[The Popular Front] experiment will be the greatest confirmation of our ideas on the inability of political parties to lead the proletariat to its complete emancipation
Le Libertaire, April 1936
We are faced more and more with the dilemma: fascism or revolution.
Le Libertaire, August 1936
Which ‘Popular Front’? Anarchist antifascism
When examining the anarchists’ engagement with 1930s ‘antifascism’ and when analysing their apparently equivocal attitude towards the Front populaire, we have to bear in mind Daniel Guérin’s distinction between what he calls the ‘Popular Front no.1’ - an electoral alliance between social democracy, stalinism and bourgeois liberalism - and the ‘Popular Front no.2’ - a powerful, extra-parliamentary movement, the initiative for which came from the working class: ‘the true popular front, the popular front of the streets and not of the politicians’ . The anarchists were careful to distinguish between the Popular Front’s leaders - the politicians - and its working-class supporters, and they enthused over ‘the fraternity, the solidarity and the strength of the working class’ manifested in the extra-parliamentary antifascist movement of 1934-35. They also took an active part in that movement, and in some respects a leading part.
This paper aims to assess the anarchists’ contribution to the antifascist movement and their critique of ‘Popular Frontism’. It will also ask to what extent the anarchist movement can be said to have succeeded or failed in its objectives, and will examine the ideological debates which the experiences of 1936-39 provoked between different anarchist currents over revolutionary strategy and tactics.
Towards antifascist unity, 1933-35: the United Front
For some time after the emergence of fascist movements across Europe, many revolutionaries failed to understand the true significance of the danger. It was seen as a localised phenomenon, limited to countries - like postwar Italy - with ‘fragile institutions’. The exiled Italian anarchist, Luigi Fabbri, was one of the first to argue that far from being a temporary and ‘exceptional’ form of domination of the working class by the bourgeoisie, fascism in fact represented a historic crisis of capital: a crisis of modern civilisation and of its central values - freedom, justice and progress. As he wrote from Paris in one of a series of articles for La Lotta umana in 1927-29:
Fascism is not just another form of government which, like all others, uses violence. It is the most authoritarian and the most violent form of government imaginable. It represents the utmost glorification of the theory and practice of the principle of authority. 
The triumph of nazism in Germany, the home of one of the ‘strongest’ labour movements in Europe, marked something of a turning-point in terms of the attitude adopted by French revolutionaries. Clearly circumstances in Italy and in Weimar Germany were not the same as those prevailing in France, but the conditions for the growth of a mass fascist movement were nonetheless beginning to be apparent here too: ministerial instability, political-financial scandals, persistent and widespread questioning of the legitimacy of the Republic, resurgence of the extreme right, economic crisis and growing unemployment... The Comintern’s 1931 analysis of the effects of the crisis predicted a clarification of the fundamental class conflict between workers and capital, with workers being pushed towards revolutionary socialist positions. For the anarchist Maurice Joyeux, this betrayed great complacency regarding the political consciousness of the working class:
From 1934, some militants began to understand that the proletarianisation of the unemployed did not necessarily contribute to their combativity. People rejected by society in that way are ready to serve any master who promises them bread. 
Revolutionaries began to fear the defection to fascism of significant sections of the middle classes and even of the ‘proletariat’. The lessons of Italy and Germany seemed to be that the extreme right could only be halted by a strong and above all united working-class front.
Unity of action within the labour movement thus became one of the principal objectives of anarchist campaigning. At least, this was the case with the mainstream anarchist-communist organisation, the Anarchist Union (Union anarchiste or UA), most of whose members seem to have also been members of the CGT (Confédération générale du travail).  The ‘anarcho-syndicalist’ CGTSR (Confédération générale du travail - Syndicaliste révolutionnaire) continued to preclude cooperation with the ‘reformist’ CGT, led as it was by the ‘traitor’ Léon Jouhaux who had opted for the Union sacrée (national unity in support of the war effort) in 1914.
Soon after the nazi takeover in Germany and in the absence of any initiative coming from the dominant left-wing parties, leading members of the UA such as Lashortes and Frémont thus began to call for a ‘united front’ (front unique) which would bring together - ‘in good faith and for a clearly determined objective’ - all the labour and political organisations opposed to fascism. 
Manfredonia has argued that this proposal was at best ambiguous, and at worst - if it was meant to be taken as a call for unity of action agreed ‘at the top’ with the SFIO (Socialist Party) and the PC (Communist Party) leadership - optimistic to the point of naivety.  It had its critics among anarchists at the time. The revolutionary individualist Fortin, in an article in La Revue anarchiste entitled ‘From unity of action to Union sacrée, exclaimed incredulously:
Are we to make common cause with the political parties, even if only with those which claim to be ‘extreme-left’? Are we to work for the Socialist and Communist Parties? That would really be the limit. 
The united front proposal certainly seems to have contributed to the haemorrhage of activists from which the UACR (Union anarchiste communiste révolutionnaire) was suffering at that time. This worrying situation, plus mounting concern after the events of 6 February 1934 (when extreme-right demonstrators attacked the National Assembly), led a group of prominent anarchists (Louis Lecoin, Sébastien Faure, Georges Bastien and Pierre Le Meillour) to call for a special conference to resolve the movement’s tactical differences and produce a more united national organisation. This took place in Paris in May 1934, and resulted in the abandoning of some of the more ‘organisationalist’ principles of the UACR, as well as in a reversion to the old name of Union anarchiste. This ‘unification congress’ was, however, only partially successful, since a minority of ‘platformists’ left to create a Fédération communiste libertaire.
