Anarchists in the Spanish Revolution: Historical Sources

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speerross's picture
speerross
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Oct 10 2007 20:23
Anarchists in the Spanish Revolution: Historical Sources

I'm currently doing research in to my A2 coursework essay on Anarchists in the Spanish Revolution & Civil War. My actual topic question is:

Why did the Anarchists fail to be a significant force in the Spanish Civil War?

I'm aware of the basic issues behind this due to my own research. The problem I'm having is getting specific opinions and quotes from historians, this requires me to read a load of books which I simply don't have time to do. Does anyone have any/know of any quotes and opinions from books/studies/articles by historians of this period? It doesn't have to be specific quotes but I just need to source my work as this is what a lot of the marks are for! This is very tedious for me as I've already formulated the content of my essay, just gotta keep the examiners happy!

Mike Harman
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Oct 10 2007 20:29

Should get you started: http://libcom.org/tags/spanish-civil-war

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Joseph Kay
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Oct 11 2007 08:45

there's a pretty dodgy assumption in that essay title! (presumably your teacher thinks the CNT was 'insignificant'?)

i'm not sure books wise, i think Beevor's military history (the battle for spain) has stuff on the anarchists (haven't read it, i think someone told me it did. don't know what his biases are...). there are various anarchist texts (vernon richards, murray bookchin, jose peirats) too, which offer different explanations (each with their own ideological slant, probably get marks for pointing that out?) i haven't actually read many books on spain so i'm not much use sorry sad

would suggest you get books with a decent indexes though if you're fishing for quotes to support an essay you've already written. hardly textbook historical method but gets you the grade like. good luck smile

john
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Oct 11 2007 12:55

Vernon Richards (lessons of the spanish revolution) goes into a lot of detail arguing that the anarchists weren't insignificant, but that they weren't anarchisty enough - basically the FAI couldn't help itself in being like a political party, and the anarchists who joined the Madrid government (most focus seems to land on Federica Montseny) were completely wrong to do so. these moves ultimately led to actual anarchists being overwhelmed in a dual war - against the Madrid government and against the fascists - which they were doomed to lose.

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Chilli Sauce
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Oct 11 2007 18:53

diddo on Joseph's K first comment, but here a few sources worth checking out:

Objectivity and Liberal Scholarship - An essay by Noam Chomsky available from Chomsky.info or in the book Chomsky on Anarchism

With the Peasants of Aragon - I forget who this is by, but it is a great first person account from the time period.

Obviously, Homage to Catalonia by Orwell

Also, see if you can find Anarchism in Action, a pamphlet by the Worker Solidarity Movement

Good luck

martinh
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Oct 11 2007 19:53

Well, anarchists were a lot more significant than the International Brigades, but you'd never know from the literature. grin

It strikes me the question is loaded, presumably meaning the military aspect of the Civil War. Which kind of leads onto what's more important - civil war or revolution. The critique most anarchists would make of Spain and the CNT/FAI in 1936 is that it didn't go all out for the latter and allowed the Communists to dictate the terrain by mobilising the middle class and bourgeoisie in the Republican zone. Militarily, the militias were brought under control of the Army, itself controlled by Stalinists - Land and Freedom by Ken Loach is a dramatization of this process.
Beevor is worth reading - an academic historian who doesn't have either a stalinist or right wing axe to grind. For a quick overview, try the anarchist FAQ section here

There is also quite a bit at Revolt's Spain page

Regards,

Martin

Feighnt
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Oct 13 2007 07:23
Joseph K. wrote:
i think Beevor's military history (the battle for spain) has stuff on the anarchists (haven't read it, i think someone told me it did. don't know what his biases are...).

it does have stuff - a fair bit, for a book not specifically focusing on the Anarchist side. he's surely a Liberal, but a less ideologically blind one than is typical. he's obviously done his research on Anarchism, and seems genuinely sympathetic (at least, to the Anarchists in spain back then). i personally thought the criticisms of the Anarchists he made here or there were very honest (and, really, not too brutal for the most part) - constructive, even. he also details the increasing strength of the stalinists rather well.

Black Badger
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Oct 13 2007 16:54

Beevor used to help with the Cienfuegos Press Anarchist Review back in the day, hence his understanding/sympathy with anarchism. As soon as he gained some fame, he bailed on his erstwhile companero/as. His writings are pretty good overall.

BB
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Oct 15 2007 12:20
Feighnt wrote:
Joseph K. wrote:
i think Beevor's military history (the battle for spain) has stuff on the anarchists (haven't read it, i think someone told me it did. don't know what his biases are...).

it does have stuff - a fair bit, for a book not specifically focusing on the Anarchist side. he's surely a Liberal, but a less ideologically blind one than is typical. he's obviously done his research on Anarchism, and seems genuinely sympathetic (at least, to the Anarchists in spain back then). i personally thought the criticisms of the Anarchists he made here or there were very honest (and, really, not too brutal for the most part) - constructive, even. he also details the increasing strength of the stalinists rather well.

