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The Spanish Civil War

Anarchism in Action by Eddie Conlon

Much has been written about the

Spanish Civil War but the contribu-
tion of the Anarchists has been either
totally ignored or reduced to a few
footnotes which were often composed
of blatant lies or generalised slander
referring to 'wreckers'. To set the
record straight this pamphlet was pro-
duced. It is not a history of the Civil
War, that would require many hun-
dreds of pages to do justice to the sub-
ject. It is an uncovering of the "hidden
history" of the Anarchist participation
in Spain's anti-fascist struggle.

It has not been written because of some aca- 1st published 1986
demic interest but because Anarchism is 2nd edition 1993
still as relevant now as then. We have seen e-mail addition 1994
the results of social democracy and it's La- HTML Markup 1995
PDF version June 2001
bour Parties, we have seen what the
Stalinists have done in Russia, China, Al-
bania and their satellites, we have seen
how their left critics in the Trotskyist move-
ment have been unable to come to grips
with the real problem. And that real prob-
lem is the authoritarian idea that the world
can be changed over the heads of the work-
ers. It can, but it won't be much better. Chapter 1 -
Only Anarchism with its concept 'of social-
ism based on individual freedom and the
Rebellion and Resistance
power of workers' councils stands apart In the 1930’s Europe was experiencing one of its’ worst ever
from all this. That is why, despite four dec- slumps. The Wall Street crash came in 1929 and its repercus-
ades of repression, the CNT reappeared as sions were felt far and wide. Spain was no exception
a real union after the death of Franco. We By 1936 unemployment had gone over 30% in many of the towns and
believe that Anarchism is not just another cities Out of a total workforce of three million, one million were out of
choice for those who want a better world, work. There was no dole and as prices rose by 80% in the five years up
the history of all other ‘left’ movements to 1936, many encountered severe hardship.
shows that Anarchism is a necessity. Land
By European standards Spain was a particularly backward country.
There had been little industrial development and 70% of the people
Glossary and Chronology at end still lived on the land. 52% of the workforce was employed in agricul-
ture which accounted for between one half and two thirds of Spain’s

Workers Solidarity June 2001

PDF edition
exports. the whole colonial administration along Front, a coalition of republicans, social-
with much of that in the country itself. democrats and the Stalinists of the Com-
The division of land was the worst in
Drawn from the upper classes they were munist Party. Their victory was mainly
Europe. A massive 67% was in the hands
tied by kinship, friendship and social po- due to the CNT not running a campaign
of just 2% of all landowners. In 1936,
sition to the industrialists and reaction- calling on the workers to abstain from
10,000 proprietors owned half of the na-
ary landowners. voting. In previous elections they had
tional territory. The remaining land was
done so because they believed that the
owned by “middle owners” and peasants. The Republic
ballot box was a con as you could only
The “middle owners” were more numer-
The Spanish Republic was born in 1931. choose who would rule over you, not
ous than the big landowners but they also
The workers and peasants, having gone whether you wanted to be ruled or not.
had large estates worked by sharecrop-
through years of dictatorship, believed Instead they said workers should rely on
pers and landless labourers.
that maybe now the country would be their industrial muscle to change things.
The rest of the land was owned by peas- modernised and their living standards
This time the CNT took no position, leav-
ants, of whom there were five million would begin to improve.
ing it to individual members to decide The
Because most of them had insufficient
It was not to be so. One example will suf- results made it obvious they had voted,
land they hired themselves out as day
fice. The republican government set up mainly because the Popular Front had
labourers. Others took to sharecropping.
the Institute for Agrarian Reform to look promised an amnesty for the prisoners.
Boom into the redistribution of land. By its own
The workers, though, did not wait for the
admission its programme would have
Spain’s boom period had been during government to act. They opened the pris-
taken a whole century to implement.
World War I when it had remained neu- ons themselves and released their com-
tral. Agriculture thrived due to the large The republican/social-democratic coali- rades. It did not stop there. The election
foreign markets for its exports. At the tion which came to power in 1931 did lit- result was seen as an impetus to go on
same time some industrialisation took tle to improve living conditions for the the offensive. They had voted for change
place. After the war, though, this boom vast majority of workers. Unemployment and if the government was not going to
came to an end, especially when tariff remained high and the working class or- deliver they would get results them-
barriers were thrown up by Britain and ganisations, especially the CNT, suffered selves.
France against Spanish exports. repression with many members being
imprisoned. By June 1933 there were
While the boom lasted the landowners
9,000 political prisoners. Between the election in February and the
reaped the benefits but when the slump
fascist revolt in July there were 113 gen-
arrived it was the peasants who suffered. The government refused to take on the
eral strikes, 228 partial general strikes,
conditions in the Spain of the 1930’s were industrialists, landowners, army officers
145 bomb explosions, 269 deaths, 1287
comparable with the Orient. Starvation and bishops. It would not stand up to that
wounded, 215 assaults and 160 churches
was _normal_ between the harvests. The minority which owned all the wealth and
burned. Of course all this was not part of
press of the time carried reports of whole had all the real power. In the election of
the Popular Front programme which was
districts living on roots and boiled greens. 1933 they fell and a right-wing coalition
watery and essentially aimed at main-
The industrialisation that had taken came to power.
taining anti-fascist unity. It was not
place was mainly confined to one area-
This marked the beginning of what be- aimed at smashing capitalism and the
Catalonia. Situated in the Northeast bor-
came known as the “bienno negro” the power of the Spanish elite. Sections of the
dering on France, Catalonia, especially
two black years. The right went on the Socialist Party, however, went beyond the
its capital Barcelona, became the indus-
offensive. The coalition of the wealthy Popular Front programme and many of
trial centre of Spain, with 70% of all in-
and powerful now had state power and them in the UGT again joined with their
dustry and 50% of industrial workers.
were determined to use it to smash work- comrades in the CNT to fight the passiv-
Many peasants left the land to seek work
ing class and peasant resistance. Their ity of the government.
in Barcelona, which added to the already
privileges were to be maintained at the
existing unemployment. On June 13th, 30,000 Asturian miners
expense of the workers.
struck; on June 19th 90,000 miners
Other forces at the time were the Catho-
Asturia throughout the country were on strike.
lic church and the army. While there were
Every city of importance had at least one
25,000 parish priests there were a fur- Of course this was not taken lightly. The
general strike. Over one million were out
ther 70,000 in religious orders. The Jesu- CNT organised as best it could against
in the first days of July. Strikers were
its alone owned 30% of the country’s the government. A rising took place in
not only fighting for economic demands,
wealth. The numbers in the orders actu- Catalonia in December, shortly after the
political demands were also made. On
ally outnumbered the total of secondary change of government. It was crushed
July 14th there was a large demonstra-
school students. While millions were kept after ten days. The following year the
tion outside a ball at the Brazilian em-
illiterate (40% could neither read nor workers of the CNT joined with their fel-
bassy. The workers carried placards say-
write) the church preached superstitious low workers in the UGT (General Union
ing “Republican Ministers amuse them-
reports of incredible incidents such as of Workers, controlled by the Socialist
selves while workers die”.
statues seen weeping and crucifixes ex- Party) in a revolt in the Asturias region.
uding blood. The workplaces were taken over and the While the Republican government did all
union members took up arms against the it could to get the situation under con-
The Church was renowned for siding with
state. Unfortunately they were isolated trol, the Communist Party condemned
the bosses and while the priests were liv-
from the rest of the country. The massa- the strikes for bringing workers into col-
ing in luxury the peasants around them
cre that followed their defeat was unprec- lision with the government. The govern-
often starved. It is little wonder the
edented with at least 3,000 being ex- ment duly filled the jails and closed down
Church was hated.
ecuted. the offices of the CNT.
The army was famous for its number of
By the time this government was forced Coup
officers. There was one for every six sol-
to resign and call elections for February
diers! This officer caste had been devel- As with all ruling classes that become
I 936 there were 30,000 political prison-
oped under the monarchy (which was desperate, they decided that parliamen-
ers. The election was won by the Popular
ended in 1931) and was responsible for tary democracy was to be disposed of and
the workers’ organisation smashed. Throughout the country the initiative was “the Spanish Republic saved’. Not
Bosses don’t always oppose fascism be- taken by workers and peasants was stop- just the CNT but members of the UGT
cause they know they sometimes have to ping the fascists in their tracks. This was and the POUM (Workers Party of Marx-
resort to it. Their wealth and privileges the story in three quarters of the coun- ist Unity) joined in the fighting. For these
come before all other considerations. As try. Elsewhere valuable time was lost due workers this was not just a war to defeat
in Germany and Italy they decided the to the indecision of government officials. the fascists but the beginning of a revo-
organised working class had to be put In Saragossa the workers failed to put lution. Workers militias were established
down so they could hang onto their down the rising. Juan Iopez, a leading independently of the state. Workplaces
wealth and continue to make profits. CNT militant, put this down to the fact which had been abandoned by the former
While some will initially oppose fascism, that they “lost too much time having in- bosses were taken over and in the rural
and in Spain some did, it is nevertheless terviews with the civil governor, we even areas the peasants seized the land. For
a call of last resort and they will go along believed in his promises”. the anarchists this was the chance to put
with it if they see it as necessary to main- their ideas into practice.
