George Woodcock, Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements, 1962, Postscript 1975.

12 Anarchism in Spain

In relation to the rest of Europe, Spain has always been an isolated land, geographically, economically, historically; a land at once conservative and revolutionary, living by tradition and given to temperamental extremities; a land whose people are violent and generous, independent and morally rigorous; a land where most men live -- as well as they can live -- by the soil, and where to be poor is not to lose dignity. In the harsh face of this land and in the proud spirits of its inhabitants anarchism found the most congenial of all its homes, and for fifty years, until long after it had ceased to be an important movement anywhere else in the world, it gave to Spain an idea that stirred the imagination of the poor and a cause that counted its adherents in hundreds of thousands among the factory workers of Barcelona and the labourers of Madrid, and above all among the peasants of Andalusia and Aragon, of Levante and Galicia. In these favourable circumstances anarchism developed a moral intensity which made it overleap the merely social and political until, in many parts of Spain, it assumed the spiritually liberating form of a new religion. Spanish anarchists differed not merely in numbers, but also in nature from anarchists in the rest of Europe.

Yet their doctrine came from the same spring, and shared the same prophets -- Proudhon first, and then Bakunin, with Kropotkin as a less important third. Proudhon's appeal came early, for in 1845 his disciple Ram6n de la Sagra, whom Max Nettlau has described as the first Spanish anarchist, founded in Coruna a journal called El Porvenir, quickly suppressed by the authorities, which has a fair title to be regarded as the first of all anarchist journals, antedating Proudhon's more durable Le Representant du peuple by three years. Ramon de la Sagra was in Paris during the 1848 Revolution, when he took part in Proudhon's activities, particularly the People's Bank, but his ifluence in Spain was relatively small, and he died in exile.

Nevertheless, the movement which we now think of as [336] Spanish anarchism, with its extremism and its millennarian passion, was preceded by what Max Nettlau has called 'a federalist apprenticeship', a time when Proudhon's influence in its moderate form played an important part in Spanish political history. The principal inspirer of Spanish federalism, and the most devoted of Proudhonian apostles, was a Madrid bank official named Pi y Margall; significantly, he was a Catalan by birth, and therefore predisposed to reject political centralization. Pi came into prominence at the time of the abortive Spanish Revolution of 1854, when he published his first book La Reaction y la revolution. He did not advocate pure anarchism; indeed, politically he stood perhaps nearer to Jefferson than to Proudhon, since he envisaged the creation of a government that would proceed in a revolutionary direction by gradual reforms: 'I shall divide and subdivide power; I shall make it changeable and go on destroying it.' At the end of the perspective lay eventual anarchy, but Pi, unlike the true anarchists, was willing to contemplate the assumption of power in order to dismantle the structure of power.

Later Pi became the principal translator of Proudhon's works in Spanish, beginning with Du principe federatif, and following later with Solution du probleme social, De la capacite politique des classes ouvrieres, and Systeme des contradictions economiques. By the time the last of these appeared, in 1870, enough of Proudhon's works were available in Spanish to provide an effective introduction to the most significant aspects of his thought. These translations were to have a profound and lasting effect on the development of Spanish anarchism after 1870, but before that time Proudhonian ideas, as interpreted by Pi, already provided much of the inspiration for the federalist movement which sprang up in the early 1860s. Federalism, of course, was by no means entirely the creation of external ideological influences; it arose from the traditional Spanish emphasis on regionalism, from the cult of the patria chica, and from the resentment of Castilian domination by Catalonia, Galicia, and Arag6n. During the Revolution of 1873,the federalists, led by Pi y Margall, were to have their brief hour of glory but by that time a later and tougher strain of anarchism, of rived from Bakunin, had already entered Spain. [337]

Pi y Margall's adaptation of Proudhonian federalism appealed mostly to the lower middle class, particularly outside Castile, who in the nineteenth century provided the main strength of Spanish revolutionary movements. Bakuninist anarchism made its immediate appeal to the artisans, particularly in Barcelona and Madrid, and here again a favourable climate already existed. Ever since the collapse of the revolutionary movement in 1854 there had been demonstrative discontent among both urban and rural workers. 1855 saw a general strike in Barcelona and other Catalan towns, 1861 a series of risings among the Andalusian landworkers, 1866 a serious riot in Madrid, and 1867, the year before the Bakuninists appeared, a widespread movement of rural insurrection which spread through Catalonia, Arag6n, and Valencia.

Parallel with these outbursts of unorganized anger, working-class organizations of various kinds had been springing up ever since trade unions were legalized in 1839. The weavers of Barcelona began to associate in 1840, and tried unsuccessfully to establish a federation of trade unions in the city. There were even attempts to form socialist groups. In 1846 Fernando Garrido, a disciple of Fourier, founded in Madrid a socialist journal, La Atraccion, and during the 1860s he became a fervent advocate of cooperation. Considerably to the left of Garrido was Antonio Gusart, who began to publish El Obrero in Barcelona during 1864, and in 1865 called together a congress of forty workers' associations to create a federation of cooperatives. In 1862 Spanish delegates to the London Exhibition appear to have taken part in the earliest discussions that preceded the founding of the First International, while in 1865 the Paris bureau of the Association announced that it was in correspondence with 'Spanish democrats'. Finally, at the Brussels Congress of the International in 1868, the first Spanish delegate, a Catalan metal-worker, appeared under the name Sarro Magallan; his real name was A. Marsal y Anglosa, and he represented the Workers' Association of Catalonia and the Legion Iberica del Trabajo. Marsal provided a link between two stages of the working-class movement in Spain, since in 1870 he was to appear at the founding Congress of the Spanish Federation of the International. [338]

But the real beginning of the anarchist movement in Spain was touched off by the revolution of September 1868, which drove Queen Isabella into exile. This seemed to Bakunin a golden opportunity for establishing the International -- under his own rather than Marx's aegis -- across the Pyrenees. Accordingly, he organized a missionary campaign of considerable dimensions, Elie Reclus, Elisee's anthropologist brother, and at least two of Bakunin's Marseilles disciples, Bastelica and Charles Alerini, went to Spain on Bakunin's behalf during the last months of 1868, but Spanish anarchist traditions have correctly given most of the credit for establishing their movement to Giuseppe Fanelli, who arrived in Barcelona, almost penniless, in October 1868. Curiously enough, considering Barcelona's later reputation as the centre of Spanish anarchism, Fanelli was unable to make any contacts there, and he went on to Madrid, where Fernando Garrido passed him on to some young federalist printers who had already encountered libertarian ideas through Pi's translations of Proudhon, but had not even heard of the International. Gonzales Morago, the sole member of the group who knew a little French and could therefore communicate with Fanelli, arranged a meeting which can only be described as pentecostal. Several of the young men present that evening were to become lifelong leaders of anarchism in Spain, and one of them, Anselmo Lorenzo, has left an eloquent description of the occasion.

Fanelli was a tall man with a kind and grave expression, a thick black beard, and large black expressive eyes which flashed like lightning or took on the appearance of kindly compassion according to the sentiments that dominated him. His voice had a metallic tone and was susceptible to all the inflexions appropriate to what he was saying, passing rapidly from accents of anger and menace against tyrants and exploiters to take on those of suffering, regret, and consolation, when he spoke of the pains of the exploited, either as one who without suffering them himself understands them, or as one who through his altruistic feelings delights in presenting an ultra-revolutionary ideal of peace and fraternity. He spoke m French and Italian, but we could understand his expressive mimicry and follow his speech.

In that extraordinary hour of communication over the barriers of language, Spanish anarchism began. Most of Fanelli's [339] audience were converted immediately to the Bakuninist doctrine, and a few days later on his return to Barcelona Fanelli repeated his missionary feat. In the few weeks he stayed in Spain he learned hardly a word of Spanish, but he succeeded at meeting after meeting in converting those who had no other language. Neither before nor since did Fanelli show such extraordinary missionary powers, and the only explanation for his success can be found in the supposition that at this time of social disturbance, when the workers and the younger intellectuals found Pi y Margall's federalism too mild and gradual for their impatient wishes, Bakunin's anarchism -- which contained but went beyond the basic doctrines of federalism -- was the very creed for which they had been waiting.

A considerable movement grew rapidly from these small beginnings. Internationalist newspapers began to appear -- La Federacion in Barcelona and Solidaridad in Madrid. Sections of the International were formed in Andalusia, in Valencia, in the north of Spain, and by the beginning of 1870 the Spanish membership of the association had already reached 15,000. Two Spanish delegates, Dr Gaspar Sentinon and the printer Rafael Farga-Pellicer, attended the Basel Congress of the International in 1869, and formed part of Bakunin's majority in that successful first round of his struggle with Marx. While they were there, Bakunin enrolled them in his skeleton International Brotherhood, and at his suggestion they founded on their return a Spanish Alliance of Social Democracy. This seems to have been a separate organization from the old Alliance, and it formed a secret core of initiate militants within the Spanish Federation of the International.

