Anarchism and Fascism After the Spanish Civil War

"La Falange y Cataluña," Nationalist propaganda, c. 1938

A translation of the provocative final chapter of vol. 3 of Portuguese Marxist João Bernardo's Labyrinths of Fascism (Labirintos do Fascismo), "As relações entre os anarquistas e os fascistas após o final da guerra civil." Pages 821-826 of the Marxists Internet Archive edition.

Submitted by Javier Clark on March 29, 2023

One historian indicates that, on the 4th of March, 1939, "a confused rising took place at Cartagena, involving both Falangist and Left groups," repressed by troops under Communist officers.1 The end of the war was less than a month away, and the threat of a transversal frontline, which was never realized while the fighting took place, only made itself heard in echoes after the Republican overthrow. Contacts between the two camps did not prolong the shootings that took place in Salamanca on the occasion of the removal of Hedilla nor renew the force that raised barricades in Barcelona in 1937 because the radical anarchists, authentic Falangists and dreaming Carlists had been relegated irretrievably to the periphery of political action, where they found no common cause. It was from this somnolent state that Hitler, as he expressed to his closest confidants, dreamed of rousing them into a new Spanish Revolution.

"If there hadn't been the danger of the Red peril's overwhelming Europe, I'd not have intervened in the revolution in Spain. The clergy would have been exterminated."2 Indeed, Hitler was troubled by the growing importance that the Spanish Church assumed, to the point of remarking to Martin Bormann that the "whole international outlook and political interest of the Catholic Church in Spain render inevitable conflict between the Church and the Franco regime, and a new revolution thus comes within the bounds of possibility. Spain may well have to pay with her blood, in the not too distant future, for her failure to carry through a truly national revolution, as was done in Germany and Italy."3 In such an event, he would not have hesitated to support the convergence between the left and radical right that Franco prevented. "The priests and the monarchists - the same mortal enemies who opposed the resurgence of our own people - have joined together to seize power in Spain. If a new civil war breaks out, I should not be surprised to see the Falangists compelled to make common cause with the Reds to rid themselves of the clerico-monarchical muck."4

Such a project was, at several points, not completely outside of the realm of possibility. The envisioned participants were within reach. On the one hand, Hitler had the support of the Spanish Fascists who fought on the Eastern Front, and placed a great deal of confidence in their General, Muñoz Grandes. He said that "we must promote as much as we can the popularity of General Munoz Grande [sic], who is a man of energy, and as such the most likely one to master the situation," and that the Blue Division Muñoz Grandes commanded "may well once more play a decisive role, when the hour for the overthrow of this parson-ridden régime strikes."5 On the other, there were the Spanish refugees imprisoned in France. In a conversation with the diplomat Walther Hewel, he noted that "Todt, who employs many so-styled 'Red' Spaniards in his workshops, tells me repeatedly that these Reds are not red in our sense of the word." He added that, "as the Red Spaniards never cease explaining, they had not entered into co-operation with the Soviets on ideological grounds, but had rather been forced into it - and thence dragged into a political current not of their own choosing - simply through lack of other support."6 In this situation, he concluded, the best course of action was to "hold as many of these people as we can, commencing with the forty thousand already in our camps, and keep them as reserves in case a second civil war should break out. Together with the survivors of the old Falange, they will constitute the most trustworthy force at our disposal. [...] [T]he discipline of both the Reds and the Falangists working in the Todt organization is first class, and the more of them we can recruit, the better."7

The collapse of the Third Reich did not completely foreclose this particular dream, because an attenuated echo of the left-right Second Revolution reverberated, if in much reduced form, through the approximation of the defunct CNT apparatus that operated in exile. As early as March 1939, by which time he had already fled, Pedro Herrera, close to Abad de Santillán and an active member of the FAI, suggested for the first time the establishment of relations between the CNT and Falange.8 Emigrant anarchist leaders in France rejected the proposal. One or two years later, the idea of building a rapport with the Falange and burrowing within the Francoist trade union, the CNS, reappeared, but this time from the opposite side of the libertarian political spectrum: it was put forward by several members of the moderate faction that had signed the Manifesto of the Thirty ["Treintistas" were expelled members of the CNT who supported large national industrial unions in contrast to the localist outlook of the FAI] and left the CNT in 1931 before returning in 1936. It was also from this milieu that the short-lived Labor Party emerged, with a membership comprised of "a large majority of former libertarians joined by some Republicans and Marxists," attempting to infiltrate the CNS and limit the space of movement of the regime in it.9 This rehearsal collapsed by the end of 1947 because of a lack of support from CNT militants.

These attempts were accompanied by parallel maneuvers in the opposite camp. José Antonio Girón, Minister of Labor from 1941 to 1957, sought to recruit former labor organizers from the CNT. A radical Falangist, close to General Juan Yagüe [the "Falange General," leader of the radical nationalist ex-combatientes] and enjoying the support of various Old Shirts [Camisas Viejas, hardline anti-Franco Falangists] who concocted all manner of wild conspiracies to occupy themselves in the early years of the new regime,10 Girón did not just pressure imprisoned militants, who would perhaps have acquiesced out of desperation, but also made an effort to entice exiles in France. His orientation was therefore at least partially ideological, not strictly opportunistic.

