In this 3 part series on Anarchism in Spain, discover what another possible world through the eyes of Orwell, Durrutti and in this post: Ethel MacDonald
Yet for anyone who has delved into the origins of the 2nd Republic in Spain and the issues being fought for during the early 1930's there was another agenda, a parallel struggle as important as anything that was happening in the barracks or the battlefield.
This was the struggle for another way of life. Not merely the defence of the new "democratic Republic" that after 5 years had failed to counter the hardships, inequalities and injustices of the masses. This was no simple "left-right" ideological war. This was a struggle to forge something altogether new, something previously never seen - something - as Noam Chomsky has argued - that would represent an entirely new way of living in this world.
The Promise of Anarchism
Read more about Ethel and watch the biographical film on YoutUbe below....
Ethel MacDonald: The Scottish Anarchist in Spain
She arrives in the city 2 months before Orwell will arrive, and like him, she sees not a country in preparation for war, but a people who have at last shaken off the shackles and constraints of the new republic and were instead creating a completely new order that effortlessly takes control of industry, society, government, commerce, health and education.
This is not the anarchism ridiculed in the popular press, but the self-educated organisations that sprung up to run a city and a country by the very people themselves, without the hierarchies and divisions that had plagued the radical movements of other times.
Ethel found in the city a deeply rooted sense of liberation. In modes of dress, in the dignity of work, in the emphasis on schooling and social organisation - all was changing before her eyes. Even in language there were changes: the word "mujer" was being changed for "compañera"
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"Peasants formed communes on land confiscated from the old ruling elite. Three million men, women and children lived and worked in them. Anarchists had taken over the factories. Police were replaced with civilian self-defence forces. Three quarters of the economy was under anarchist control. Hotels, shops, barber shops and restaurants were collectivised and managed by their workers – often increasing productivity and profit. The maxim ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his need’ was put into practice. Women won the right to divorce and abortion, and the idea of ‘free love’ became popular in the sense [of] the right to enter into a relationship without the permission of State or Church."
The Growing Influence of Russia
Ethel does so, but surprisingly for those who offer her the work, she does so from the perspective of an anarchist and her reports are inspiring and motivating to her "compañeros/as on the front. However, as she reports on the revolutions succeses and failures, the civil war slowly shifts ground and the relatively small Communist Party becmes a leading power as Spain receives no support other than that from Russia.
But Russia has its own agenda, it needs to placate Britain and France to get their support against Hitlers threats to the USSR. Stalin instructs the Communist party in Spain to halt the anarchist revolution for two reasons: First because Russia fears Britain and French resistance to such a radical movement and Stalin needs their support. Secondly, Stalin fears the ideological influence of Anarchism - with its immense influence and popularity and its close association with Trotskiest groups such as the POUM - in which Orwell is fighting - the anarchists represent an alternative and immediate path to social revolution, one that seems not to require the authoritarianism of Russia's own state party.
As Orwell describes in Homage to Catalonia, the Communists grew in influence each day and with the promise of weapons, they quickly became the persuasive force behind the Spanish Government's decisions. (Read more about Orwell and Spain here)
Arrested and Imprisoned
You can watch the biographical series on her extraordinary life on Youtube. Below is episode 1.
Next on Anarchism in Spain: The charismatic Anarchist leader Durruti and his story to spark the only anarchist revolution in the history of the world. His radical plans to steal the Republic's gold reserves in Madrid in order to fund arms for the people, and his controversial death in the defence of the city.
For more on Spanish History and the hopes and fears of other times, see Bethune the ambulance driver, 1984 and the Spanish Civil War, Laurie Lee, and more on the Second Republic in the book: Inside The Tortilla. You can also catch the audioboo version of this post here.