The CNT of Spain and the Business in Lyon

Events are moving apace. Helter-skelter. We were waiting for precise details of the business in Lyon; they were slow to arrive. […] Nevertheless, we thought there might be some point to publishing the report drafted by Roque Santamaría, the legal affairs and administrative secretary on the exiled Spanish CNT’s Inter-Continental Committee based at 4, Rue Belfort, Toulouse.:

In the city of Lyon an incident occurred recently in which a rather tiny number of Spaniards were involved, in the criticism of whom our organization did not hold back.

We have always had a very clear-cut and categorical position in condemning those, whoever they might be, who seek to use a responsible organization as cover whilst carrying out activities contrary to the lives of honest citizens or actions prejudicial to the authorities of the country which has given us asylum.

Let us add, moreover, that the above statement cannot at all be considered an opportunistic ploy as the CNT leadership and all our responsible bodies have repeatedly issued formal direction to all their members that they are to safeguard the good name of our organization, with strict instructions that vigorous action be taken against all who cannot argue that they support themselves by honest means. Still, we must bear in mind possible infiltration of agents provocateurs into our various branches, agents in the pay of the Francoist espionage organization, as in the case that has occurred in France.

For the purposes of a clear understanding, we should reprint below a few extracts from the (confidential) circulars dated 19 August and 18 October 1950 and issued by the CNT leadership to all its component branches and militants:

19 August 1950: With its onslaught against the CNT and anarchism, all that Francoism succeeds in doing is to incite our resisters to fight on and to swell their numbers.

In view of that outcome, the Francoist enemy has come to the conclusion that the infallible way of bringing about our destruction consists of bringing us into disrepute in the eyes of Spanish and world popular opinion and to that end it has striven to plant its provocateur gangs inside our ranks by means of carefully considered infiltrations.

We are not talking here just about spying operations targeting our resistance assets; nor it is a matter simply of planting cells of under-cover police personnel in the major cities in France, mingling with the exiled population. We are dealing here with a painstakingly thought-out and implemented program of action consisting of triggering a series of common criminal acts of a sort to implicate or involve members of our organization.

It ought to be stressed that the Francoist agents or those who have allowed themselves to be caught up move on to fully detailed confessions in an effort to compromise the good standing of the CNT in their depositions, and do not even shrink from citing well-known militants by name.

The assistance we ask of our militants therefore consists of the following:
    1) A very strict control over new recruits, especially those arriving from Spain.
    2) Close monitoring of the morals, conduct and connections of new recruits.
    3) Absolute guardedness vis à vis any monitored member who might indulge in rabble-rousing displays or who might advocate criminality, on the pretext of thereby doing his bit for the struggle within Spain.
    4) Isolation and complete shunning of all persons who, in an effort to justify their misdeeds, or to downplay the seriousness of them, paint them in opportunistic colours or even as acts of despair.

All who are liable to let themselves be caught up in provocation or adventurism, no matter who they may be or what their names may be, ought to be warned in advance that, faced with the dilemma of protecting an offender or harming our organization, there must from now on be no possibility of hesitation, and, with no remorse of any kind, they are going to have to act in order to preserve the CNT’s good name intact, that being our spiritual and ideological raison d’être.”

The 18 October 1950 circular, setting out the position of the CNT of Spain in exile regarding French internal politics and the actions of a certain Spanish political faction operating in France on behalf of a foreign power that is a menace to international peace.

As a result, we are duty-bound to draw the attention of all our members living in France to the unshakable stance adopted by our movement ever since 1939 and more especially since 1947, at which point we urged a number of measures designed to keep all our comrades absolutely away from all the strikes that were thereafter mounted in the country.

We shall not cease from reiterating that the CNT of Spain in exile has no political or social aims within the country that has made us welcome.

The outlawing of the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) in France is a factor that we should bear in mind. Our organization has never had any understandings with the PCE and we shall not cease from shunning all complicity with it. Both tactically and ideologically, anarchists and communists live and operate in two diametrically opposed worlds.

The fanatics devoted to the most monstrous state and police apparatus that history has ever seen cannot have anything in common with us, any more than with our tactics and principles which are inspired by the humane philosophy of true freedom: their wailing about their victimhood cannot move us. 

We cannot forget their persistent policy of hypocrisy, calumny and treacherous assaults mounted against us, nor the extermination they have in mind for us in the future.”


Let it be well understood that our organization cannot be suspected in any way, shape or form, of covering for the actions and dishonourable conduct of persons who, like the perpetrators of the bloody mayhem in Lyon, have attempted to sully our reputation. 

Instead, we must all make it plain that the members of the CNT are to be found in all sorts of factories, workshops, dams or in regular jobs where they toil as workers and where their conduct, as well as their professional skills, have always drawn compliments from their employers.

We must also be mindful that several thousands of our people, victims of Nazi barbarism, met their ends in the death camps, after having battled with all their might shoulder to shoulder with the French in the defence of France. In the Resistance or in General Leclerc’s Division, everywhere, the militants of the CNT of Spain were present, without propagandizing, without show but with a perfect sense of duty; not in order to meddle in France’s internal affairs.

Our stance vis à vis the Francoist regime remains unaltered. We shall not cease from combatting it by all the means at our disposal, as part of the right on the part of the entire people, of which we are a part, to rise up against tyranny and servitude. Neither provocations by the agents of that regime nor the methods employed against us by such a regime can successfully force us to depart from our line of conduct.

Such are the antecedents that distinguish the true face of the CNT, its only one.


    1) We demand comprehensive clarification of the incidents with which this report is concerned and that the courts act in accordance with the existing laws in France in order to crack down on such offences;

    2) We ask that justice be done, in the most profound sense of the term, in order to prevent honest men from being targeted for prosecutions that would be all the more unjustified in that they would affect men who have always acted as the most heart-felt spokesmen for the moral principles that should govern our conduct. Such is the case regarding our current general secretary, José Peirats; arrested in Toulouse on the 2nd of this month, he has been taken to Lyon even though we are profoundly convinced that there is no justification for such a procedure. We can guarantee and affirm that our comrade Peirats has always led the way in forcefully denouncing such acts of banditry;

    3) It is with regret and bitterness that we observe the stance adopted in this affair by a section of the French press which has lacked objectivity in voicing the gravest suspicions about our movement to all and sundry. We note that here again there are grounds for linking such a stance with certain aims of “Francoist agents” out to bring the CNT into disrepute. In return, the Francoist government would afford certain circles in France all manner of sops by guaranteeing them safe passage through its territory in the event of an armed conflict threatening France;

    4) Conscious of the climate on unease deliberately contrived against the CNT of Spain in exile, by way of potentially justifying pressures brought to bear on the French authorities in order to egg them into “outlawing” us as a movement, we ought to point out:
    a) We cannot resign ourselves to such a measure’s being advocated by circles with an interest in depicting us as a criminal association posing a threat to the life of this country.
    b) Such a possibility has already been speculated upon by the French press which never eases up on showering us with insults. 

    5) Finally, the French authorities must not be misled as to our movement’s authentic character. There is no room for error here. If we are to be hit with some exceptional measure, let it at least be introduced on the basis of our ideals which, we being revolutionaries, can equally be traced to the purest philosophical well-springs and the tradition to which we have always clung with all our might in hope of the triumph of freedom and human dignity.

Paris, 5 February 1951

The legal affairs secretary, Roque SANTAMARÍA

From: La Révolution prolétarienne, No 49, April 1951. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.