The Federation itself was founded at a general Congress held in Barcelona during June 1870. Ninety delegates represented 150 workers' societies with 40,000 members, but some of these were trade unions which had not yet affiliated themselves officially with the International, and the actual number of internationalists was probably round about 20,000. The statutes of the Jura Federation were adopted for Spain, and the Congress left no doubt at all of its Bakuninist leanings. It is true that shortly afterward a split occurred owing to the activities of Paul Lafargue, whom Marx had sent to Madrid in the hope of [340] weaning the Spaniards from their Bakuninist loyalties, but only a tiny minority joined the authoritarian sections, and the Spanish working-class movement as a whole remained oriented toward anarchism.

Meanwhile Amadeus of the House of Savoy had accepted the crown of Spain, and in the early months of his reign the International not only increased its membership but also led a number of successful strikes in Barcelona. Success brought repression; the police began to arrest internationalist leaders, and the Regional Council migrated to Lisbon, where they set up a section that became the first nucleus of anarchist activity in Portugal. They remained there for three months, living communally and awaiting a suitable time to return to Spain. The persecution of the International was soon relaxed, and in September the leaders were back for a Congress in Valencia, which created an elaborate structure of local federations and decided to establish unions for particular industries within the larger framework of the International. In the following January, disturbed by these signs of renewed activity, the government officially dissolved the International, on the grounds that it was an organization with affiliations outside Spain. The Association ignored the edict, and, during the spring of 1872, Anselmo Lorenzo went on an apostolic journey through the Adalusian countryside, where he began to convert the small peasants and landless labourers who were later to form such an important element in the Spanish anarchist movement.

Meanwhile the Spanish Federation had taken up its position in the dispute within the International. Anselmo Lorenzo had gone as a delegate to the London Conference of 1871, and shortly afterward the Spanish internationalists gave their approval to the Sonvillier Circular. At the Hague Congress their delegates were among the Bakuninist minority, and later took an active part at Saint-Imier in founding the anti-authoritarian International. Finally, in December 1872, a general Congress in Cordoba unanimously approved the actions of the Saint-Imier Congress, and accepted within Spain the same kind of decentralized organization as had been established for the International, the local sections being regarded as autonomous and the Regional Council devolving into a bureau of [341] correspondence and statistics. However, there remained a kind of shadow organization of leading militants which, though it had no official existence, virtually controlled the policy of the International.

By June 1873, when King Amadeus decided to abandon the uneasy Spanish throne and a new republic was proclaimed, the strength of the International had again grown considerably, and for the first time the majority of its members, now 50,000 strong, came from the rural districts of the South. In the new republic the federalist line of Proudhon's descendants played an important part. It was Pi y Margall who moved in the Cortes that Spain should become a federal republic and who became its President, pledged to lead the country toward a decentralized administration in which the regions would become largely autonomous cantons, in which the power of the Church would be sharply curbed, and in which peasant communities would take over the uncultivated lands of the great latifundia of the south. But Pi's presidency was short and unhappy, for the republic quickly broke down, partly because of the uprising of Carlist reactionaries in the north, and partly because the federalist enthusiasts in the south decided to take their independence for granted even before it had been legalized. Most of the large cities of Andalusia and Levante -- Seville, Granada, Valencia, Cadiz, Malaga, and Cartagena -- declared themselves free cantons. Committees of Public Safety were set up; the churches were closed and the rich taxed. Pi y Margall resigned in unhappy protest when the provisional government in Madrid decided to send its troops into the south. The risings collapsed quickly everywhere but in Cartagena, where the federalist extremists from the whole region gathered, and withstood a siege that lasted for almost five months.

The anarchists played only a minor part in this death struggle of their federalist cousins. The International as an organization abstained from any action, having passed a resolution condemning all political activity, but individual members were free to follow their own inclinations, and some of them joined the cantonalist risings and even served on the Committees of Public Safety. However, the anarchists did become involved in certain independent activitives, slight but prophetic, during the events [342] of 1873. They provoked a number of small Andalusian village risings, but the principal Internationalist exploit of the period was the miniature revolution in the paper-making town of Alcoy, near Valencia. Alcoy was an early Internationalist stronghold, largely owing to the activities of an anarchist schoolteacher, Albarracin. As soon as the republic was declared, the paper-workers came out on strike in favour of the eight-hour day, which was part of the industrial programme of the federalist government. While the workers were demonstrating outside the town hall the police opened fire on them and a general battle followed, which lasted all night and into the following day. Led, according to legend, by Albarracin on a white horse, the workers gained control of the town after killing a dozen policemen. They shot the mayor, whom they held responsible for starting the fighting, set fire to some factories and wealthy houses, and, in a last grotesque outburst, paraded the heads of their dead enemies through the streets in triumph.

Violence of the kind that happened at Alcoy was not new in Spain. It had happened often in connexion with popular uprisings, and was mild in comparison with the cruelties committed by the Carlists of Navarre against liberals who fell into their clutches. Moreover, the very isolation of the Alcoy incident shows how far the International as a whole was at this time from a general policy of violence. But it aroused an outcry that was due not so much to the familiar presence of violence, as to the idea that popular unrest, which hitherto had been sporadic and undirected, was now being canalized by a powerful revolutionary organization. And there is no doubt that, despite its general inaction in 1873, and despite the fury unleashed against it after the Alcoy episode, the International gained in influence and membership alike as a result of the general tension of the early months of the republic. The Spanish delegates to the Geneva Congress of the Saint-Imier International in 1873 actually asserted that they represented 300,000 members; this was undoubtedly a gross exaggeration, and more reliable estimates place the real membership in 1873 at betweei 50,000 and 60,000.

This steady growth of the International attracted toward it [343] the hostility of all the reactionary forces in Spain, and when the army seized control of the country in January 1874, and dissolved the Cortes in preparation for the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy, one of its first actions was to suppress the Spanish Federation. This time the intentions of the authorities were supported by rigorous action; local sections, trade-union branches, workers' discussion groups, all were dispersed, and 500 active militants were imprisoned, while many more went into exile. The ban on working-class organizations lasted for seven years, but the anarchists surreptitiously continued their activities with a fair amount of success. Only a few months after the official suppression of the International, in June 1874, a secret congress was attended by delegates from more than 400 sections in all parts of Spain. Other congresses followed, and underground newspapers were distributed widely, particularly in Andalusia, where anarchism survived as a mass movement during the years of clandestinity. In the towns the trade unions were unable to function, and only the skeleton elites remained, meeting furtively and achieving very little. But in the country districts of the south this was the time when peasant anarchism, with its peculiar semi-religious enthusiasm, first began to evolve into a movement which was to remain powerful in Andalusia for more than half a century. Its character has been well described by Gerald Brenan, who, at the end of this period, lived in southern Spain and closely observed the village anarchists in action:

The character of the rural anarchism that grew up in the south of Spain differed ... from that developed in the large cities of the north. 'The idea,' as it was called, was carried from village to village by anarchist 'apostles'. In the farm-labourers' gananias or barracks, in isolated cottages by the light of oil candiles, the apostles spoke on liberty and equality and justice to rapt listeners. Small circles were formed in towns and villages which started night-schools where many learned to read, carried on anti-religious propaganda and often practised vegetarianism and teetotalism. Even tobacco and coffee were banned by some, and one of these old apostles whom I knew maintained that, when the age of liberty came in, men would live on unfired foods grown by their own hands. But the chief characteristic of Andalusian anarchism was its naive millennarianism. Every new movement or strike was thought to herald the [344] immediate coming of a new age of plenty, when all -- even the Civil Guard and the landowners -- would be free and happy. How this would happen no one could say. Beyond the seizure of the land (not even that in some places) and the burning of the parish church there were no positive proposals.

Naively millennarian though it may have been, this Andalusian peasant revolutionism was no perversion of the anarchist doctrine. Indeed, in its own pure and primitive way it exposed certain elements in anarchism which more sophisticated advocates have tended to gloss over; the moralistic element in particular, and that mental shift into a timeless world, out of progress and freed from material temptations, which seems the necessary leap of faith for the true black anarchist.

In 1878 a new and more violent era in Spanish anarchism began when a young Tarragonese cooper, Juan Oliva Moncasi, attempted to kill King Alfonso XII. Mass arrests of anarchists and trade-union militants followed, and during the next two years there were retaliatory strikes in Catalonia and farm burning in Andalusia, to which the government replied with further repressions. The vicious circle continued until 1881, when a liberal ministry decided to break it by legalizing working-class organizations once again. The International came into the open and immediately dissolved itself, to arise a few months afterward out of its own ashes under the new name of Federation of Workers of the Spanish Region. It quickly regained a membership close to that at the time of its dissolution in 1874, but from the beginning the Federation was ridden by regional differences between the Catalans, who wished to concentrate on trade-union activities, and the more fanatical Andalusian peasants, particularly the vineyard workers from Jerez, who favoured an emphasis on violent action. These differences came to a head at the Seville Congress in 1882, where a group who called themselves 'Los Desheredados' (The Disinherited') broke away to form their own terrorist organization. The teachings of the Desheredados were denounced by the rest of the anarchists at the Federation's Valencia Congress in 1883 but this merely resulted in threats -- never carried out -- against the lives of Farga-Pellicer and other leaders of the Federation of Workers. [345]

It is hard to determine how far the Desheredados really put their teachings of violence into practice, but it is certain that their indiscriminate advocacy of assassination was extremely useful to the Civil Guard in the mysterious affair of La Mano Negra (The Black Hand), which in 1883 served as an excuse for the temporary destruction of the anarchist movement in Andalusia. A tavern keeper from a village near Jerez, suspected of being a police informer, was murdered by some of the local peasants. The Civil Guard commander investigating the killing claimed to have discovered evidence that it was the work of a great secret society called La Mano Negra which was plotting the slaughter of all landowners and bailiffs in Andalusia. The police immediately set about arresting all the active anarchists they could find; informers and agents provocateurs flourished, and torture was used freely to extract confessions. In the end the majority of the prisoners were released, but a hundred were brought to trial, and fourteen were condemned to death, seven of them eventually being garotted in the square of Jerez. The truth about La Mano Negra has never been satisfactorily established, but most of the impartial investigators who have studied the case have doubted the existence of any large-scale organization. It is likely that there were small terrorist groups in the Jerez area, of the same primitive kind as the Black Band of Monceaules-Mines, and that some of the Desheredados were connected with them, but only three murders -- of informers -- were proved, and it seems improbable that all the men executed or sent to prison were involved in these killings.