As for the united front policy, the Paris congress reaffirmed its fundamental distrust of politicians and declared itself ‘opposed in principle to contact with political parties’, but added that at the local level and for ‘clearly defined aims’, anarchists could participate in unitary committees. In other words, local groups were left free to do more or less as they wished at that level, whilst contact between the UA and political parties at the national level was ruled out. The reference to the ‘united front’ was maintained, but only in the sense of a ‘means of preparing the unity of the working class’.  As Manfredonia has pointed out, however, whilst eliminating a certain ambiguity regarding relations between the anarchists’ organisation and political parties, this new line contained no fresh, alternative proposals for the coordinated creation of a working-class front ‘from below’.  The movement continued therefore to be divided: some persisted in rejecting all cooperation with other left-wing groups and in presenting stalinists and fascists as equivalent; whilst others such as René Frémont, the platformists and probably the majority of UA members continued to see cooperation within the broader labour movement and with other left-wing groups as the only possible way forward. The parallels with the debate which was being carried on within the leadership of the Comintern at the same time are striking. 
The effect of the fascists’ attack on the Assemblée nationale on 6 February 1934 was a groundswell of support for labour unity. The UA was one of the eight organisations represented at the meeting held in the offices of the CGT the next day.  According to Lefranc, Jouhaux particularly wanted the anarchists to be associated with the CGT’s call for a general strike: ‘fidelity to the ideals of his youth and the desire to cover himself against accusations of having sold out to the government’.  UA members took part in the strike, held on 12 February and supported by the CGTU as well as by the CGT. Its success was immensely encouraging to the anarchists, though they were less pleased with its ‘co-option’ by the PC and SFIO pact of that July, which would lead to the launching of the Front populaire a year later:
We rejoice at the unity of action which has now been realised, having been among the first to call for it. If fascism has taken one step backwards, it is thanks to that unity. We believe it necessary, however, to oppose the so-called Popular Front, which is a distortion of that unity. 
During the summer of 1934, the anarchists were involved in the setting-up of a Centre de liaison et de coordination des forces antifascistes de la région parisienne - a non-communist rival, more or less, to the communist-dominated Comité Amsterdam-Pleyel.  Some felt a ‘profound distaste at having to associate with certain elements’.  Nonetheless, they decided that, as Sébastien Faure put it, ‘for the time being, the most important thing is to halt the progress of fascism’ and agreed to take part in the demonstration of 14 July 1935.  As the prefect of police refused to allow the anarchist black flag on the demonstration, they took part with their respective trade unions rather than as a separate anarchist contingent. 
At its Easter congress, 12-13 April 1936, this tactic was confirmed as policy: the UA could not remain on the touch-line. Anarchists must ally themselves with the non-anarchist left and take part in the mass antifascist movement - albeit whilst trying to exert a revolutionary influence.  It is no coincidence that it was at this conference that the FCL (Fédération communiste libertaire) rejoined the UA.  Nor was it unconnected that the following August the opposite faction left the UA to found the FAF (Fédération anarchiste de langue française), condemning the UA for being centralised and centralist (dominated by a Parisian clique), authoritarian and too conciliatory towards the non-anarchist left.  The Nîmes-based Terre libre, which had existed since 1934, would become the organ of the FAF in February 1937.
The strike movement of 1936
After the reunification of the CGT in February 1936 - welcomed by all except the CGTSR, for whom the CGT was incorrigibly passive and reformist - came the summer strike-wave. The anarchists were overjoyed. ‘Let us salute this magnificent dawn!’, declaimed Le Combat syndicaliste.  The strikes were ‘an outstanding and unprecedented triumph’:
For the first time in history, the whole of the working class has risen up and imposed its will on its oppressors, the bosses. 
But the greatest value of the strikes lay not so much in the concessions won, as in the way in which they were won. The occupations, in particular, were a new strike form which corresponded closely to what anarchists had been proposing for many years:
Attacking both the right to property and the principle of authority, the workers have taken control of the means of production, which are their means of work; for a moment, they have stopped the source of profit and exerted their right of occupation, proving in the process their capacity for organisation and self-management. They have proved the value of direct action. 
Thus, whilst valuing the gains made by workers in 1936, the anarchists saw the strikes as just a beginning - not as an undesirable situation which needed to be ‘normalised’ by a few concessions from the employers. This could have been the first stage of an ever wider, ever deeper movement on the part of a class which had at last refound its unity, its strength and its self-confidence. The Matignon Agreement and the attitude of Thorez, Blum and Jouhaux were seen as the betrayal of a movement which was still at its height and had not yet fulfilled its true potential: ‘For some, hope has been destroyed; for others, a danger avoided; an opportunity to emancipate labour has perhaps been lost’.  Two years later, when the euphoria in France had evaporated and when the Spanish revolution had effectively also been destroyed, the young and disillusioned revolutionaries around the new monthly journal Révision provided an even more negative appraisal:
The Matignon Agreement, a treaty concluded under the auspices of the Socialist government between the big employers and the leadership of the CGT, did not only fail to limit profits or restrict the power of capital. It has actually forced capital to organise itself more seriously than in the past and has reinforced the influence of the most powerful capitalists over the capitalist class as a whole. The working class is deluding itself as to the value of the reforms it won. 
As for the extent of the anarchists’ own involvement in the strikes, it is difficult to ascertain with any precision. It seems that when the Paris Federation of the UA called an extraordinary congress for 4 June in order to discuss tactics, hardly anyone was able to attend, as activists were already too involved in the strikes they were supposed to be discussing. We also know that from around the spring of 1936, the workerist tendency fought hard to establish factory committees as a base of support for revolutionary action - though estimates of how successful they were vary and the policy was abandoned at the UA Congress of October-November 1937. 