I've just picked up the "battle for spain", beevors 2nd version of "the spanish civil war", and have checked out his reference to relevant groups, he actually mentions mujeres libres in there, i can't remember whether they get a mention in the first one, but as a group they certainly had an influence, but according to martha acklesburgs book "free women of spain" they were a bit low in figures on the ground (membershipwise), i'm just wondering how he grades relevance, i'm thinking of the other groups, avowedly stailinist, carlist, fascist...

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speerross
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Oct 15 2007 19:39

Thanks for the help guys, much appreciated and has proved very useful so far.

On the subject on the weighted question, I actually wrote the question myself (I could choose any question from history really). I did wrestle with it as it clearly makes the assumption the anarchists were insignificant, but I eventually settled with that question becuase I think the Anarchists DID prove to be an insignificant force in the civil war and from my current research I am coming up with plenty of reasons why. The CNT was a highly significant organisation in promoting and forming the basis of the social revolution, but the question clearly refers to the civil war. The social revolution at the time is part of my argument as to why the Anarchists did fail to be a significant force: Their energies were directed towards this revolution and not towards the defeat of Franco. There were also few anarchist led effective fighting forces - Durruti's column and the Iron column to name 2 but compared to the effect of the POUM militias and the Popular Army the anarchists were largely ineffective in this respect. I meant my question to aim at the civil war as a whole; The Anarchists were largely crushed by 1937 by the Communist repression. I also intend to argue that the Anarchist co-operation with the state (and other breaches of anarchist orthodoxy) did make the Anarchists a more effective force than they would have been otherwise, it was not only necessary to protect the anarchist gains but to assist fully in winning the war against Franco. To have not made these pragmatic moves would have been the greatest hypocrisy: It would have been a selfish abandonment of the rest of Spanish working class that did not reside in anarchist territory.

Mike Harman
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Oct 15 2007 20:11

speerross, I think you've got this completely the wrong way round.

1. The international brigades were used as cannon fodder by the communist to boost their political position - sent to their slaughter many times, especially around Madrid. They were however better armed than anarchist forces due to having first access to weapons.

2. By joining the government, the CNT left itself wide open to the later attacks by the liberals and Stalinists - in July 1936 they had the potential to get rid of the capitalist state entirely. They didn't, and it came back later and bit them in the arse (as did the CNT leaders who for example ordered strikers back to work in July '37). You need to remember the Communists were tiny in July 1936, and the popular front allowed them time to manouevre for the repression that followed.

Feighnt
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Oct 16 2007 10:51

i must agree with catch that i think you've got some things turned wrong, speerross. i can definitely understand you saying the Anarchists were insignificant to the war effort, but i wouldnt overstate this - the initial actions of the Anarchists, and the sheer number of them available as a fighting force definitely meant something.

the big problem was that they were rarely utilized, and certainly not so much as a force. i have to strongly disagree with you that the Anarchists were insignificant on the military front due to being so focused on the revolution - while it's true that Anarchists were the major force of revolution, their quickness to compromise (more importantly, *joining* in part) with the authorities meant that the push for revolution died out fairly shortly into the civil war (they had to show good faith to their supposed allies, afterall). the idea of the compromises was that this would facilitate the defeat of the rebel generals more smoothely (thereby making the Anarchists a much more important part of the resistance), but the reverse actually happened - they choose to compromise in relative good faith with people who never trusted them for one second. they allowed themselves to be drawn closer to the authorities, and the authorities used this to better *disarm* them, make them impotent.

in truth, i believe that, given the situation in Spain then, the only way the Anarchists would've been a more significant force in the actual *battle* against Franco and company was to retain their (at least partial) independence. shaky alliances would've had to be made, and the policy of the Anarchists may have had to be toned down in certain places, but where they could push forward the revolution, they needed to, and they needed to retain their *military* independence and dynamism to the greatest degree possible - to do these things meant they would've had a REAL, proper base of power (realistically, they basically gave up Catalonia right off the bat, even though it was practically theirs), and a fighting force ready to back up their positions in diplomatic talks with their "allies." the only way they would've been offered any respect is if they showed they were willing to fight for what they argued for. by compromising away everything so quickly, and by sacrificing so much of what they held dear to them, ideologically speaking, to try to seem fair and mild to their bourgeois allies, they failed completely and merely showed them that they were willing to bend as far as they were pushed.

in some ways, Durruti was kind of the last hope of Anarchism, as he still, from what i gather, harboured strong plans for pushing forward the revolution, and actually strengthening the *Anarchist* stance within the war. if the Anarchists had been able to take Zaragoza in time, early in the war, as they intended, things may've been different - Durruti and Garcia Oliver had plans to push forward the revolution, but Durruti wanted to secure Zaragoza first. but he died too soon, and it seems that nobody else was willing to step up to the bat. in Aragon, they claimed they were going to make a great Anarchist guerilla movement, akin to a Spanish Makhnovschina, but for whatever reason, this claim never was turned into reality. Durruti's successor, Mera, seemed a very competent military leader from the little i've seen, but i assume he felt that, by then, the situation had changed too much to be able to set off as a real, independent force. and there are other complexities too, but never mind that now.