Whether it existed or not, the police used La Mano Negra as the excuse for a widespread attempt to root out anarchism from Andalusia. For the time being at least, they were largely successful. The remnants of the Federation were forced underground in most of the south, and the membership of the clandestine sections was pared down to the dedicated core of convinced militants. Of the 30,000 Andalusian members which fte Federation could count in 1882, barely 3,000 were left after the Mano Negra affair had run its course.

At the same time, but for other reasons, the Federation was breaking up in Catalonia. While the anarchists in Italy, Switzerland, and France had moved on from Bakuninist collectivism [346] to anarchist communism in the late 1870s, the Spaniards did not become acutely aware of the conflict between the two doctrines until the mid 1880s, when Kropotkin's writings were first translated into Spanish. But it was not merely a struggle between two views of the way of distributing the products of labour; the issue was complicated by differing attitudes toward group organization. The anarchist communists who now began to appear in Barcelona adopted the view now current in France and Italy, that it was necessary to organize in groups consisting exclusively of dedicated anarchist propagandists of word and deed. The collectivists, retaining the attitude of the old International, thought in terms of large workers' organizations which would have a leavening elite of convinced anarchists but would not demand complete conversion from the mass of the membership.

By 1888 the two factions in Catalonia had recognized their differences to the extent of setting up separate organizations. The trade unions formed the Pact of Solidarity and Resistance, and the purist militants created an Anarchist Organization of the Spanish Region, some of whose members belonged to the Pact of Solidarity, so that the division was never clearly defined. This dual organization of libertarian unionists and anarchist militants continued in Spain down to the end of the 1930s; despite their differences, the two tendencies constantly interacted upon each other, and, indeed, would probably not have survived apart.

As in France, the early 1890s in Spain were characterized by a sudden upsurge of insurrection, bomb throwings, and assassinations. Early in 1892 the country districts sprang to life again in one of those periodical surges of enthusiasm characteristic of Andalusian anarchism. Four thousand peasants, armed with scythes and shouting 'Long Live Anarchy! marched into Jerez and killed a few unpopular shopkeepers. After a night of sporadic fighting between the insurgents and the Civil Guard, a force of cavalry arrived and the rebellion was quickly crushed. Four of the peasant leaders were executed and many others were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment; the nature of Spanish justice at that period is shown by the fact that among the latter was a man actually in jail at [347] Cadiz for another political offence when the rising took place.

At about the same time as the Jerez rising, the unions in Barcelona called a general strike for an eight-hour day, and a series of bombings, which had begun with an attempt to blow up the Fomento building in 1891, grew to epidemic proportions, without at first causing any great damage to either property or persons. Some of the bombs were undoubtedly thrown ot planted by anarchists, among whom a small group of Italians was particularly active, but others were the work of agents employed by the police or by the employers' association, whose hired gunmen at this time began an intermittent guerrilla war of the streets with militant anarchists. By 1893 the violence assumed a more deadly form. A young anarchist named pallas, who had been with Malatesta on his prospecting expedition in Patagonia, threw a bomb at Martinez Campos, Captain-General of Barcelona. He missed, but this did not prevent his being court-martialled and executed. In revenge, his friend Santiago Salvador threw a bomb into the Liceo Theatre and killed twenty people. The horror aroused by this frightful act was used by the government to justify the creation of a special anti-anarchist police force, called the Brigada Social, and also to round up indiscriminately as many anarchist leaders as could be found. A number of them, manifestly innocent, were executed at the same time as the real culprit, Salvador.

Such actions on the part of the authorities led to an intensification of the wave of violence in Barcelona. Bombings and shootings increased in number, and the police replied with further arrests and a liberal use of torture to extract confessions. Then, in June 1896, a bomb was thrown from an upper window on to the Corpus Christi procession as it passed through the streets of Barcelona. The perpetrator of this act was never found, but one fact that attracted notice was that the bomb was not thrown at the head of the procession, where all the officials hated by the anarchists marched, but at the tail of the procession, where it merely killed working men and women. The republicans as well as the anarchists accused the Clericals of penetrating the outrage, but General Weyler, the new Captain-General of Barcelona (later to become notorious for his cruelties in Cuba), used it as an excuse for a general round-up of [348] opponents of the regime and the Church -- anarchists, republicans, socialists, freethinkers, and Catalan separatists -- until some 400 prisoners were herded into the cells and dungeons of Montjuich prison, outside Barcelona, where the thugs of the Brigada Social subjected them to such appalling tortures that several prisoners died before they even reached trial. Some eighty-seven were finally indicted, but by this time the news of the Montjuich tortures had passed over the Pyrenees and aroused a storm of international protest, so that the court sentenced only twenty-six of them, eight to death and the rest to long terms of imprisonment. In the end five were executed but none of them was proved in any convincing way to have been connected with the bombing of June 1896. Even the sixty-one acquitted men were pursued vindictively by the government of Canovas, who decided to transport them to the deadly climate of the African colony of Rio d'Oro. Like Sadi Carnot, Canovas reaped the consequences of his inhumanity; in the Pyrenean watering place of Santa Aguada he was shot by Michele Angiolillo, an Italian anarchist who had travelled from London with the specific intention of avenging the horrors of Montjuich.

During the 1890s Spanish anarchism shared with the movement in France not only its terrorism, but also its attractiveness for intellectuals and artists. It was in 1896 that the most important anarchist theoretical journal in Spain, La Revista Blanca, was founded, and to its pages university teachers, engineers, professional men of letters, and even some former army officers contributed. While Spanish anarchism never drew to itself so many distinguished writers and painters as the movement in France, it could include among its sympathizers not only -- for a time at least -- the young Pablo Picasso, but also the great novelist Pio Baroja, who wrote at least one book, Aurora Roja, derived from his direct association with the anarchists. Another manifestation of anarchist intellectualis was the growth of the movement to create libertarian schools. Owing to the accident of his manifestly unjust execution in 1909, which I shall discuss later in more detail, Francisc Ferrer was to become by right of martyrdom the most celebrated advocate of this movement. However, Ferrer's Escuela [349] Moderna was only one of many experiments in Catalonia and the villages of Andalusia aimed particularly at bringing literacy to adult peasants and industrial workers. For purposes of propaganda, Ferrer's personal reputation as an educationalist was inflated out of all proportion by the anarchists after his death; he was in fact a rather dully orthodox rationalist, with a narrow unimaginative mind, and the few writings he left show little in the way of an original conception of education. Yet to rebel at all against the Church domination of education in Spain of the late nineteenth century was perhaps enough to expect of any man, as Ferrer's fate was to show.

Even more important than the educational movement was the trade-union revival of the turn of the century, when the example of French revolutionary syndicalism gave a new life to the collectivist wing of Spanish anarchism. The conception of the general strike, refurbished by French theoreticians into the supreme revolutionary strategy, appealed immediately to Spanish millenarianism. A strike of the metal-workers in Barcelona in 1902 actually developed into a city-wide general strike; its failure brought about the collapse of the most recent attempt to re-create the old International -- the new Federation of Workers of the Spanish Region which had been founded in 1900. Shortly afterward the movement spread to the rural districts, particularly in the provinces of Cadiz and Seville, where the strikes were accompanied by demands for a division of the great estates. All of them failed, because the labourers lived on the edge of starvation even when they were working, and had no resources for a sustained struggle; moreover, with their narrow view of the patria chica, the village community, they rarely looked beyond their own horizons, and so, instead of a coordinated movement that might at least have had some effect in improving their conditions, they indulged in a series of sporadic and isolated outbreaks which the Civil Guard suppressed individually without difficulty.

Meanwhile the success of the C.G.T. in France, largely under the inspiration of anarchists who had gained influential positions in its hierarchy, continued to impress the workers of Barcelona, and in 1907 the libertarian unions of Catalonia came together in a specifically syndicalist federation known as [350] Solidaridad Obrera, which quickly spread through the rest Catalonia and held its first congress early in 1908.

