Thursday 9 August 2018

Spanish Anarchists and the Moroccan Liberation Movement

Mohammed ben Abd el-Krim el-Khattabi

In September 1936, Pierre Besnard, International Secretary of the IWA, advised the CNT to ensure the success of the revolution through the internationalisation of the war. This meant fomenting revolution in Portugal where the CGT was still active – and rescuing, and returning to Morocco, the jailed Rif guerrilla leader Mohammed ben Abd el-Krim el-Khattabi (1882-1963) to foment an uprising, which would be aided by the declaration of the independence of the colony. It was a mere 14 years prior to the outbreak of the revolution, in 1922, that el-Krim’s forces had comprehensively defeated the Spanish army in the interior of Spanish Morocco, establishing a Rif Republic that survived until destroyed by a French expeditionary force of 250,000 soldiers in May 1926, the rest of French Morocco only succumbing as late as 1934. El-Krim was so famous to the global anti-colonial cause that he was the front-page face of Time magazine in August 1925 – and his guerrilla tactics influenced future generations fighting that cause - including Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam. So it is possible that a fresh Rif rebellion and the re-establishment of an independent Moroccan zone would not only undermine Franco’s rear but provoke an uprising in French Morocco as well. Abel Paz outlines in some detail how close this missed opportunity came close to being a reality in his biography of Durruti: negotiations with a Berber national-liberationist Moroccan Action Committee (CAM) had already begun in late July with the CCMA [Central Committee of Anti-Fascist Militia]. Initiated by the CCMA with Moroccan exiles in Geneva led by Emir Shakib Arslan who were in contact with the CAM’s strongholds in Fez and Tetuán, followed by the deployment by the CNT-FAI of Robert Louzon (and by the Trotskyist 4th International of David Rousset) to Fez, these had progressed well, to the extent that the CAM was to send a delegation from Fez to Barcelona to discuss how to jointly fight the rebels. Before leaving for Spain on 15 September 1936 and already expressing concerns about the retreat of the Revolution, Besnard had held discussions with the communist CGT’s secretary-general, the former syndicalist Léon Jouhoux, and other socialists “who were opposed to [socialist French President] Léon Blum’s non-intervention policy and that they had authorized him to speak in their names when the attempted to convince Largo Caballero that [Republican] Spain would grant independence to the Rif and the whole Spanish Protectorate.” Besnard had drawn up “a detailed plan for for inciting a rebellion among the Moroccan tribes (in the Spanish Protectorate) beginning wiith the escape of Abd el-Krim, whom the French had banished to Reunión Island in 1926.” Besnard also had good relations with the political opposition in Portugal to the Salazar dictatorship including the underground CGT, then boasting some 50,000 members, which remained an IWA affiliate. “The revolt in Morocco would co-incide with a revolution in Portugal, a country allied with Franco.” Successful or even sustained disruptive rebellions on two rear flanks of the Francoist forces would seriously threaten the entire rebel-fascist-conservative enterprise with collapse. Durrutti, Oliver and Abad de Santillán met with Besnard to discuss this two-pronged rear assault strategy. According to Paz, Besnard’s report of the meeting suggest that Durruti and Abad de Santillán liked the plan to free el-Krim rather than leaving the uprising in the hands of the CAM, but, with the CAM only an hour away by plane and el-Krim thousands of kilometres away, Paz states this was “fanciful” and that there were good reasons to rather support the CAM as the main instigator of a Moroccan revolt – but the weakness of Besnard’s plan in my view was its reliance on Caballero agreeing to a Republican foreign policy that was certain to upset a colonial power like France with its own Moroccan protectorate to worry about – not to mention other African colonies – which might be inspired by a new Rif rebellion to break from France. Besnard flew to Madrid, arriving on 17 September and met with Montseny who urged Caballero to hear his plan. Besnard took CNT general secretary David Antona to meet Caballero the next day, but the Republican prime minister received them coldly and only briefly with no fruitful results. Besnard returned to Barcelona to report back and found the three-member CAM delegation led by a young Abdeljalk Torres had arrived: Paz reports Oliver as telling the delegation that the CCMA would offer the CAM “arms and money to start an uprising in Morocco against Franco’s soldiers and for their country’s independence” plus any guarantees they might require. Torres’ delegation did not reply, merely stating that they had been tasked with hearing the CCMA’s proposals which they would take back to a Pan-Islamic Committee which had delegated the CAM to go to Barcelona. Returning to Oliver after apparently conferring with the Pan-Islamic Committee, Torres’ delegation agreed to the CCMA offer – but on the following grounds, in Oliver’s words: “1. They did not want independence for Morocco because they believed such independence would bring Italian or German aggression upon them and those two nations would be worse for them than the Spanish. 