What prompted a working class girl from Scotland to come to Spain during the civil war? What compelled her to side with the anarchist movement and what drove her - like George Orwell - to keep on fighting for the truth about what the struggle was really about?
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
It is astonishing how many accounts of the Spanish Civil War even today, portray that battle as a struggle between the forces of Fascism and the forces of Democracy.
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
In this short series on Anarchism in Spain, I shall be exploring this radical and immensely popular movement through the eyes of a few individuals that were driven not simply to defend the few hard-won rights in a fledging democracy, but to go further and implement a new society altogether. These individuals were not satisfied with the reformism of democracy, nor the authoritarianism of the Communist dreams, but individuals that articulated a new future that would shake the political forces across the globe and construct an uneasy alliance between left and right to undermine it, to capture and kill its leaders and finally to destroy its ideology, turning it into the sad parody it has become today.
Read more about Ethel and watch the biographical film on YoutUbe below....
Ethel MacDonald: The Scottish Anarchist in Spain
In 1936, with the civil war about to break out, one Scottish woman from Motherwell finds a job in a workers rights centre in Glasgow, helping distribute the radical newspaper: Regeneration. As the struggle in Spain intensifies, she is sent out to cover the imminent war from Barcelona.
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"
The Growing Influence of Russia
As her reports on the Catalan Revolution are sent home, Ethel MacDonald is offered a job on a radio station to send out reports to the rest of the world in English, and to speak directly to the International troops arriving to help the Spanish cause.
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
As the Communists begin to "clean-up" the anarchist revolution in Catalonia, Ethel MacDonald is placed under arrest and is imprisoned by the very people she came to help. She is finally released and leaves Spain via a British ship ported at Barcelona. But outside Spain the anarchist journalist continues to travel and publicly speak to raise awareness of the Spanish revolution so recently betrayed and to raise consciousness, help and funds for the cause.
Sadly, in 1958, she was diagnosed with MS and loses the ability to speak. Ethel MacDonald dies in 1960.
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.
Ethel MacDonald. Part 1
Why Orwell is essential to understanding Spain today. More here - Forgotten Stories From Spain
Find out More about the ebook and audio
Forgotten Stories From Spain Book HERE
And Watch The Tortilla Intro Video here...
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