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Tsarist autocracy


For the history of the term as applied to rulers in the Tsardom of Russia and the Russian Empire, see Tsar (Russia).

The Tatar Yoke and the Mongol ideas and administrative system are credited with bringing the culture exhibiting some characteristics of an oriental despotism to Russia.[1][b] Absolutism in Russia gradually developed during the 17th century and 18th centuries, replacing the despotism of the Grand Duchy of Moscow. Ivan III built upon Byzantine traditions and laid foundations for the tsarist autocracy, a system that with some variations would govern Russia for centuries.[2][3]



The center of the tsarist autocracy was the person of the tsar himself, a sovereign with absolute authority.[9] The rights of state power in their entire extent belonged to the tsar. Power was further entrusted by him to persons and institutions, acting in his name, by his orders, and within the limits laid down for them by law. The purpose of the system was to supposedly benefit the entire country of Russia.[9] A metaphor existed likening tsar to the father, and all of the subjects of the Empire, to his children; it was even used in Orthodox primers.[10] This metaphor is present in the common Russian expression "царь-батюшка", literally "tsar-dear father".

Furthermore, unlike western monarchies who were subjugated (in religious matters) to the Pope, the Tsar of the Russian Empire was the supreme authority on religious issues (see Church reform of Peter I and caesaropapism for details).

Another key feature was related to patrimonialism. In Russia the tsar owned a much higher proportion of the state (lands, enterprises, etc.) than did Western monarchs.[11][12][13][14][15][16]

The tsarist autocracy had many supporters within Russia. Major Russian advocates and theorists of the autocracy included the world famous writer, Fyodor Dostoyevsky,[3][17] Mikhail N. Katkov,[18] Konstantin S. Aksakov,[19] Nikolay Karamzin,[17] Konstantin Pobedonostsev[3][9] and Pyotr Semyonov. They all argued that a strong and prosperous Russia needs a strong tsar, and philosophies of republicanism and liberal democracy are not fit for Russia.[3] To the common people, the tsar was seen as responsible for all good in their lives, while all disasters came from meddling bureaucrats, functionaries, and nobles.

In Poland, tsarist autocracy has been analyzed more critically by Stanisław Mackiewicz.


Some historians see the traditions of tsarist autocracy as partially responsible for laying groundworks for the totalitarianism in the Soviet Union.[2][3][20][21] They see the traditions of autocracy and patrimonialism as dominating Russia's political culture for centuries; for example, Stephen White wrote that Russian political culture is "rooted in the historical experience of centuries of absolutism."[22] All of those views had been challenged by other historians (for example, Nicolai N. Petro and Martin Malia (as cited by Hoffmann)).[20]

Some historians have pointed to a racial element in the concept. Cold War analysts, including George Kennan, linked the Soviet government's autocratic rule to Tatar influences during its history, and biographies of Russian leaders often stressed their possible Asiatic ancestries. They maintained that Asiatic influences rendered the Russians, along with the Chinese, untrustworthy.[23][24]

Main article: History of the Jews in Russia and the Soviet Union

Tsarist Russia
Main article: Antisemitism in the Russian Empire

For much of the 19th century, Imperial Russia, which included much of Poland, contained the world's largest Jewish population. From Alexander III's reign until the end of Tsarist rule in Russia, many Jews were often restricted to the Jewish Pale of Settlement, and banned from many jobs and locations. They were subject to racist laws, like the May Laws, and were targeted in hundreds of violent anti-Jewish riots, called pogroms, that had unofficial state support. It was during this period that a hoax document alleging a global Jewish conspiracy, "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion", was created.

The Czarist government implemented programs that ensured the Jews remained isolated. However, the government tolerated their religious and national institutions and right to emigrate. The restrictions and discriminatory laws drove many Russian Jews to embrace liberal and socialist causes. However, following the Russian Revolution many politically active Jews forfeited their Jewish identity.[26] According to Leon Trotsky,

    [Jews] considered themselves neither Jews nor Russians but socialists. To them, Jews were not a nation but a class of exploiters whose fate it was to dissolve and assimilate.

In the aftermath of Czarist Russia, Jews found themselves in a tragic predicament. Conservative Russians saw them as a disloyal and subversive element and the radicals viewed the Jews as a doomed social class.[27]

Soviet Union
Main article: Antisemitism in the Soviet Union

Even though many of the Old Bolsheviks were ethnically Jewish, they sought to uproot Judaism and Zionism and established the Yevsektsiya to achieve this goal. By the end of the 1940s the Communist leadership of the former USSR had liquidated almost all Jewish organizations, with the exception of a few token synagogues. These synagogues were then placed under police surveillance, both openly and through the use of informants.

