The Revolutionary Movement in Spain - Helmut Rüdiger

The Revolutionary Movement in Spain - Helmut Rüdiger

Text describing the history of the CNT in the Spanish Republic before the army revolt in 1936 that started the Spanish Civil War.

The Revolutionary Movement in Spain
by M. Dashar
(pseudonym of Helmut Rüdiger, 1903-1966)

About the Author

Helmut Rüdiger [Rudiger] (1903-1966)

Helmut Rudiger was born in Frankenberg, Germany in 1903. As a teenager he joined the Wandervogel youth movement in Chemnitz and was a member of the Anarchist-syndicalist Youth of Germany.

Rudiger also participated in Chemnitz’s unemployed movement and became a member of the anarcho-syndicalist Freie Arbeiter-Union Deutschlands (Free Workers’ Union of Germany FAUD) in 1922.

At the University of Leipzig Rudiger studied Germanic and art history. Together with Gerhard Wartenberg and Ferdinand Gotze, he founded a discussion group which included both young workers and academics.

Rudiger was particularly interested in the writings of Gustav Landauer, which helped him to develop his understanding of anarchist-syndicalist theory and practice, and led to his involvement in the labor movement.

In Munich in 1925 Rudiger became chairman of the FAUD local. During the same year, while studying in Munich, he began writing for the magazine Junge Anarchisten (Young anarchist).

Rudiger moved to Berlin in 1927, became active in that city's FAUD local and contributed to its paper, Der Syndikalist (The Syndicalist). In 1928 he became the paper's editor.

During his time in Berlin, Rudiger became familiar with the writings of Erich Muhsem, Rudolf Rocker, and other anarchists. In 1931 he became editor of the journal Besinnung und Aufbruch (Meditation and awakening). He also participated in the Gilde freiheitlicher Bucherfreunde (Libertarian Book Club), where he gave talks on war, literature and the art of Franz Masareel.

From 1927 through 1934, along with Albert de Jong, Arthur Lehning and Augustin Souchy, Rudiger edited the press service of the Internationalen Antimilitaristischen Kommission--IAK (International Antimilitarist Committee), a fusion between the IWA-AIT’s antimilitarist committee and the IAMB. The bulletin they produced contained information about antimilitarist struggles and was distributed to 800 papers and magazines. The bulletin presented both non-pacifist and pacifist approaches to resisting militarism. Fierce debates took place within the Commission over how best to resist fascism in Italy and nazism in Germany, whether revolutionaries should engage primarily in armed resistance by forming militias, or resist through strikes, boycotts, non-payment of taxes, and passive resistance. The vast majority of members in the IWA-AIT called for armed resistance. Rüdiger wrote under the pseudonym D. Rodriguez.

In 1932, due to internal conflicts in the FAUD and the imminent rise of the Nazis to power, Rudiger left Germany for Spain. He was, nevertheless, able to maintain contacts with the underground FAUD groups in Germany.

From 1936 on, while in Spain, Rudiger was active in the anarchist International Working Men's Association (IWMA) and wrote for the German anarchist press in exile.

He also worked for the Spanish anarcho-syndicalists as head of their foreign information service.

Rudiger's experiences in the Spanish Revolution, especially during 1937, confirmed him in his opposition to Marxist-Leninist Communism. He left Spain in 1938 following the Stalinist-influenced destruction of the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo( national confederation of labour) (CNT).

After leaving Spain, Rudiger took refuge in France and then emigrated to Sweden. There he became one of the leading figures of the anarcho-syndicalist movement. Using the pseudonym Ivar Bergeren, he wrote in Arbetaren (The Worker), journal of the Sveriges Arbetares Centralorganisation--SAC (Central Organization of the Workers of Sweden).

After 1945, together with Henry Bergmann, Rudolf Rocker and Fritz Linow, Rudiger participated in the German anarchist Föderation freiheitlicher Sozialisten (Libertarian Socialist Federation). From 1949 to 1953, he worked on the Federation's periodical Die freie Gesellschaft (Free Society). In the early 1960s Rudiger wrote for the magazine Opposition und Ziel (Opposition and Goal).

During a visit to Spain in June 1966, Helmut Rudiger died of a heart attack in Madrid.


