-FAI Higher Committees, which were consumed by their participation in the Republican government’s antifascist alliance.

This key question about the supply of goods marked a turning point in the revolutionary process. The strikes and riots against the lack of affordable food and other basic products, the high interest rates, and black market activities were the spark for the May 1937 events.[3] The communist attempt to regain control of Barcelona’s streets and social spaces from the radical tendencies represented by the Defense Committees and other groupings should be understood in this light. The defeat of the radicals meant the crushing of the spirit of autonomy that was still so alive and active in parts of the CNT and POUM rank and file. The reinforcements provided to the Republican government by the Stalinists marked the end of the revolutionary struggle. It was a victory of collaborationism versus the militance of the rank and file. The revolutionary spirit was drowned first by the civil war directed against it and then by the regular war against the fascists that buried it altogether: the wars devoured the Revolution.

Guillamón’s text is accompanied by an excellent glossary, which itself serves as a rich introduction to the groups and individuals of the Spanish Revolution. Paul Sharkey’s first-rate translation preserves the spirit and rigor of the original text.

Notes

[1]. See the interview with Augustín Guillamón by Paul Sharkey, where the author talks about his political itinerary, interests, and research projects: http://bataillesocialiste.wordpress.com/2014/08/21/interview-with-agustin-guillamon-2013/.

[2]. On the intense social and political life of the working-class districts of Barcelona, see Chris Ealham, “An imaginary geography: ideology, urban space and protest in the creation of Barcelona’s Chinatown, c. 1835-1936,” International Review of Social History 50, no. 3 (2005): 373-397. Ealham demonstrates that what was perceived by the bourgeoisie as “zones of misery, disorder and dangerous classes” were in fact a particular field of social and political “worker’s order.” Also see Ealham’s Anarchism and the City: Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Barcelona, 1898-1937 (AK Press: 2010).

[3]. See Guillamón’s recent book on this period: La Guerra Del Pan: Hambre y violencia en la Barcelona revolucionaria, de diciembre de 1936 a mayo de 1937 [The Bread War: Hunger and Violence in Revolutionary Barcelona from December 1936 to May 1937] (Barcelona: Aldarull/Dskntrl, 2014).

Printable Version: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=42026

Citation: Jorge Valadas. Review of Guillamon, Agustin, Ready for Revolution: The CNT Defense Committees in Barcelona, 1933-1938. H-Socialisms, H-Net Reviews. December, 2014.
URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=42026
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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Books of the Future: Forthcoming Titles from AK Press

  We have a different, somewhat split sense of time here in the AK Press warehouse. While we’re packing and shipping and promoting brand new books (Drug War Capitalism will be arriving any day now), we’re also copyediting and proofing books for further down the road, and helping even more distant projects take initial shape. [...]

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Some reading to understand what’s happening in Kobanê and Rojava

The Kurdish people are the largest nation in the world without a state. And many Kurds, especially in the autonomous region of Rojava (in Syria), aren’t interested in forming one. This fact often gets lost in the mainstream news accounts of the attacks by ISIS fundamentalists on the Kobanê (a canton in Rojava). No surprise there.

Anarchists are, of course, watching these events closely. Some have even joined the struggle from Turkey. In the hopes of helping people become better informed, here’s a list of readings/listenings. The first is a book we distribute, most are available online, and the last is info about a demo happening today in San Francisco to defend the Kobanê resistance. Destroy all borders and the states that impose them!

* Democratic Autonomy in North Kurdistan: The Council Movement, Gender Liberation, and Ecology (http://www.akpress.org/democratic-autonomy-in-north-kurdistan.html)

* The experiment of West Kurdistan (Syrian Kurdistan) has proved that people can make changes (http://www.anarkismo.net/article/27301)

* A ‘Revolution’ under Attack – the Alternative in midst the War in Syria (http://www.movements.manchester.ac.uk/the-alternative-in-syria/)

* Why is the world ignoring the revolutionary Kurds in Syria? (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/08/why-world-ignoring-revolutionary-kurds-syria-isis)

* Rojava revolution: building autonomy in the Middle East
(http://roarmag.org/2014/07/rojava-autonomy-syrian-kurds/)

* VIDEO: Dilar Dirik on Kobane and Kurdish Women’s Movement (http://kurdishquestion.com/kurdistan/video-dilar-dirik-on-kobane-and-kurdish-women-s-movement.html)

* Anarchists join fight against ISIS to defend Kurdish Autonomous Areas (https://libcom.org/news/anarchists-join-fight-against-isis-defend-kurdish-autonomous-areas-03102014)

* Defend the Kobanê Resistance (https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2014/10/09/18762632.php)

Dispatches Against Displacement is going on tour!

