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The Revolutionary Spirit: Hannah Arendt and the Anarchists of the Spanish Civil War

The Revolutionary Spirit: Hannah Arendt and the Anarchists of the Spanish Civil War

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Published by navarros
The Revolutionary Spirit: Hannah Arendt and the Anarchists of the Spanish Civil War

Author(s): Joel Olson

Source: Polity, Vol. 29, No. 4 (Summer, 1997), pp. 461-488
The Revolutionary Spirit: Hannah Arendt and the Anarchists of the Spanish Civil War

Author(s): Joel Olson

Source: Polity, Vol. 29, No. 4 (Summer, 1997), pp. 461-488

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Published by: navarros on Apr 01, 2009
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TheRevolutionarySpirit:HannahArendtand theAnarchistsoftheSpanishCivilWar*JoelOlson
HannahArendtarguedthattheonlywaytokeepa revolutionromdegeneratingntoanauthoritarianegimenomorehospitableofreedomandequalitythan theregimet overthrewsto createarepublicofbroad-based ouncilstoinstitutionalizewideparticipationinpublic affairs.YetArendt's claim isincompletebecauset restsonananalysisassuminghatrevolutionnvolvesasimpletwo-sidedconflictbetweenold andnewandneglectsthe socialaspectsofpostrevolutionary ife.Thecomplicationsarising rommultisidedconflictand theimportanceofthesocialfoundationsofparticipationcan bebetterunderstoodbyexaminingcarefullytheexperiencesfSpanishanarchistcollectivesnthe 1930s.Theirexperienceleshesoutthepracticalaspects ofestablishingandmaintaininghefederatedcouncilsystemcapableofmaintaining highlyparticipatoryandhencetrulydemocraticociety.JoelOlson is aPh.D.candidatenpoliticalscience at theUniversityofMinnesota.HeiscurrentlyivinginArizonawhilecompletinghisdissertationondemocraticheoryand theproblem ofthewhite race.Revolutionhaslongbeen thelastgreathopeofthedispossessed.Whenthesufferingandexploitationofthe old orderbecomeoo muchtobear,thewretchedcaneitherhopefor a betterifeintheafterworldorfor acompleteoverthrowofthepresent.Thehistoryofparticularevolutions,however,has beencharacterizedyfailureas muchasbyhope.Somanytimes arevolutionhasmadealife offreedom,equality,andsocialpeacesothrillinglyclose thatitsparticipantsouldactuallyiveitforafewdays, weeks,evenmonths,onlyto dash theirhopesasthe neworder s
*ThanksoLisaDisch,MaryDietz,KevinMcGuire,and theanonymouseviewers fPolityforhelpimprovingarlierdraftsofthisarticle.
PolityVolumeXIX,NumberSummer
997PolityVolumeXXIX,Number4Summer1997
 
462TheRevolutionary Spiritconsolidatedandthe world ofoppression,exploitation,andthedailygrind reappears.Hannah Arendtexploresthisprobleminher classicessayOn Revolu-tion. She examinesinparticularthe tension between thespiritofpublicparticipationthatofteneruptsat the onset ofarevolutionand theverydifferentdynamicsof thefoundingofanewpoliticalorderfollowingtherevolution'striumph.Thetragedyofrevolution,forArendt,is that revo-lutionsusuallyendupdestroyingtheveryfreedom andequalitytheirparticipants soughtto assure. The1917revolutionthatcreatedthesoviets,thoseamazingorgansofpopularpower,soondegeneratedintoatotalitarianstate;theChinaof the"speakbitterness"meetingsin hun-dreds ofvillages duringthe late 1940sandearly1950splummetedintothe chaos andpainofthe CulturalRevolution.ForArendt,thehistoryofmodernrevolutionsis atragiccontradictionbetweenthespontaneouseruptionofpoliticalactionburstingfromthestreetsinarevolution'sfirstmomentsand thetired,rigid,authoritarianformsof"revolutionaryorganization"that oftenendup seizing powerafter the old stateis over-thrown.TheproblemArendtaddressesinOnRevolution-howdoyoupre-serve therevolutionary spiritafter the revolutionis won?-isafamiliarone.Whatisuniqueaboutheranalysisis hersolution,therepublic.'Arepublic,thatis,"thepublic thing,"willenabletherevolutionaryspirittopersistbeyondtheimmediateeuphoriaovera fallenhatedregimeandtoeclipsethegiddyhesitationfeltbeforeplunginginto thenew world. Ittranslatesthespacethatopensupintheanarchyand exhilarationofarevolutionary settingintofoundinginstitutionsthatpermithumanstocontinueto actfreelyand asequals.Arendt concludesthatthoughmodemparliamentarygovernmentmaybe abletosafeguardindividuals'rightsandrepresenttheir interestsviapolitical parties,onlyarepublicoritssisterinstitution,thecouncil,canensuretheordinarycitizen'sabilitytoparticipatein theaffairs that affectdailylife.2YetArendt'sclaimthat arepubliccan institutionalizeand extendtherevolutionary spirit,thoughprovocative,isincomplete.Itisincompletebecauseherconceptionofrevolutionas astrugglebetweenold andnew,involvingthedestructionofadecayedregimeandthenatalityofa"neworderof theages,"is toosimple.SheapprovinglyquotesThomasJeffer-
1. Ofcourse,theRussianRevolutionproducedtheUnion ofSoviet SocialistRepublicsandtheChinese RevolutioncreatedthePeople'sRepublicofChina,but Arendtwouldbethefirst todistinguishherconceptionofarepublicfromthesesocialiststates. Thesharedname istheonlysimilarity.2. Therelationshipbetweenrepublicsandcouncilsisdiscussedbelow.
 
