A Reply to Bryan Caplan’s Essay “The Anarcho-Statists of Spain: An Historical, Economic, and Philosophical Analysis”

by Iain McKay

Also titled: “Objectivity and Right-Libertarian Scholarship”

For general information on Anarchist Theory, see the
Anarchism FAQ File



1. Introduction

In his essay, Caplan decides to expose the secret statist nature of the Spanish Anarchist movement. He states that “many discussions of the Spanish Civil War overlook, minimize, or apologize for the atrocious behavior and tyrannical aspirations of perhaps the most powerful faction of Spanish Republicans: the Anarchist movement.”

It is, of course, true that some anarchists in Spain did act in atrocious ways and in non- (even anti-) anarchist ways. However, things are quite different from what Caplan claims in many cases. This rebuttal will indicate where Caplan’s biases lie and show how they undermine the objectivity of the evidence he selects and presents. In so doing, I shall indicate that Caplan’s “analysis” is lacking and that his thesis is wrong in all its major conclusions.

I shall make points in line with his headings and will concentrate on the parts with which I disagree and present evidence that disproves his claims. This means that many of his statements are apparently “ignored,” but only in the sense we do not wish to quote extensively just to state “we agree with this.” Like all myths, Caplan’s “analysis” does contain elements of truth. However, as will be proved, in the end his case falls apart in light of all the facts.

In producing this critique of Caplan’s work, I was reminded of the following words by Albert Meltzer:

“The fact is that Liberal-Democracy seldom voices any arguments against Anarchism as such — other than relying on prejudice — because its objections are purely authoritarian and unmask the innate Statism and authoritarianism of liberalism. Nowadays conservatives like to appropriate the name “libertarianism” to describe themselves as if they were more receptive to freedom than socialists. But their libertarianism is confined to keeping the State out of interfering in their business affairs. Once anarchism makes it plain that it is possible to have both social justice and to dispense with the State they are shown in their true colours. Their arguments against State socialism and Communism may sound ‘libertarian’, but their arguments against Anarchism reveal that they are essentially authoritarian. That is why they prefer to rely upon innuendo, slanders, and false reporting, which is part of the establishment anti-anarchism, faithfully supported by the media.” [_Anarchism: Arguments for and against_]

Unfortunately, Caplan’s work proves his point. I hope to prove that Caplan’s wrote is mostly false reporting, based upon selective presentation of evidence in order to paint a radically false picture of the Spanish Anarchist movement. In this I think that Caplan is more motivated by ideology than by objectivity. For example, when discussing the activities of Spanish Anarchists he constantly takes those anarchists who act in non-libertarian ways as “typical” and so ignores the vast majority who did stick to their principles – for example, he seems to consider that the few anarchists who committed assassinations after July 19th, 1936, as more typical of Spanish Anarchism than the many others who did not commit murders. This in itself suggests that his “case” is somewhat lacking, but I suppose its easier to concentrate on the few who “make the headlines” than the majority who spent their time creating collectives, at the front or spent their time educating others about the need for freedom and cooperation and what anarchism is.

Also, before going on, I will state here that I oppose the CNTs decision to collaborate with the government against the greater evil of fascism. I agree with the vast majority of anarchist writers on this subject that the first and greatest mistake of the spanish anarchist movement was the mistaken belief that they could work with one side of capitalism (the democratic state) against another (fascism). As the history of the compromise proves, the struggle against fascism is best achieved by also fighting the system that created it (capitalism). The real alternative facing the CNT-FAI was not “the war or the revolution” but “revolutionary war or defeat”.

Finally, I dedicate this to all individuals who desire a free society and who do not blind themselves with ideology when looking at the past or at the present. Liberty requires a mind free from ideology and so with the ability to think for itself.


Categories: Anarchism/Anti-State

Leave a Reply