The new movement took action on a dramatic scale in July 1909, when the Spanish army suffered a heavy reverse in one of its perennial wars with the Riffs in Morocco, and the government decided to call up the reservists of Catalonia. It is hard not to see a provocative intent in the fact that only men from this violently separatist province were included in the order. The anarchists, socialists, and syndicalists agreed on joint action, and Solidaridad Obrera called a general strike. During the 'Tragic Week' that followed there was heavy street fighting in Barcelona; it took the police and troops five days to establish control. Nearly 200 workers were killed in the streets alone and -- in an outburst of the anti-clerical passion that habitually attends popular uprisings in Spain -- more than fifty churches and convents were burned and a number of monks were killed. The conservative government reacted in the customary manner with mass arrests, tortures in Montjuich, and summary executions, including that of Francisco Ferrer. Ferrer was actually in England during the Tragic Week, but he was nevertheless court-martialled and shot on a faked charge of having fomented the rising. As after the Montjuich atrocities of 1896, there were great protests abroad; Ferrer became an international martyr, and even in Spain the cry of disgust at the methods used by the authorities forced the conservative premier Maura to resign and brought into power the liberal government of Canalejas.

The Tragic Week and its aftermath impressed on Spanish libertarians the needs for a stronger fighting organization, and in October 1910 representatives of trade unions from all over Spain gathered in Seville for a historic congress. Only the socialist unions already federated in the U.G.T. remained aloof; the great majority of the remaining unions sent their representatives, and it was decided to form a new organization, the famous Confederation Nacional del Trabajo, better known as C.N.T.

The C.N.T. was formed under the inspiration of the French C.G.T., but in the process of development it came to differ from it in a number of important ways. First, it fell immediately and remained always under the full control of anarchist [351] leaders. It is true that many non-anarchist workers joined it, and even some socialists, but there was never a time when they gained any effective share of the leadership. Moreover, the dual organization of the C.G.T. -- the local Bourses de Travail and the national craft unions welded together into an elaborate confederational structure -- was not at first imitated. The C.N.T. tended rather to base itself on the local Sindicatos Unicos, which would bring together the workers of all crafts in one factory or even in one town. Thus the union and the locality tended to be identified, in accordance with the traditional anarchist stress on the commune as the basic social unit, and the Sindicatos Unicos were linked loosely in the regional and finally in the national federation. Anything in the form of a permanent bureaucracy was so carefully avoided that the C.N.T. had only one paid official; the rest of this enormous organization was maintained by workers delegated by their comrades. This was possible because the C.N.T. never adopted the benefit-society function of the ordinary trade union, and did not even maintain strike funds; the instinctive solidarity among workers was looked on as sufficient protection in a struggle which never saw the millennium as far distant. From the beginning the anarchists regarded the C.N.T. as a revolutionary weapon, but it is in the nature of mass organizations to develop their own inertia, and the C.N.T. in its turn was to reveal the reformist trends and the tendency to see the syndical organization of the revolution embodied (means and end) which led the French C.G.T. far away from pure anarcho-syndicalism.

The enthusiasm generated by the founding of the C.N.T. led to an immediate revival of anarchism in the rural areas of Andalusia and to a wave of strikes elsewhere. A spectacular general strike in Saragossa developed into an armed uprising. Other strikes broke out in Seville and Bilbao, where the socialist workers of the U.G.T. made common cause with the anarcho-syndicalists. At Cullera, near Valencia, the striking Workers declared the town a commune independent of Spain, a procedure which in later years was to be imitated by village insurrectionaries in many parts of the southern provinces. Canalejas replied to these manifestations of renascent anarchism [352] by banning the C.N.T., and in 1912, when the railway unions went on strike, he forced the workers back by mobilizing them under military law. But the C.N.T. continued to flourish as an underground organization, and Canalejas paid for his actions in the same way as Canovas; he was shot and killed by an anarchist gunman in a Madrid bookshop.

In 1914 the C.N.T. emerged into the open again, greatly strengthened through the spread of rural anarchism during the intervening years from Andalusia into the Levante, and during the First World War a number of circumstances led to further successes. In 1917 the U.G.T. leaders declared a national general strike for a democratic and socialist republic. The C.N.T. took part, but when the strike failed it reaped the benefit through the temporary discrediting of the socialist leaders. The success of the Russian Revolution also strengthened the appeal of the C.N.T. as an avowedly revolutionary organization, and in 1918 the more dedicated militants held a National Anarchist Congress in Madrid to consider their attitude to syndicalism in the great struggle that seemed now to be dawning. Unlike anarchists in France and Italy, they were almost unanimous in deciding that, even though the C.N.T. could not itself be regarded as a wholly anarchist organization, they must permeate and lead it, so that even its uncommitted members would be imbued with the libertarian spirit. By 1919, when the C.N.T. held its Congress in Madrid, its membership had grown to 700,000, most of them in Catalonia, Andalusia, Levante, and Galicia, where the movement had recently established a new centre of activity.1

As the most influential revolutionary organization in Spain, the C.N.T. was assiduously courted by the newly founded Communist (Third) International. At first its members were attracted by the glamour of the successful revolution in Russia, [353] and a group of delegates to Moscow, headed by Andres Nin and Joaquin Maurin (later the leaders of the dissident Marxist Partido Obrero de Unification Marxista), pledged the Confederation's support to the communist organization. In 1921, however, another syndicalist leader, Angel Pestana, returned fr0m Russia with the news of the persecution of anarchists there and of the brutal suppression of the Kronstadt sailors' insurrection. His reports caused a general revulsion among Spanish anarchists and syndicalists, and at its Saragossa Congress in 1922 the C.N.T. reasserted its faith in libertarian communism, and decided to withdraw from the Third International and give its allegiance to the new syndicalist organization, the International Workingmen's Association, which was being founded in Berlin. There was subsequently nothing resembling the mass exodus of French anarcho-syndicalist militants into the newly founded Communist Party during the early 1920s. The Spanish anarchist ranks remained solid.

The years from 1919 to the establishment of Primo de Rivera's dictatorship in 1923 were clouded by a bitter warfare between the C.N.T. and the employers' organizations in Barcelona. The violence generated during this period and during the remaining history of the C.N.T. until the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939 must, as I have already suggested, be seen in the context of the general tradition of political violence which has existed in Spain since the Napoleonic wars. Repellent and futile as one may find the Spanish, anarchist tendency to resort easily to assassination, it is only fair to remember that the police, the army, and the pistoleros in the pay of the employers were even more inclined to violence and much more sadistic in their methods. However mistakenly, the anarchists killed usually in revenge for wrongs done to their comrades. It was, for instance, as a result of the use of the ley de fugas (the euphemism describing the police practice of shooting arrested men on the way to prison and claiming that they had been killed while trying to escape) that the conservative prime minister Eduardo Dato was killed in 1921. It was in revenge for the murder of the C.N.T. leader Salvador Segui by police gunmen in the street that the Archbishop of Saragossa was shot by the celebrated guerrilla leader, Buenaventura Durutti. [354] Since the basic doctrines of anarchism deny retribution and punishment, such deeds were in fact unanarchistic, but they were typical of Spain in their time, and they underline the need to consider Spanish anarchism as in many respects belonging to a category of its own.

Moreover, it must be remembered that even in the explosive situation that existed between 1919 and 1923 by no means all the anarcho-syndicalists favoured violent means. Salvador Segui himself and Angel Pestana led a moderate trend within the C.N.T. which was willing to seek compromises with the employers and even with the state. On the other hand, the extremists, led by fanatics like Durutti and his inseparable companion Ascaso, were willing to use every means to speed the revolutionary millennium. Since they neither feared the authorities nor respected the moderates within their own ranks, these men continually forced the pace and committed the movement to the vicious repetition of murder and counter-murder. Moreover, men like Durutti, themselves idealists, gathered around them less pure elements, and in Barcelona at this time there arose a whole class of professional pistoleros, who shifted from side to side, sometimes fighting for the anarchists, sometimes for the employers or even the police, and in later years allying themselves to the nascent Falange. There is no doubt that the anarchist tendency to sentimentalize the criminal as a rebel against an authoritarian society was largely responsible for the barbarity that characterized industrial struggle in Barcelona during the years before Primo de Rivera forced an uneasy peace upon the city.

The period I have been describing began early in 1919 with a strike led by C.N.T. moderates at the great Barcelona electric power plant known as the Canadiense. The strikers' demands were so reasonable that at first the management was inclined to reach agreement with them, but the Captain-General of Barcelona, Milans del Bosch, intervened and stopped negotiations. The strike spread, Barcelona was deprived of light, and Milans del Bosch, after arresting the union leaders, proclaimed martial law. Immediately the C.N.T. declared a general strike, and there was a total stoppage of work in the Barcelona factories. It was a completely peaceful strike which demonstrated [355] how effectively the workers could act without using violence, The army replied with the usual mass arrests, followed by courts-martial which imposed heavy sentences, and the succession of protest strikes and employers' lockouts continued for the rest of the year, with violence reasserting itself on both sides. The result was that by the end of 1919, having gained no clear victory, and having rejected a working arrangement with the socialist U.G.T. which Segui had proposed, the C.N.T. again began to lose ground among the Catalonian workers.