The campaign of 1948-1953 against so-called "rootless cosmopolitans," the alleged "Doctors' plot," the rise of "Zionology" and subsequent activities of official organizations such as the Anti-Zionist committee of the Soviet public were officially carried out under the banner of "anti-Zionism,", and by the mid-1950s the state persecution of Soviet Jews emerged as a major human rights issue in the West and domestically.

World War II

Casualties and war crimes
Main articles: World War II casualties and War crimes during World War II

 Estimates for the total casualties of the war vary, because many deaths went unrecorded. Most suggest that some 75 million people died in the war, including about 20 million soldiers and 40 million civilians.[295][296][297] Many civilians died because of disease, starvation, massacres, bombing and deliberate genocide. The Soviet Union lost around 27 million people during the war,[298] including 8.7 million military and 19 million civilian deaths. The largest portion of military dead were ethnic Russians (5,756,000), followed by ethnic Ukrainians (1,377,400).[299] One of every four Soviet citizens was killed or wounded in that war.[300] Germany sustained 5.3 million military losses, mostly on the Eastern Front and during the final battles in Germany.[301]

Of the total deaths in World War II, approximately 85 percent—mostly Soviet and Chinese—were on the Allied side and 15 percent on the Axis side. Many of these deaths were caused by war crimes committed by German and Japanese forces in occupied territories. An estimated 11[302] to 17 million[303] civilians died as a direct or indirect result of Nazi ideological policies, including the systematic genocide of around six million Jews during The Holocaust along with a further five million Roma, homosexuals as well as Slavs and other ethnic and minority groups.[304]

Spanish Civil War (1936–39)
Main article: Spanish Civil War

Hitler and Mussolini lent much military and financial support to the Nationalist insurrection led by general Francisco Franco in Spain. The Soviet Union supported the existing government, the Spanish Republic, which showed leftist tendencies. Furthermore, over 30,000 foreign volunteers, known as the International Brigades fought against Franco. Both Germany and the USSR used this proxy war as an opportunity to test improved weapons and tactics. The deliberate Bombing of Guernica by the German Condor Legion in April 1937 contributed to widespread concerns that the next major war would include extensive terror bombing attacks on civilians.[29][30] While there were some minor pockets of resistance, the Nationalist front declared victory on 1 April 1939.[31] It should be noted that five months later, Germany attacked Poland, initiating World War II.

Support for the Nationalists

Main article: German involvement in the Spanish Civil War

Despite the German signing of a non-intervention agreement in September 1936, various forms of aid and military help from Germany found their way to both sides of the Spanish conflict, largely in support of the Nationalist faction. Nazi actions included the formation of the multitasking Condor Legion, while German efforts to move the Army of Africa to mainland Spain proved successful in the war's early stages.[89] German operations slowly expanded to include strike targets, most notably – and controversially – the bombing of Guernica, which on 26 April 1937 killed 200 to 300 civilians.[90]



While Great Britain maintained a position of public neutrality, in private British leaders and diplomats favored a Franco victory over the Republic, which they regarded as pro-Communist. They believed Franco was a liberal-minded figure who would return Spain to a state similar to that before the days of the Second Republic. The British leadership was also concerned about the security of their ports in the Mediterranean, especially Gibraltar, which they felt was more assured by Franco than the unstable Republic. In consequence, Britain strongly supported and expanded the sea blockade against Spain under the pretext of keeping foreign nations out of the conflict, even though leading government figures were aware of heavy Italian and German involvement as early as August 1936.[102] The blockade ensured the Republic received little support from abroad while private interests in Great Britain and the United States, among other democracies, sent considerable material aid to Franco.

