About the Spanish "Alianza"
René Berthier
Article mis en ligne le 21 août 2017
dernière modification le 14 septembre 2017

par Eric Vilain

About the Spanish “Alianza”

After Fanelli, a member of the “Alliance” had been to Spain, the International had known an important development, but naturally the Spanish workers were not on the centralist side. Marx and Engels sent Lafargue to Spain in January 1872 in order to do a fractionist work and undermine the activities of the Spanish International, but he failed miserably. He also did so well that the activists who initially followed him eventually joined the Bakunists. Lafargue caused a terrible mess, but was finally expelled from the Madrid federation on June 9, 1872 (1).

However, Lafargue had clearly explained that the “Alianza” was a strictly Spanish affair in which Bakunin had nothing to do (2). But as the “prosecution case” against Bakunin and his friends at the Hague Congress had been mounted on the basis of a ubiquitous and overactive “Alliance”, this was left behind. The Spanish “Alianza” was on the other hand very active and dynamic and if its name was probably not due to chance, it was in no way adherent to any conspiratorial International seeking to exercise its “dictatorship” on the IWA. But at the Hague Congress, the Alliance and the “Alianza” were considered as one organisation.

In Spain, Lafargue did not give up his sabotage work.
He created a rival federation with eight other men (compared to the 331 sections and 30 or 40.000 members of the Spanish federation in 1873 [3]) and called it “New Madrid Federation” which intended to be integrated in the Spanish regional Federation (the Spanish internationalists considered Spain a “region” of the International). Of course, the Spanish Federal Council refused, but the General Council in London bureaucratically pronounced the admission of this 9-men federation to the International. So it was as a member of this bogus federation that Lafargue was appointed delegate to The Hague Congress where he could vote the exclusion of Bakunin and James Guillaume !!! The General Council had implemented incredible manipulations to prevent the Spanish federation (the real one) to send delegates to The Hague, knowing that they would not be docile.
In the same way that Marx’s reports had inflated the results of the International in Germany because he needed to substantiate his position in the General Council, “Engels and Lafargue exaggerated their achievements in Spain”, writes W.O. Henderson (4). In spite of the repression and the ban on their activities, the Spanish branches of the International had held their third conference in Saragossa in April 1872. About this conference,

“Lafargue claimed that the Marxists had vanquished Bakunin’s followers. Engels also asserted that at Saragossa ‘our people won a victory over the Bakunists’. The very opposite was true. Although the conference had rejected some Bakunist resolutions it had elected a new Spanish Federal Council which was dominated by Bakunin’s followers. (…) Engels admitted at this time that in Catalonia – Spain’s only industrial province – the Bakunists controlled the International and its journal, La Federación.” […]
“Lafargue’s mission had failed, writes Henderson, because when he left Spain at the end of July 1872 the International was split into hostile factions and only a small minority of the branches supported the General Council in London. The politically conscious workers had found the doctrines of Bakunin and Proudhon more palatable than those of Marx. Engels could not derive much satisfaction from the contemplation of his work as corresponding secretary for Spain (5).”

Henderson is right except on one point : the Spanish workers had not so much found Bakunin’s ideas more “palatable” as they had found Lafargue’s behaviour ethically unacceptable. Most of the Spanish workers who had first joined Lafargue had got disgusted with his methods and gone back to their original (Bakunist) federation.

At the Hague Congress, the Committee which had been set up to prosecute the case of the Alliance amalgamated the two structures (Alliance and Alianza) in such a way that one does not know what all this was about : the existence of this “Alliance” could not be proved (although the “Alliance” of Geneva had been a public organisation adhering to the IWA), but Bakunin was suspected of having “tried and perhaps succeeded” to form a Spanish secret society called Alliance. But for Engels, this secret society was the same as the Spanish Alianza.

In conclusion of the report of the Committee of The Hague congress,
the program of the Alliance was considered as incompatible with that of the International – but it was not very clear what program was concerned : the one which had originally existed but which Bakunin had amended because he recognized it could not be accepted by the General Council ? The one that the biased Committee which had been appointed for the prosecution acknowledged it could not prove the existence ? The program of the Alliance as a regular section of Geneva whose validity had been recognized by the General Council ? The one of the Spanish Alianza ?

“If, finally, one asks what really did exist in terms of organisation, the answer must be : very little indeed. The Alliance ‘had no list of members, no agreed rules or program (since Bakunin’s numerous drafts were all made on his own responsibility), no officers, no subscriptions, and no regular meetings. A political association having none of these attributes was a myth (6).”

(1) See documents reproduced in James Guillaume, L’Internationale, documents et souvenirs, Vol. 4, p. 294.
(2) Besides, the Alianza “was dissolved at the Saragossa Congress when it had accomplished its propaganda work” (F. Sorge, “Minutes of the Fifth General Congress of the IWA at The Hague, September 1872”, cf. The Hague Congress, vol. 1, p.128. On 7 September 1872, a delegate, Alerini declared that the Alianza “has ceased to exist because traitors have foully denounced it” (Le Moussi, “Minutes”, p. 101) The Barcelona local Federation published a statement in March 1873 saying that the Alianza “dissolved itself over questions that arose in its midst” (Consejo Local de la Federación Barcelonesa, Circular à todas les Federaciones locales y Secciones de la région espanola, Barcelona, Imp. De Manero, 1873, p. 20). This is what had happened : Lafargue had published the names of leading members of the “Alianza” who were then victims of police repression.
(3) To compare with the German 208 members Engels refers to in his letter,
(4) William Otto Henderson, The Life of Freidrich Engels, Routledge, 1976, Vol. 2, p. 539
(5) W.O. Henderson, The life of Friedrich Engels, Routledge, vol. II, p. 539.
(6) Arthur Lehning, “Bakunin’s Conception of Revolutionary Organisations and Their Role : a Study of His ’Secret Societies’”, in Essays in Honour of E.H. Carr, The Macmillan Press, 1974, p. 76.