Meanwhile, stirred by rumours of the Russian Revolution and the news of the great general strike in Barcelona, the country districts of Andalusia once again sprang to life. As on other occasions, anarchist millennarianism swept over the countryside like a great religious revival. Diaz del Moral, in his History of Agrarian Agitations in the Province of Cordoba,2 has left a fascinating description of the process at work:

We who lived through that time in 1918-19 will never forget that amazing sight. In the fields, in the shelters and courts, wherever peasants met to talk, for whatever purpose, there was only one topic of conversation, always discussed seriously and fervently: the social question. When men rested from work, during the smoking-breaks in the day and after the evening meal at night, whoever was the most educated would read leaflets and journals out aloud while the others listened with great attention. Then came the perorations, corroborating what had just been read, and an unending succession of speeches praising it. They did not understand everything. Some words they did not know. Some interpretations were childish, others malicious, depending on the personality of the man; but at bottom all agreed. How else? Was not all they had heard the pure truth which they had felt all their lives, even though they had never been able to express it? . . .

In a few weeks the original nucleus of 10 or 12 adepts would be converted into one of 200; in a few months practically the entire working population, seized by ardent proselytism, propagated the flaming ideal frenziedly. The few who held out, whether because they were peaceable or timid, or afraid of losing public respect, would be set on by groups of the convinced on the mountainside, as they ploughed the furrow, in the cottage, the tavern, in the streets [356] and squares. They would be bombarded with reasons, with imprecations, with contempt, with irony, until they agreed. Resistance was impossible. Once the village was converted, the agitation spread. Everyone was an agitator. Thus the fire spread rapidly to all the combustible villages.

And with the sparks of conversion, strikes spread over the countryside until the whole of the south was aflame, and the landlords either granted the demands of their workers or fled in terror. Finally, in May 1919, a regular military expedition was sent into Andalusia, the C.N.T. was proscribed in the province, and the strike movement fell away, as much because of the hunger of the landworkers as because of the presence of the soldiers.

Meanwhile there were new disturbances in Catalonia, where the employers had begun to form unions under their own control -- the Sindicatos Libres -- in rivalry to the C.N.T. and the U.G.T. At the beginning of 1920 the C.N.T. called a new general strike in Barcelona. All the unions except those supported by the employers were immediately suppressed in Barcelona, and the National Committee of the C.N.T. was imprisoned, but this did not prevent strikes continuing throughout the year, with considerable gains in terms of increased wages, which gave the C.N.T. new prestige and enabled it to establish strong footholds in socialist strongholds such as Madrid and Asturias.

There was a temporary lull in violence during the latter part of 1920, but the bitter strife that was making Barcelona notorious throughout Europe returned when King Alfonso XIII forced the government to appoint as Civil Governor the brutal martinet, General Martinez Anido, who was to end his life as Franco's Minister for Home Affairs. Martinez Anido combined the brutality of the Spanish military caste at its worst with a wholehearted support of the most reactionary employers in the city, and it was he who organized, through his police department, a ruthless campaign of assassination against the C.N.T. militants. During his period of office an average of fifteen political murders a week took place in the streets of Barcelona; approximately half of these were perpetrated police-directed terrorists and half by anarchist pistoleros, who [357] carried out their reprisals with mathematical exactitude. In the end Spanish public opinion became so deeply stirred by press exposures of his methods that Martinez Anido was dismissed, hut the strife he had fostered did not die down until after the establishment of Primo de Rivera's dictatorship in September 1923, when an attempt was made by the government to promote reasonable compromises between workers and employers and to maintain control by less brutal means than those of Martinez Anido and his police officers.

The coming of Primo de Rivera meant a long period of clandestinity for anarchism in Spain. In comparison with General Franco, Primo de Rivera seems in retrospect a model of progressivism. He had a real sense of the economic problems of Spain, and no prejudices against the working class as such. His own desire for a balanced and ordered society -- so different from his chaotic personal life -- made him sympathetic to the socialists, and during his regime a curious alliance sprang up between this bibulous and likeable Andalusian aristocrat and the bombastic Madrid plasterer, Largo Caballero, who was later to fancy himself the Spanish Lenin. But between the anarchists and the dictator there was no common ground whatever, and the C.N.T. heralded his appearance by declaring a general strike. It failed, because the socialist U.G.T. refused to participate.

In May 1924 the C.N.T. was dissolved on Primo de Rivera's orders, its newspapers were suppressed, and all its Sindicatos Unicos were closed down, while several hundred of its most active members were arrested. Primo de Rivera was less brutal but more efficient in repression than his predecessors, and as a mass organization the C.N.T. virtually ceased to exist until his fall. Its members joined and did their best to disrupt the Sindicatos Libres patronized by the dictator; those of its leaders who remained at liberty either maintained the underground skeleton organization, which -- as always happened in periods of clandestinity -- fell under the influence of the anarchist extremists, or fled into exile in France. From there they organized a rather futile armed march into Navarre in the winter of 1924, and afterward settled down to the serious business of reorganizes the movement. Toward the end of 1926 they met in [358] congress at Lyons, and decided to set up an Iberian Anarchist Federation in exile. The idea spread to Spain, and in July I927 meeting secretly in Valencia, the representatives of the scattered anarchist groups accepted the idea of establishing the Iberian Anarchist Federation (better known as F.A.I.) as an underground organization dedicated to the pursuit of revolution. The F.A.I., which only emerged into the open at the beginning of the Civil War in 1936, was the first closely knit national organization of anarchists to exist for any appreciable period in Spain, and its durability -- for it lived on in exile after the destruction of the Republic in 1939 -- can be attributed largely to the fact that the whole of its life was a time of social unrest and excitement, beginning in the last phase of Primo de Rivera's dictatorship and continuing during the stormy years of the republic and the tragic years of the Civil War. It was founded largely with the intention of countering the reformist trend among the syndicalists, led by Angel Pestana, and it quickly established an ascendancy over the C.N.T. so that the very small organized anarchist minority held almost all its important posts within the large trade-union body and dominated its bureaux and committees. In this way, probably for the only time in the history of anarchism, Bakunin's plan of a secret elite of devoted militants controlling a public mass organization of partially converted workers came into being. But the F.A.I, not only included hard-working trade-union leaders and the theoreticians of Spanish anarchism; it also included a dubious contingent from the Barcelona underworld. As Franz Borkenau commented in The Spanish Cockpit:

The F.A.I, itself reflects exactly the queer phenomenon that Spanish anarcho-syndicalism is as a whole. Intended to group all those elements who are not simply C.N.T. trade-unionists but convinced and able anarchists, it unites in its ranks on one hand the elite of the anarchist movement, the active guard which has passed through innumerable fights, imprisonments, emigration, death sentences, and which is undoubtedly one of the most idealistic elements existing in the world, together with doubtful elements which other groups might hesitate, not merely to trust with positions of responsibility, but simply to accept as members.

Here again, one might remark, the inheritance from Bakunin seems evident, for it was he who laid most stress on the alliance between idealists and the marginal social elements necessary to overthrow the state and prepare the ground for the free society. Yet the peculiar combination of tendencies within the F.A.I. also has its parallels in Spanish history, particularly among the military religious orders, and even among the Jesuits in that period when they mingled idealistic devotion to a cause with a taste for conspiracy, a justification of illegality and tyrannicide, and -- particularly in Paraguay -- a leaning toward social experiments of a primitive communist nature.

This comparison begs an obvious question. The F.A.I. claimed to be an anti-religious organization, and its members, during the republic and the early days of the Civil War, were among the most active of church burners. But Spanish anarchist opposition to the Church is a peculiarly passionate phenomenon, quite different from the calm rationality of free thinkers on the other side of the Pyrenees. Its advocates share the iconoclastic fervour of the radical sects of the Reformation, and this parallel brings us to the interesting suggestion made by Gerald Brenan, that in Spain, where the Inquisition effectively stifled any tendency toward religious dissent during the sixteenth century, anarchism has in fact taken on the character of a delayed Reformation movement.

All anarchism has, of course, a moral-religious element which distinguishes it from ordinary political movements, but this element is far more strongly developed in Spain than elsewhere. Almost every perceptive observer of anarchism in that country has remarked on the fact that here is what Borkenau has called 'a half-religious Utopian movement', and again it is Brenan who has shown most convincingly why its religious passion should have turned so fiercely against the Church. I can do no better than quote part of his excellent discussion of the subject in The Spanish Labyrinth, which is supported by a first-hand acquaintance with Spanish anarchists extending over many years.

The fanatical hatred of the anarchists for the Church and the extraordinary violence of their attack upon it during the Civil War are things which are known to everyone. ... It can only, I think, be [360] explained as the hatred of heretics for the Church from which theY have sprung. For in the eyes of Spanish libertarians the Catholic church occupies the position of anti-Christ in the Christian world. It is far more to them than a mere obstacle to revolution. They see in it the fountain of all evil, the corrupter of youth with its vile doctrine of original sin, the blasphemer against Nature and the Law of Nature, which they call Salud or Health. It is also the religion which mocks with its pretence of brotherly love and mutual forgiveness the great ideal of human solidarity. ...

