Preface to the 1st edition (1983) by Daniel Guerin

George Fontenis' study seems useful to me, indeed I would go so far as to say it is valuable, not only as it teaches a better understanding of the Spanish Revolution of 1936-7 but it also provides a more extensive interpretation of the notion of libertarian communism itself.

When using this phrase 'libertarian communism' it is certainly worthwhile to clearly distinguish it from two other versions which are endowed with the same name. To be specific; firstly the utopia, propagated by Kropotkin and his disciples, of a terrestrial paradise without money where, thanks to the abundance of resources, each and every person would be able to draw freely from the stockpile. Secondly the infantile idyll of a jumble of 'free communes', at the heart of the Spanish CNT before 1936, which arose from the thinking of Isaac Puente. This soft dream left Spanish anarcho-syndicalism extremely ill-prepared for the harsh realities of revolution and civil war on the eve of Franco's putsch. Fontenis, although he does highlight certain positive aspects of the congress of Saragossa of 1936, seems to me to err on the side of those who appear removed from reality.

In the first part of his study, the author traces with precision the degeneration, the successive capitulations of the anarchist leaders of the CNT-FAI. However, perhaps he does not penetrate to the heart of the problem with sufficient conviction. To be precise, was traditional anarchism, idealistic and prone to splits, not destined to fail as soon as it found itself confronted by an implacable social struggle, for which it was not in the least way prepared?

Because it was not mainly infidelity to principles, human weakness, inexperience or naivety among the leaders, which led them astray, but rather it was a congenital incapacity to evade the traps of the rulers(which they put up with since they weren't able to write them off with a stroke of a pen). As a consequence they were destined to get bogged down in ministerialism, to take shelter under the treacherous wing of 'antifacsist' bourgeois democracy and finally to let themselves be dragged along by the stalinist counter-revolution.

On the other hand, they were damned well prepared for economic self-management of agriculture, and to a lesser extent, industry. These, together with libertarian collectivisation remain a model for future revolution and saved the honour of anarchism. One might express regret that Fontenis' study is only able to skim the surface of this glorious episode of the Spanish revolution. He would surely be justified in retorting that it is no less absent from the writings which he analyses.

The merit of these texts lies elsewhere, in the political domain. They reveal an unjustifiably obscure aspect of the Iberian libertarian avant-garde, the brief rise of the 'Friends of Durruti', named in memory of the legendary Durruti, who fell on the front on the 20th of November 1936. They emerged from the lessons drawn, a little late, from the cruel defeat of May 1937 in Barcelona. Just as in France Babouvism was the delayed fruit of the severe repressions of germinal and prairial[*1] 1795, the lucidity of these libertarian communists was inspired by the tragedy of May in Catalonia.

Throughout the few editions of their short-lived paper, 'The friend of the people' which Fontenis has passionatly scrutinised and translated, we see these militants refusing, as was advocated by the reformist anarchists as much as by the stalinists, to wait until the war has been won to carry out the revolution and affirming that one couldn't be dissociated from the other. They proclaim that it is possible to battle against the fascist enemy without in the least renouncing libertarian ideals. They denounce the asphyxiation engendered by the machinery of state. And finally they affirm that without a revolutionnary theory, revolutions cannot come from below, and that the revolution of 19 July 1936 failed for want of a program derived from such a theory.

Georges Fontenis, in his efforts to realise such a libertarion communist program, wrote this in 1954 in France and updated it in July 1971 at Marseille at the constituitive congress of the Orginasation Communiste Libertaire (OCL), which I took part in. I will finish by specifying that, today, I find myself at his sides in the UTCL (Union des Traivailleurs Communistes Liberataires), which sets itself in the tradition bequeathed by the first international, that is to say anti-authoritarian.