First-hand accounts of the spring and summer of 1936 by anarchist activists also vary in the impressions they give. Joyeux writes that his UA group in the 17th arrondissement failed to exploit the opportunities afforded anarchists by the Popular Front, being subsumed instead in the general enthusiasm for political reform.  Léo Eichenbaum-Voline suggests that ‘apart from a few isolated individuals lost in the crowd’, the anarchists did nothing but argue about their differences.  Nicolas Faucier, in contrast, claims far more involvement and commitment on the part of the anarchist movement:
The anarchists were at the heart of the struggle. At the offices of the Union anarchiste, there was a constant toing and froing of militants and sympathisers wanting propaganda material for solidarity work with the strikers. 
It should perhaps be remembered, however, that Joyeux, a prominent member of the movement after the Liberation, devoted a great deal of energy to combatting the ‘libertarian communist’ tendency within French anarchism, and therefore had a particular view of the usefulness of cooperation with other sectors of the labour movement. Similarly, Eichenbaum was a member of the FAF, of which his father Voline was a leading member, and which adopted a much more critical view of the broader labour movement than did the UA or the FCL. Indeed, the veteran activist André Senez specifies that the anarchists who were most involved in the strike movement were those who were members of both the UA and the CGT, and especially ex-FCL militants.  Henri Bouyé admits that ‘our movement was not equal to the situation’, but also distinguishes between the different tendencies: the greatest offenders, in his eyes, were the individualists - who were interested neither in the labour movement nor in social revolution - and the CGTSR - which was too isolated. 
Although information is sparse and impressionistic, some anarchists certainly did play an important rôle, fomenting strikes, acting as spokespersons, helping create unions and so on.  By all accounts, one of the greatest obstacles in the way of anarchist involvement in syndicalist activities at this time was the determination of the PCF to maintain its authority within the trade union hierarchies.
The anarchists were also an integral part of that sector of the labour movement which, throughout this period, adopted a resolutely antimilitarist - and consequently antistalinist - stance. They took part in the Centre de liaison contre la guerre et l’Union sacrée, established in opposition to the Stalin-Laval Pact of May 1935.  Organised by the syndicalists of the Révolution prolétarienne group and the Ligue syndicaliste, the Centre’s manifesto and two conferences were supported by the UA, the FCL and even the CGTSR, as well as by other groups and individuals closely associated with the anarchist movement: the pacifists around la Patrie humaine and le Barrage, the Ligue internationale des combattants de la paix (whose president was Sébastien Faure), Henri Poulaille, Ernestan and Simone Weil. In January 1937, anarchists also joined with the Gauche révolutionnaire, the Monatte-Louzon group and others to create the Cercle syndicaliste lutte de classes - an attempt to regroup the revolutionary opposition to the policies of Jouhaux and Frachon.  Many of those involved with Révolution prolétarienne and the Ligue syndicaliste were of course themselves very close to anarchism.
Direct action & the critique of the Popular Front
‘Popular Frontism’, then, was clearly welcomed by the anarchists, but only in the sense of a united working-class front. As we have already noted, an editorial in Le Libertaire insisted in July 1935 that, however much anarchists welcomed the new unity of action in the labour movement, the ‘so-called Popular Front’ was ‘a distortion of that unity’.  This was partly to do with the Stalin-Laval Pact. For the anarchists, this pact was a new Union sacrée intended, ‘through an alliance of French and Russian imperialism’, to maintain ‘the status quo established at Versailles’.  In March 1936, Le Libertaire declared in banner headlines that ‘Popular Front means Union sacrée, and Union sacrée means war’.  The pact cemented their hostility to the Communists - or ‘nacos’ (‘nationaux-communistes’, ‘national-communists’), as they were coming to be known - and, of course, encouraged them in their belief that the Communists’ primary motive in promoting the Popular Front was what they saw as Stalin’s bellicose and reactionary foreign policy. The threat of war was looming on the horizon, and the false conflict between fascism and ‘democracy’ was preparing minds by making war seem acceptable:
It is time the working class separated itself from all these traitors and defined its own anti-war policy. It is not a matter of choosing between German and French imperialism [...].The working class must fight them both. 
And a year later, in the spring of 1936, Attruia summed up the anarchists’ attitude to communist strategy:
It is not the task of true revolutionaries to defend this State against another State - even a fascist one - but to destroy the State through revolution. Their duty is not, as Vaillant-Couturier has written in l’Humanité, to oppose ‘the permanent threat of a fascist putsch with the barrier of republican feeling in the country and among the forces of law and order’ (sic), but actively to prepare a revolutionary response. 
But the anarchists also attacked what they saw as the fundamental deceptiveness of the Popular Front policy, the naivety of believing that anything significant could be achieved by electing a Popular Front government: ‘make the rich pay’ was a seductive but misleading slogan.  This was, of course, a matter of very basic anarchist principle, as the UA’s manifesto (adopted at the Paris congress in April 1936)  made clear. Parliamentarism was the gravest danger to the working class, being no more than an anaesthetic. An electoral alliance with the bourgeoisie was a trick, because it had the working class believe that their interests were the same as their rulers’, and a century’s experience showed that it was ‘always the working class that pays the cost of such alliances’.  It was therefore foolish to believe that a Popular Front government would or could achieve what the working class needed:
Will it expropriate the industrialists and the financiers? No. That is not its aim - our nice republican Radicals could never subscribe to such a thing. 