Author and housing activist James Tracy will be heading out on tour soon with his brand-new book Dispatches Against Displacement: Field Notes from San Francisco’s Housing Wars. His confirmed events (so far!) are listed below; we’ll keep this list up to date as more events are confirmed and details are updated. You can learn more [...]

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A Spanish Revolution Reading List

 

On this day in 1936, fascists in Spain launched a coup to topple the country’s Republican government. They got more than they bargained for: within days workers and peasants across the country fought back for a world without government.

This, of course, seems like a good time to share a sampling of the many, many titles we carry that study and celebrate history’s most thoroughgoing anarchist revolution. Let’s start with books:

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[click on the image to go to a book's web page]

Ready for Revolution: The CNT Defense Committees in Barcelona, 1933–1938
Agustín Guillamón

 
The Story of the Iron Column: Militant Anarchism in the Spanish Civil War
Abel Paz
 
Anarchism and Workers’ Self-Management in Revolutionary Spain
Frank Mintz
 
The Spanish Anarchists: The Heroic Years 1868-1936
Murray Bookchin
 
We The Anarchists! A Study Of The Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI) 1927–1937
Stuart Christie
 
Anarchism and the City: Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Barcelona, 1898–1937
Chris Ealham
 
Free Women Of Spain: Anarchism And The Struggle For The Emancipation Of Women
Martha A. Ackelsberg
 
Durruti in the Spanish Revolution
Abel Paz
 
The May Days Barcelona 1937
Emma Goldman, Augustin Souchy,  Jose Peirats, Burnett Bolloten
 
Anarchist Organisation: The History of the FAI
Juan Gomez Casas

And here are some pamphlets from the Kate Sharpley Library, which can always be counted on to find untold stories and underrepresented angles on all aspects of anarchist history:

  Valeriano Orobon Fernandez: Towards the Barricades
Salvador Cano Carrillo
  News of the Spanish Revolution: Anti-authoritarian Perspectives on the Events
Stew Charlatan
  Free Society: A German Exile in Revolutionary Spain
Werner Droescher
  Anarchism in Galicia: Organisation, Resistance and Women in the Underground
Eliseo Fernández, Antón Briallos, and Carmen Blanco
  Wrong Steps: Errors In The Spanish Revolution
Juan Garcia Oliver
  A Day Mournful And Overcast
An ‘uncontrollable’ from the Iron Column
  Unknown Heroes: Biographies of Anarchist Resistance Fighters
Miguel Garcia
  My Revolutionary Life
Juan Garcia Oliver interviewed by Freddy Gomez

 

Interview with Mark Bray about End of the World as We Know It.

 The New Significance recently posted this nice interview with author Mark Bray about his contribution to the book The End of the World As We Know It?

TNS: Hi Mark, and thanks for taking the time to respond to some questions. Before we begin, can you tell readers a bit about yourself and the various projects you’ve been involved in over the years?

Mark: My pleasure! Well, I’m from New Jersey and I’m a member of the new Black Rose Anarchist Federation, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and a PhD Candidate in Modern European History at Rutgers University. Over the years I’ve been involved in the global justice movement, the anti-war movement, student and immigrants’ rights work, labor organizing, and other campaigns. I was also an organizer with the Press and Direct Action working groups of Occupy Wall Street in New York City. I recently published Translating Anarchy: The Anarchism of Occupy Wall Street about the role of anarchism in the movement based on my experiences and 192 interviews with organizers in NYC.