He obtained immediate results. In 1947, and again in 1952, new proposals were presented to the leaders of the CNT, which perhaps seemed all the more necessary as the base began to rudely express opinions of their own. There is no better demonstration of the cleavages among the tendencies that continued to claim the mantle of anarchism. Indeed, "the general strike of March 12, initially encouraged by Falangist caciques [local bosses] fed up with the progressive marginalization of their party by Franco, was quickly channeled by the CNT militants, who took advantage of the discontent against rising prices and persistent misery to imprint it with a revolutionary and... anti-Falangist character: there were deaths and injuries, some shootings, several hundred thousand strikers, looted shops, thousands of arrests."11

CNT leaders did not respond favorably to these invitations because they were instead interested in an alliance with conservative dissidents, above all the monarchists faithful to don Juan, Count of Barcelona. In one particularly troubled moment near the end of 1945, CNT leaders, both in exile and in Spain, initiated a series of contacts with representatives of the claimant to the crown, which were to last for another three or so years.12 These people got lost in intrigues that had no effect other than demonstrating their own complete absence of meaningful goals.

In 1965 some former CNT leaders residing in Madrid proclaimed themselves the National Committee of the organization and took the initiative to open "discussions with 'leftist Falangists' who enjoyed the confidence of José Solís Ruiz, Secretary General of the Movement [the National Movement, an overarching institution comprised of the Falange, the official Vertical Union, and bodies of civil servants], in order to democratize Spanish trade-union life without resorting to to violence, to overcome the hatred engendered by the civil war in favor of the apparent 'liberalization' of the regime, and give rise to a true spirit of national solidarity."13 All of them had eminent pasts. Eduardo de Guzmán, the archetypal anarchist, had been editor of La Tierra, Gregorio Gallego had, since the beginning of the Civil War, been counted among the leaders of anarchosyndicalism in Madrid, and Lorenzo Iñigo had belonged to the National Committee of the Libertarian Movement, which had been constituted in the waning days of the War in an effort to unify the CNT, the FAI, and the anarchist youth. In jail, Iñigo and another advocate of reconciliation, Enrique Marco Nadal, who until his arrest had been Secretary General of the clandestine CNT, received in June 1947 a visit from several high-ranking Francoist officials representing the Ministry of Justice with the approval of the Caudillo himself, who proposed "handing over the CNS with authorization to change the name to the traditional CNT." This would have meant that "the political and administrative representations of the union would also be handed over to them, empowering them to designate the men who deemed convenient for their performance." In accord, the Francoist representatives even offered "the promulgation of an amnesty decree granting freedom to all those political prisoners who are imprisoned for clandestine activities, except those with communist affiliation."14

The recuperation of anarchosyndicalism would have guaranteed, in short, the admission of Francoist Spain into the ranks of the Western democracies: anarchists footing the bill for the Cold War. The two prisoners had then refused this offer, but would themselves, two decades later, suggest something similar. The leadership of the CNT was indignant, agitated, announcing itself against the talks, but the truth is that the supposed traitors in Madrid enjoyed considerable support among high-profile exiles: some were moderates, like Juan López, who had during the Civil War been the Minister of Commerce and then Secretary-General of the National Committee of the Spanish Libertarian Movement, and who, moreover, would accept a position in the Vertical Union in 1968; others were former FAI radicals, like Diego Abad de Santillán or Pedro Herrera, who had himself suggested for the first time, in the month of March 1939, that contacts be established between the CNT and the Falange.

There had been a long intervening period, a quarter of a century. These exiles saw themselves as renewing in Spain, and through it the rest of the world, the struggle between classes. But in the mid-1960s, just as a tidal wave of autonomous workers' struggles developed in Spain and, indeed, in the rest of the world, these former leaders of anarchism were unconcerned with adapting the old tactics of class struggle to the new technocratic context. Their ambition was rather combining the anarcho-syndicalist bureaucracy that they believed themselves to possess with the equally illusory national-syndicalist bureaucracy that they believed to exist. All this was a farce. The tragedy had long passed, sealed in the streets of Barcelona in May, 1937.

  • 1Gabriel Jackson, The Spanish Republic and the Civil War, 1931-1939, p. 468. Princeton University Press: Princeton, 1972.
  • 2Trans. Norman Cameron and R.H. Stevens, Hitler's Table Talk, 1941-1944: His Private Conversations, p. 320. Enigma Books: London, 2000.
  • 3Hitler, p. 516.
  • 4Hitler, p. 520.
  • 5Hitler, p. 569-570.
  • 6Hitler, p. 569.
  • 7Hitler, p. 568-569. Perhaps this project of the Führer was related to the fact that, beginning in the spring of 1943, Spanish Republicans in Mauthausen "were suddenly given special preference and transferred to better external subcamps" and that, in the last two years of the war, "their mortality rate was lower than that of the other classes of prisoners." Wolfgang Sofsky, The Order of Terror: The Concentration Camp, p. 121. Princeton University Press: Princeton, 1997.
  • 8César M. Lorenzo, Los anarquistas españoles y el poder, p. 274. Ruedo ibérico: Paris, 1969.
  • 9Lorenzo p. 276-277.
  • 10Stanley G. Payne, Falange: A History of Spanish Fascism, pp. 213-214.
  • 11Lorenzo p. 320.
  • 12Lorenzo pp. 300-318.
  • 13Lorenzo p. 323.
  • 14Lorenzo pp. 276-277, fn. 7.