so, yeah... i think the Anarchists needed to stay in a position of relative independence, for not only the revolution to survive, but for them to become militarily very significant - as opposed to all the major campaigns being planned out by Stalinists, as things turned out. it's kind of a cliche to say this these days, but i really do believe there are very firm reasons to say that, for the war to be won, the revolution had to survive. because, if the revolution survived, it meant the Anarchists survived as a real force in themselves. if this had happened, they would've offered a counter-balance to the influence of the Stalinists to the war effort (nothing would've stopped them from growing in strength during the war - the effect of the aid from Russia was too great of a propaganda ploy for it not to have happened). the Stalinists then may have done their best to plan killing off the Anarchists, but they would've had to be much more wary about it, and would've had to put up a greater effort in treating the Anarchists as a relatively equal power in "republican" Spain (as for plans of beating the Anarchists, it only became all too easy for them to do it when the Anarchists submitted themselves to the government). but since the Anarchists did not retain their independence in any politically or militarily significant way before too long into the war, the Stalinists were able to work their way into the highest levels of government, and also thoroughly dominated the military. their commanders were extremely incompetent, and were more interested in conducting very flashy, brave-*looking* campaigns, rather than campaigns which seemed to have a decent, practical pay-off. just look at what happened to Zaragoza - it should've been liberated early into the war, as early as possible so that the northern "republican" zones would be linked to the rest. instead, they refused to go anywhere near it until rather late into the war, and only when Franco had thoroughly fortified it and the rest of Fascist-held Aragon. only the Anarchists wanted to take it early, but they were given no support, and were left to stagnate in the fields.

asn
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Oct 16 2007 11:41

I want to make a few points in this discussion
- in regard to the success of the counter revolution in the republican zone during the civil war and the the associated joining by the cnt-fai of the popular front govt and the development of bureaucratic tendencies in the cnt and fai which favoured the counter revolution - you must look at the pre -civil war period in spain particularly the early 1930's
- most significantly was the "bad influence" exerted by the barcelona based FAI and allied "anarchist groupings" within the CNT - which engaged in wild slandering of other currents in the CNT -the "revolutionary syndicalist committees"/BOC (Workers & Peasants Bloc) and the Trientistas - driving many associated with these currents from the organisation and plunging the CNT into a hysterical atmosphere - whilst the CNT under this FAI (they gained control of mass circulation cnt papers) influence encouraged the insurrectionary cycle of the early thirities - also contributed to an unscientific internal atmosphere unconstructive to calm discussion and debate - whilst contributing (today you have an "unscientific atmosphere" in so called anarchist groups particularly due to the infleunce of identity politics and its mythologies of oppressed groups which are beyond debate and discussion) to huge membership departures from the CNT due to massive state repression and the growth of the UGT in Catalonia
- the UGT in Catalonia came under strong Stalinist/CP influence at the leadership level particularly during the Civil War and became a key proponent of the counter revolution
eg defending the interests of small business who jointed the UGT and via its base in banking - financial sabotage of collectivisation
- so what you had in key traditional bases of the cnt such as barcelona - immediately before the outbreak of the civil war was the cnt in a state of major decline whilst bodies such as the UGT which came under stalinist infuence were under going major growth
- given such factors and the infuence of the UGT and allied groupings in other parts of republican spain - the simplistic idea of the FAI zealots that the CNT was self sufficient to the revolutionary project proved totally unrealistic - and most importantly due to the hysterical atmosphere and massive state repression - a discussion could not develop in the CNT for a more appropriate revolutionary strategy - which would drawn in the base of other bodies in the republican zone - eg a workers councils state model
- consequently the cnt and fai was draw into popular front structures and rather than establishing a "general militia" responsible to the workers councils - a range of party and union tied militias which
which led to an inablilty to carryout coordinated operations against Francoist Forces (also in the pre-civil war period it did little to develop a militia system until too late due to the above climate in the cnt)
- all this together with an inability to suppress the military coup in the early days and the reliance on soviet arms contributed to the formation of the republican army which stalinists had major influence and the dissolution of the CNT and other revolutionary militias and full on attacks on collectives in aragon and other provinces by the stalinist /republican controlled army units and attacks on cnt political influence during the May Days in 1937.
See "Red Barcelona" edited by Angel Smith - looks particularly at the decline of the CNT in a key bastion and the rise of the UGT
before the civil war outbreak and associated rise in major stalinist influence in sectors of the working class and middle class
and also "The Agony of Modernisation" by Benjamin Martin - very critical of FAI and allied anarchist group influence in the cnt
see review of Red Barcelona in the archive section on our web page www.rebelworker.org -
mark

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Chilli Sauce
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Oct 22 2007 15:07

Jumping back in a little late here, but really good discussion. One very short point: any critique of anarchist military strategy has to include the fact guns and munitions were kept from the anarchists. Stalin was sending in Soviet arms to the communist groups, while the anarchists were systematically deprived of much needed weaponry. Had the anarchist militias been able to defend themselves against communists or fascist repression in the later stages of the war, the outcome could have been vastly different.