TNS: In your contribution to The End of the World As We Know It? (AK Press, 2014) you talk about the “strategic presentation” of the politics of Occupy Wall Street that you and others tried to mobilize as organizers within the Press Working Group. Can you describe what you mean by that?

Mark: Essentially the article discusses how organizers involved in framing the politics of Occupy attempted to transcend popular disdain for the words and language of radical left ideology (such as ‘anarchism’ or ‘communism’) while maintaining their anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian politics and attempting to target the underlying affinity that many Americans feel for the content of anarchist politics when understood without its often cumbersome ideological baggage. In other words, many working class Americans distrust the federal government, reject the notion that politicians are looking out for the interests of everyday people, understand that the banks and corporations have played a destructive role in the economy over the past years, are very sympathetic to the concepts of local autonomy, participatory democracy, etc. but when they’re initially presented as components of ‘anarchism’ or more broadly anti-capitalist politics the conversation often ends there.

So those of us in the Press Working Group, for example, framed talking points and wrote press releases that presented an anti-authoritarian message that focused on issues and values that people already shared in order to get them involved and expose them to opportunities for further radicalization.

TNS: One of the tropes that you point out that is used to justify austerity, in particular, but also capitalism generally is the idea that we need to “live within our means.” This is a genius talking point for liberals and conservatives, who argue for cutting social spending all the while syphoning wealth upwards (indeed, the top 7% of earners actually got richer during the crisis, while the rest of us were told to tighten our belts). But you and the organizers you worked with repurposed this slogan creatively. Can you describe that for us?

Mark: So in the article I focus on four axiomatic, ‘common sense’ political/ethical perspectives that many Americans hold that OWS organizers had a fair amount of success mobilizing in order to redirect away from their reactionary popular usage toward a much more radical direction including: “Shining City Upon a Hill,” “A Fair Day’s Wage for a Fair Day’s Work,” “You Will Always Have the Poor Among You,” and, as you mentioned, “Living Within Your Means.” The right mobilizes around the concept of “Living Within Your Means” in order to capitalize on the commonly held belief that individuals and families should balance their budgets and apply that adage to the affairs of state thereby glossing over the vast differences that separate the two examples. This rhetoric has the effect of silencing protest because it makes people think that their sacrifices are shared across class and strengthen their character.

But Occupy organizers continually emphasized that the ruling class was not enduring any sacrifices, despite the fact that they were to blame for the crisis, while working people suffered although they ‘played by the rules.’ So, as the well-used Occupy slogan went, “Banks got bailed out/We got sold out.” The financial institutions got rewarded for living beyond their means while working people got punished for living within them.

So the potential strength of these kinds of arguments is that they start with already shared premises to demonstrate how the rich habitually thumb their nose at them.

TNS: It was also interesting that you note that the term “austerity” never really gained traction in the US, particularly in press reporting on the economic situation after the market collapse. This is fascinating for a couple of reasons, not least of which is that the US has definitely seen similar trends as Europe, where “austerity” is a common signifier for a certain set of political priorities (i.e. state-sponsored supply-side economics, where wealthy elites are given massive amounts of tax dollars because their operations are deemed “too big to fail”; funding for those bailouts provided by the evisceration of social spending and the repurposing of those dollars as handouts to the rich; etc.). Why do you think the terminology never took hold in the States?

Mark: Yeah, definitely. Well I’m not entirely sure, but I think a part of it has to do with a well-orchestrated effort to drain the financial crisis of any historical context and portray the issues it raised as essentially eternal questions of the role of government in the economy. The politicians and talking heads present the issue as a continual tug of war between liberals and conservatives over how much the government should ‘interfere’ with the free market. From their perspective, this struggle sometimes sways one way, sometimes another, but it transcends historical eras. Therefore, this outlook is at odds with the more historical interpretation of the recent crisis having ushered in an era of austerity that, to one extent or another, has affected many different governments around the world especially in the global north.

Therefore, government cuts are portrayed as victories for the right in this morally charged battle rather than concessions to a broader historical ‘mandate’ to cut back on social services. Also ‘austerity’ is just not a well known word in the United States, relative to many other places, so that may have something to do with it also.