JoelOlson463son'sanalysisofrevolutionsas*'contestsfprinciple,betweenheadvo-cates ofrepublican,nd thoseofkinglygovernment,"3ut mostmodernrevolutionshavebeenatminimumhree-corneredffairs,notduels:TheGuomindangversustheChineseCommunistPartyversustheJapaneseinvaders;BolsheviksversusMensheviksversusWhites versusGermaninvaders;Zapataand VillaversusDiaz versusMaderoversusCarranza.Likewise,theSpanishCivilwasnotsimplya war betweenFrancoandRepublicansbut alsoastruggleamongthose anti-fascistelementswhowanteda liberalgovernmentand thosewho wantedto createatotallynewsociety.TheSpanishCivilWarprovidesanexcellenthistoricalbasisforexplor-ingthelimitsandstrengthsfArendt'sdeasaboutmaintainingherevo-lutionarypirit.Theimplicationsofathree-corneredightpointuponeoftheinadequaciesfArendt'sanalysisofrevolution.Ifthere aremorethantwo sidestoarevolution,or ifthere s astrugglewithinherevolu-tionaryforces indeterminingtsdirectionandoutcome,wheredoestherevolutionarypiritie?Arendtargueshatitcannotie,atleast forlong,ina"socialrevolution."Whileacceptingthatthestruggleagainstpovertyandexploitationsfrequentlyhedrivingorcebehindaninsur-rection,shebelieves itinevitablyconsumesthenewfoundfreedomsreleasedbytherevolutionarymoment.Thus sheinsiststhatinordertosucceed,revolutionsmust beconcernedstrictlywithpoliticalfreedomandnotliberation rompoverty.YettheSpanishCivilWarwas asocialrevolution nwhichheworkingclass,particularlynarchistmilitants,seizedtheopportunityopenedbyFranco'srevoltagainsttheRepublicandattemptedocreateaclasslesssociety.Therevolutionaryommittees,collectives,andpopularmilitiasestablishedbyworkingclassmilitants,notthedefendersoftheSpanishSecondRepublic,werehetruecarriers ftherevolutionarypirit.4Theireffortsprovideaclearexampleof asocialrevolutionhatdidnotlead toterror.Yettheyavoidedrevolutionaryerrornotbyconfininghemselvesto a"political"revolution,asArendtadvocates,butbyattemptingoeliminatepolitics.Theirexperience-andArendt'smistakencritiqueof"thesocial"-suggeststhatthekeytothe"socialversuspolitical"dilemmaraisedbyArendt ies inpoliticizinghesocialrealm.Thispolit-icizationshouldnotseektoefface thesocial-politicaldistinctionbuttoprovideapublicspacewheresocialconcernscanbecontinuouslyaddressed.
3.HannahArendt,OnRevolutionNewYorkPenguin,1963),p.33.4.TheSecondRepublicfSpainwasatraditionaliberalbourgeoisovernment.twasnotsimilaroArendt'sconceptionof arepublic.

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