Biography from German Wikipedia page at

Helmut Rüdiger (1903 - 1966)
German Resistance Memorial Center (German)
accessed November 21, 2009 at

Biography from International Institute for Social History site, accessed November 15, 2009 at

[6- 9 -1966] -- Helmut Rudiger (1903-1966) dies. German anarcho-syndicalist, theorist of federalism.
from The Daily Bleed's Anarchist Timeline: Part 4, 1940-Present

Review: Workers Against Work by Michael Seidman, University of California (1991) ISBN 0-520-06915-3
in Direct Action #38, Spring 2007

re: International Antimilitary Committee
in The Evolution of Anarcho-Syndicalism
Chapter 6 of Anarcho-Syndicalism
by Rudolf Rocker

"The Foreign Legion of the Revolution“
German anarcho-syndicalists and Volunteers in Anarchist Militias during the Spanish Civil War
German CNT members in French detention camp, 1939
by Dieter Nelles

Lehning, Arthur, 1899- 2000
by Nick Heath, edited by libcom

* * * * *

The Revolutionary Movement in Spain
by M. Dashar

Published by

Libertarian Publishing Society
45 West 17th Street
New York, N. Y.


Downloaded November 8, 2009 from Internet Archive, converted from PDF at


Two great anti-fascist revolts broke out in Spain in a comparatively short period of time. The anarcho-syndicalist uprising of December 1933, and the protest movement against the Lerroux government in October 1934 which started a wide spread mass strike all over Spain, led to numerous encounters between the workers and the armed forces, took the character of a separatist revolt in Catalonia, and developed into a magnificent revolutionary action in Asturias. Yet all these struggles were nothing but the climax of the severe social disturbances to which Spain has been uninterruptedly exposed for more than two years. One revolutionary uprising succeeded another. The Iberian peninsula resembled a volcano. Large scale mass actions bore testimony to a revolutionary workers' movement which was not satisfied with the republic. Foreign observers stated these facts time and again without, however, touching their real core or getting any nearer to an understanding of the truly vital question in Spain. The Spanish revolutionary movement differs radically in all its elements from the Socialist movements in other countries. Of course, one may draw parallels and make comparisons, but that does not exhaust the problem at hand. Only a knowledge of the origin of the revolutionary trends in the Spanish workers' movement and a study of their development, combined with a careful observation of the events from the fall of Primo de Rivera's dictatorship up to the present time will enable us to understand the peculiarity of the Spanish situation, to draw conclusions for the future, and to relate the revolutionary movement in Spain to the revolutionary tendencies of the workers' movement all over the world.

There is a saying that Africa starts on the other side of the Pyrenees. As a matter of fact, the Pyrenees form a very significant barrier. The ethnologic (1) composition of the Iberian peoples is exceptionally strange. The peninsula has become a veritable melting pot of races. Throughout centuries war to the hilt has raged uninterruptedly in the different parts of the country. Dark and unknown is the origin of the Keltiberians, the first inhabitants of Iberia. The Basques are perhaps their last survivors. Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans came and mixed with the population; a great number of Jewish immigrants also became part and parcel of the population.

The immigrations of the Goths and Vandals ended in Iberia; then the Arabs came from the South, overflowing the country up to the Pyrenees, until they were thrown back, centuries later, by the Christian kings, whose imperialism attracted cultural and racial elements of the Central and South American peoples. The terrors of the inquisition initiated by these kings caused the cultural and economic decline of the country which has lasted into the present times and led to the emigration of large parts of the population.

The history, so crowded with radical changes and upheavals, plus the peculiar racial inheritance, accounts for the Spanish national psychology. In the fight against the violent and brutal Catholicism that conquered the country after the expulsion of the Arabs, there developed a strong trend towards independence and love of freedom.

Dreaminess, inclination towards phantasy, and a distinct feeling for human decency and dignity blend into a peculiar mixture that makes up the character of the Spanish people. Individualism is their real life element. This has its advantages and disadvantages. The country as a whole is lacking in economic initiative and intellectual productivity; laziness and indolence are a cancer in the body of the nation. As far as civilization is concerned the country is far behind other European countries. But it has preserved more of its originality. On the other hand, such outdated sentiments as human equality and justice not only find clear expression in the forms of social intercourse, but reach even deeper. The Spaniard may be poor but he does not give up his dignity. Even the beggar does not prostrate himself, but demands his human rights and addresses you as an equal when he asks you for a gift.

This heritage was taken over by the revolutionary workers' movement, which developed in the middle of the last century in Spain. It meant a new departure, the beginning of a progressive development. Its task was to mold into new forms all that was valuable in the national traditions, to stop any tendencies in the wrong direction, and to find its place in the international socialistic workers' movement.