Thus by the action of the rank and file
tain their power. In the Basque Country
the nationalists initially opposed the fas-
cists. But when the choice of fascism or
social revolution became clear, they of-
fered little resistance to Franco. Chapter 2 - Anarchism in Action
The coup was to be launched on July I Anarchism is a most misunderstood set of ideas. It is constantly portrayed as mean-
7th. The initial step was taken when ing chaos and violence. Nothing could be further from the truth. Anarchists believe
Franco seized Morocco and issued a “radi- in creating a classless society. They oppose capitalism as a system that puts the
cal manifesto”. This was picked up by a profits of a small minority of bosses before the needs of the vast majority. It is a
loyal radio operator who passed it on to system based on the exploitation of workers, a system that inevitably causes poverty
the Minister for the Navy. The news of starvation and war. Anarchists oppose authority in the sense of opposing the ‘right’
the coup was kept secret until 7pm on of any small minority to have power over everyone else. They oppose the State (mean-
the 18th. The government assured the ing government, army, police, courts) as an institution whose purpose is to enforce
country it was in control. By this it meant the will of a minority on the majority.
it was trying to come to terms with the
fascists. The cabinet resigned on the 18th Anarchists believe in class struggle, that method. Rather than relying on small
and Borrios, a right wing republican, was the bosses and workers have no common groups they say workers do have the
made prime minister. interest and that the workers must or- power and strength to change society.
ganise to take over the running of soci- That strength lies in their ability to or-
Masses ety Ordinary workers are quite capable ganise at the place of work, a strength
This plan to come to a deal was only of running society. It would be done that should be used not only to win im-
smashed by the activity of the organised through a system of workers’ councils mediate reforms from the bosses but
working class. The fascists made some with mass democracy which would be far eventually to overthrow the whole sys-
headway in parts of the country where more rational democratic and efficient tem of capitalism. This belief is central
little opposition was offered as a result than the existing set-up. Anarchists to anarchism Anarchists do not only want
of government hesitation. But in Catalo- stand up for the freedom of the individual workers’ control of industry, they want a
nia, and especially in Barcelona, the and oppose all oppression on the basis of society where all relationships of author-
workers of the CNT showed how to fight. race, sex or sexual orientation. The only ity are abolished and people do not look
They declared a general strike and took limit on individual freedom should be to others to run their lives.
to the streets looking for arms which the that it does not interfere with the free-
government refused to give them. In the dom of others.
end they stormed the barracks, and took Anarchism had, and still has, a long tra-
From early on the anarchists opposed the
what they needed. They were aided by dition in Spain. In the middle of the last
building of bureaucratic State Capitalism
soldiers who had remained loyal, some century anarchist ideas were brought to
in Russia. Initially they supported the
of whom turned their guns on their offic- Spain by Fanelli, an Italian supporter of
revolution but were against the attempts
ers. Michael Bakunin who was one of the
of the Bolsheviks to take power into their
founders of modern anarchism. A Span-
The workers immediately set up barri- own hands and create the seeds of the
ish section of the First International was
cades and within hours the rising had “dictatorship of the party”. Anarchists
set up and the majority within it took the
been defeated. Arms were siezed and hold that how you organise will reflect
side of the anarchists in the Interna-
given to groups of workers who were dis- the type of society you want. Small mi-
patched to other areas to prevent risings norities can not liberate the working
occurring. Madrid was also saved because class, the working class will have to Anarchism developed rapidly due to the
of the heroism and initiative of the work- emancipate itself. Democracy and ac- harsh economic conditions that workers
ers. Hearing of what had happened in countability are the cornerstone of anar- and peasants had to suffer. Workers in-
Barcelona they had stormed the Montana chist organisation. Direct action is the creasingly took up the ideas of syndical-
Barracks, the main army base in the city.
In Valencia they surrounded the bar-
racks, a situation which lasted for two More information on anarchism and the Spanish revolution
weeks. Still the government refused to
arm the workers and it was only after
arms were sent from Barcelona and Ma-
drid that the barracks was successfully
taken. In Asturias the rebels were beaten This web page includes hundreds of documents and images
after prolonged fighting leading to many including translations of many Spanish anarchist articles
deaths. Then the miners outfitted a col-
umn of 5,000 dynamiters who marched from the period
to Madrid.
ism or anarcho- syndicalism, which were revolution it was subject to vicious repres- formed and these became the units of the
developed at the turn of the century. 1911 sion not only under the semi- dictator- revolutionary army. Ten days after the
saw the formation of the CNT. Syndical- ship which ruled until 1931 but also the coup there were I 8,000 workers organ-
ism developed as a response to the ‘reforming’ governments which followed. ised in the militias of Catalonia. The vast
reformism of the existing trade unions The Popular Front, with its social demo- majority of these were members of the
and to the growing isolation of anarchist cratic and Stalinist supporters, joined CNT. Overall there were 150,000 volun-
revolutionaries from the mass of work- this list by showing it no mercy. teers willing to fight whenever they were
ers. This had happened as a result of a needed.
small number of anarchists turning to
This was no ordinary army. There were
terrorism and ‘propaganda by the deed’, The CNT was not a revolutionary politi-
no uniforms (neck scarves usually indi-
the belief that they could incite the cal organisation. It was an industrial
cated what organisation a militia mem-
masses to revolution by committing out- union. Indeed it constantly played up its
ber belonged to) or officers who enjoyed
rages. a-politicism and argued that all that was
privileges over the ordinary soldiers. This
necessary to make a revolution was for
Syndicalism was an attempt to provide a was a revolutionary army and reflected
the workers to seize the factories and
link between the anarchist movement the revolutionary principles of those in
land. After that the State and all other
and the workers on the shopfloor. Its ba- its ranks. Democracy was control. The
political institutions would come toppling
sic ideas revolved around all the work- basic unit was the group, composed gen-
down. It did not believe the working class
ers being in one big union. All the em- erally of ten, which elected a delegate.
must take political power for them all
ployees in a workplace would join. They Ten groups formed a century which also
power had to be immediately abolished.
would link up with those in other jobs in elected a delegate. Any number of centu-
the same area and an area federation Because it was a union it organised all ries formed a column, which had a war
would be formed. Delegates from these workers regardless of their politics. Many committee responsible for the overall ac-
would go forward to regional federations joined, not because they were anarchists, tivities of the column. This was elected
who were united in a national federation. but because it was the most militant un- and accountable to the workers. Columns
All the delegates were elected and ion and actually got results. In fact dur- generally had ex-officers and artillery
recallable. They were given a clear man- ing the civil war its membership more experts to advise them - but these were
date and if they broke it they could be than doubled (this happened to the UGT not given any power.
replaced with new delegates. too) at least partly due to workers being
Workers joined the columns because they
obliged to join one or other union.
Bureaucracy wanted to. They understood the need to
So obviously the CNT was open to those fight and the necessity of creating a
Every effort was made to prevent the
who were not anarchists. There were “popular army”. They accepted discipline
growth of a bureaucracy of unaccountable
many internal disputes, and tendencies not because they were told to but because
full-time officials. There was only one full-
did arise that were reformist. Because of they understood the need to act in a co-
time official in all of the CNT. Union work
this the Federation of Iberian Anarchists ordinated manner. Members accepted
was done during working hours where
(FAI) was set up in 1927. It was based on orders because they trusted those who
possible, otherwise after work. This en-
local affinity groups and was not a politi- gave them. They had been elected from
sured the officials of the union stayed in
cal organisation as such. It was there to their own ranks. Militias were aligned
contact with the shopfloor. The fear of
ensure that the CNT remained ‘pure’ in with different organisations and often
bureaucracy was such that Industrial
anarchist (FAI) terms. It succeeded in had their own newspapers. These were
Federations that would have linked to-
this and many of its members became the political organisations that understood
gether all the workplaces of particular
leading lights of tile CNT. Other anar- the link between revolutionary politics
industries were hotly opposed. They were
chist organisations that existed when the and the war. The militias formed in Bar-
eventually conceded in 1931 but never
civil war broke out were the Iberian Fed- celona lost no time in marching on
fully built.
eration of Libertarian Youth (FIJL) and Aragon where the capital, Saragossa, had
Syndicalists distinguished themselves Mujeres Libres (Free Women). been taken by the fascists. The Durruti
from the other unions by their belief that Column, named after one of the leading
There is absolutely no doubt that the ini-
the unions could be used not only to gain CNT militants, led this march and gradu-
tial response to Franco’s coup was deter-
reforms from the bosses but also to over- ally liberated village after village. The
mined by the fact that the CNT and its
throw the capitalist system. They be- aim was to free Saragossa which linked
anarchist ideas held sway among large
lieved the Syndicalist union would be- Catalonia with the second industrial re-
sections of the working class. There was
come the battering ram that would bring gion - the Basque Country, which as well
no waiting around for government min-
capitalism to its knees. They believed as being a source of raw materials had
isters to act, the workers took control.
that the reason most workers were not heavy industries and arms manufactur-
Anarchist influence could be seen in the
revolutionaries was that their unions ing plants.
formation of the militias, the expropria-
were reformist and dominated by a bu-
tion and reorganisation of the land, and The Durruti column showed how to fight
reaucracy that took the initiative away
the seizures in industry. fascism. They understood that a civil war
from the rank and file members. Their
is a political battle, not just a military
alternative was to organise all workers Militias
conflict. As they gained victory after vic-
into one union in preparation for the revo-
The government found itself in a pecu- tory they encouraged peasants to take
lutionary general strike.