I would suggest then that the anger of the Spanish anarchists against the Church is the anger of an intensely religious people who feel they have been deserted and deceived. The priests and the monks left them at a critical moment in their history and went over to the rich. The humane and enlightened principles of the great theologians of the seventeenth century were set on one side. The people then began to suspect (and the new ideas brought in by liberalism of course assisted them) that all the words of the Church were hypocrisy. When they took up the struggle for the Christian Utopia it was therefore against the Church and not with it. Even their violence might be called religious. The Spanish Church, after all, has always been a militant Church, and down to the twentieth century it believed in destroying its enemies. No doubt the Anarchists felt that if only, by using the same methods, they could get rid of all who were not of their way of thinking, they would make a better job than the Church had done of introducing the earthly paradise. In Spain every creed aspires to be totalitarian.

In that struggle of fundamentally religious men to win Spain from a perverted Christianity, the F.A.I, has played a part not unlike that of the military orders in the more ancient struggle to win Spain from the infidelity of Islam. But, since anarchism is a social as well as a quasi-religious movement, the F.A.I, has had other functions than the incitement of anticlerical passions, and, most of all, it has sought from the beginning of its existence to give a consistently rather than intermittently revolutionary direction to the larger libertarian movement embodied in the C.N.T. In the year after the foundation of the F.A.I., the C.N.T. began to form committees of action for struggle against the dictatorship, and to collaborate with other groups and movements attempting to change the regime. A this time the Spanish anarchists were willing to accept the [361] temporary solution of a democratic republic, though they had no intention of using it as anything but a springboard from which to launch as quickly as possible their own revolution. In this they were not exceptional. When the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera fell in 1930 it was clear that the life of the monarchy was almost over, and every political faction in Spain began its preparations to make the most of the situation that would follow its collapse. The socialists, the communists, the Catalan separatists, and the army, as well as the anarchists, supported the republican cause, in so far as they did support it, for ends of their own.

The C.N.T. emerged into the open in 1930, numerically stronger than ever, and inspired by the militancy of the F.A.I. activists. The King departed in April 1931, as a result of anti-monarchist victories in the municipal elections, and the anarchists prepared for a revolutionary struggle which many of their leaders felt could only be a matter of months away. In June the C.N.T. reorganized itself by creating national federations of each industry in addition to the Sindicatos Unicos, rather belatedly imitating the C.G.T.'s dual structure, under the conviction that the time was near when a coordinated structure of unions would be needed to run the affairs of a revolutionary Spain. In the late summer and autumn of 1931 they began to demonstrate, by a series of local strikes in Seville, Madrid, and Barcelona, that they had no thought of making distinctions between governments and intended to carry on their independent action as vigorously under a republic as under a monarchy. In this situation the F.A.I, played a provocative part, embarrassing the C.N.T. leaders almost as much as the republican government by organizing minor uprisings intended to create an atmosphere of tension throughout the country. They attempted to take the Central Telephone building in Madrid by assault, and early in 1932 led an uprising in the Llobregat valley of Catalonia which was designed as a rehearsal in miniature of the general revolution; one of its Principal actions was the division of a number of large estates among the local peasants. The republican government played into the hands of the F.A.I, by adopting a policy of firm repression unaccompanied by any serious attempt to solve the [362] major problem that had plagued Spain for generations, the problem of land reform. In dealing with the Llobregat insurrection in particular they reverted to the bad old methods of past governments by deporting more than a hundred leading anarchists to Spanish Guinea without even the formality of a trial. In January 1933, as a protest against the continued illegal detention of these men, the anarchists organized a further insurrection in Barcelona and Valencia, the news of which sparked off a small uprising in the Andalusian village of Casas Viejas, where a group of labourers, led by a rural anarchist apostle nicknamed Six Fingers, proclaimed the end of property and government, and laid siege to the barracks of the Civil Guard. On the orders of the central government to put down the rising at all costs, the army moved in on Casas Viejas, besieged Six Fingers and his men in their turn and killed most of them, either in the battle itself or afterwards according to the ley de fugas.

The tragedy of Casas Viejas aroused indignation against the government throughout Spain; especially it turned both the peasants and the industrial workers against the republicans and even against the socialists who supported them in the Cortes. Strikes spread through the country, and the C.N.T. grew in prestige and power to such an extent that, though it was officially banned twice during the year, it continued to operate openly, and in December 1933 staged a considerable rising in Aragon, which lasted four days; factories in Saragossa and Huesca were taken over by the workers and collectivization of the land was attempted.

Meanwhile, the C.N.T. was having its own internal troubles, largely through the differences of opinion between the leaders of the generation before Primo de Rivera's dictatorship, who had shifted toward reformism and were largely concerned with gaining better conditions for the workers within existing society, and the F.A.I, elite, who saw every act only in terms of its usefulness in bringing about a social revolution at the earliest possible moment. Partly because of the unity of purpose of the F.A.I, and the almost religious dedication of its members, and partly because of the romantic appeal of the more flamboyant insurrectionary leaders like Durutti and [363] Garcia Oliver, the extremists were able to retain control of the C.N.T. to such an extent that they ousted the veteran secretary of the organization, Angel Pestana, and Juan Peiro, the editor of the Confederation's newspaper, Solidaridad obrera. Pestana, Peiro, and a number of other leaders who distrusted the rule of the F.A.I, in union affairs issued a public protest; since it bore thirty signatures, those who supported it became known as the Treintistas. With an almost totalitarian intolerance, their opponents engineered the expulsion of these dissidents from the C.N.T.; but the reformists were not entirely without support, and a number of local unions in Valencia and the smaller Catalan towns followed them into a minority movement known as the Sindicatos de Oposicion. The breach was eventually healed in 1936, but it left hard feelings within the movement which survived through the Civil War and even into the period of exile, when the Spanish anarchists in France, Britain, and Mexico once again split into rival factions over questions of revolution and reform.

Meanwhile the republican government resigned, largely because of the odium it had incurred over its handling of the Casas Viejas affair, and was heavily defeated by the right-wing parties in the elections of November 1933. More than anything else, the hostility of the anarchists was responsible for this setback. In the municipal elections which had precipitated the departure of the King, many anarchists had gone to the polls -- against all their publicly proclaimed principles -- for the tactical reason that a republic seemed more favourable to their aims than a monarchy. In 1933 the C.N.T. carried on a vigorous abstentionist campaign; the lack of the million votes which it controlled meant defeat for the Left and two years of reactionary right-wing government.

The anarchists set about dealing with the new government in their own way, with strikes in Saragossa, Valencia, and Andalusia, but Catalonia remained relatively quiet, and toward the end of 1934 one of its periodic moods of lassitude came over the movement as a whole, so that in the rebellions set on foot in October of that year by the socialists and the Catalan separatists, the anarchists played no part, except in Asturias, where the C.N.T. syndicates of Gijon and La Felguera (who [364] ironically were supporters of the reformist Treintistas) fougu loyally beside the socialists and suffered with them the atrocities perpetrated by the Foreign Legion and the Moors, used for the first time by Spaniards against Spaniards.

In spite of a temporary loss of ground among the workers because of the prestige gained by the U.G.T. in Asturias, the C.N.T. maintained its strength throughout the period of right. wing government. At the end of 1934 a police report estimated its following at a million and a half, and this was probably not far wrong, since during the republican period all the working-class organizations in Spain increased steadily in membership.

When the parties of the Left came together in a Popular Front coalition. Angel Pestana and a small group of his immediate followers were the only anarchists who joined them. The rest held aloof, but nevertheless decided to vote again in December 1935, justifying themselves by the argument that large numbers of their own militants were in prison and the Popular-Front leaders had promised an amnesty. Once again they played the part of king-makers, and their votes brought success to the parties whom their abstention had defeated in 1933.

But, like most king-makers, the anarchists had no intention of obeying the government they had placed in power. With their ranks filled by the release of their most active leaders from prison and exile and by the return to the fold of the 60,000 members of the Sindicatos de Oposicion at the Saragossa Congress of the C.N.T. in May 1936, they kept aloof from the socialists, who talked of a revolutionary alliance between the U.G.T. and the C.N.T. (which did not materialize until 1938, when it was far too late), and followed their own policy of keeping the country in a state of expectancy and unrest by a succession of lightning strikes. The idea of revolution in the near future was certainly in their minds, but whether they would have attempted anything on a larger scale than the limited risings of the early days of the republic is an academic speculation in view of the fact that it was the Right and the army that set the pace and unleashed the Civil War by the rising of the generals in July 1936.

The story of the Civil War has been told in detail elsewhere, [365] especially in Hugh Thomas's admirable recent history.3 Here I will limit myself to discussing those aspects of the war which illuminate the nature and the development of Spanish anarchism. For this purpose the war can be divided into two phases: an earlier, dynamic period, lasting from July 1936 to the early days of 1937, in which the C.N.T. and the F.A.I. were among the dominant groups in republican Spain; and a later period, dating from May 1937, during which these movements declined in both influence and drive as centralization in military and administrative affairs successfully brought the loyalist regions of Spain under the control of the republican government, with a consequent strengthening of communist influence.

