Stuart Christie, We, the Anarchists! A Study of the Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI) 1927-1937
Edinburgh/Oakland, West Virginia: AK Press, 2008
This reprint of Stuart Christie's history of the Iberian Anarchist Federation constitutes an important addition to the neglected history of the renowned anarchist organization that formed one of the strands of the broad Spanish and Portuguese libertarian movement in the early twentieth century. Unlike Gomez Casas' Anarchist Organisation: The History of the FAI (1986), which is largely sympathetic to the FAI, this book begins its account in a generally positive mode to end up by depicting the organization as a manifestation of the betrayal of the libertarian aspirations and actions of the mass of anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists active in the period of the Spanish Civil War and revolution (1936-9). While the Portuguese element of the FAI is barely mentioned (it had to operate clandestinely from the early 1930s), the Spanish component is presented as a vibrant anarchist organization with close links to the mass syndicalist union, the CNT (National Confederation of Labour). Any accusation of control of the CNT by the FAI, however--an often cited topic--is consistently dismissed by Christie. Rather, in Christie's view, 'the FAI developed as a direct response by rank and file militants to manoeuvres by the national leadership of the CNT to overturn the revolutionary objectives and constitution of the CNT' (p.40).
This supposed dichotomy between the revolutionary anarchists of the FAI (before their downfall and integration into the apparatus of the state, just like the CNT) and the reformist-leaning syndicalists informs much of the book. But there are limitations to this analysis. First, it is necessary to discuss further what precisely made up the 'rank and file' of the CNT--setting up sharp distinctions between the rank and file and an increasingly elitist reformist 'leadership' does not explain how such a division occurred in the first place. Secondly, it is necessary to provide some context on the historical ideological background and evidently reformist roots of some sectors of the CNT, that is, from republican and moderate socialist traditions alive and well in the last years of the nineteenth century. Many joined the CNT simply because it was effective in combating the factory owners rather than through any explicit ideological commitment. Thirdly, and despite what is...