Part One: The Backdrop
I find my relationship with Spain - yet again - on the brink of change. My relationship seems to shift back and forth weekly - like the ferry from Portsmouth to Bilbao - as reports emerge of corruption, royal scandal and the gradual dissolving of social liberties.
But What if?
Tap Your toes to the Anarchist Anthem from the 1930's
What if we thought again about leadership? What if we could say to those in government: "justify your position to govern us, and if we are not satisfied by your explanation, we are at liberty to throw you on to the scrap heap".
Sounds fun doesn't it, but maybe a little idealistic? Well, hold on to your horses because it is not only an attractive theory, it was a working theory in Spain during the early 1930’s. This is the story of a struggle that was silenced and a genuine revolution from below.
A Revolution from Below
Composed of three special investigations, the Gazpachomonk offers up a Mediterranean diet of text, classic videos and films as well as audio files - (See "To the Barricades" above). So put on the kettle, tilt back your Durruti hat, stick your feet up on the dog and enjoy The Silenced Struggle.
Part 1: Backdrop to a Silenced Struggle
To understand this man we have to first take a look at the background that produced such a figure. A background whereby freedoms were hard fought for and often short lived. Freedoms that were restrained by the military and the church as well as by the state. Freedoms that were denied to the majority, but revelled in by the minority.
At the beginning of the last century Spain was still a feudal state. However, with the emerging industrial areas in Barcelona and Bilbao, a new workforce was growing rapidly which was in need of a new union of workers to consolidate the numerous disparate representative groups. So in 1910 the Confederacion Nacional Trabajadores or CNT was created, based on the fundamental principles of Anarchism.
Anarchy in Iberia
All sounds good in theory, you may be saying to yourself, but where are the practical examples? Well, we are coming to that soon enough. Just remember that although all progressive political forces agree on opposing the exploitation of man by man, only anarchism opposes the domination of man over man. Ok, have another sip of tea and lets get back to Spain...
Well, the same thing happened here. Primo de Rivera bans the CNT only to find memberships increases and new factions get developed, such as the new Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI). Created on a beach in Valencia in 1927, ( one can only assume they had all just been for a swim) this radical division had its own newspaper called: Tierra y Libertad (from which Ken Loach took the name for his film) and focussed on Direct Action.
The 2nd Republic
As the new republic got underway, the Anarchist Unions push onward to overturn the old corrupt system. Education is offered free in los Ateneos and new publications offering new, radical perspectives on alternative living appear everywhere.
Organisations spring up such as the anarchist women's organization Mujeres Libres that establishes equal opportunities for women - unique in Europe for the time. Abortion is permitted, nudism and naturalism is promoted and free-partnerships can now at last be formed outside of marriage.
Even the vocabulary is changing: Esposa for example changes to compañera. Buenos Dias is dropped for salud. And to the great relief of the grammatically challenged learners of the language, Tú is used in exchange for usted.
"I don't Need no Education...."
Such was the overwhelming popularity of the new movements that in Barcelona 1/2 of all workers are now affiliated to the CNT - whose ranks have now swollen to half a million.
The Anarchists call on the Republic to go forward to a full social revolution. People argue. Threats are made. Names are called. Fingers are pointed. Posters appear everywhere demanding change. Some people wait for permission to change things, but who ever waits for Permission to have a Revolution?
In Barcelona there is a fine tradition of not waiting for permission that will never come. Here, the anarchists are not simple Centralist Republicans happy to participate in the painstakingly slow process of reform. The anarchists are not interested in defending a bourgeois republic based in Madrid. This military uprising is a challenge to all they had gained as part of the social libertarian movement in Catalunya and if these gains are under threat from the army, then so be it. They must be defended by the people themselves.
The CNT demands arms for the people to defend their society, but the government refuses. So the anarchists (not waiting for permission) storm the barracks and arm themselves. They then release all political prisoners and turn Barcelona into what is effectively the vanguard of the Iberian Revolution. Change is no longer an academic subject to be debated, it is instead the consequence of Direct Action. In the city, 80% of all medium to large sized businesses are collectivized.
Homage and all that...
On to this scene steps George Orwell. Innocently arriving to cover the fighting as a journalist - he watches in amazement as the city is run by and for the people themselves. He joins the POUM: The Trotskyist militia, though he is later to write: "As far as my purely personal preferences went I would have liked to join the Anarchists."
Outside the city of Barcelona there is no waiting for permission either. Many small towns are run by libertarian groups, where even money is abolished, land expropriated, industry passed into the hands of the people and all work collectivized. The fruits of labour are distributed to all and there is no charge for light, water, food, cloth, education or housing.
The Anarchist revolution is underway and unlike the Russian revolution that was characterised by a vanguard political elite (Bolsheviks), in Catalunya and other places in Spain over 3 million people are working and living without a police force, ruling politicians, bosses, Cardinals, Popes nor Royal Spongers.
No-one waited for permission. No-one waited for approval. Change arose from the bottom up and thereafter was organised horizontally, not vertically.
"The anarchists were still in virtual control of Catalonia and the revolution was still in full swing ... It was the first time that I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle ... every wall was scrawled with the hammer and sickle ... every shop and café had an inscription saying that it had been collectivized." "The Anarchists" (referring to the Spanish CNT and FAI) were "in control", tipping was prohibited by workers themselves, and servile forms of speech, such as "Señor" or "Don", were abandoned. "
The 1st (and only) Anarchist Revolution the World Has Ever Seen
This was a revolution that didn't need police, or priests or even revolutionaries. It was a revolution that increased output in collectivised factories despite rationing, and a revolution that set out new civil rights far and beyond any other country in the world.
Such a revolution was always going to be a threat - not just to the clerical or military right, but to the moderate left and, as Orwell was to discover, to the authoritarian left too - as we shall see in next weeks instalment.
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Join me next week for part 2 where we meet Durruti (At Last!) the inspirational leader of the movement and the man whose poster should be hanging on your bedroom wall.
And...to keep your Anarchist juices flowing, you might want to watch this few minutes....classic Chaplin dialogue.