The events of the summer and autumn of 1936 revealed both the virtues and the shortcomings of the Spanish libertarian organizations. For years the F.A.I. had been training for the kind of situation in which a general strike and a short, sharp period of insurrection would topple the state and bring in the millennium of comunismo libertario. They were expert street fighters and guerrilla warriors, and in the critical situation created by the military coup of 19 July they were at their best. In Barcelona and Valencia, in the rural districts of Catalonia and parts of Aragon, and even to an extent in Madrid and Asturias, it was the prompt action of the F.A.I. elite and the workers of the C.N.T. unions that defeated the generals locally and saved these cities and regions for the republic.

The triumph of the working-class organizations created a revolutionary atmosphere and even a temporary revolutionary situation in Catalonia, Levante, and parts of Aragon. For several months the armed forces in these regions were mostly anarchist-controlled militia units. The factories were largely taken over by the workers and run by C.N.T. committees, while hundreds of villages either shared out or collectivized the land, and many of them attempted to set up libertarian communes of the kind advocated by Kropotkin. In a thousand minute details life changed its outward form, as George Orwell recorded vividly in Homage to Catalonia when he described Barcelona during the days of the anarchist ascendancy: [366]

Every shop and cafe had an inscription saying that it had been collectivized; even the bootblacks had been collectivized and their boxes were painted red and black.4 Waiters and shop-walkers looked you in the face and treated you as an equal. Servile and even ceremonial forms of speech had temporarily disappeared. Nobody said 'Senior' or 'Don' or even 'Usted'; everyone called everyone else 'Comrade' and 'Thou' and said 'Salud!' instead of 'Buenos dias'. . . . There were no private cars, they had all been commandeered, and all the trams and taxis and much of the other transport were painted red and black. The revolutionary posters were everywhere, flaming from the walls in clear reds and blues that made the few remaining advertisements look like daubs of mud. Down the Ramblas, the wide central artery of the town where crowds of people streamed constantly to and fro, the loudspeakers were bellowing revolutionary songs all day and far into the night. And it was the aspect of the crowds that was the queerest thing of all. In outward appearance it was a town in which the wealthy classes had practically ceased to exist. Except for a small number of women and foreigners there were no 'well-dressed' people at all. Practically everyone wore rough working-class clothes, or blue overalls, or some variant of the militia uniform. All this was queer and moving.

Perhaps the most important element in the situation was the absence of effective authority. The central government was weak and distant, and locally in Catalonia the F.A.I. and C.N.T. were, at least for the time being, more powerful than whatever shadowy authorities maintained a semblance of existence. But even the C.N.T. and the F.A.I. could not maintain a uniformity of what they rather euphemistically called 'organized indiscipline'. Much that happened in Spain during those early days of the Civil War was the work of small groups acting on their own anarchic responsibility. Sometimes their initiatives were good; often they were bad. It was such groups of anarchists, for instance, who carried out most of the church burnings that became a veritable epidemic in the summer of 1936, and in the process destroyed many remarkable works of religious art; ironically, their respect for culture made them [367] preserve the celebrated paintings produced by an aristocratic culture, while it was mostly genuine works of folk art, examples of the popular achievement they valued so much, which they burned and hacked to pieces. It was such groups too who carried out many of the summary executions of suspected Fascists which took place during the same initial period; these acts were usually committed, not by the ordinary working men of the C.N.T., or even by the more responsible F.A.I. militants, but by relatively small groups, sometimes of professional pistoleros, but more often of hot-headed young fanatics belonging to the Libertarian Youth organization. Their favourite victims included priests and monks on the one hand, and pimps and male prostitutes on the other; both classes they shot from a moral bigotry that was characteristically Spanish -- the priests having, in their eyes, mocked the ideal of human brotherhood and the pimps and male prostitutes having offended against the Law of Nature. Anarchism as a philosophy had little to do with such excesses, which took place in no other country than Spain. They sprang rather from a fatal conjunction of Bakunin's personal fantasies of destruction with the strange cult of death that has given violence to political and religious issues in Spain ever since the days of the Reconquest. On this level there is not really a great deal to choose between the anarchist minority who killed priests and pimps in Catalonia and the Falangist minority who killed trade-unionists in Granada; both were the products of Spanish history rather than of the political philosophies they claimed to represent.

Whether for good or ill, the Spanish anarchists were full of energy and practical capability during the early, fluid period of the Civil War. But theirs were dynamic virtues, which had always flourished in times of tension and flagged at other times. Strong in spontaneous impulse, they were incapable of the kind of tenacity necessary to hold whatever they gained. Their courage and enterprise in the first days of the military revolt fell away into boredom and inefficiency as the conflict lengthened, and their very resistance to discipline and authority unfitted them for the tasks of a real and prolonged war, which by its very nature is a totalitarian process. After the first spectacular push of Durutti's volunteer column into Aragdn, that [368] favourite anarchist front became one of the most static in the whole war, and the old anarchist stronghold of Saragossa, the objective of the campaign, was never taken. Partly this was because the anarchist units were starved of arms owing to the policy of the republican government, which tried to force the independent militias into a disciplined army under centralized control; partly it was because of local loyalties, which made affairs in Catalonia, in the factories and the collective farms seem often more important than what was happening on the distant front; partly it was because of a half-conscious recognition that inevitably, as the war continued, an authoritarian pattern was being imposed upon the country in which the libertarian experiments undertaken so enthusiastically in 1936 could not survive.

Here one must remember that circumstances had placed the anarchists in a painful dilemma. Their organization, their tactics, their very mental attitude, had been shaped over a generation for the purpose of resistance to established authority, at the end of which the anarchic Armageddon would be fought and the libertarian saints would march into the Zion of comunismo libertario that would arise from the ruins of a dead world. But by the late autumn of 1936 it became clear that the real revolution had not taken place, that comunismo libertario had at best been achieved on a piecemeal scale, that in order to carry on the struggle against the external aggressor the anarchists must collaborate against the grain with the republican government and the authoritarian parties they had formerly resisted.

In this situation the anarchist leaders chose the way of compromise and, having chosen it, they followed it to the extent of denying all anarchist tradition and entering first the government of Catalonia in September 1936 and then the Madrid government of Largo Caballero in December 1936. It was not merely members of the reformist trend in the C.N.T. who took ministerial portfolios; they were joined by the F.A.I. insurrectionist leader, Garcia Oliver, who became Minister of Justice and seems to have enjoyed his position. The F.A.I. Peninsular Committee went on record in October 1936 to justify participation in governmental institutions because the [369] situation demanded it. But participation meant a virtual abdication of anarchist revolutionary hopes; it meant that the anarchist leaders were strengthening the governmental institutions which were their natural enemies, and which must seek to destroy their influence as libertarians.

The presence of anarchist ministers did not prevent, and perhaps even encouraged, the governmental coup of May 1937, when fighting broke out in Barcelona because of an assault by the Communist-dominated P.S.U.C. party on the Telephone Building, which had been in the hands of the anarchists since the beginning of the Civil War. After several days of fighting in the streets, when many of the anarchist rank-and-file resisted the P.S.U.C. and the government forces in defiance of their own leaders' calls for a cease-fire, the preponderant anarchist influence in Catalonia was destroyed. From that time the C.N.T. ceased to count in the Spanish scene. Its membership remained high, reaching approximately two million, and the F.A.I., having decided to loosen its organization, grew from 30,000 in 1936 to 150,000 in 1938. But both organizations had lost spirit as a result of living by compromise rather than by resistance, and from mid 1937 they retreated slowly in every field of action. The conduct of the war itself fell more and more under the control of the communists and the Russian military experts. The collectivized factories were taken over by the government, and many of the agricultural collectives were destroyed when Lister's communist troops marched into Aragon. All this happened without any appreciable anarchist resistance, and the demoralization of the movement was finally revealed in January 1939, when Franco's troops entered Barcelona, the stronghold of Spanish anarchism, without the least opposition.

It is true that not all the anarchists in Spain agreed with the policy of compromise. Some of the more intransigent members of the F.A.I. stood out for a thoroughly anarchist approach to the situation; they centred around a select group who called themselves Friends of Durutti (in memory of the guerrilla leader who was shot in the back in the winter of 1936 by political enemies on the Madrid front) and who led the anarchist resistance during the May fighting in Barcelona. They [370] were supported by some of the Italian, French, and German anarchists who had gone to Spain at the outbreak of the Civil War, and particularly by the Italian intellectual Camillo Berneri, whom the communists regarded as so dangerous to their plans for immobilizing the anarchists that their agents murdered him in a Barcelona street. But to point out that there were anarchists in Spain who kept rigorously to their ideals is not to suggest that even they would have found a way to create and conserve an anarchist society in the middle of an event so antithetical to libertarian principles and practice as a modern war. Given the situation, the problem seems to have been insoluble in anarchist terms.

The anarchists in Spain in fact failed both militarily and politically because they could not remain anarchists and take part in governments and total war. By compromising they did not make their failure less certain; they merely made it more humiliating. But in making a final accounting one must consider what the survivors of those tragic days regard as their constructive achievements. In their running of the factories, in their effective collectivization of agriculture, it has often been suggested by libertarian apologists, the Spanish anarchists demonstrated triumphantly that workers can effectively control their own industries and that Kropotkin's ideal of libertarian communism is indeed practicable in the modern world.