The great French revolution raised the cry for freedom and equality. The young bourgeoisie that soon became the ruling power, interpreted the demand for freedom according to its own class interests--it wanted freedom in commerce and trade, freedom to exploit others. The slogan of equality was soon dropped. Socialism, which rose shortly afterwards hesitated at first, then developed, in the most important countries, in the opposite direction; it was content with demanding equality, which to many of its adherents was nothing but uniformity, discipline, and the mechanical, "state-socialist" organization of all life. Freedom was, as Lenin put it, only a bourgeois prejudice. But it was characteristic of the Spanish workers' movement that it tried from the beginning to defend a socialism of equality and freedom without sacrificing one of the basic demands to the other. It would have been impossible to gather the Spanish proletariat into strongly organized political parties as has been done in Central Europe, and to submit it to a severe discipline, the way the Socialist Party succeeded in Germany. Social Democracy and Marxism were able to invade Spain only at a comparatively late date, and until the 1920's, were not deeply rooted among the workers.

One of the most important theoreticians of Spanish liberalism, who, at the same time, blazed the trail for libertarian socialism in his country was Pi y Margall. He translated Proudhon into Spanish and thus acquainted the Spanish worker with the great anarchist thinker. Pi y Margall points time and again to the traditional character of the Spanish people, to their love for independence, their dislike of centralism:

"Domestic peace is so hard to attain in Spain because there is no system of administration, of economic and financial policies that would not hurt the interests or views of some locality... Many of the old provinces have kept a character and language of their own which distinguish them from the others. Some have preserved their old regional privileges, others have civil laws that contradict entirely the conceptions of family and property in other parts of the country. There are provinces that are both industrial and agrarian in character, others that are purely agrarian... Almost all of them have a history and literature of their own. If the same yardstick were to be applied to all, discord would be perpetuated in Spain. Some provinces will flourish through the ruin of others. The unitarian state", Pi y Margall continues, "may perhaps do away with a few small disputes, but, on the other hand, it will destroy the seeds of life that God's own hand has sown in the various districts and regions of the country. The heterogeneousness of the provinces gives life to the whole country but also causes its little quarrels; only unity of the disparate parts can do away with this evil--let us therefore organize our country on the basis of a federal republic."

These ideas are just as vital for Spain today as at the time when Pi y Margall expressed them. The dictatorial regimentation of Primo de Rivera went on the rocks. In October 1934, the Right started preparations for a new dictatorship, but even the reactionary Catalan bourgeoisie is turning against the too pronounced centralistic tendencies of the new regime. (2) The Basque traditionalists and conservatives are turning against the Madrid reactionaries and demand autonomy for their region. These conflicts can no longer be settled by the bourgeois-capitalist regime in Spain. They hasten disintegration. The fight for independence in the capitalist republic has turned into a business rivalry between the various regions, has become part of the economic competitive struggle.

The situation is entirely different when we turn to the revolutionary movement. Its hope for Spain is a living, coordinated libertarian socialism. Only when social equality is attained will the general demand for freedom acquire a meaning, will the free initiative of communities and regions have a real significance for the welfare of the whole country.

In 1840 the first labor unions were formed in Spain, following the ideas of Margall and Proudhon. In 1868 a decisive step towards a closer union was taken after the visit of Michael Bakunin's friend Fanelli to Madrid and Barcelona, where groups of the International Alliance of the Socialist Democracy and of the "International Workingmen's Association" were founded. (The I. W. M. A. existed since 1864). In 1870 all Spanish workers' organizations assembled for their first Congress which had a decidedly anarchist-socialist program. Nearly all leaders of the new movement supported the federalistic socialism of Pi y Margall but they disagreed with him on the class question. They stood for the active self-liberation of the proletariat, for the social revolution as advocated by the International Workingmen's Association. They differed from Pi y Margall in their attitude towards government methods and parliamentarism: the workers rejected both and professed to be for organized direct action. They demanded abolition of the state, which is not only the defender and protector, but also the creator of property and social prejudices. The program of the "Spanish Regional Federation of the International Workingmen's Association" demanded that "the independent economic organizations of the'; workers, united on a federal basis, and not subject to any state or political party, take over production, reorganize distribution, and engage in the armed defense of the revolution.