liar situation when the dust had settled over the land and collectivise. The Col-
The CNT experienced rapid growth from after July I 9th. While it remained the umn provided the defence that allowed
the time of its formation and by the out- government it had no way of exercising this to be done. The peasants rallied to
break of the civil war it had almost two its authority. Most of the army had them. They fed the worker- soldiers and
million members. Its strongholds were in openly rebelled against it. Where the re- many of them joined. Indeed Durutti had
Catalonia and Andulucia. It also had bellion had been defeated the army was to plead with some of them not to join so
large followings in Galicia, Asturias, Le- disbanded and the workers now had the that the land would not be depopulated
vant, Saragossa and Madrid. Its main arms. The trade unions and left-wing or- and the task of collectivisation could be
strength was among textile, building and ganisations immediately set about organ- carried through.
wood workers as well as amongst agri- ising these armed workers. Militias were
As the anarchist militias achieved suc-
cultural labourers. As it preached social
cess after success ground was being lost lar army restarted. But more of this later. publican zone (that area controlled by the
on other fronts. Saragossa, though, was anti-fascist forces) was taken over. In all
This lack of arms did not only affect the
not taken and a long front developed. The between five and seven million peasants
Aragon front. Irun fell because of the
militia system was blamed for this. The were involved. The major areas were
shortage of weapons. One reporter de-
Stalinists said the workers were undis- Aragon where there were 450 collectives,
scribed it. “They fought to the last car-
ciplined and would not obey orders. They the Levant (the area around Valencia)
tridge (the workers of Irun. When they
accused the anarchists of being unwill- with 900 collectives and Castille (the area
had no more ammunition they hurled
ing to work with others to defeat the fas- surrounding Madrid) with 300 collectives.
packs of dynamite. When the dynamite
cists. Not only was the land collectivised but
was gone they rushed forward bare-
in the villages workshops were set up
Of course this was nonsense. The anar- handed while the sixty times stronger
where the local tradespeople could pro-
chists continually called for a united war enemy butchered them with their bayo-
duce tools, furniture, etc. Bakers, butch-
effort and even for a single command. nets’. In Asturia the workers were bogged
ers, barbers and so on also decided to col-
What they did demand, though, was that down trying to take Oviedo armed with
control of the army stayed with the work- little more than rifles and crude dyna-
ing class. They did not believe that es- mite bombs. Although a few planes and Collectivisation was voluntary and thus
tablishing a united command necessi- artillery pieces were begged for, the work- quite different from the forced “collectivi-
tated re-establishing the old militarist ers were turned down. Again the govern- sation presided over by Stalin in Russia.
regime the officer caste. ment’s fear of revolutionary workers took Usually a meeting was called in the vil-
precedence over defeating the fascists. lage, most collectives were centred on a
The major problem facing the militias
particular village, and all present would
was a lack of arms. The munitions indus- It is a common lie that the militias, sup-
agree to pool together whatever land,
try been cut off and the workers in Bar- posedly undisciplined and uncontrollable,
tools and animals they had. This would
celona went to great lengths to improvise. were responsible for Franco’s advance.
be added to what had already been taken
Arms were made and transported to the All who saw the militias in action had
from the big landowners. The land was
front but there were still not enough of nothing but praise for the heroism they
divided into rational units and groups of
them. George Orwell (who fought in one witnessed. The government made a de-
workers were assigned to work them.
of the POUM militias) described the arms liberate choice. It chose to starve the revo-
Each group had its delegate who repre-
situation on the Aragon front. The infan- lutionary workers of arms, it decided that
sented their views at meetings of the col-
try “were far worse armed than an Eng- defeating the revolution was more impor-
lective. A management committee was
lish public school Officers Training Corps, tant than defeating fascism.
also elected and was responsible for the
with worn out Mauser rifles which usu-
overall running of the collective. They
ally jammed after five shots; approxi-
would look after the buying of materials,
mately one machine gun to fifty men (sic)
exchanges with other areas, distributing
and one pistol or revolver to about thirty
the produce and necessary public works
men (sic). These weapons, so necessary
such as the building of schools. Each col-
in trench warfare, were not issued by the
lective held regular general meetings of
government.... A government which
all its participants.
sends boys of fifteen to the front with ri-
fles forty years old and keeps its biggest If you didn’t want to join the collective
men and newest weapons In the rear is you were given some land but only as
manifestly more afraid of the revolution much as you could work yourself. You
the fascists”. were not allowed to employ workers. Not
only production was affected, distribution
And how right he was. An arms embargo
was on the basis of what people needed.
was imposed by Britain preventing the The Land
In many areas money was abolished. Peo-
sale of arms to either side, but not until
The peasants did not have to be told by ple come to the collective store (often
mid-August. The government which had
Durruti to take over the land. They had churches which had been turned into
600,000,000 dollars in gold, could have
been attempting to do so since the foun- warehouses) and got what was available.
brought arms. Eventually this gold was
dation of the Republic. Indeed the first If there were shortages rationing would
sent to Moscow in exchange for arms but
government of the Republic had sent be introduced to ensure that everyone got
when they arrived there was a system-
troops to murder peasants who had taken their fair share. But it was usually the
atic refusal to supply the anarchist-con-
land. In the Republic’s first two years, 109 case that increased production under the
trolled Aragon front. The arms that did
peasants were murdered. It was in the new system eliminated shortages.
arrive were sent only to Stalinist-control-
countryside that the Spanish revolution
led centres. A member of the war minis- In agricultural terms the revolution oc-
was most far reaching. The anarchist
try referring to the arms which arrived curred at a good time. Harvests that were
philosophy had been absorbed by large
in September commented “I noticed that gathered in and being sold off to make
layers of the downtrodden peasants. In-
these were not being given out in equal big profits for a few landowners were in-
deed at its 1936 Congress the CNT had
quantities, but there was a marked pref- stead distributed to those in need. Doc-
gone into great detail as to how the an-
erence for the units which made up the tors, bakers, barbers, etc. were given
archist society of the future would look.
Fifth Regiment”. This was controlled by what they needed in return for their serv-
The peasantry took the opportunity to put
the Stalinists. The Catalan munitions ices. Where money was not abolished a
these ideas into practice. Their efforts
plants, which depended on the central ‘family wage’ was introduced so that pay-
showed what could be done by working
government for finance were compelled ment was on the basis of need and not
people (many of whom were illiterate)
to surrender their product to such desti- the number of hours worked.
given the right conditions. They made a
nations as the government chose. This
nonsense of the argument that anarchism Production greatly increased. Techni-
withholding of arms was fundamental to
is not possible because society would col- cians and agronomists helped the peas-
the strategy of the Stalinists and their
lapse without bosses ,government and ants to make better use of the land. Mod-
allies in government for breaking down
authority. ern scientific methods were introduced
the power and prestige of the CNT. The
and in some areas yields increased by as
communists wanted to undermine the Collectivisation of the land was extensive.
much as 50%. There was enough to feed
militias in their efforts to have the regu- Close on two thirds of all land in the Re-
the collectivists and the militias in their light and power companies, gasworks and With the profit motive gone, safety be-
areas. Often there was enough for ex- waterworks, engineering and automobile came more important and the number of
change with other collectives in the cit- assembly plants, mines and cement accidents was reduced. Fares were low-
ies for machinery. In addition food was works, textile mills and paper factories, ered and services improved. In I 936,
handed over to the supply committees electrical and chemical concerns, glass 183,543, 516 passengers were carried. In
who looked after distribution in the ur- bottle factories and perfumeries, food 1937 this had gone up by 50 million. The
ban areas. processing plants and breweries were trams were running so efficiently that the
confiscated and controlled by workmens’s workers were able to give money to other
As with the militias, slander was also
(sic) committees, either term possessing sections of urban transport. Wages were
thrown at the collectives. It was claimed
for the owners almost equal significance”. equalised for all workers and increased
that each one only looked after itself and
He goes on “motion picture theatres and over the previous rates. For the first time
did not care about the others. This was
legitimate theatres, newspapers and free medical care was provided for the
rubbish as in many areas equalisation
printing, shops, department stores and work force.
funds were set up to redistribute wealth
hotels, de-lux restaurants and bars were
from the better off areas to the poorer As well as giving a more efficient service
likewise sequestered”.
ones. It was ensured that machinery and the workers found time to produce rock-
expertise were shifted to the areas most This shows clearly that the portrayal of ets and howitzers for the war effort. They
in need of it. Indeed one indicator of the anarchism as being something to do with worked overtime and Sundays to do their
feeling of solidarity is the fact that 1,000 quaint small workshops is untrue. Large share for the anti-fascist struggle. To fur-
collectivists from the Levant, which was factories, some of them employing thou- ther underline the fact that getting rid
quite advanced, moved to Castille to help sands of workers, were taken over and of the bosses and rulers would not lead
out. run by workers’ committees. to a breakdown of order it can be pointed
out that in the two years of collectivisa-
Federations of collectives were estab- Often the workplaces were siezed because
tion there were only six cases of workers
lished, the most successful being in the owners had fled or had stopped pro-
stealing from the workshops.
