Most people believe the Spanish Civil War was a straightforward struggle between democracy and fascism. It wasn't. The struggle had begun years earlier when a libertarian revolutionary movement began across the country. Consolidated in Barcelona, this new society was not interested in the defence of the a republic - but it was keen to develop and spread the one and only anarchist society in the history of the modern world. This is another Forgotten Story from Spain.
Part One: The Backdrop
As elections draw closer I fear the continuum. More of the same - save a difference in colour or shape of beard - I fear there will be no change, when change really ought to be on everyone's agenda. You must have noticed it too. The same lack of idealism, the same lack of vision and the same lack of leadership. But now we have some hope, we have Podemos talking about change. Some people are excited, some are frightened, some are not interested. But, before you condemn the new, remember that history moves in circles. Yes, it's actually all happened before.
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
In this series of articles on the Other Civil War in Spain - a subject I have already touched upon with Orwell and Ethel MacDonald - we are going to take a look at a figure that shook the establishment to the ground. A bank robber, an assassin, a soldier, and an inspiration to millions of people across the world: Put your hands together please for...
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.
Read the rest of The Silenced Revolution here...
Part 1: Backdrop to a Silenced Struggle
I often think of the great heroes of my youth - Che Guevara - Georgie Best - Bruce Lee - Captain Pugwash - those that earned an Athena poster on the bedroom wall. I'd lie on my bed glancing over those assorted faces and often say to myself : "Is there someone missing?" Recently, I learnt who that person was, and his name was Buenaventura Durruti
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.
Anarchy in Iberia
Yes thats right: Anarchism. But lets get one thing straight before we start - Anarchism has nothing to do with "chaos", The Sex Pistols or Internet "hackers": This is just popular media nonsense. Anarchism is a highly organised force that is run and composed democratically from "below", as oppressed to "above". This is because when power rests with a few, then corruption inevitably occurs. Anarchists do not believe we need "rulers" in fact if we were left to ourselves, we could organise more effectively, more efficiently and more justly without overlords, royal families, CEO's; Bishops and petty tyrants.
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...
In 1923 the CNT was outlawed by the military dictator Primo de Rivera. This was rather silly for if you remember when Frankie Goes to Hollywood was banned on Radio One back in the 1980's - the single Relax shot straight to number one and stayed there for months to the acute embarrassment of the BBC.
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
By 1931, Primo has fortunately gone and, lo and behold, the king has been sent packing too. The Second Republic is declared by which time the anarchist CNT had become the most important workers movement in Spain and the most effective union in Europe with over 70.000 members. The principles of Anarchism had found a solid root and a home in the working peoples of Spain.
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.
Publications such as Estudios - the magazine of sexuality and health that encourage the liberation of women from the mindset of the church and state.
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...."
Throughout Catalunya new and free schools are established on anarchist principles and for the first time, they can offer education away from the influence of the church. They are based in the cultivation of self-knowledge and the individual expression of each child. These schools are called Natura schools and no doctrine or propaganda is allowed to be taught, just the humanities, poetry and philosophy but nothing of revolutions. In fact, so much are the schools anti-ideological that they refuse subsidies from the state or town halls so that they can remain politically independent.
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.
But elsewhere - further up the hierarchical power ladder in Spain - the Professional politicians declare they are not happy bunnies, and decide that the revolutionary movements have gone far enough. In Cadiz, 23 people are killed and 50 injured when the Guardia Civil are instructed to terminate a small anarchist collective at Casas Viejas. In Asturias, there is a 2 week long revolution, but it is not backed up by the rest of the county. It is brutally put down by Franco and his North African troops.
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?
Then, before anything really gets resolved, the debate is interrupted after the 1936 election when the forces of the right stage a revolt to put down the new revolutionary movements springing up across the country that are dismantling the power of the church, the military and calling the people in power nasty names.
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...
The reason that the anarchist ideology spread so quickly and effectively was that it adapted to each village and each region. Every town worked according to the needs and culture of each area. There was no generalised formulae. It was a federation of independent and individual groups. And its greatest success was that it was not imposed, instead it grew organically from each place according to the needs of the people. Between the villages grew a federation where goods and services were exchanged.
The 1st (and only) Anarchist Revolution the World Has Ever Seen
This was the first anarchist revolution the world had ever seen. At a time of vast shortages of raw materials, communication impossibilities and prohibited or reduced trade, those industries collectivized under the anarchists increased production and modernized the plants so efficiently that when the employers eventually returned after the "war", they could not believe they had a surplus of stock and an improved production line.
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.
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...