In 1870, 30,000 workers were members of this organization; by 1873 there were 300,000. In the same year, they separated from the First International (3) after the conflict between Marx and Bakunin and the great international controversy between Marxian state socialism and Bakunin's anti-authoritarian socialism. They belonged for years to the International Organization of Libertarian Socialist Groups, which had been founded at St. Imier after the Hague congress of the International.

During the first Spanish republic, (4) the young movement fought valiantly for the cause of the workers, defied the bourgeois federalists and republicans and was suppressed after bloody conflict. The movement continued underground until 1882, when it was reorganized at a convention. Though continually persecuted, and suffering a terrible loss of lives and liberty, the anarchist, later the anarcho-syndicalist movement has continued up to the present day. The Confederación Nacional del Trabajo, founded in 1910, had a membership of 450,000 at the time of the Madrid convention in 1919, and beside that, 350,000 sympathizers had sent delegates. After Primo de Rivera's dictatorship, the organization was built up again, starting with a membership of nearly 500,000. Since then the movement has suffered inconceivable persecutions and mass imprisonment, has been declared illegal in most parts of the country, even under the Leftist governments, but could not be eradicated. At a regional conference of Andalusia and Estremadura alone, in the summer of 1934, 180,000 members and 80,000 sympathizers sent delegates.


The Spanish Socialist Party was founded in the seventies of the past century 'after a split in the Madrid group of the International Workingmen's Association. This group comprised nine members and did not grow larger for quite some time. During the next ten years trade unions were formed which adhered to the conceptions of the Socialist Party; their Unión General de los Trabajadores was founded, but developed very slowly. The party tried to take part in the elections of 1882, but it suffered utter defeat. It is interesting to take a look at its membership after fifty years of active propaganda: in 1915 there were 14,000 members, in 1921 a little over 45,000 in the whole country. In 1926, when Primo's military dictatorship changed into a civilian dictatorship, the party had six delegates in the Cortes; but they had only won their seats through coalition with the bourgeois republicans during the elections. At this time began the rise of the Socialist Party and the U.G.T. Largo Caballero, leader of the Union, was appointed Counselor of State in the Ministry of Labor by Primo de Rivera; the Socialist Party worked together with the Dictator. The U.G.T. submitted to the laws regulating the organization and activities of trade unions, sent its delegates to the government labor courts of arbitration and flourished. In the summer of 1931 its members numbered approximately 200,000. During elections for the legislative Cortes, in June 1931, the Socialist Party again did not come out as an independent class party, but was content with general "republican" slogans. It entered into a new coalition with the various bourgeois "Left" parties and got the largest number of seats in the Constituent Assembly. However, at the November elections in 1933, the number of their deputies was cut in half. In Islid, three socialist ministers entered into the government of the republic, and there began the golden age of the Socialist Party and its unions (U.G.T.). The U.G.T. became a kind of government-sponsored union and received important privileges; tens of thousands of its functionaries got government jobs. The Socialist Party then made up for its failure in the past sixty years; it became a mass organization and, through the U.G.T., was able to influence directly the attitude of hundreds of thousands of workers. The cup of democracy was emptied with long draughts--to the bitter dregs.

The dictatorship of Primo de Rivera was to remedy several evils in the country; the increase in the activities of the anarcho-syndicalist C.N.T. frightened the bourgeoisie. The separatism of the regions, especially that of Catalonia, threatened to develop more and more. Beside that, the military clique was attacked because of the Morocco adventure which had cost the nation tens of thousands of lives. But during the seven years of the dictatorship, neither the revolutionary workers' movement nor the Catalonian regionalism could be destroyed. In 1930, the King had to drop Primo and replace him with General Berenguer. In the summer of the same year the bourgeois republicans and the socialists entered into the famous "Pact of San Sebastian" whereby they stipulated the division of the expected loot. The Socialist Party was promised three cabinet posts, which it later awarded to Prieto (Public Works), Caballero (Labor), and De Los Rios (Education). The anarcho-syndicalist Confederación was also asked to sign the pact and it was likewise offered ministries. It declined, but stated that it would fight for democratic liberties on the side of the people, without taking part in a bourgeois republic. And just this happened.