Aragon. In June 1937 a plenum of Re- duction to sabotage the revolution. But
gional Federations of Peasants was held. the workers did not stop with these Extensive reorganisation took place to
Its aim was the formation of a national workplaces all major places of work were make industry more efficient. Many un-
federation “for the co-ordination and ex- taken over. Some were run and control- economic small plants, which were usu-
tension of the collectivist movement and led by the workers. In others “control ally unhealthy, were closed down and
also to ensure an equitable distribution committees” were established to ensure production was concentrated in those
of the produce of the land, not only be- that production was maintained (these plants with the best equipment. In Cata-
tween the collectives but for the whole existed to exercise a power of veto on the lonia 70 foundries were closed down. The
country”. Unfortunately many collectives decisions of the boss in cases where the number of tanning plants was reduced
were smashed, not be Franco’s army but workers had not taken over the power of from 71 to 40 and the whole wood indus-
by the soldiers of the Stalinist General management). try was reorganised by the CNT Wood-
Lister, before this could be done. workers Union.
In each workplace the assembly of all the
The collectivists were not only concerned workers was the basic unit. Within the In 1937 the central government admit-
with their material well being. They had factory workers would elect delegates to ted that the war industry of Catalonia
a deep commitment to education and as represent them on day-to-day issues. produced ten times more than the rest of
a result of their efforts many children Anything of overall importance had to go Spanish industry put together and that
received an education for the first time. to the assembly. This would elect a com- this output could have been quadrupled
This was not the usual schooling either. mittee of between five and fifteen worker, if Catalonia had the access to necessary
The methods of Francisco Ferrer, the which would elect a manager to oversee means of purchasing raw materials.
world famous anarchist educationalist, the day-to-day running of the workplace
It was not only production that was taken
were employed. Children were given ba- - Within each industry there was an In-
over. Many parasitic ‘middlemen’ were
sic literacy skills and after that inquisi- dustrial Council which had representa-
cut out of distribution. The wholesale
tive skills were encouraged. Old people tives of the two main unions (CNT and
business in fish and eggs was taken over
were also looked after and where neces- UGT) and representatives from the com-
as were the principal fruit and vegetable
sary special homes for them were built. mittees. Technicians were also on these
markets. The milk trade in Barcelona
Refugees from the fascist controlled ar- committees to provide technical advice.
was collectivised which saw over 70 un-
eas were looked after too. The job of the Industrial Council was to
hygienic pasteurising plants closed down.
set out an overall plan for the industry.
Industry Every where supply committees were set
Within workplaces wages were equalised up. All of this made the middle classes
Although the revolution didn’t go as far
and conditions greatly improved. Let us very unhappy. To them, with their no-
in the cities as it did in the country, many
see how collectivisation actually made tions of becoming bigger bosses, the revo-
achievements are worth noting. It was in
things better. Take for example the tram- lution was a step back.
Catalonia, the industrial heartland and
ways. Out of the 7,000 workers, 6,500
stronghold of the CNT, that most was Again equalisation funds were estab-
were members of the CNT. Because of the
gained. In Barcelona over 3,000 enter- lished to help out the poorer collectives
street battles all transport had been
prises were collectivised. All the public Indeed there were many problems. Many
brought to a halt. The transport syndi-
services, not only in Catalonia but markets were cut off in the fascist zone
cate (as unions of the CNT were known)
throughout the Republican zone, were and some foreign markets were also tem-
appointed a commission of seven to oc-
taken over and run by committees of porarily lost. Raw materials were short
cupy the administrative offices while oth-
workers. as sources of supply were cut off. and
ers inspected the tracks and drew up a
when they could be obtained funds were
To give some idea of the extent of the col- plan of repair work that needed to be
held back by the central government.
lectivisation here is a list provided by one done. Five days after the fighting stopped
This was one short-coming of the collec-
observer (Burnett Bolloten, The Grand 700 tramcars, instead of the usual 600,
Camouflage by no means an anarchist all painted in the black and red colours
book). He says “railways, traincars and of the CNT, were operating on the streets The banks had not been seized and the
buses, taxicabs and shipping, electric of Barcelona. gold reserve already referred to stayed
in the hands of the government. (The said “it was like being brothers and sis-
CNT did hatch a plan to seize it but ters. It had always annoyed me that men
backed down at the last moment). in this country didn’t consider women as
beings with human rights. But now there
Despite all this production was increased
was this big change. I believe it arose
and living standards for many working
spontaneously out of the revolutionary
class people improved. In October 1936
movement...” Margorita Balaguer quoted
the government was forced to recognise
in Blood of Spain ed. Ronald Fraser, page
the collectivisation by passing a decree
that recognised the fait accompli. It was
also an attempt to control future collec- Everywhere change was apparent. The
tivisation. whole character of Barcelona changed.
Posh restaurants no longer existed. Col-
Social Revolution
lective eating houses took their place. A
This is only a very brief look at the col- spirit of comradeship was in the air.
lectivisation that happened. In keeping
Everywhere councils of workers and peas-
with anarchist beliefs the revolution did
ants had taken over administration. The
not stop there. For the first time in Spain
Defence Council of Aragon was one of the
many workers had the benefit of a health
highest expressions of this. It ran the
service - organised by the CNT Federa-
province and co-ordinated the work of the
tion of Health Workers. The Federation
collectives and militias. All the anti-fas-
consisted of 40,000 health workers -
cist forces were represented on it but the
nurses, doctors, administrators and or-
anarchists were in the majority. In Cata-
derlies. Once again the major success was
lonia a Central Committee of Anti-Fas-
in Catalonia where it ensured that all of ries, means of transport and communi-
cist Militias was set up on July 21st. Of
the 2.5 million inhabitants had adequate cation, the police and the army. The mili-
its fifteen members five were anarchists,
health care. tary, economic and political struggle was
three were UGT, POUM had one, the
proceeding independently of the govern-
Not only were traditional services pro- Communist Party had one and the repub-
ment, and, indeed, in spite of it.
vided but victims of the Civil War were licans had four. Although the anarchists
also treated. A programme of preventive were supreme in this province they hoped Such a situation is known as one of “dual
medicine was also established based on by sharing power that similar commit- power”. The power of the government was
local community health centres. At their tees would be formed where the CNT was too weak to challenge the power of the
1937 Congress these workers developed weaker. workers and peasants. And that power
a health plan for a future anarchist Spain was not conscious enough of the need to
This was the situation in 1936. Although
which could have been implemented if the dispense with the existence of the gov-
the Popular Front government still ex-
revolution had been successful. ernment. Failure to do this allowed it to
isted it had no power. It was shorn of the
restore its authority and become master
The role of women also changed. Many repressive organs of the state. Power was
of the situation. In trying to understand
gains were made by them. In relation to split into countless fragments and scat-
how this happened it is necessary to look
their role during the Civil war observers tered in a thousand towns and villages
at the role of the Communist Party and
have pointed out that they played a full among the revolutionary committees that
that of the CNT leadership.
part in the anti- fascist resistance. They had taken control of the land and facto-
were present everywhere - on commit-
tees, in the militias, in the front line. In
the early battles of the war women fought
alongside the men as a matter of course.
It was not merely a case of women filling
in for men who were away at the front.
Chapter 3 - The Counter Revolution
(Which is usually the case in wartime. The behaviour of the Spanish Communist Party and the United Socialist
When the war is over and women are no Party of a Catalonia (PSUC) had more to do with what was in the best
longer needed in the labour force, they interests of Stalin than what was in the best interests of the Spanish work-
are pushed back into the home). ing class. They went out of their way to deny that a revolution had taken
They were in the militias and fought place. Then they did all they could to repress this revolution they pretended
alongside the men as equals. They were had not happened. As far as they were concerned the Civil War was only
organising the collectives and taking up about restoring democracy to Spain. To see why they took this attitude we
the fight against the sexist attitudes of have to look outside Spain.
the past which have no place in any real
Stalin cooled.
Stalin believed that above all else “social- Stalin’s fear was that the British and
The Anarchist women’s organisation,
ism” in the USSR had to be defended. The French would do a deal with Hitler and
Mujeres Libres (Free Women), had
interests of the European (and indeed the thus leave Russia open to attack. He be-
30,000 members. It had been active be-
world) working class had to take second lieved they would be content to sit back
fore the Civil War organising women
place to the strategic interests of the rul- and watch Germany and Russia slog it
workers and distributing information on
ing bureaucracy in Russia. And they felt out. When both had exhausted them-
contraception. During the war abortion
very threatened in the 1930s. Hitler had selves Britain and France would move in
was legalised in the ‘republican zone’.
come to power in 1933 and despite the as masters of Europe.
Centres were opened for women, includ-
fact that Stalin was seeking no quarrel
ing unmarried mothers and prostitutes. Because of this Stalin signed a Mutual
with Germany (three months after the
Assistance Pact with France in 1935.
From all accounts there truly were nazi take-over Stalin had signed an ex-
There was no commitment to mutual
changes in attitudes to women. One tension to the 1926 German-Soviet Pact)
military assistance in this. For the
woman participant in the Civil War has relations between the two countries soon
French it was a way of removing any re- tially the Stalinists had felt a need to talk rally arises as to how such a small or-
maining links between Germany and of making a revolution after the fascists ganisation could so decisively influence
Russia while at the same time getting the were defeated. Even this empty talk soon the course of events and in time become
French Communist Party to drop its op- stopped. the dominant group in the Popular Front
position to their government’s defence camp.