2. They wanted an autonomy for Morocco similar to what England conceded to Iraq after the First World War. 3. If the two previous points were accepted, they were ready to sign the corresponding agreement which would come into effect once we achieved the following: a) That the Spanish Republican government accept the accord; b) That Spain gets the French government to accept it.” Oliver correctly comments that this removed the Moroccan libration question from the conditions of revolutionary action into the purely legal realm. “My position, which I articulated to them repeatedly, consisted of the following: we are in a revolutionary situation in Spain and its victory will necessarily affect all oour international relations, including those with Morocco. That’s why I urged them to take the revolutionary stance of immediately accepting the fact of independence and letting the right to such independence be granted later. Nevertheless, these representatives of an Arab world still sleeping the secular siesta of submission to the west clung to their conservative mandate, focusing first on the right and later on the fact.” It is rather rich that Oliver who had so readily capitulated to state-capitalist compromise dared to lecture the Moroccans on adopting a revolutionary path. Nevertheless, he was correct in noting his fear that getting the endorsement of France was impossible and so would “delay Moroccan independence indefinitely.” Still, the accord was signed with the CAM – and a multiparty CCMA delegation consisting of Aurelio Fernández for the CNT-FAI, Rafael Vidiella for the UGT-PSUC, Julián Gorkin for the POUM, and Jaume Miravittles for the Republican Left, to present the accord to the central government and to defend it if need be: in Madrid, the socialist Navy Minister Indalecio Prieto accepted the accord with enthusiasm and promised arms for Morocco, but Caballero spurned the accord, denying Catalonia its right to sign such accords, despite its autonomy, and demanding that the Moroccans appear before him instead. Torres’ delegation was dispatched to Madrid and presented their case to Caballero. Rousset, the 4th International’s delegate to Morocco, recalled (cited in Paz) that Caballero “was under heavy pressure from Paris and London, who had heard about the initiative” and were “openly hostile” to Moroccan independence, so “the Spanish government told the Arab delegates that it couldn’t accept the treaty signed in Barcelona, but that it would provide money and arms to support the effort against Franco in the Spanish Protectorate.” But the CAM delegation refused the offer, insisting that they would only agree to the principles of the Barcelona accord. Another delegation member, Allal el-Fassi, explained that the Spanish Foreign Relations Minister Julio Alvarez de Vayo asked the Moroccans for time to consult Paris: he did so, in the figure of Chamber of Deputies President, the Radical politician Édouard Herriot, and had also consulted General Charles Noguès, the military chief in French Morocco; both rejected the Barcelona accord out of hand. “The Madrid government communicated orally to our delegation its inability to grant independence in the existing circumstances,” el-Fassi recalled; instead “it asked us to accept the sum of forty million pesetas for publicity on behalf of Spanish democracy, together with the promise that after victory had been achieved the Republic would strive for the wellbeing of Morocco. Our delegation protested this mean offer and indignantly withdrew from the conference meeting.” If Durruti and the Land and Liberty Column had managed to move much of the gold reserves to Barcelona as planned (a plan thwarted by the traitorous CNT National Committee), the Catalan Defence Committees would have been in a much stronger position to convince the CAM to deal unilaterally with Revolutionary Barcelona which could have bypassed the collaborationist CCMA and supplied them directly with sufficient arms and money for a full-scale independence struggle, the Republican government in Madrid having been rendered somewhat irrelevant to the Moroccans’ clear aims of independence. But it must be admitted that the CAM’s rather conventional nationalism made them inflexible so even in this alternative scenario, this solution would have proven difficult to negotiate.