The full history of anarchist industrial and agricultural collectivization in Spain has never been written, and it is possible that the records no longer exist on which it might be based. But what evidence has been preserved suggests that these experiments were to a great extent successful. Spain, with its traditions of village democracy and communal enterprise, was a country naturally adapted for such undertakings. In the rural districts of Navarre, Asturias, and the Pyrenees there still existed villages where land was farmed and herds were owned collectively on a system that in the past must have been far more widely spread. Even in the rural districts of the south, divided into great estates, traditions of a golden age of village communism still survived, and it was from these districts that the factories of Barcelona recruited their workers. In their propaganda for collectivization the Spanish anarchists in fact [371] appealed -- as anarchists so often do -- to a nostalgic dream of a lost past as well as to an aspiration toward a better future.

The beginnings of collectivization seem to have been similar in villages and factories. The landlords in the villages had fled, the Civil Guards had been killed or chased away, and the village syndicate would transform itself into a popular assembly in which every villager could participate directly in the affairs of the community. An administrative committee would be elected, but this would operate under the constant supervision of the population, meeting at least once a week in full assembly to hasten the achievement of free communism. In the factories the process was similar, with a workers' committee becoming responsible to the general assembly of the syndicate, and technicians (in a few cases the former owners or managers) planning production in accordance with the workers' views.

The period of almost complete workers' control in Barcelona lasted from July until 24 October 1936, when the Generalitat, the provincial government of Catalonia, passed a Collectivization Decree which recognized the accomplished fact of the workers having assumed responsibility for the factories, but at the same time set up a machinery of coordination which was the first stage in governmental supervision and -- eventually -- government control. But for more than four months, from 19 July until the decree began to take effect, the factories of Barcelona were operated by the workers without state aid or interference, and for the most part without experienced managers.

Public services were conducted in the same way, and Barcelona, a large modern city with complex needs, was kept functioning by the C.N.T. with a surprising degree of efficiency. As the English libertarian writer Vernon Richards has pointed out:

It speaks highly of their organizing capacities and intelligence that the Catalan workers were able to take over the railways and resume services with a minimum of delay; that all transport services in Barcelona and its suburbs were reorganized under workers' control and functioned more efficiently than before; that public services under workers' control, such as telephones, gas and light, were functioning normally within 48 hours of the defeat of General Goded's attempted rising; that the bakers' collective of Barcelona [372] saw to it that so long as they had the flour (and Barcelona's needs were an average of 3,000 sacks a day), the population would have the bread.5

A less partial commentator, Franz Borkenau, who arrived three weeks after the July rising, gives in The Spanish Cockpit (1937) a very similar impression from direct observation:

The amount of expropriation in the few days since 19 July is almost incredible [he noted in his diary for 5 August]. In many respects however, life was much less disturbed than I expected it to be after newspaper reports abroad. Tramways and buses were running, water and light functioning.

The comments on the efficiency of the collectivized factories have varied considerably, and there is no doubt that some of them were unable to operate satisfactorily for lack of raw material. However, Gerald Brenan remarks that the evidence shows collectivization to have been successful on many occasions 'to a surprising degree', and here again Borkenau gives a guarded but favourable report of what he saw on 8 August 1936, when he visited the collectivized workshops of the general bus company in Barcelona:

Undeniably, the factory which I saw is a big success for the C.N.T. Only three weeks after the beginning of thee civil war, two weeks after the end of the general strike, it seems to run as smoothly as if nothing had happened. I visited the men at their machines. The rooms looked tidy, the work was done in a regular manner. Since socialization this factory has repaired two buses, finished one which had been under construction and constructed a completely new one. The latter wore the inscription 'constructed under workers' control'. It had been completed, the management claimed, in five days, as against an average of seven days under the previous management Complete success, then.

It is a large factory, and tilings could not have been made to look nice for the benefit of a visitor, had they really been in a bad muddle. Nor do I think that any preparations were made for my visit. . . .

But if it would be hasty to generalize from the very favourable impression made by this particular factory, one fact remains: it is an extraordinary achievement for a group of workers to take over one factory, under however favourable conditions, and within [373] few days to make it run with complete regularity. It bears brilliant fitness to the general standard of efficiency of the Catalan worker and to the organizing capacities of the Barcelona trade unions.

On the basis of what we do know of anarchist urban collectivization I think we can safely say that the public services in the cities and towns were as adequately operated as they had been before the Civil War, and that some at least of the factories were run remarkably well. Spanish communal traditions and the long absorption of anarchist teachings of voluntary cooperation seem here to have borne good fruit.

As for the collectivization in the rural areas, there is no doubt, to begin with, that this was extensive. The French writer Gaston Leval6 talks of 500 collectives in the Levante, 400 in Aragon, 230 in parts of Castile, while in Andalusia every village that escaped the first onslaught of the nationalists automatically collectivized its land. Leval estimates that, in all, three million people were living in collectivized local economies by 1937. Like all statistics connected with anarchism in Spain, this must be regarded with caution, but it is certain that in the areas of anarchist influence most of the villages were collectivized and the great majority of the peasants participated. How completely the participation was voluntary it is hard to tell. Leval insists that 'it is untrue to say that those who took part in the collectives were forced to do so', but there is evidence that in many villages reluctant peasants were brought in by fear for their lives, or, perhaps more often, by fear of that great anarchist substitute for overt authority, the power of public opinion; besides, those who disagreed deeply with the new order would have fled before collectivization began.

The village collectives usually regarded themselves as independent communes, each in its own patria chica, entering into equal relations with surrounding villages. In general, the land was worked communally instead of being divided into equal plots, though there were wide variations in methods of organizing work and distributing produce. Almost all the villages set out to abolish the use of money, on which subject they were in full agreement with St Paul; some resorted to labour cheques in the Proudhonian manner, but others went all the way to [374] comunismo libertario and established a system by which the peasants were supplied with goods from the village store without any kind of payment. Standards of living and work varied from region to region. In Andalusia the ascetic strain was strong, and a simplification of living that would produce a dignified, free, and equal poverty was the goal. In Aragon and Catalonia the progressive temper of the people produced a desire for improving methods of cultivation, so that here the tendency was toward scientific agriculture and as much mechanization as possible. Almost all the collectivized villages seem to have been highly conscious of the need for education, so that they set up ambitious plans for ending adult illiteracy, as well as attempting to create medical services and to provide for the care of people unable to work.

It is hard to generalize about the success of agrarian collectivization, since nowhere did it survive more than two-and-a-half farm seasons, and in some places where the nationalist advance was rapid it did not last far beyond the first harvest. The one great achievement was that, for the first time within living memory in many parts of rural Spain, there was work and food, if not luxury, for all. Land that had gone unfilled for generations was cultivated again, and no man starved. But, as happens often in Spain, it was beyond the boundaries of the villages or the districts that trouble began. The distribution systems, in which the government soon began to interfere, were often inefficient, and peasants who grew specialized crops, such as oranges or olives, which had lost their normal foreign markets, probably suffered a great deal more than those who carried on mixed or grain farming and lived largely from their own produce.

Yet here again the final verdict must be favourable. The peasants of the anarchist regions of Spain were successful enough to convince many observers that collectivization of some kind is still the only real solution to the perennial problem of the land in Spain.

Collectivization during the early months of the Civil War is therefore a field of achievement that must be placed to the credit of the last and largest of the world's major anarchist movements. In the arts of war the Spanish anarchists failed [375] miserably, and their organization and following were virtually destroyed as a result of their failure. A few thousand ageing immigrants, a tiny underground movement carried on under circumstances of immense difficulty -- these are all that remain today of the hundreds of thousands whom the C.N.T. and the F.A.I. once attracted by their visions of an ideal world. But in the arts of peace they showed that their faith in the organizing powers of workers and peasants, in the natural social virtues of ordinary people, had not been misplaced. Even if one takes into account the special circumstances of the country and the times, the collectivization of Spanish factories and farms under anarchist inspiration remains a practical experiment on a large scale that cannot be ignored in a final assessment of the anarchist claims to have discovered a way to live in free and peaceful community.


1 Here one should observe the necessary caution in accepting figures presented by Spanish anarchists, particularly since the C.N.T. was notoriously slack in keeping records of membership. However, it is wort remarking that even so objective a writer as Gerald Brenan has suggested that 'there were moments when the anarcho-syndicalist movement was leading from a million to a million and a half workers', though he qualifies this statement with the remark that the C.N.T.'s 'core of persistently faithful adherents did not exceed 200,000'.

2 Quoted by E. J. Hobsbawm in Primitive Rebels: Studies in Archaic Forms of Social Movement in the 19th and 20th Centuries, Manchester, 1959.

3 The Spanish Civil War, London, 1961.

4 The anarcho-syndicalist flag in Spain was black and red, divided diagonally. In the days of the International the anarchists, like other socialist sects, carried the red flag, but later they tended to substitute to it the black flag. The black-and-red flag symbolized an attempt to unite the spirit of later anarchism with the mass appeal of the International.

5 Lessons of the Spanish Revolution, London, 1953.

6 Social Reconstruction in Spain, London, 1938.