Of course the Stalinist (and Leninist)
Conception of socialism, is quite differ- In building their Party the Communists
So to prevent the British and French set- ent from that of the anarchists. It is cen- placed a lot of emphasis on Catalonia as
tling their differences with Hitler at the tral to anarchism that the masses take this was the heartland of the revolution.
expense of the Soviets, in order to guar- control and run society through a system The collectivisation movement seriously
antee that the Franco-Soviet Pact would of councils. For the Stalinists socialism upset the middle classes. Small busi-
not fall by the wayside and in order to entails nationalising everything and nesses were closed and everywhere ‘mid-
conclude similar pacts with the govern- turning over the running of society to the dle-men’ found their role abolished as the
ments of other countries, notably Britain, State, which will be dominated by the workers committees took over distribu-
it was essential that governments hos- Party. Control passes into the hands of tion. The middle classes would have
tile to German aims in Eastern Europe professionals, technicians and bureau- turned to their traditional parties but
should be brought to power. It was to this crats who begin to develop their own class viewed them as incapable of stemming
end that the Popular Front line was interests. Even if the Stalinists had de- the collectivisation movement. The Com-
adopted at the 7th World Congress of the cided to fight for ‘socialism’ they would munist Party seemed the only party se-
Comintern in August 1935. This body, still have had to undermine the anar- rious about protecting their property or
also known as the Third International, chists. getting it back from the workers. One
collected together all the Communist former Communist commented “In
This policy of wooing the British and
Parties under Russian leadership. Murcia and elsewhere I saw that our plac-
French ruling classes was from the be-
ards and leaflets appealed for shopkeep-
Popular Fronts ginning doomed to failure - not only be-
ers’ membership with the promise of ab-
cause of their military unpreparedness
The immediate aim of this policy was to solute support for private property”.
but because of their belief that if they
bring the middle classes and sections of
became involved at this stage in a war Leaps and Bounds
the bosses into a wide anti-fascist peo-
with Hitler, both they and the Nazis
ples front. To do this Communist Parties Membership of the Communist Party
would be weakened and thus the position
were to play down revolutionary politics. grew in leaps and bounds. Within a few
of Russia would be enhanced. At all times
This was to be a struggle to preserve months of the outbreak of the war 76,700
right up to the outbreak of W.W.II the
bourgeois democracy; and to attract mid- peasant proprietors and tenant farmers
British sought to come to terms with Hit-
dle class republican and liberal parties along with 15,485 members of the urban
ler which would leave him free to attack
extreme positions were never adopted. middle classes had joined up. Its influ-
Russia in the East.
ence among these layers went far beyond
The Popular Front policy was quite suc-
Navy these figures as thousands of members
cessful. Early in 1936 Popular Front gov-
of the intermediate classes, without ac-
ernments were elected in France and The activities of the Navy, which had re-
tually joining the Party, placed them-
Spain. The programmes of these govern- mained loyal to the Republic, were se-
selves under its wing. As a means of pro-
ments were very moderate. In Spain a verely curtailed so as not to upset Anglo-
tecting the interests of the urban middle
socialist proposal that the land be nation- French interests in the Straight of Gibral-
classes in Catalonia the Communists or-
alised was dropped because of republican tar. The navy had been very successful
ganised 18,000 tradesmen,
opposition. There the Popular Front con- in harassing Franco’s base in Morocco but
handicraftmen and small manufacturers
sisted of the Republican Party, the Re- their activities were halted to keep the
into an organisation called the C.E.P.C.I
publican Union, the Socialist Party, the two foreign powers happy. In line with
Solidaridad Obrero (Workers Solidarity)
POUM, the Syndicalist Party, Basque this the Republican government refused
the paper of the CNT commented that
and Catalan nationalists (who saw their to give Morocco its independence and
some of those in this body were “intran-
autonomy under threat from the right) thus deprive Franco of his base - To do
sigent employers, ferociously anti- la-
and of course the Communist Party. this would have upset British and French
bour”. By March 1937 the Communist
colonial interests in North Africa. The
When the Civil War broke out Stalin’s Party had 250,000 members.
example of Spanish Morocco could have
instructions were clear. All of the Com-
given other subject nations ideas. Indeed Other measures were also taken to ex-
munists’ efforts were to be directed to one
at one stage the government offered to tend its influence - Only four days after
end - winning the support of Britain and
give Britain and France interests in the military uprising, the Communists
France and persuading them to drop their
Spanish Morocco in exchange for their merged with the Catalan Socialists to
neutrality. A non-intervention agreement
intervention. form the PSUC. The local UGT came
had been signed in August 1936 with the
under PSUC dominion. Leading mem-
hope of preventing the extension of the The revolution that had broken out was
bers of both the Socialist Party and the
conflict. Stalin believed that if Britain of supreme embarrassment to the Com-
UGT in other areas defected to the Com-
and France were to drop this policy the munists. Whatever chance they had of
munists, some secretly. Many members
Civil War could ultimately develop into winning over Britain and France was
of the Socialist Party could see little dif-
a much larger conflict (Germany and lessened by the fact that a social revolu-
ference between their line and that of the
Italy were already giving military aid to tion had started. There was no way the
Communists winning the war came be-
the fascists). This conflict, from which British and French governments would
fore the revolution, conciliatory attitudes
Russia would remain aloof would bring intervene on the side of revolutionaries.
towards foreign powers, etc. - But because
the warring parties to the point of mu- Thus the revolution was to be hidden and
the Communists had the stronger Party
tual exhaustion and the Russian bosses eventually suppressed. The power of the
apparatus (reinforced as it was by Mos-
would then emerge as the new masters collectives and militias was to be
cow) it was able to recruit at the expense
of Europe. Thus the revolutionary aspects smashed.
of the Socialists. Many joined because of
of the Civil War were to be denied and,
At the outbreak of the Civil War there its “proselytising zeal, immensely skillful
the struggle was to be portrayed (and was
were 40,000 members of the Spanish propaganda, its vigour, its organising
to become), a struggle that- went no fur-
Communist Party. The question natu- capacity and the prestige it derived from
ther than basic democratic demands. Ini-
Soviet arms”. Russians not only supplied arms but also
military advisors and technicians who
The Communists gained control of the
gradually took over the running of the
JSU (United Socialist Youth). This group-
ing resulted from a merger of the Com-
munists and Socialist youth organisa- Stalinists will tell you that Russia pro-
tions. It had 50,000 members and was vided arms right from the beginning. This
formed shortly before the war began. is a lie - Stalin at first agreed to the non-
Most of the leading members of the So- intervention pact for fear of antagonis-
cialist Youth defected to the Communists ing the West. The first arms did not ar-
with the merger and thus ensured Com- rive until October and then it was out of
munist control of the new organisation. fear that German and Italian arms would
give a decisive edge to the fascists. Aid
It would be wrong to suggest that the
was given “covertly and in order to limit
counter- revolution that came was only
the possibility of involving Russia in a
as a result of the line and activities of
war” (Krivitsky In Stalin’s Secret Serv-
the Communists. The Republicans and
ice p. 81 - Krivitsky was Stalin’s Chief of
Socialists agreed with them. The Repub-
Intelligence in Western Europe). Because
licans, who lacked any real base among
of this fear of involvement in war with
the masses, retired to the background
Germany and Italy, aid was limited to
and ceded to the Communists the deli-
bolstering the resistance until such time
cate job of opposing the social revolution
as Britain and France might intervene.
and defending the middle classes. Even
This aid had to be paid for - the Spanish
Largo Caballero, who became Prime Min-
gold reserve was moved to Moscow. of the army through the medium of po-
ister in August, the one time left wing
litical commissars. As most of these were
Socialist and leader of the UGT, declared The Communists knew that if a far reach-
Stalinists they controlled the flow of po-
on forming the government that it was ing counter-revolution was to be enforced
litical papers to the front. Invariably the
“necessary to sacrifice revolutionary lan- the State, with their support, would have
anarchist papers were held up. All the
guage to win the friendship of the demo- to regain control of the army and the po-
soldiers read were the lies of the Com-
cratic powers” and the “Spanish govern- lice. There was no point in telling work-
munist Party.
ment is not fighting for socialism but for ers to drop collectivisation and give up
democracy and constitutional rule”. Al- their arms if this order could not be im- Not only the army was rebuilt but also
though Caballero did not go all the way posed. All States rest on this use of force the police, especially the hated Civil
with the Communists there were many and that is why a successful revolution Guards who had been a bulwark of re-
in his party, even his closest allies, who can only be made when the people are pression against the CNT. They were now
worked for the Communist line against armed. to be called the National Republican
the social revolution. Guard. The Assault Guards were re- es-
Because of Soviet aid it was easy for the
tablished and had 28,000 recruits by the
It must also be stated that the participa- Communists to gain control of the armed
beginning of December. The Carabineros,
tion of members of the CNT in the gov- forces. It was not because of the amount
who were the border police in charge of
ernment helped the growing counter- of arms sent but the fact that the Soviets
customs and under the control of Minis-
revolution. They entered the Catalan gov- were the major purveyors of war materi-
ter of Finance Negrin (a known Commu-
ernment in September (it must be re- als. The Navy and Air Minister, Prieto,
nist sympathiser) grew to 40,000 mem-
membered that Catalonia was semi- au- often made fun of his office declaring that
bers. Before the War there were only
tonomous) and the national government he “was neither a Minister or anything
16000 of them and that was in the whole
in November 1936. This will be dealt with else because he received no obedience
of Spain. Negrin’s under- secretary made
in more detail in the final chapter, suf- from the air force. The real Air Minister
it clear what their role was “You are the
fice to say their participation lent the was the Russian General Duglas”.
