The Lie factory

Albert Meltzer
Cienfuegos Press Anarchist Review, No 2 1977

The following article is not exactly a book review – the books are unobtainable as far as we know – but it is a history as to how the ”case against anarchism”, as it were, is manufactured.

LEAN MEN by Ralph Bates was written in July 1934 and is now long out of print (it was a two-volume Penguin in 1938 and is now quite rare). The book deals with workers in Barcelona in the last days of the monarchy. Inevitable, it deals largely with ”the fierce internicine struggle between the workers addhering to the CNT, the revolutionary syndicalist movement in which the dominating philosophy was Anarchism, and the minority belonging to the UGT, the constitutional socialist organisation of trade-unions whose principal strength was in Madrid and the Biscayan provinces”.

The UGT was ”forever pleading for co-operation with the employers… and had even entered the Council of State set up by the dictatorship”. The CNT though was ”ceaselessly and with magnificent spirit battling against their employers”. That is the setting of the book. But there is one snag. The hero, yes, hero! of the book is a Comintern agent, sent to intervene in the struggle, create a Communist Party out of nothing, and to destroy the main workers organisation. The author, Ralph Bates, glamourises and clearly identifies with the (English) hero – there are some parallels with his life.

In this well-written, but deceitful book there are to be found most of the lies that were levelled against the CNT up to this day, interspersed with some historic facts little known here then, or now. The patience and level-headedness of the fictional Comintern agent makes sad reading when one recalls George Orwell’s account of how these same agents came to fruition in this same setting.

The main argument used by Mr. Charing (the Comintern agent) and clearly underlined by Ralph Bates, is the pacifist one also used by the social democrats and apparently by the Stalinists too when it suited their purpose. The anarchists are responsible for the fights between police and workers (as if the Spanish police ever needed an excuse for repression), and the ”guilt rests upon the consciences of those evil teachers who deluded the workers with impossible doctrines”. They ”fastened their hold” upon the syndicates (which the CP would never do!) ”and drew the pistol in the struggle… if we strike back against the State we demean ourselves, we become anarchists.. we give excuse for fresh opposition…” (Difficult to see, then, how they differed from the UGT. But it barely existed in Barcelona).

This theme, that the anarchists are violent men and provoke oppression by the police, is reiterated; and, though the socialists are condemned for their collaboration, it is emphasised that the militancy of the anarchists is harmful to the best interests of the workers. The Moscow cell tries to control and to smash the unions: ”an attack was projected in an editorial appointment on Solidaridad Obrera, the anarcho-syndicalist daily, shortly to emerge from compulsory retirement. It really appeared as if the tempo of the movement was getting too fast, it might even have to be retarded a little”. (plus ca change..!) ”It was good Bolshevism never to let enthusiasm outrun practical necessity. Everything should be held back until it was vitally necessary or perfectly opportune”.

How did anarchism ”this sad business” begin? Here we have the Comintern agent’s explanation: ”The workers, desperate in their misery, accepted the first doctrine of revolt that came their way, seizing upon it, believing it, thinking it, dreaming it, in sorrow and anguish, pining for a nobler order of society. That doctrine was anarchism. ‘Let us destroy all law for it is weighted against us. Let us raze the State to the ground for it is the servant of kings and priests and capitalists. Let us acknowledge no man master, no bonds, no moralities, for no man is good enough to be master, nor do the workers need bonds’. This was the dream”.

The dream had to be destroyed for clearly this could not apply to the law and order of the omnipotent State with its new masters, its new bonds and moralities – that was the aim that kept the Comintern man going! Ralph Bates portrays him as an idealist and an altruist. Then read Homage to Catalonia or Victor Serge and see him in reality!
* * *
THE OTHER was published as a sci-fi paperback in New York. It is Anarchaos by Curt Clark, a pulp novel of the kind you can pick up in exchange bookshops – who knows whether it is in print or not? But this is one with a difference: it is the story of ”a world where nothing was illegal, the only crime was to be killed”. The story of an ”anarchist” planet where 72% of world visitors disappeared without a trace…where anarchy was the only law”.

It is Anarchism as seen through Fascist eyes. Maybe Clark is not a Fascist and has just picked up the arguments (many of the objections to anarchism are picked up from Communist and Fascist sources and treated as original). But the arguments are a perfect example of the Nazi views on anarchism, and fairly presented. It is not, to them, ”a dream”. It is a hard reality, but one which they intensely dislike. They know that the State could be dispensed with, but they find it intolerable and perhaps frightening to live without authority above them.

The doctrines of Bakunin which had slept for ”several centuries in well-earned oblivion” were resurrected by Anarchaos. Anarchism called upon the ”noblest elements of human nature as the bedrock of society – a call which is itself noble, but not entirely realistic”. ”The first generation of Anarchaos didn’t do too badly.. but of course they had been trained on other worlds and understood discipline and group effort, these two hallmarks of government” but the second generation ”growing up with no influence but anarchism” hived off into ”syndicates which ran the factories, and the farms, the schools, and transport systems” according to the naive ideas of the anarchists, at which point the ”off worlders” moved in, bearing a remarkable likeness to none other than the Elders of Zion from an earlier attempt at science fiction and without anyone realising it. The ”syndicated.. were quietly and unofficially taken over by foreign corporations and soon the economic – if not the political – structure of Anarchaos was in the hands of profit-seekers who directed operations from grand offices light years away… for Anarchaos is a rich world… trapping and mining are the two primary occupations, the former done by rugged individualists out in the wilds, the latter done by slaves captured by roaming press gangs and sold to the mining syndicates”.

This lasted 87 years ”the longest runnimg planet-wide mad-house in the history of the human race” until the hero finally manages to blow up the invisible government and let the rest of the planet stew in its own juice and finally collapse.

By the use of fictional cover, artful and malicious accusation can be made without any justification, which pass into acceptance – sometimes as if they were really fact (for years people quoted William Golding’s Lord of the Flies as if that were enough to disprove the possibility of a free society). Such an ”off-world” dictatorship could not possibly exist in a free society. The very reason governments came into existence in the first place was in order to enable ”slaves to be captured by roaming press-gangs”. That is the stuff of government. ”The State began with the crack of the slave-drivers whip”. It would be impossible to divorce the economic from the political so that the exploiters (not expressly designated as capitalists, perhaps the author is thinking of financiers with its more sinister connotations to the fascist mind) could not exist and penetrate the free unions, but have no powers of enforcement for there was no political structure to back them up! This caricature of life of the planet Anarchaos” would be absurd but for one thing: it is the classic Nazi type objection to anarchism and it has been passed off, with the type of objection by Ralph Bates and many others, as factual.

So far as the average journalist is concerned, Bakunin might well sleep in ”deserved oblivion”; they pick up their ideas of anarchism from dime novels and Comintern agents. All this fiction is put over as if it were recorded fact. You have only to pick up a daily paper to see for yourself that journalists do not take their ideas about anarchism from the books reviewed in their papers, or even from the reviews themselves. But they will gladly accept the caricature from State agents. At present, in its neurotic obsession with the State, the German Government is labelling as ”Anarchist” not only all resistance in Germany, but anything that moves. The woorld’s journalists are tamely obliged to pick this up from German State propaganda, by editorial order in some cases, from sheer lack of having anything read anything else in others.

A.M. (Black Flag)



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