Popular Front governments in France or Spain would not be able to achieve what the working class wanted without going beyond the legal framework of a bourgeois parliament, and they would not be able to do that without destroying themselves as coalition governments. Anarchists wondered what would happen then:
Parliamentary resistance? Capitalism has shown in several countries that it is quite capable of overcoming such opposition without lifting a finger. The Popular Front, if it wishes to hold on to power, will have to protect itself by adopting a ‘neutrality’ which wil be greatly appreciated by capital. Otherwise, it will be forced to step down. There is no other possible solution. 
For the UA, those things that were achieved - from the amnesty accorded political prisoners in Spain to paid holidays in France - were not granted them by the Popular Front governments, but forced upon the governments by the direct action of the working class itself.  For the anarchists, the direct intervention of the labour movement, unmediated and unrestricted by electoralism, had more progressive potential than the coalition between the Socialist, Communist and Radical Party hierarchies - a coalition which Le Libertaire’s editorial of 21 August 1936 insisted was a product and not a cause of the spontaneous popular movement.
In Spain as in France, all the parliamentary hubbub surrounding the Popular Front, the shifts in parliamentary majorities and so on - which are persistently taken for causes by commentators who are either blinkered or who have an interest in such misunderstandig - are nothing but the effect of the tremendous dissatisfaction of the masses who have a direct interest in real change.
Spain and non-interventionism
But it was the Spanish revolution which, more than anything, aroused the imagination and enthusiasm of the French anarchists. Again, when it came to the question of ‘non-intervention’, they were clear on the rôle of the French government. The anarchists certainly did not want Blum to intervene militarily, but branded him a Pontius Pilate for refusing to allow normal trade relations with Republican Spain to continue (or even to turn a blind eye to the export of munitions even if it was technically prohibited). The working class could and should rely only on itself:
The defence of Spain in revolutionary struggle must be assured by the French working class, and not by the French nation. The neutrality of the latter must not lead to the passivity of the former. 
Workers must act to destroy pro-fascist forces in France, and constitute ‘the revolutionary front of solidarity with Spain’.  Thus the campaign of solidarity with Spain was not a humanitarian effort sealed off from revolutionary politics in France - the two were closely linked. 
So, in analysing the tasks facing the revolutionary left, concerning both domestic politics and the Spanish problem, the UA rejected reliance on a Popular Front government in favour of direct and autonomous action by the labour movement. This was the basis of what the UA began to call the ‘revolutionary front’ - a return to the ‘united front’ policy, but with a new emphasis to distinguish this front from the reformist Popular Front.
Imperialism and the myth of ‘Democracy v. Fascism’
These two underlying principles - working-class autonomy and revolutionary class struggle - implied opposition to the ‘neo-reformism’ which, according to the anarchist analysis, was a more insidious form of fascism, trying to integrate the trade union movement into an increasingly corporate state.  As Séchaud put it: ‘We are faced more and more with the dilemma: fascism or revolution’.  Therefore as far as international politics were concerned, the UA’s call for a revolutionary front clearly espoused traditional ‘proletarian internationalism’, denouncing the ‘myth’ of the struggle between ‘fascism’ and ‘democracy’, and rejecting national defence, whether in a capitalist or a ‘state capitalist’ country. The implications for the campaign around Spain were clear. One of the UA’s main aims in that respect was to unmask the rôle of foreign imperialisms - British, French and Russian - in the civil war, and in particular to expose the rôle of the SFIO and CGT - ‘agents of French imperialism’ - and of the PCF - ‘agents of Russian imperialism’. 
The revolutionary front as opposition to the reformist Front populaire and as ‘revolutionary front of solidarity with Spain’ were, then, linked in that they were based, initially at least, on the same analysis. And the campaign of support for Spain was not intended to work only one way, simply as a means of providing material assistance. One of the anarchists’ main aims was to provide a counter-information service to compensate for the failings of the French Popular Front press, which was alleged to be far from even-handed in its coverage of the various sectors of Spanish antifascism. The French working class, ‘duped’ by its own politicians, would have before them the example of a large and successful revolutionary labour movement, independent of politicians, and might be inspired by the example. Thus, there would be six French-language anarchist newspapers given over entirely to events in Spain, not to mention the scores of public meetings organised by the French anarchists which were addressed by leading repreentatives of the CNT-FAI, the POUM and returning French combatants, and many of which attracted very large audiences. Second, the campaign for international solidarity included repeated exhortations to the workers in transport and armaments manufacturing to take the law into their own hands and supply the Spanish antifascists with all they needed - going as far as general strike and insurrection if need be. As Sébastien Faure put it, speaking of the CNT-FAI: ‘Admiring their example is fine. Preparing to follow it is better.’ 
Cooperation with the non-anarchist left
So what were the results of this policy in terms of practical cooperation? We have already noted the anarchists’ involvement in the mass antifascist movement of 1934-5, and the UA’s decision at its Easter 1936 congress to give priority in the short term to the need to combat fascism, thus implicitly accepting alliances with other groups on the left. And although between July and October 1936 the UA was involved in a Comité anarcho-syndicaliste pour la libération et la défense du prolétariat espagnol (CASLDPE), along with the GTSR and FAF - a kind of anarchist front - the UA was also cooperating at the same time with the SFIO, the Gauche révolutionnaire, the Jeunesse Socialiste Révolutionnaire, the Comité de Vigilance des Intellectuels Antifascistes, trotskyists and even, in a few rare cases, Communists.  According to Joyeux, his local UA group already had more or less regular contacts with related revolutionary groups’ even before the revolutionary front policy was adopted: pacifists, the CGTSR, freethinkers, trotskyists and the local SFIO section, once it had joined the GR.  In Wattrelos, there was a Comité antifasciste which united Socialists, anarchists and Communists in one group.  Cooperation with Communists, however, was unusual. The trotskyists were not the only ones to be slandered by the stalinists in this period. The anarchist press regularly printed reports of physical intimidation and violence being practised against activists. The PCF was accused regularly by anarchists and syndicalists of employing all sorts of underhand methods to suppress any propaganda critical of the party. 