guardians of the state and those vision-
government a certain credibility with the
Militarisation aries who believe that a chaotic situation
masses. The key element in proving to
of social indiscipline and licentiousness
the world that the fight in Spain was sim- Because of this control of arms the Com-
is permissible are utterly mistaken be-
ply to restore democracy, to rebuild the munists, supported by the others, en-
cause the army of the people, as well as
shattered state machine and return to the forced militarisation. The militia system
you Carabineros, will know how to pre-
government the authority and power that was broken up. A regular army was re-
vent it”.
was in the hands of the armed workers. built with officers, regimentation, salut-
CNT participation served to put a check ing and differential rates of pay. The mi- The state was giving itself a monopoly of
on the masses and make them believe litias who refused to come under the com- force. The workers’ patrols which had
they had a stake in the government and mand of the War Ministry (and many sprung up in July were disbanded. Work-
should defend it. CNT and POUM militias did refuse) were ers were ordered to hand in their arms
starved of arms. They were left with no and those who declined to do so were con-
Russian Arms
choice. sidered ‘fascists’. It was said that these
The point about the Communist Party is arms were needed at the front. While it
The new army was built under Commu-
that they directed the counter-revolution. is true that arms were needed at the front
nist control. They knew that without con-
They called the shots. They were the only this argument was only put forward as a
trol of the army they could not hope to
people who were clear about the ‘neces- means of disarming revolutionary work-
control the anti-fascist camp. Because the
sity’ for the counter-revolution and had ers. There were plenty of arms under the
Fifth Regiment (the major Stalinist con-
the determination to carry it through. control of the police. George Orwell ob-
trolled unit) took a lead in disbanding,
Their ability to do this was derived from served after the May Days in Barcelona
the Communists gained control of five of
the prestige that came with the fact that “the Anarchists were well aware that
the six brigades of the new army. They
Russia was the only country supplying even if they surrendered their arms, the
also gained control of the General Com-
major quantities of arms to the Repub- PSUC would retain theirs, and this is in
missariat of War which was set up for
lic. (Mexico was the only other country fact what happened after the fighting was
the purpose of exercising political control
to help, supplying a small quantity). The over. Meanwhile actually visible on the
streets, there were quantities of arms This showed how far the ‘socialists’ of the efit them. As it was many lived in fear of
which would have been very welcome at Communist Party were prepared to go to the Stalinists smashing their collectives.
the front, but which were being retained follow Stalin’s instructions. A more sin- Giving the land to the peasants and mak-
for the ‘non-political’ police forces in the ister aspect of this was the existence in ing that a central plank of the fight would
rear”. (Homage to Catalonia p.151). Spain of prisons belonging to the Soviet have deprived Franco of many soldiers
secret police, the GPU (forerunners of the who were the sons and daughters of peas-
The counter-revolution now moved
KGB). Their existence has been estab- ants.
against the Collectives. On January 7th
lished beyond all doubt. In December
1937 the dissolution of the workers sup- Give freedom to Morocco. Organising an
1936 Pravda declared “As for, Catalonia,
ply committees was declared. Distribu- uprising there against Franco would have
the purging of the Trotskyists and the
tion of food was handed over to the deprived him of a central source of sup-
Anarcho-Syndicalists has begun, it will
G.E.P.C.I. This led to shortages and plies and arms. Appeal directly to the
be conducted with the same energy with
hoarding to inflate prices. For the first European working class (whose govern-
which it was conducted in the USSR”.
time in the war Barcelona experienced ments had no interests in supporting -
hunger yet there was plenty of food. The Here is what Krivitsky had to say about the Spanish Revolution. Appeal to the
collectives were blamed but it was well the activities of the GPU in Spain, the French workers, who in 1937 were en-
known that if you joined the PSUC you decision to establish it having been taken tering the second year of an upsurge
could be guaranteed food. at an emergency conference in Moscow which had begun with mass strikes the
on September 14th. “The GPU had its previous year. Their action could have
own special prisons. Its units carried out prevented intervention against the revo-
Credit was withheld from those assassinations and kidnappings. It killed lution by France, and indeed Britain.
workplaces who refused to come under in hidden dungeons and made flying
Seize the gold reserves and expropriate
government control. As said earlier the raids. The Ministry of Justice had no
the banks. Use this money to buy arms
banks had not been taken over so the authority over the GPU. It was a power
and make sure arms went to the fronts
government had a huge lever against the before which even some of the highest
where they were needed. These were the
workers. Nationalisation of major indus- officers in the Cabellero government
sort of things that should have been done.
tries was declared thus bringing them trembled. The Soviet Union seemed to
They were no guarantee of victory but
under government control. They claimed have a grip on loyalist Spain, as if it was
could have lit a spark which could have
this was necessary for the war effort. already a Soviet possession”. (In Stalin’s
ignited right throughout Europe and bro-
They claimed the collectives were ineffi- Secret Service p. 102).
ken the isolation of the Spanish Revolu-
cient and that each workplace was only
The aim was to eliminate revolutionar- tion. It could have marked a turning point
concerned with its own profits. It cannot
ies. Anybody who dared to speak out for the whole of Europe. Instead Spain
be denied there were problems with some
against what they were doing could be was to be yet another victim of fascism -
better off collectives. But the CNT was
the next to suffer. Nin, the leader of the and the Civil War a prelude to a bloody
aiming at co-ordination through
POUM, was murdered by the GPU as was world war. The Popular Front could not
socialisation under the control of the
Camillo Berneri, an Italian anarchist have carried out these actions because it
workers. To do this all private ownership
who was critical of the CNT leadership. was based on an alliance of classes. The
of the means of production would have to
He published a paper, Guerra di Classe, workers needed to take complete control.
end. Of course the Communists would not
which argued for a revolutionary war This was possible, especially in Catalo-
allow this as it threatened their cherished
against fascism. He was murdered by so nia where a regional congress of workers
middle classes.
called ‘socialists’ for his principled revo- councils should have been called to es-
On the land collectivisation was allowed lutionary position. In July 1937 60 mem- tablish a Workers Republic. This exam-
only for the lands of fascists, the estates bers of the CNT `disappeared’, a term ple would have been followed throughout
of those who supported the Republic were used then as now for those killed by the Spain and a revolutionary war could then
to be handed back. How far the Commu- secret police, though today it applies to have been fought. Not a war to put the
nists were prepared to go was illustrated the dictatorships of Latin America. Communists, Socialists and Republicans
by the invasion of Aragon. The Defence back in government but a war to liberate
Two Roads
Council of Aragon was declared illegal in the toiling masses.
August 1937. This declaration was fol- Thus two mutually exclusive ways of
But the working class did not take power.
lowed by the invasion led by General fighting fascism emerged. Firstly you
The CNT, which was in a central posi-
Lister’s (a PSUC member) 11th Division. could view it as the Stalinists and their
tion to do this, refused. It opted for col-
According to the CNT the land, farm im- supporters did. Go out of your way to pla-
laboration and supported decree after
plements, cattle and horses which had cate the bosses in England and France
decree undermining the revolution. Ob-
been confiscated from supporters of the and hope against hope they would inter-
jectively the leaders of the CNT and FAT
right wing were returned to their former vene. So fight it as a Civil War a war over
became counter-revolutionary. In a dual
owners. who were the legitimate rulers of Spain.
power situation either the workers over-
Relegate politics to a secondary role. Put
In some villages farms were deprived of throw the ruling class and take power or
revolutionary politics on the back burner.
the seed needed for sowing while 600 the ruling class regains control. There is
Tie up thousands of arms in the rear re-
CNT members were arrested. In all, 30% no middle way. The CNT in collaborat-
pressing the workers’ movement. Smash
of the collectives were destroyed and the ing could go only one way. Revolutions
collectivisation and sacrifice the gains of
sowing of crops was disrupted. As can be cannot be half made. The working class
the workers and peasants to the interna-
imagined nothing but hatred, resentment must assert itself or the revolution is
tional interests of Stalin.
and disillusionment resulted from this doomed. So why didn’t the anarchists
invasion and the repression that followed. Opposed to this was the view that a revo- take power? We will now turn to this.
The peasants began to wonder what they lutionary war should be fought. Make
were fighting for. The resultant disillu- revolutionary politics your central
sionment no doubt contributed to the col- weapon. Give the land and factories to Download and print out extra
lapse of the front a few months later. those who work them. Make propaganda copies of this pamphlet from
Similar attacks were made on the collec- behind the fascist lines. Give the peas-
tives in Levant and Castille. ants a real reason to fight Franco. Make
it clear that collectivisation would ben-
Chapter 4 - A Fresh Revolution
As said earlier Anarchists are against the state - all states, whether they be
liberal democratic, monarchist or totalitarian. Anarchists view the state (the
standing army, police, government, bureaucracy) as the organ through which
the ruling class maintains its control over the majority of the population.
