In response to:
All or Nothing from the October 13, 1977 issue
To the Editors:
After reading Raymond Carr’s “review” of my book, The Spanish Anarchists (NYR, October 13), let me also—to use Carr’s opening sentence—“put my cards on the table.”
The Spanish Anarchists was written partly because the literature on the Spanish labor movement has been dominated precisely by historians like Mr. Carr—notably academic Brahmins who have shown about as much objectivity toward the Spanish Anarchist movement as the Massachusetts juridical establishment showed toward Sacco and Vanzetti. As I state in my “Introduction” to the book: “most of the works on Spain exhibit shocking malice toward…the Anarchist action groups.” And anticipating precisely such malice toward my own book, I forewarn the reader: “It may be felt by students of Spanish Anarchism that I have gone to another extreme. Perhaps—but it seemed especially important to me, whatever my personal reservations, that the views of these groups be expressed with a greater degree of understanding than they have generally received.”
Needless to say, Mr. Carr doesn’t fail me. His review exhibits an overt hatred of the subject matter. The Anarchist militants are described as “wild men,” “assassins,” “unstable adolescents,” “elitists,” and, by implication, gun-toting thugs who are hardly to be distinguished from Mafiosa protection racketeers. The more fascinating social question of how Anarchosyndicalist organizations managed to gain support among hundreds of thousands of peasants and industrial workers in Spain; how the Anarchist movement produced (and revered) such gentler, often loving figures like Salvochea as well as pistoleros like Durruti; the elevating moral impact of the Anarchist movement on a very demoralized working class—these questions are either ignored or dispatched with clichés like “primitive rebels.”
Instead, Mr. Carr’s hackles rise when I characterize Largo Cabellero as a “cynical Socialist union boss” as though I should reticently ignore the fact that this “Socialist” became a councillor of state in the Primo de Rivera dictatorship of the 1920s, grossly abused his powers as Minister of Labor to persecute Anarchosyndicalists in the Azaña republic of the early 1930s, and finally postured as the ultra-revolutionary “Spanish Lenin” on the eve of the civil war—only to sell out his “socialism” and “revolutionism” as a Prime Minister of the Popular Front in 1936-1937. In Carr’s lamentation for the Spanish republicans of the 1930s, there is no hint that these worthies tried secretly to work out a deal with Franco during the opening days of the fascist rebellion, thereby guaranteeing the generals a foothold on the Spanish mainland at a time when the prompt arming of the people might have stamped out the rebellion at its outset. If the Spanish Civil War ended in a bloody ignominious defeat, it was not because the Anarchists initiated a social revolution, but because the liberals betrayed every hope of the Spanish people—from a meaningful land reform to serious resistance against the generals.
But Mr. Carr is Mr. Carr. I will not demean my reply by dealing at length with his distortions of my book—be they a deft substitution of “village priests” in general for Carlist priests in particular, who, in the opinion of many scholars, had “a sinister reputation for butchery”; a lumping of the individual bombings of the 1890s, the largely defensive pistolerismo of the early 1920s, and certainly the adventuristic, futile gun-toting and insurrections of the 1930s (distinctions which I clearly and critically make in the book) so that Carr can create the impression that I am cheek-by-jowl with Anarchist terrorists as such. Indeed, I would rather join the most “naïve” Anarchists in their “all or nothing” outlook than share the disdainful “liberalism” of Mr. Carr, so patronizing in its treatment of Anarchist “naïveté” and Anarchist support for “homosexuals, criminals, feminists and gypsies.”
Far more intriguing, in my eyes, is why The New York Review selected Mr. Carr to review The Spanish Anarchists if it was even remotely interested in an objective treatment of a book explicitly sympathetic to Spanish Anarchism? Even Hugh Thomas has recently revised his treatment of Spanish Anarchism in distinctly positive terms—and that is a remarkable feat in itself. Mr. Carr is an unreconstructed Oxford don. He bluntly declares in his opening paragraph that he regards “Spanish anarchism as largely a disaster, both for the workers’ movement and for democracy in Spain.” Accordingly, any work sympathetic to the policies and methods of the Spanish Anarchists—even one, such as mine, that often voices criticisms of both—would be regarded by Mr. Carr as “largely a disaster….” I can respect Mr. Carr’s biases as basically honest ones, however much we may clash ideologically.
By contrast, can The New York Review claim that a political harangue by a fixated ideologue is a “review” when, in fact, it is largely a polemic? Would The New York Review have selected, say, Gil Green of the American Communist Party to review Isaac Deutscher’s biography of Leon Trotsky? Mr. Carr is so explicitly opposed to Anarchism, so riddled by hostility toward the entire subject and particularly Spanish Anarchism, that his review reflects prejudgment rather than evaluation. Your readers will have to examine my book and determine for themselves whether Carr’s hatchet job does justice to its contents and nuances….