TNS: And would you mind telling us a bit about your recent book, Translating Anarchy: The Anarchism of Occupy Wall Street? You catalogue some of these issues in the book, correct?

Mark: Yes, Translating Anarchy is a political analysis of the organizers of Occupy Wall Street in New York City based on 192 interviews with organizers and my own experience. Based on the interviews I document the fact that approximately 72% of organizers had explicitly anarchist or implicitly anarchistic politics despite the mainstream media claim that Occupy was a liberal movement whose aspirations were limited to reforms such as campaign finance reform or a millionaire’s tax.

So the book documents this contrast between the anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian organizers that made the movement happen and the larger liberal base of support that generated so much hype for Occupy with a focus on how the radicals at the core of the movement managed to bring people into the movement by orienting their radicalism in accessible language. Ultimately Occupy Wall Street was successful because it brought together this revolutionary core with a liberal support base, and so moving forward those of us serious about transforming society need to put more effort into promoting our ideas outside of left circles. Translating Anarchy reflects on the successes and failures of that project in New York and situates Occupy within a larger historical context of previous social movements and revolutionary struggles.

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Saving Detroit from Capitalism and the State

“The story of land in Detroit is the story of people re-imaging productive, compassionate communities. The land, poisoned and abused by industrial capital for much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, holds the relics of mass production. As technologies advanced and capital became more mobile, Detroit and its people were abandoned. Yet within this devastation, people began to see the opportunity to create something new. Calling on the deepest resources of memory, spirit, and imagination, abandoned land is being reclaimed as urban gardens; old factories hold the possibilities of aquaponics, art studios, and bicycle production; neighborhoods ravaged by drugs and violence are organizing to create peace zones where people take responsibility for public safety and personal problem solving. Detroit, once the symbol of industrial mass production, holds the possibility of becoming a new kind of self-sufficient, productive, creative, and life-affirming city.” [from "A Detroit Story"]

When you read mainstream media accounts of the “options” available to Detroit, remember those are generally only the options that take capitalism as a given. Matthew Birkhold, Grace Lee Boggs, Rick Feldman, and Shea Howell contributed a great chapter to our new book Grabbing Back…which offers a different take on the historical and present-day options available to Detroit, and the rest of us.

Read their chapter, “A Detroit Story: Ideas whose Time Has Come,” here.

Get the book here.

 

What are our plans for fall and winter, you ask?

  
 
We’ve got eight amazing books scheduled for the upcoming Fall and Winter seasons. We’ll share more detailed news in the future, but for now, here’s the list:

Dispatches against Displacement: Field Notes from San Francisco’s Housing Wars, James Tracey

Drug War Capitalism, Dawn Paley

I Belong Only to Myself: The Life and Writing of Leda Rafanelli, Andrea Pakieser

Militant Anti-Fascism: A Hundred Years of Resistance, M. Testa

Educating for Insurgency: The Roles of Young People in Schools of Poverty, Jay Gillen

Underground Passages: Anarchist Resistance Culture, 1848–2011, Jesse Cohn

Storm in My Heart: Memories from the Widow of Johann Most, Helene Minkin

Complete Works of Malatesta, Vol. 3: A Long and Patient Endeavour—The Anarchist Socialism of L’Agitazione, 1897–1898, edited by Davide Turcato

 

 

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Get ready for THE NEW BRAZIL

Remember when Lula’s election in Brazil offered some pretense of hope to certain folks on the international left? Remember how the liberals and reformists just stopped referring to him as the New Great Hope once his policies became clear? Brazil has since emerged as a powerful new player on the geopolitical stage, with Lula embracing the legacy of the country’s oligarchic past, paying off huge IMF loans years ahead of schedule, and placing Brazil at the center of political and economic power in the region.

Raul Zibechi’s The New Brazil: Regional Imperialism and the New Democracy is on it’s way back from the printer. Get your order in today, get 25% off, and get schooled not only on exactly how Brazil became the poster child for neoliberal capitalism, but also on how unrest is growing in Brazil to a point that questions the very foundations capital and the state.

Click here for a look at the book’s Table of Contents.

Click here for an excerpted section discussing the upcoming World Cup games in Brazil.

Click here to order the damn thing!