Recently I was lucky enough to take part in a meeting of radical historians in Barcelona. The event was billed as “a meeting of colleagues and comrades, all active in interpreting and bringing out the radical history of the place where they live”.
As well as sharing experiences and having a good time, the gathering was aimed at establishing “a more or less formal network/platform for the future. An international network of independent tour guides, street storytellers and historical activists”.
Radical historians and tour guides from Dublin, Barcelona, Olso, Berlin and London were present, as well as members of the RaspouTeam who make innovative use of street art, QR codes and radio to celebrate the revolutionary history of Paris. For my own part, I delivered a presentation on Liverpool’s history from an anarcho-syndicalist viewpoint, including some general history of the Solidarity Federation (which goes back to the founding of the Syndicalist Workers’ Federation in 1950), of which I am a member. Also participating and helping to facilitate the meeting was a CNT member who has set up a bar off La Rambla called La Llibertària, which is run as a workers co-operative. The walls of the bar are covered in posters, photographs and original newspapers from the Spanish revolution and it is well worth a visit for anyone spending time in the city.
After the first meeting, Nick Lloyd took us on his excellent Spanish civil war tour, taking in some of the key locations of the conflict and bringing to life many of the inspiring and tragic events of the libertarian revolution.
On the second day, we visited El Fossar de la Pedrera (The Grave of the Quarry), the final resting place of thousands of Franco’s victims. In 2011, the CNT placed a permanent memorial here to those in the libertarian movement who died fighting for freedom and the social revolution. We also took the opportunity of visiting the grave of Buenaventura Durruti (who lies alongside his comrade Francisco Ascaso and the radical education reformer Francisco Ferrer i Guàrdia), something I had wanted to do for many years.
The two days we all spent together was a great opportunity to share ideas and experiences. The working title of the co-operative project is the History From Below network; a website is planned and possibly a book in the future. We also intend to meet on an annual basis, with next year’s conference to be held in Berlin with, hopefully, even more participants. Encouragingly, far from being merely historical anoraks, everyone involved is aware of the importance of linking the working-class struggles of the past to those of today.
At the time of writing, the draft mission statement of the network reads as follows:
"This is an international cooperative network of historical activists, all active in interpreting and bringing out the history from below of the place where they live. We celebrate the achievements of the past and link their struggles to today's fight for a better world. We believe unreservedly in internationalism and the shared history of these common struggles, recognising and seeking to discover the common heritage of ordinary people’s lives from Dublin to Berlin."