Central to anarchism is the belief that the state must be smashed and re-
placed by a system based on workers’ and community councils. Delegates
from each workplace and community would go to regional councils which
would then send delegates to a national and, eventually, international coun-
cil. Delegates would be clearly mandated and all major decisions would be
made at assemblies of workers.

Often these councils spring up spontane- state.

ously or as organs of defence like the So-
A number of reasons were put forward
viets during the Russian revolution. Ini-
for this. Essentially they amounted to
tially they started out as strike commit-
swallowing the argument about Britain
tees but quickly developed into bodies on
and France. It was said that if a social
which the new society could be built. This
revolution was made it would be crushed
idea is central to anarchism. A free soci-
and no arms would be forthcoming from
ety cannot be built on the old structures,
the western powers (they never came
new ones have to be built through which
anyway!). They had decided that winning tee since the outbreak of the war. The aim
the producers can be directly represented.
the war and making the revolution were of this was to wrest control of the build-
Revolutions do not happen through par-
two different things and that winning the ing from the workers and to remove con-
liaments or governments, or trying to
war came first. That meant collaborat- trol of the telephone system from them.
take over the already existing state ma-
ing in the broad anti-fascist front “... in The telephonists had been able to keep
order to win the war and save our people tabs on what was going on by listening
The councils and collectives that emerged and the world, it (the CNT) is ready to in on the calls of government ministers.
during the Civil War, were the organs on collaborate with anyone in a directive It was also the beginning of an effort by
which the revolution could have been organ, whether this organ be called a the government to occupy strategic points
built. But they needed to be brought to- council or a government” (CNT, paper of in the city in preparation for an all-out
gether at a regional and national level so the CNT in the Madrid region, October attack.
the power of the workers and peasants 23rd 1936.)
The police captured the first floor because
could assert itself and push the regional
Another reason put forward was that by of the surprise nature of their attack but
and central governments aside. This
entering the government they could con- got no further. Firing started. Word
would have meant refusing to share
solidate the gains that had been made. spread like wildfire and within hours the
power with the remaining elements of the
They could “regulate the political life of local defence committees of the CNT-FAI
ruling class, it would have been a major
Spain by giving legal validity to the revo- went into action arming themselves and
step in making the revolution complete.
lutionary committees” (Juan Lopez, An- building barricades. The POUM sup-
C.N.T. archist Minister of Commerce). There ported them and soon the workers were
was even an argument put around that in control of most of the city. The govern-
The CNT refused to do this. After July
entry into government was only for in- ment had control of only the central area,
9th its leaders in Catalonia were called
ternational consumption, the revolution which could very easily have been taken.
into the office of Companys, the Prime
would still go on under the veil of legal
Minister of Catalonia. Basically he told In other areas of Catalonia action was
them they were in control of the region also taken. Civil Guards were disarmed
and he would be their faithful servant if For these reasons anti-fascist unity was and offices of the PSUC were seized as a
they took over. They refused. Instead maintained and anything that threat- “preventive measure”. There was no fir-
they called for the formation of the Cen- ened to split this unity was repressed. ing on the first night and by the second
tral Committee of Anti- Fascist Militias. The government knew it was very useful day the workers were spreading the bar-
This was the first step in collaboration. to have CNT representation, it was an ricades further into the suburbs. Also
All parties including Republicans were additional means of controlling the involved were the Libertarian Youth
represented on this body. It existed side masses. However it must be pointed out (FIJL). Being in control the workers could
by side with the Catalan government. that the decision to enter the government have taken over but an order from Casa
The Central Committee was displaced in was taken by the National Committee CNT (the H.Q.) forbade all action and
September I 936 when the CNT entered without any consultation with the rank ordered workers to leave the barricades.
that government. In November four and file membership. This was a real
The leaders of the CNT entered into ne-
members of the CNT entered the national break from tradition, the necessity of act-
gotiations with the government, which
government in Madrid. Two of them were ing with a minimum of delay was the rea-
had the effect of giving the government
also in the FAI. son given by the leadership.
forces more time to fortify buildings and
This is a far cry from what was stated in May Days to occupy the Cathedral towers. All day
the CNT-FAI Information Bulletin of Tuesday (May 4th) the Regional Commit-
The role of the CNT played in government
September 1936. In an article entitled tee of the CNT appealed again and again
was clearly illustrated by what became
The Futility of Government it said that over loudspeakers for the barricades to
known as the May Days. On May 3rd
the expropriations that were taking place be dismantled and for a return to work.
1937, three lorry loads of police led by the
would lead ipso facto to the “liquidation As these appeals were made negotiations
Stalinist Salas, Commissar of Public Or-
of the bourgeois state which would die of went on and appeals came into Casa CNT
der, attempted to take over the telephone
asphyxiation”. Their members were now from other workers centres who were now
exchange in Barcelona which had been
joining the government of this very same coming under attack. The CNT govern-
controlled by a joint CNT-UGT commit-
ment ministers were recalled from Va- hands of the workers, when the militia is tion in anarchism. “The body will be or-
lencia (where the central government was controlled by the unions, when, in fact, ganised as follows: members of the revo-
now situated) to make further appeals to one is in the process of making a revolu- lutionary Junta will be elected by demo-
the workers. tion from the bottom up, how is it possi- cratic vote in the union organisations.
ble to give this a legal basis?”. Account is to be taken of the number of
The negotiations which went on, led to
comrades away at the front. These com-
nothing as regards control of the tel- In March Jaime Balius, one of the lead-
rades must have a right to representa-
ephone phone exchange. The workers ing militants of the FoD, had said that
tion. Posts are to come for re- election so
were ordered off the barricades and un- “We anarchists have arrived at the lim-
as to prevent anyone growing attached
fortunately they went. On Thursday its of our concessions... not another step
to them. And the trade union assemblies
(May 6th) the building was vacated and back. It is the hour of action. Save the
will exercise control over the junta’s ac-
the PSUC took it over. On the same day revolution. If we continue to give up our
the railway station was taken over by the position there is no doubt that in a short
PSUC. The CNT had also controlled that. time we shall be overwhelmed. It is for These were no self-appointed group of
This happened throughout Catalonia. this fundamental reason that it is neces- leaders, but a democratic organ through
sary to develop a new orientation in our which workers could run society and com-
On Friday 5,000 Assault Guards arrived
movement”. plete the revolution. There was no repre-
from Valencia. The repression that fol-
sentation for non-working class organi-
lowed was severe. The May days left 500 By this new direction was meant an end
sations or political parties. This was a far
dead and 1,100 wounded. Hundreds more to a-political anarchism. “To beat Franco
cry from Lenin’s idea of the dictatorship
were killed during the “mopping up “ of -we need to crush the bourgeoisie and its
of the proletariat (read Party) which had
the next few weeks. Stalinist and Socialist allies. The capital-
such disastrous consequences in Russia.
ist state must be destroyed totally and
It was in May that control over public
there must be installed workers’ power The FoD was a break with the traditional
order in Catalonia passed to Valencia and
depending on rank and file workers’ com- a-politicism of the CNT. They recognised
in effect Catalan autonomy ceased to ex-
mittees. A political anarchism has failed”. that state power would not just disappear
ist. After May the CNT ministers along
During the May Days they called for the but would have to be smashed and re-
with Cabellero were disposed of. The new
setting up of a Revolutionary Junta. They placed with the power of workers’ coun-
government was clearly under Stalinist
called for the disarming of the police, the cils. They accepted that revolutions were
control. The CNT ministers had served
socialisation of the economy, the dissolv- totalitarian in so far as “What happens
their function and were no longer neces-
ing of the political parties that had turned is that the various aspects of the revolu-
sary. The counter-revolution broke out in
against the working class. In effect they tion are progressively dealt with, but with
earnest after May with decree after de-
called for workers’ power. They called on the proviso that the class which repre-
cree undermining the revolutionary com-
the workers to stay at the barricades until sents the new order of things is the one
mittees. This was now possible as the
they had control of Catalonia. On Tues- with the most responsibility.”
backbone of the revolution - the Catalan
day May 6th the Regional Committee of
workers had been crushed. They understood the defects of syndical-
the CNT issued a statement disowning
ism. Nothing can be taken away from the
Friends of Durruti the FoD as ‘agents provocateurs’. The
militancy of the CNT. The rank and file
same day the FoD containing a blister-
During the May Days an alternative to literally tore down capitalism and put
ing attack on the CNT leadership and
the policies of the CNT National Commit- workers’ and peasants’ collectives in its
saying a revolutionary opportunity had
tee emerged in the form of the Friends of place. They fought heroically in the mili-
been wasted. The FoD were expelled from
Durruti (FoD). This group, formed in tias and the members of the CNT sur-
the CNT at the end of May. Their offices
March 1937, consisted of CNT militants passed all others with their bravery.
were taken over by the police and their
opposed to the policy of militarising the
organisation was outlawed. But because of the CNT’s a-politicism
militias. They took the name of Durruti
after the factories and lands had been
who had led the Aragon militias and had Junta
sleazed they did not know what to do
defended the social revolution to the hilt.