The Revolutionary Front
In October, the policy of cooperation between Socialists and the UA was formalised at a joint public meeting, proposed by the Socialists, on the theme ‘For the creation of a Revolutionary Front’. The event was held at the Mutualité on 3 October, and the UA claimed an audience of 4,000.  It was chaired by Audubert of the SFIO and, significantly, Paul Rivet had originally been intended as the main Socialist speaker: in the event, Weiss (doubtless a misprint for Lucien Weitz) of the Jeunesses socialistes, and Pivert of the Gauche révolutionnaire spoke for the Socialists, with Ringeas and Faure from the UA.  The meeting passed a resolution calling for the creation of an armed Garde Populaire, and defined its position on the Blum government thus:
...a Popular Front which did not attune itself to the revolutionary events which are now taking place in Spain and will soon spread to France, would be betraying the proletariat of both countries. 
The ‘Revolutionary front of solidarity with Spain’
As for the campaign of solidarity with the Spanish revolutionaries, the UA had decided that cooperating only with small anarchist organisations was not achieving good enough results, whereas working together with ‘related revolutionary tendencies’ had already enabled them to reach much broader sectors of the working class.  Their policy was that:
outside of its own specifically anarchist activities, the UA is ready, as in the past, to cooperate with all other revolutionary organisations on clearly defined tasks, and particularly for the effective support of Spain. 
This was to lead to the creation of the Comité pour l’Espagne libre. And in fact, despite the pretensions of the CGTSR and FAF to be a French version of the CNT-FAI, the CNT fully supported the UA’s policy: most of the Spanish anarchists were far more ‘popular frontist’ than their French comrades.  On 16 October 1936, Le Libertaire printed a telegramme from Horacio Prieto, secretary of the CNT National Committee, urging the UA to work together with anyone sympathetic to the cause of Spanish antifascism. Durruti’s appeal to all French revolutionaries to unite in ‘a true people’s antifascist front’ was also advanced in justification. 
This was to widen the existing split in the anarchist movement between the UA on the one hand, and the FAF and CGTSR on the other, the latter rejecting any kind of formal or long-term cooperation with non-anarchists. When the CASLDPE held its congress in Paris, 24-5 October 1936, the UA’s proposal for a ‘broadened front’ was rejected overwhelmingly, since the CGTSR and FAF had a majority on the Paris Comité anarcho-syndicaliste.  The CGTSR’s Confederal Committee declared at its meeting of 23 October that the UA’s new committee ‘can in no way claim to represent either the CNT or the FAI in France’.  A later statement of the residual Comité anarcho-syndicaliste went even further and insisted: ‘As far as we are concerned, those who practise such a liaison cease, automatically and by definition, to be anarchists’. 
The main grounds for dissent from the revolutionary front policy on the part of the CGTSR and FAF were not so much the practice of alliances with non-anarchists as such, but rather the fact that such an alliance was perceived by the dissenters as an ‘organic’ alliance, a long-term and even organisational link-up which would inevitably entail jettisoning anarchist principles. However, this was not how the UA saw the revolutionary front. It was made clear that such alliances were temporary: circumstantial cooperation on specific tasks.  Thus, contrary to what the CGTSR and FAF affirmed, the UA’s understanding of the kind of revolutionary alliance into which it was entering was that (i) it would last only as long as proved necessary for the achievement of its specific aims; (ii) such an alliance entailed no abandonment by any constituent grouping of its own principles or methods of working, beyond those adjustments implied by the will to cooperate; and (iii) none of the groupings involved would exploit the alliance for partisan propaganda purposes.
However, this split became more complete as the UA went on to cooperate with an even wider range of political organisations. The most spectacular example was a meeting at the Vel d’Hiv’ organised by the UA in October 1936, at which the platform speakers included Léon Jouhaux and Marcel Cachin, the two bogeymen of the anarchist movement, as well as speakers from the FAI (Magrina), the Catalan CNT (Trabal), the Aragon Council (Mavilla), the UA (Huart), the POUM (Gorkin), the Esquerra and the Generalitat (Miravitlles), the SFIO (Zyromski), the JEUNES (Jeunes équipes unies pour une nouvelle économie sociale - Joss) and the Gauche révolutionnaire (Pivert). It is noticeable that Pivert was allowed to speak last and that it was his speech which received most coverage in Le Libertaire’s report.Le Libertaire, 30 October 1936. But from the autumn of 1936 the UA cooperated regularly with various groups and individuals on the left in organising public meetings, demonstrations and fund-raising: Jean Rous (Parti ouvrier internationaliste), Marcel Fourrier (Comité pour la révolution espagnole), André Ferrat (Que Faire?, Association communiste révolutionnaire), the Parti d’unité prolétarienne, the Parti frontiste, Robert Louzon and the Révolution prolétarienne group, la Vague and - not insignificantly - the ‘reformist’ anarchists around the monthly Plus loin, who had been ostracised up until this point because of their support for the war effort in 1914.Le Libertaire, 26 January, 25 February & 1 July 1937. There is also some evidence of local manifestations of the Front révolutionnaire, where anarchists worked closely with trotskyists and left-wing Socialists. 