Despite the Irish government's prohibition against participating in the war, around six hundred Irishmen, followers of Eoin O'Duffy known as the "Irish Brigade", went to Spain to fight alongside Franco.[99] Romanian volunteers were led by Ion I Moţa, deputy-leader of the Legion of the Archangel Michael (or Iron Guard), whose group of seven Legionaries visited Spain in December 1936 to ally their movement with the Nationalists.[103]

Nationalist faction (Spanish Civil War)

Indirect foreign support

Vatican City

Initially the Vatican held a neutral position in the war, due to the presence of devout Catholics, including high-ranking officers of the Spanish Republican Army such as republican Catholic general Vicente Rojo Lluch, remaining loyal to the Republic, as well as the Catholic Basque nationalists who opposed the rebel faction.[39] Throughout the war, however, many influential Spanish Catholics opposed the Spanish Republic, labeling the secular Republic as "the enemy of God and the Church" and denouncing the Republic's for anti-clerical activities, such as shutting down Catholic schools.[40]

In 1938, Vatican City officially recognized Franco's Spanish State.[41] At this point the Vatican barred any Catholics from supporting the Republic.[42]

Support for the Republicans

International Brigades

Many non-Spaniards, often affiliated with radical communist or socialist entities, joined the International Brigades, believing that the Spanish Republic was a front line in the war against fascism. The units represented the largest foreign contingent of those fighting for the Republicans. Roughly forty thousand foreign nationals fought with the Brigades, though no more than 18,000 were entered into the conflict at any given time; they claimed to represent 53 states.[104]


Soviet Union

Though Joseph Stalin had signed the Non-Intervention Agreement, the Soviet Union contravened the League of Nations embargo by providing material assistance to the Republican forces, becoming their only source of major weapons. Unlike Hitler and Mussolini, Stalin tried to do this covertly.[108] In total, estimates of material provided by the USSR to the Republicans vary between 634 and 806 planes, 331 and 362 tanks, and 1,034 and 1,895 artillery pieces.[109]


See also: White Terror (Spain)

Nationalists atrocities, which authorities frequently ordered to eradicate any trace of leftism in Spain, were common. According to historian Paul Preston, the minimum number of those executed by the rebels is 130,000,[198] and is likely to have been far higher.[199] The violence carried out in the rebel zone was carried out by the military, the Civil Guard and the Falange in the name of the regime and legitimized by the Catholic Church.[200]

Many such acts were committed by reactionary groups during the first weeks of the war.[200] This included the execution of school teachers,[201] because the efforts of the Second Spanish Republic to promote laicism and displace the Church from schools by closing religious educational institutions were considered by the Nationalists as an attack on the Roman Catholic Church. Extensive killings of civilians were carried out in the cities Nationalists captured,[202] along with the execution of unwanted individuals. These included non-combatants such as trade-unionists, Popular Front politicians, suspected Freemasons, Basque, Catalan, Andalusian and Galician Nationalists, Republican intellectuals, relatives of known Republicans and those suspected of voting for the Popular Front.[200][203][204][205][206]

Nationalist forces massacred civilians in Seville, where some 8,000 people were shot; ten thousand were killed in Cordoba. 6–12,000 were killed in Badajoz.[207] In Granada, at least 2000 people were murdered.[201] In February 1937, over seven thousand were killed after the capture of Málaga.[208] When Bilbao was conquered thousands of people were sent to prison; there were fewer executions than usual, however, because of the effect Guernica left on Nationalists' reputations internationally.[209] The numbers killed as the columns of the Army of Africa devastated and pillaged their way between Seville and Madrid are particularly difficult to calculate.[210]

Nationalists also murdered Catholic clerics. In one particular incident, following the capture of Bilbao, they took hundreds of people, including 16 priests who had served as chaplains for the Republican forces, to the countryside or graveyards and murdered them.[211][212]

Franco's forces also persecuted Protestants, including murdering twenty Protestant ministers.[213] Franco's forces were determined to remove the "Protestant heresy" from Spain.[214] The Nationalists also persecuted Basques, as they strove to eradicate Basque culture.[164] According to Basque sources, some 22,000 Basques were murdered by Nationalists immediately after the Civil War.[215]

The Nationalist side also conducted aerial bombing of cities in Republican territory, carried out mainly by the Luftwaffe volunteers of the Condor Legion and the Italian air force volunteers of the Corpo Truppe Volontarie: Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Guernica, Durango and other cities were attacked; the Bombing of Guernica was among the most controversial.[216]

See also: Red Terror (Spain)

According to the Nationalists, an estimated 55,000 civilians died in Republican-held territories. This is considered excessive by Antony Beevor; however, it was much less than the half a million claimed during the war.[219] The deaths would form the prevailing outside opinion of the Republic up until the bombing of Guernica.[219]