You may be surprised by the idea of an- next. For them the state should have died
When it was suggested to him that the
archists calling for a ‘junta’, but what was a ‘natural death’. But it didn’t. Although
CNT should enter the government to le-
meant by it? In their pamphlet Towards the CNT had great ideas of what the an-
galise the gains of the revolution, he re-
a Fresh Revolution issued in mid-1938, archist future would look like and on the
sponded “When the workers expropriate
the FoD explained what the junta would need for the working class itself to make
the bourgeoisie, when one attacks foreign
be. They described it as a slight varia- the revolution, it could not make a link
property, when public order is in the
between the revolutionary situation and
the goal of libertarian communism. As

More free anarchist publications online the FoD stated “We (CNT) did not have a
concrete programme. We had no idea
where we were going. We had lyricism
This pamphlet is a print out of a PDF file from the Struggle site. aplenty but when all is said and done we
There are dozens more PDF files at this site that anyone can print did not know what to do with our masses
out and distribute for free. To get instructions and download them of workers or how to give effect to the
popular elffusion”. They held that the
go to CNT ought to have “leapt into the driv-
er’s seat in the country, delivering a se-
vere coup de grace to all that is outmoded
and archaic”.
The CNT did not understand this. They
posed the question as one of democratic
collaboration - or an ‘anarchist dictator-
ship’. Garcia Oliver, one of the CNT Min-
isters and an FAI member, said “The
CNT and FAI decided on collaboration
and democracy, renouncing revolutionary Not a ‘we know it all’ leadership but a their behaviour highlights the effect that
totalitarianism which would lead to the leadership of ideas. An understanding of power can have on even those who lay
strangulation of the revolution by the what has gone wrong and what needs to claim to anarchism. Spain provided im-
anarchist and confederal dictatorship”. be done. That the FoD did not set them- portant lessons for anarchists. It showed
They were afraid of taking the reins. But selves up as “all-knowing leaders’ is clear the inadequacy of syndicalism, the need
it was not a question of imposing an `an- In their proposal for a Junta. for political anarchism and the need for
archist dictatorship’ but of creating new an anarchist political organisation. We
The Spanish Revolution does not negate
organs through which the revolutionary have to understand that the state and
anarchism. If anything, long before Po-
masses could assert their power. Syndi- political power does not ‘die’; it has to be
land, Czechoslovakia or Hungary it
calism could not see this as it believes smashed.
showed the bankruptcy of Stalinism and
the unions (i.e. the CNT) are the bodies
the State Capitalism of Russia. The ac- Above all. Spain showed what ordinary
upon which the new society would be
tivities of the Stalinists were far from people can do given the right conditions.
what real socialists would have done. The next time somebody says workers are
Because the state did not die the CNT stupid and could not take over the run-
On the other hand the anarchist masses
felt they had to participate in it to have ning of society, point to Spain. Show them
threw themselves into a fight against fas-
some control. They ended up concluding what the workers and peasants (most of
cism, and its cause, capitalism. Unfortu-
this was the only way they could have whom were illiterate) did. Tell them An-
nately the revolution was not complete,
some say. They went even further and archism is possible.
the CNT leaders held it back. Indeed
some of the drivel they came out with was
a direct result of their need to justify their
participation. Take for example “At the
present time, the government, as the in-
strument that controls the organs of the
state no longer represents a body that CNT (Confederacion Nacional de revolutionaries but was essentially a
divides society into classes. And both will Trabajo) - anarchist-Syndicalist trade party that vacillated between reformism
oppress the people even less now that union founded in 1911. The most militant and revolution. The writer George Orwell
members of the CNT have intervened”. and revolutionary union. Sought to or- fought in their militia.
(Solidaridad Obrero, November 4th ganise all workers into one big union.
1936). PSOE (Partido Socialista Obrero
Based itself on the ideas of anarchism
Espanol) - known as the ‘Socialist Party’.
Alternative and revolutionary syndicalism.
A democratic party formed in 1879.
The FoD was an expression of opposition FAI (Federacion Anarquista Iberica) -
PUSC (Partilo Socialista Unificado de
to this kind of thought. Not only in their loose federation of anarchist groups in
Cataluna) - the United Catalan Socialist
paper, The Friends of the People, but in Spain and Portugal, formed in 1927. Pri-
Party. Formed in 1936 from a merger of
countless local publications of the CNT, mary purpose was to combat reformist
Socialist and Communist groups. Affili-
and indeed of the UGT, POUM and Lib- tendencies in the CNT and maintain it’s
ated to the Commintern and effectively
ertarian Youth you can find such opposi- anarchist profile. Also acted as the ‘armed
the PCE in Catalonia.
tion. However it must be said this was wing’ of the CNT at the time employers
only given a clear expression when it was were hiring pistoleros to murder leading Republican Party - party of the radical
too late. The FoD did not have enough CNT members. In so far as the FAI had middle class founded in 1934.
time to win the masses to their position. a theory about the role of a revolution-
Republican Union - a split from the gov-
They understood the need for a ary organisation it was a belief that a
ernment party of 1933-35.
regroupment to take on the leadership of minority could, by insurrection, light a
the CNT. “The vanguard i.e. the revolu- spark that would inflame the masses for UGT (Union General de Trabajadores) -
tionary militants and Friends of Durruti, revolution. They organised risings in trade union connected with the PSOE
P0UM and the Youth must regroup to January 1932, January 1933 and Decem-
elaborate a programme of proletarian ber 1933 all of which were unsuccessful.
revolutionaries”. FIJL (Federaction Iberica de Juventudes
Here we see a recognition of the need for Libertarias) - anarchist youth organisa-
a revolutionary minority to organise it- tion Laid out and published by the Workers
self to provide leadership to the masses. Friends of Durruti - left opposition group Solidarity Movement, PO Box 1528,
within the CNT, FAI and FIJL founded Dublin 8, Ireland
in early 1937. Was against CNT entry
into government and argued for complete
social revolution as the only way to de-
feat Franco. Named after the famous
anarchist militia leader killed in Novem-
ber 1936.
Mujeres Libres - anarchist womens’ or-
PCE (Partido Communista de Espana) -
pro- Russian Communist Party founded
in 1921.
POUM (Partido Obrero de Unificacion
Marxista) - anti-Stalinist Communist
party formed in 1935 with the joining
together of a Trotskyist group and dissi-
dents from the PCE. Contained many
Junta of workers’ delegates. Invasion
Chronology of Events of Catalonia by government Assault
1931 September 30 Decree militarising the
May 17 New government formed un-
militias, creation of Popular Army.
April Republic proclaimed. Alfonso XIII der Dr. Juan Negrin (a Socialist mem-
goes into exile. October 12 Arrival of first Russian aid. ber but Communist sympathiser).
June Election of Republican/Social November CNT joins the central gov- June 16 POUM outlawed and its lead-
Democratic government. ernment. ers arrested.
November 6 Government flees Madrid August 10 Invasion of Aragon by gov-
for Valencia. ernment forces under General Lister.
Council of Aragon dissolved and collec-
November 20 Durruti dies in the de-
November Right wing electoral victory, tives smashed (This contributes to the
fence of Madrid.
beginning of Bienno Negro. collapse of the Aragon Front March
December Organisation of mixed bri- 1938).
gades of the new Popular Army
December 17 POUM ousted from
October United but isolated workers Generalitat government.
rising in Asturias crushed by the army. April 3 Franco forces reach Catalan
December 23 Popular support forces
the government to recognise the Coun-
cil of Aragon. April 14 Republican zone cut in two by
June 7th Congress of the Commintern
July 24 Popular Army launches Ebro
approves tactic of Popular Fronts. For- 1937
mation of Popular Front proposed by
February 5-24 Famous battle of
PCE. November 26 End of Ebro battle with
Jarama where many Irish volunteers
Popular Army having to retreat.
fall fighting against the Francoist en-
circlement of Madrid.
May 3-7 The MAY DAYS in Barcelona. 1939
January Popular Front pact signed by
Anarchists and POUM confronted by
the Republicans, Socialists, Commu- January 26 Fall of Barcelona.
Communist and government forces.
nists, UGT, POUM and the tiny
Appearance of Friends of Durruti lit- February 5 Government politicians be-
Syndicalist Party.
erature calling for a Revolutionary gin fleeing to France.
February Popular Front wins election.
February 10 Conquest of Catalonia
April Socialist and Communist youth completed.
organisations merge and become JSU
March 27 Fall of Madrid.
under Stalinist control.
April 1 End of Civil War.
May CNT Congress in Saragossa.
June Popular Front government
elected in France. French workers
launch mass strikes and factory occu-
pations. narchist news
July 17-20 Military uprising begins in
Morocco. Start of the Civil War. on the internet
July 18 Barrio (Republican Union) be-
It’s not surprising that the national media - owned by the state or by
comes Prime Minister.
the super rich - refuses to advertise anarchist news or activity. But
July 19 Barrio resigns. Jose Giral (left now you can bypass the censors if you have access to the internet.
republican) becomes Prime Minister.
Uprising defeated in Barcelona.
In your web browser go to
July 20 Uprising defeated in Madrid.
This page, designed to be friendly for new internet users shows you
Committee of Anti-Fascist Militias
key sites on the internet linked with Irish anarchism, international
formed in Barcelona.
and Irish radical news and a huge variety of anarchist history and
July 24 Catalan militia columns head theory.
for Aragon.
To get regular news and announce-
September 4 Fall of Giral government. ments from the WSM by email
Largo Caballero (Socialist Party) forms send a message to
new government. with the text subscribe ainriail.
September 26 CNT joins Generalitat
(Catalan government). This free service is a low volume list
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