Hoboken, New Jersey
Mr. Bookchin’s letter takes a different view of Raymond Carr’s work from the one in his book. He states there that “Raymond Carr’s Spain, 1808-1939 (Oxford, 1966) is an eminently readable and informative account of political events,” and he refers to Mr. Carr’s “perceptive account of modern Spanish history….” Gerald Brenan, whose writing on the Spanish anarchists Mr. Bookchin calls the “finest and most moving account in English…to date,” had a similar opinion of Mr. Carr’s work, one that is pertinent to his qualifications as a reviewer: “…his grasp and penetration are equally assured when he writes on Carlism or Anarchism or on Basque or Catalan Nationalism…. His comments show a deep understanding of Spanish life and, since he has no bias, his conclusions are always convincing” (NYR, November 17, 1966).
Raymond Carr replies:
I simply cannot understand the moral outrage of Mr. Bookchin, but then we unreconstructed Oxford dons are bad at morals anyway. The review was favorable to the book as an honest, scholarly and sympathetic account of Anarchism; nor was it dismissive of all anarchists as Mr. Bookchin seems to say. It is absurd, given the general tone of the review, to say that I imply that Mr. Bookchin’s work is “largely a disaster.” Who knows? Perhaps my vanity is ruffled when he attributes a quotation from my prejudiced works to E.H. Carr. This confusion is a cross which I have borne till my shoulders sag.
To descend to detail. What is wrong with the phrase “primitive rebels” (the term is, as Mr. Bookchin knows, not of my invention) applied to Andalusian rural anarchists? I make quite clear the distinction between the activist “elitists” and other sections of the movement. If people murder people they are rightly called “assassins.” I have always believed in calling a spade a spade. The phrase “wild men” would certainly be applied to the Dostoyevskian fringes of the movement by, say, Victor Serge. “Unstable adolescents” is the phrase used by the most distinguished scholar of early anarchism. It is merely a statement of fact that the CNT has defended homosexuals, feminists, gypsies, etc.; and, of course, it is a mere personal and unverifiable hypothesis of mine that a successful revolution cannot be based on such support.
There really isn’t anything to say, because Mr. Bookchin and I are divided on a fundamental issue: the acceptability of terrorism in a democratic society. It is the claim, as many anarchists admitted, of a moral elite to impose its views on a society that can vote to decide the views of the majority. Whatever he may say, while he asserts that terrorism and violence were not “intrinsic features of anarchism” (p. 17) and that the movement was a “curious mixture of pistolerismo and humanism” (p. 127), Mr. Bookchin sympathizes with the “elitist” and “activist” point of view. I reject it, and think that the CNT “no votad” (Don’t vote) campaign during the Second Republic was rooted in two premises:
a) a profound conviction of the incurable moral and political corruption of any bourgeois society and an overriding sense of the moral superiority of the converted;
b) the realization that the anarchists were not a majority in Spain and that therefore there was no alternative to a minority revolution—a view which Garcia Oliver himself later recognized as inconsistent with anarchist libertarianism.
As I make clear, I accept the legitimacy of claim (a) in a nondemocratic situation, for instance during the Martinez Anido regime in Barcelona. I think the claim inadmissible under the Second Republic, where for the first time in Spanish history the masses could vote.
Clearly I do not share Mr. Bookchin’s condemnation of Socialists as a collection of cynical pragmatists. To argue that Largo Caballero “sold out” in the May crisis of 1937 is false; he fell precisely because he refused to abandon the revolutionaries to the vengeance of the CPE and their “bourgeois” allies. As for the unfortunate liberals, remnants of what Mr. Bookchin calls the “San Sebastian crowd,” in my Spanish Tragedy I have tried to point to the dilemmas of the government on July 17-18, 1936. They took what was, in my view, the wrong course, but I understand why they took it. The events of August perhaps give some justification for their reluctance to arm the people.
Unlike Mr. Bookchin, I will demean myself and admit my “distortions.” Yes, you could argue that by taking the phrase “village priests with a sinister reputation for butchery” (p. 33) I have misread a passage by failing to distinguish between “dogmatic and fanatical priests” of the “great northern region” and the Carlists in the mountains. However, Mr. Bookchin’s distortions seem as serious as my own. Where are the “many scholars” who admit that Carlist priests had this sinister reputation? I presume he is referring to the chaplains of the requetés, of whom a few undoubtedly had a reputation as bloodthirsty enthusiasts.
Let me conclude by saying once more that I think The Spanish Anarchists a good book.
April 6, 1978