The Republican government was anticlerical, and supporters attacked and murdered Roman Catholic clergy in reaction to news of military revolt.[212] In his 1961 book, Spanish archbishop Antonio Montero Moreno, who at the time was director of the journal Ecclesia, wrote that 6,832 were killed during the war, including 4,184 priests, 2,365 monks and friars, and 283 nuns, in addition to 13 bishops, a figure accepted by historians including Beevor.[213][220][221] Some sources claim that by the conflict's end 20 percent of the nation's clergy had been killed,[222] though some argue the totals were lower.[nb 7] The "Execution" of the Sacred Heart of Jesus by Communist militiamen at Cerro de los Ángeles near Madrid, on 7 August 1936, was the most infamous of widespread desecration of religious property.[223]

Like clergy, civilians were executed in Republican territories. Some civilians were executed as suspected Falangists.[224] Others died in acts of revenge after Republicans heard of massacres carried out in the Nationalist zone.[225] Air raids committed against Republican cities were another driving factor.[226] Republican authorities did not order such measures taken.[227] Shopkeepers and industrialists were shot if they didn't sympathize with the Republicans and usually spared if they did.[228] Fake justice was sought through a commission, known by its name in Russia as checas.[224]

As pressure mounted with increasing success of the Nationalists, many civilians were executed by councils and tribunals controlled by competing Communist and Anarchist groups.[224] Some members of the latter were executed by Soviet-advised communist functionaries in Catalonia,[218] as described by George Orwell's description of the purges in Barcelona in 1937 in Homage to Catalonia, which followed a period of increasing tension between competing elements of the Catalan political scene. Some individuals fled to friendly embassies, which would house up to 8,500 people during the war.[225]

In the Andalusian town of Ronda, 512 suspected Nationalists were executed in the first month of the war.[218] Communist Santiago Carrillo Solares has been accused of the killing of Nationalists in the Paracuellos massacre near Paracuellos del Jarama.[229] Pro-Soviet Communists committed numerous atrocities against fellow Republicans, including other Marxists: André Marty, known as the Butcher of Albacete, was responsible for the deaths of some 500 members of the International Brigades.[230] Andreu Nin, leader of the POUM (Workers' Party of Marxist Unification), and many other prominent POUM members, were murdered by the Communists, with the help of the USSR's NKVD.[231]

Thirty-eight thousand people were killed in the Republican zone during the war, 17,000 of whom were killed in Madrid or Catalonia within a month of the coup. Whilst the Communists were forthright in their support of extrajudicial killings, much of the Republican side was appalled by the murders.[232] Azaña came close to resigning.[225] He, alongside other members of parliament and a great number of other local officials, attempted to prevent Nationalist supporters being lynched. Some of those in positions of power intervened personally to stop the killings.[232]

Anarchism and religion

Anarchists have traditionally been skeptical of and opposed to organized religion.[1] Nevertheless some anarchists provided religious interpretations and approaches to anarchism.

Anarchist clashes with religion

Anarchists "are generally non-religious and are frequently anti-religious, and the standard anarchist slogan is the phrase coined by the (non-anarchist) socialist Auguste Blanqui in 1880: `Ni Dieu ni maître!’ (Neither God nor master!)...The argument for a negative connection is that religion supports politics, the Church supports the State, opponents of political authority also oppose religious authority".[1]


Spanish anarchists in the early 20th century were responsible for burning several churches, though many of the church burnings were actually carried out by members of the Radical Party while anarchists were blamed. The implicit and/or explicit support by church leaders for the National Faction during the Spanish Civil War greatly contributed to anti-religious sentiment.

Anarchism and religion

Main article: Christian anarchism

According to some, Christianity was originally a peaceful anarchist movement (see Ebionites). Jesus is said, in this view, to have come to empower individuals and free people from oppressive religious doctrines in Mosaic law; he taught that the only rightful authority was God, not Man, evolving the law into the Golden Rule.

According to Christian anarchists, there is only one source of authority to which Christians are ultimately answerable, the authority of God as embodied in the teachings of Jesus. Christian anarchists believe that freedom from government or Church is justified spiritually and will only be guided by the grace of God if Man shows compassion to others and turns the other cheek when confronted with violence.

As per Christian communism, anarchism is not necessarily opposed by the Catholic Church. Indeed, Distributism in Catholic social teaching such as Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum Novarum and Pope Pius XI's Quadragesimo Anno [13] resembles a Mutualist society based on Cooperatives, while Pope John Paul II's Catechism of the Catholic Church states "She (the Church) has...refused to accept, in the practice of "capitalism," individualism and the absolute primacy of the law of the marketplace over human labor. Regulating the economy solely by centralized planning perverts the basis of social bonds; regulating it solely by the law of the marketplace fails social justice". Notable Catholic anarchists include Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin who founded the Catholic Worker Movement.