Contradictions of the Revolutionary Front policy
It is difficult to separate the two aspects of the revolutionary front policy. On the one hand, it was intended as a reprise of the extra-parliamentary movement of 1934-5, able to unite the non-stalinist left in a revolutionary opposition to the Blum government. On the other, it was a means of drumming up as much support as possible for the Spanish republicans in general, and for the CNT-FAI and the POUM in particular.
In fact, as things developed, a clear contradiction emerged between the UA’s position on the Front populaire and its solidarity work for Spain. At home, resolute opposition to the party hierarchies, to parliamentarism and to the myth of the antifascist crusade; in Spain, tacit acceptance of CNT ministers and of what was, in effect, a Popular Front government engaged in an antifascist war.
In certain ways, the anarchists were better placed than some to help make the revolutionary opposition to Blum and Jouhaux succeed: they were more resolute in their critique of Blum than the GR; they were more numerous, better established in the trade unions and less ideologically demanding of potential allies than the Trotskyists. Yet, on the evidence, the policy does not seem to have been a great success. Speaking at the UA’s congress of October-November 1937, a member of the administrative commission, Charles Ridel (alias Louis Mercier-Vega), deplored the political incoherence and inconsistency of the UA, ‘which launched the campaign for the Revolutionary Front, only to abandon it later’.  According to Joyeux, the UA’s adoption of the revolutionary front policy had left each group quite free to contract alliances as and if it wished. Yet both the local membership and the national leadership were apprehensive about alliances - a hesitancy which Joyeux puts down to ‘fifteen years of struggle against marxist political parties and reformist syndicalists’, and to alienation caused by anarchism’s failure to prevent many of its supporters defecting to the various marxist groups since the war, an alienation which led many to shrink from further contact with such groups.  As for the 17th arrondisssement, although Joyeux claims that the revolutionary front policy initially boosted his group, he and his fellow delegate Edrac felt alienated by the GR’s middle-class intellectuals, and soon stopped attending what they felt was an ineffectual talking-shop. For Joyeux, the discourses of the different sectors of the revolutionary front were just too distinct.
Perhaps the principal function of the revolutionary front policy was to make possible the creation of the Comité pour l’Espagne libre in October 1936 and of SIA (Solidarité internationale antifasciste) in November 1937. Both were successful as campaigns of solidarity and support, but again showed up the inconsistency of the UA’s policy. Both involved cooperation with supporters of the Popular Front government. The same policies which were accepted in Spain were opposed in France. There were various reasons for this: the acceptance of a fait accompli (the CNT’s participation in government), the urgent need to defeat Franco, an unwillingness to criticise a CNT to which the UA was grateful for having put anarchism back on the agenda.
Ideological currents within anarchism
It is also possible to see the two different manifestations, as it were, of the united or revolutionary front policy as being the products of two different currents within the UA. Louis Anderson, editor of Le Libertaire from 1936 to 1939, has described this split within the UA as one between those who were above all pacifists (typified by Lecoin), and those who were above all socialist revolutionaries (such as Frémont).  It was the latter tendency which produced the revolutionary front as opposition to the reformist Front populaire. It represented a move towards a more workerist and syndicalist view of the anarchists’ rôle, and towards a less purist attitude to the thorny question of anarchist organisation. The stereotypical ‘all or nothing’ image was rejected in favour of a more constructive, pragmatic and ‘realistic’ anarchism with heroes like Durruti and Makhno. Revolutionary frontists wanted the movement to leave the anarchist ghetto and become an integral part of the wider revolutionary labour movement.
The UA’s other dominant tendency was that typified by Lecoin, a tendency perhaps more individualist than collectivist, more pacifist and ‘moralist’ than revolutionary.  Lecoin’s method - tried and tested in campaigns of a humanitarian nature in the 1920s - was to establish an unelected organising committee and to solicit the help of almost anyone whose name would be likely to draw attention and support. This method of working mostly complemented the Spanish tendency to reduce the political conflict to two camps: fascism and antifascism. Lecoin himself tended to see the work of the Comité pour l’Espagne libre and of SIA as a humanitarian campaign.
Joyeux has argued that:
For decades anarchism has swung between two extreme tendencies - isolation in its certainties, and the drift towards reformist or humanitarian organisations - without managing to find a point of equilibrium between doctrinal intransigence and compromise. 
If we accept this interpretation - and it is one which was already being articulated by some revolutionary anarchists in 1938 - then I would argue that these two extremes were represented in the late 30s by the FAF on the one hand, and by Lecoin and others in the UA leadership on the other. In the middle were those who tried to put into practice their anarchist principles, maintaining a revolutionary class analysis and insisting on working-class autonomy and the autonomy of the anarchist organisation, while at the same time cooperating with other groups whose position on specific points was close to theirs: asserting the anarchist voice from within rather than against or from outside of the broader working-class movement. This was the standpoint in the late 1920s of the platformists, and of activists such as Frémont, Ridel and Daurat in the 1930s. Their critique of ‘traditional’ anarchism and of its performance in 1933-39 was taken up again forcefully by a group of young revolutionaries (which included Ridel and Daurat) who launched a new monthly discussion journal, Révision, in February 1938.
A resurgence of anarchism?
In view of the rôle played by the UA in 1933-39, it would seem reasonable to reappraise Broué and Dorey’s assertion that the anarchists were always ‘a minority swimming against the current’.  Not only were the anarchists not as isolated as is often suggested, they also grew significantly in number in the Popular Front period, and this seems to have been in part a consequence of the UA’s revised ideological positions. The JAC, reporting in January 1937 on the increase in sales of Le Libertaire, argued that since the previous July the anarchist movement had come to be seen once more as belonging firmly within the labour movement, and that the revolutionary front policy was responsible for this. Others argued much the same point in 1938, adding that the movement had thus regained a standing it had not enjoyed since the early 1920s.  Rabaut argues that, for the first time in forty years, the anarchists were again ‘the avant-garde of the avant-garde’. 
Le Libertaire believed that the reasons for their new popularity were threefold: (i) the correctness of their stance on the Popular Front government; (ii) their consistent antimilitarism; and (iii) events in Spain. Membership of the UA and the readership of Le Libertaire had both expanded during 1935, and after July 1936 the increase accelerated.  Between spring 1936 and spring 1937, UA membership more than quadrupled. The CGTSR’s membership also grew from around 3,000 to 5,000-6,000 over the summer of 1936. ]] There were some fourteen other anarchist papers besides Le Libertaire, which itself on May Day 1937 - a few weeks after the violent clashes between the police and antifascists at Clichy - printed an exceptional run of 100,000 copies, as compared to its more usual print-run of 20,000-25,000.  The paper also increased in length over this period, growing from four to eight pages. At the end of 1936 the UA opened an Ecole propagandiste.  Throughout 1936-38, new anarchist groups and regional federations were formed, and links between existing groups strengthened. Disabused ex-anarchists became active again, previously unaffiliated syndicalists discovered anarchism for the first time, and Socialists and Communists - including several in positions of responsibility - deserted their parties for the UA.  The non-anarchist press also began to talk about the anarchists much more. The conservative le Temps printed a feature based on police sources about ‘a dangerous resurgence of the anarchist movement’:
It appears that the extremists, who thought that with the rise of the Communists they would see the triumph in France of revolution, insurrection and antimilitarism, are abandoning the Communist Party to go and swell the ranks of the anarchists. Le Temps, 9 October 1936.
By the autumn of 1937, the leadership of the UA could confidently announce that it was ‘the only force having the authority and influence necessary to lead the revolutionary movement’.  And there is no doubt that the anarchist movement achieved a great deal in 1936-39 - particularly as regards organising solidarity for their Spanish comrades. Yet, ultimately, the anarchists failed. For revolutionary anarchists, only the building of a revolutionary socialist antifascist movement in France (in opposition to the Front populaire), combined with the enlargement of the Spanish civil war into a revolutionary class war across Europe, could possibly have produced a revolutionary outcome.
However much of a resurgence of anarchism there may have been in 1936-37, new recruits were often not retained and the movement was still weak in comparison with the SFIO, the PCF and the ‘reformists’ within the CGT. Internecine ideological disputes, the result of an almost impossible situation in Spain and of some extremely abstract and dogmatic analyses, divided the whole anarchist movement and alienated many (those who were already activists and doubtless many potential supporters too). Important strategic and tactical debates were never resolved satisfactorily; inconsistency both over time and between the national organisation and local groups was a major problem. The CGTSR failed to overcome its own isolationism and build a libertarian syndicalist movement capable of having any real influence (or even of being taken seriously) within the broader labour movement. And when it came to it, and despite the enormous sympathy felt in France for the CNT and the Spanish Republicans, the fear of the war spreading throughout Europe prevented the direct and massive intervention on the part of the French working-class movement which would have been needed. As Manfredonia has remarked, ‘The majority [of the French labour movement] were simply not ready to die for Barcelona, any more than they were ready to die for the Sudetenland or Dantzig’. 
Conclusion: Anarchism in the twentieth century
This period presented anarchism internationally with two new challenges.
The French Popular Front was the first time the movement had been confronted with a relatively progressive, left-wing coalition government with wide popular support. This paper has tried to examine the ways in which anarchists responded to the Front populaire and to the problems caused by the emerging dual hegemony - in an increasingly ‘corporate’ bourgeois liberal state - of stalinism and reformist socialism. These problems and the strategic and tactical debates they gave rise to remain pertinent today. Ideological conflict among anarchists after the second world war produced fracture lines in the movement in much the same places.
Secondly, the Spanish revolution was the first revolution in which a well-established anarchist and syndicalist movement with wide popular support played a leading rôle. The French anarchist movement’s engagement with the Spanish revolution and civil war has already been discussed in more detail elsewhere, and this paper has concentrated on the tactical-strategic debates which arose in the context of ‘antifascism’.  The Spanish revolution was at the same time the most positive element in the French movement’s history in the 30s and also the most problematic. For although events in Spain - and particularly in Catalonia - were (and are still) presented by libertarians as proof of the feasiblity of the anarchist model of social revolution, the experience of the civil war and the CNT-FAI’s rôle in it also put an end to a certain kind of unproblematic - some would say naïve or simplistic - conception of anarchism and its rôle in 20th century revolutionary movements.
By 1938-39, many French anarchists - like others on the left and in the unions - had abandoned activism altogether out of exhaustion, disillusion and despair. Others began to look for an alternative, questioning the traditional certainties and habitual practices of a movement which prided itself on its antidogmatism and yet which seemed to find it astonishingly difficult even to discuss change. In a spirit of remarkably frank self-critique, a new monthly journal appeared in Paris in February 1938, aptly entitled Révision. The majority of the group of young revolutionaries who produced it were anarchists - including Ridel, who had fought in Spain, and Marie-Louise Berneri, daughter of Camillo, the leading Italian anarchist murdered by the stalinists - but interestingly, the group also included ex-Socialists and ex-Communists.