The Quaker church, or the Religious Society of Friends, is organized along anarchist lines. All decisions are made locally in a community of equals where every members voice has equal weight. While there are no formal linkages between Quakerism and Anarchism and Quakers as a whole hold a wide variety of political opinions, the long tradition of Quaker involvement in social-justice work and similar outlooks on how power should be structured and decisions should be reached has led to significant crossover in membership and influence between Christian Anarchists and Quakers. The quaker influence was particularly pronounced in the Anti-nuclear movement of the 1980s and in the North American anti-globalization movement, both of which included many thousands of Anarchists and self-consciously adopted secular, consensus-based aspects of Quaker decision making.

Anarchism in Spain

Anarchist presence in the Spanish Civil War

The Republican government responded to the threat of a military uprising with remarkable timidity and inaction. The CNT had warned Madrid of a rising based in Morocco months earlier and even gave the exact date and time of 5 am on July 19, which it had learned through its impressive espionage apparatus. Yet, the Popular Front did nothing, and refused to give arms to the CNT. Tired of begging for weapons and being denied, CNT militants raided an arsenal and doled out arms to the unions. Militias were placed on alert days before the planned rising.

The rising was actually moved forward two days to July 17, and was crushed in areas heavily defended by anarchist militants, such as Barcelona. Some anarchist strongholds, such as Zaragoza, fell, to the great dismay of those in Catalonia; this is possibly due to the fact that they were being told that there was no "desperate situation" by Madrid and thus did not prepare. The Government still remained in a state of denial, even saying that the "Nationalist" forces had been crushed in places where it had not been. It is largely because of the militancy on the part of the unions, both anarchist and communist, that the Rebel forces did not win the war immediately.

Anarchist militias were remarkably libertarian within themselves, particularly in the early part of the war before being partially absorbed into the regular army. They had no rank system, no hierarchy, no salutes, and those called "Commanders" were elected by the troops.

The most effective anarchist unit was the Durruti Column, led by militant Buenaventura Durruti. It was the only anarchist unit which managed to gain respect from otherwise fiercely hostile political opponents. In a section of her memoirs which otherwise lambastes the anarchists, Dolores Ibarruri states: "The war developed with minimal participation from the anarchists in its fundamental operations. One exception was Durruti..." (Memorias de Dolores Ibarruri, p. 382). The column began with 3,000 troops, but at its peak was made up of about 8,000 men. They had a difficult time getting arms from a fearful Republican government, so Durruti and his men compensated by seizing unused arms from government stockpiles. Durruti's death on November 20, 1936 weakened the Column in spirit and tactical ability; they were eventually incorporated, by decree, into the regular army. Over a quarter of the population of Barcelona attended Durruti's funeral. It is still uncertain how Durruti died; modern historians tend to agree that it was an accident, perhaps a malfunction with his own gun or a result of friendly fire, but widespread rumors at the time claimed treachery by his men; anarchists tended to claim that he died heroically and was shot by a fascist sniper. Given the widespread repression against Anarchists by the Soviets, which included torture and summary executions, it is also possible that it was a USSR plot.[13]

Confederación Nacional del Trabajo

"CNT-FAI" redirects here. For the FAI, see Federación Anarquista Ibérica.

The Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT; "National Confederation of Labour") is a Spanish confederation of anarcho-syndicalist labour unions affiliated with the International Workers Association (IWA; Spanish: AIT – Asociación Internacional de los Trabajadores). When working with the latter group it is also known as CNT-AIT. Historically, the CNT has also been affiliated with the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (Iberian Anarchist Federation – FAI). In this capacity it was referred to as the CNT-FAI. Throughout its history, it has played a major role in the Spanish labor movement.

Founded in 1910 in Barcelona[2] from groups brought together by the trade union Solidaridad Obrera, it significantly expanded the role of anarchism in Spain, which can be traced to the creation of the Federación de Trabajadores de la Región Española, the successor organization to the Spanish chapter of the IWA.

Despite several decades when the organization was illegal in Spain, today the CNT continues to participate in the Spanish worker's movement, focusing its efforts on the principles of workers' self-management, federalism, and mutual aid.