The group promised in their first issue (February 1938) that Révision would be independent and critical of both the Second and Third Internationals, as well as of the ‘sterile and hypercritical doctrinalism of the various oppositional communist groups’ and ‘the opportunism and purism which are to be found so closely associated in certain anarchist tendencies’. Although short-lived, this ‘review of revolutionary studies’, as Révision was subtitled, offered an articulate, wide-ranging and harsh critique of the entire antifascist movement.
Like all anarchists, the Révision group was highly critical of the SFIO and the PCF, and also of the CGT, which had ‘entered public life via the back door of the ministries’ - a reference to the behaviour of the CGT leadership in 1914-18 - and which since reunification was even more thoroughly politicised through its link with the parties. Taking Sorel’s distinction (in Réflexions sur la violence) between the ‘political strike’ and the ‘proletarian strike’ - where the former is decreed and controlled by a political leadership, while the second is launched and controlled by the workers themselves in their own interests - Révision argued that June 36 was a clear demonstration of the difference in attitude between the party and trade union hierarchies on the one hand, and the mass of the workers on the other: ‘There is no doubt that the workers were, in June 1936, engaged in a potentially revolutionary strike movement, whereas the parties thought only of channelling it towards partial demands.’ 
Révision, however, was also extremely critical of the dominant forms of anarchism in France - the absence of solid organisations with written statutes, the lack of a clear and coherent programme and so on:
There are perpetual divisions, tendencies coexist, the links between provincial groups and the capital are loose and ill-defined. Mentalities and slogans vary from region to region.
The doctrine, entirely theoretical, is drawn from an inexhaustible stock of outdated pamphlets, and brings together so many different points of view that only the particular nature of the ‘study group’ - the habitual form of the anarchist group - is able to unite them. 
Révision was also hard on those anarchists who were unable to work within any seriously organised movement or develop and act on a coherent, systemic critique of contemporary capitalism, gravitating instead towards loose, single-issue groups (free-masonry, rationalism, pacifism, antifascism), ‘where good intentions and humanitarian sentiments abound’.
A particularly innovative aspect of their critique - and one which distinguished it from criticisms made by individualist anarchists of the UA - concerned what would, forty years later, become known as the ‘tyranny of structurelessness’. In the typical anarchist ‘organisation’, they argued, ‘under the pretext of freedom, a de facto hierarchy is created with, at its summit, a handful of men [sic]’:
Democracy presupposes organisation. The latter is a precondition of the former. Without organisation, disorder and incoherence are inevitable, the dictatorship of a clique ... grows up naturally. Anarchism ends up having no public existence other than through these few men who speak, write and act in the name and place of a movement which could and should define the way forward cooperatively, making the most of each member’s contribution, grouped around a doctrine, trying to engage with the social struggle as a force which is sure of itself, vigorous and able to carry the proletariat with it towards social emancipation.
Socialist revolutionaries needed to build a ‘libertarian’ and ‘human’ socialism with other workers in struggle, independently of political parties. What they perceived as the failure of the SFIO and PCF was a potential advantage:
The clear demonstration in the eyes of the masses of the universal impotence of social-democratic methods, of their utter inefficacy from the reformist viewpoint as well as from that of the revolutionary, may be a salutory factor, provided that the avant-garde regroups on a sound basis. For that, it must avoid sectarianism and abstruse verbalism. In the absence of a revolutionary ‘pole of attraction’, we risk seeing the best elements of the proletariat sink into pessimism. History teaches us that fascism’s successes come less from the qualities of its leaders or the virtues of its programme, than from the exhaustion of a proletariat deluded for too long and too profoundly let down by socialism. 
In their last issue (no.6), produced with difficulty in August 1939, the Révision group published a piece entitled ‘The Evolution of French Democracy’ by the ‘Franco-Spanish Group of the Friends of Durruti’.  In it, they argued that supposedly ‘democratic’ France was well on the way to becoming a fascist state: many of the agreements dating from 1936 had been smashed, and new anti-worker measures imposed by employers; civil liberties were under attack; concentration camps for Spanish republicans and foreign ‘undesirables’ would soon house French ‘undesirables’; society was being militarised amidst propaganda for ‘the repopulation and defence of the race’; imaginary spies were being found everywhere; parliament was adjourned. For French capital, restructuring and ‘imperialist war’ represented a way out of present difficulties:
It is now therefore essential that we finish with the bourgeois farce called democracy. Freedom and relative material well-being have never been granted the proletariat by the bourgeoisie other than as something to be tolerated provisionally. French bourgeois democracy is preparing to assassinate the proletariat. Its own proletariat....
The illusion of democracy, through the catastrophic experience of the French and Spanish Popular Fronts, has prevented the proletariat from crushing the bourgeoisie in both countries....
For the proletariat to triumph, it is necessary to break with those who compromised with the bourgeoisie, that is, those who contributed to the sabotage of the French and Spanish labour movements.
*This article, which appeared in Contemporary European History (vol.8, no.1, 1999, pp.51-71), is an enlarged and substantially revised version of a paper first given at a conference to mark the 50th anniversary of the Popular Fronts (David Berry, ‘The Other Popular Front: French Anarchism and the Front révolutionnaire’ in Martin S. Alexander & Helen Graham (eds.), The French and Spanish Popular Fronts: Comparative Perspectives (CUP, 1989), 131-44). The author would like to acknowledge the assistance of the Wolfson Foundation, which funded research in Paris. All translations are the author’s.