The young republic fell into the hands of a bourgeois-socialist coalition, which, except for the short presidency of Alcalá Zamoras, (5) ruled the country for two years under Manuel Azaña. The government sought to solve several problems. The foremost was that of agrarian reform. Spain is a rural country. There are only two millions of industrial workers--their ranks, large during the period of war profits in industry, have been sharply reduced by several crises; while the number of farm laborers in the country amounts to over four and a half million. The largest and oldest industry is the textile industry, mainly located in Catalonia. The central part of the country, as well as Andalusia and Estremadura are in the hands of big landowners. Valencia and the North are settled mostly by small landowners, while in Catalonia the land is generally leased to small tenants (wine growers). The rural workers have lived since ancient times in indescribable misery. They seldom have enough to eat. The greatest part of the year they are unemployed, and during the harvest months they work under police supervision. The situation of most of the landowners is not a great deal different. Statistics divide the landed proprietors into the following groups: 845,000 small landowners earn only one peseta per day, either because they have not enough land or because it is very poor. 160,000 proprietors attain economic independence to a certain degree, because the whole family works very hard and reduces its wants to a minimum. The number of well-to-do peasants is estimated at 10,000, while most of the soil is in the hands of 9,000 landowners who squander its profits in the cities but have never done a stroke of work.

Another important problem that faced the new state was the separation from the church. The catholic clergy was gobbling up an enormous part of the budget. The schools were completely under their influence. Nothing was being done for a free, universal-educational system; nearly three-fourths of the population were illiterate. Any attempt to organize a secular school system had been blocked by the church. At the beginning of this century, the anarchist Ferrer had succeeded in creating a free school organization, which soon began to establish small free school groups all over the country. His organization was outlawed; the schools were closed. When the great anarcho-syndicalist uprising against the Moroccan war broke out in Barcelona, in 1909, Ferrer was imprisoned and executed as one of the instigators of the movement, though he had nothing to do with it; the catholic church in Spain was never loath to commit such crimes. Now, finally, its fateful political power was to be broken.

As to social reforms, the Azaña government aimed to turn Spain into a copy of the "Weimar" Germany. Wages and working hours were to be regulated by government bodies, strikes and direct action of the workers were looked upon as outlived remnants dating from the infancy of the social struggle and were to be abolished as such. The government also planned to introduce obligatory social and unemployment insurance, according to the Central European pattern.

But the new regime failed miserably. The Azaña-PrietoC-aballero government did not fulfill any of the many promises that had helped them to power. However, their policies were such as to help the waiting reactionaries into power! Gil Robles today enjoys in leisurely fashion the fruits of the republican policy of coalition. Aside from that, the Spanish revolution was a thorough anachronism: a "democratic" revolution in 1931 when the world was ready to scrap democratic illusions, and a last attempt to save the capitalist system by turning backward, towards state absolutism!

This experiment could not end any other way than it actually did.

As the revolutionary workers' movement was not able, in 1931, to inspire a decisive part of the masses to push the revolution forward, the Socialists and the U.G.T. rose into power. This power they used to defeat their revolutionary competitors in the workers' movement and to widen the breach among the Spanish workers by resorting to every means of legislation and governmental violence. The revolutionary labor movement was systematically weakened and destroyed while at the same time the reformist law abiding workers were influenced against direct action. The results of this policy were the events of October 1934.

Only a small part of the program of the Azaña government was put into effect during its two years in office, but none of it was in favor of the working class.

The agrarian reform did not take any steps toward abolishing the large estates, but made provisions to gradually divide certain large tracts into small properties. The capital value of the land was to be credited to the former owners, and the new small landowners were to become economically dependent from the very beginning by having to pay interest to the big land-holders. Every vestige of socialist tendency was abandoned. Before the agrarian reform law was carried out, it was emasculated by numerous "reforms" of the law itself. The later governments which succeeded the socialist, republican coalition gradually divested the whole fabric of agrarian laws of its already innocuous contents.

The separation of church and state was partially carried through. A number of members of the Jesuit order were expelled, but the order itself continued to exist. Laws were promulgated for the secularization of education, all religious educational institutions were to abandon their ecclesiastical character. But the religious orders started to form private capitalistic organizations that took over the educational institutions. Thus, through many subterfuges, the church maintained its influence in the schools. The state did not have money enough to carry out its own program for building schools. Instead, it created a new shock police, the Guardia de Asalto, for the special purpose of suppressing the anarcho-syndicalists. The military budget of the republic was greater than that of the monarchy, the fight against illiteracy remained a dead letter.

The new Minister of Labor, Largo Caballero, became very active. His main achievement was the Law of April 8, 1932 through which he intended to solve the problem of labor unions; all workers' organizations had to submit to a certain state control; they had to take part in the state labor courts of arbitration to which all labor conflicts were to be submitted; and, finally, the date of strikes had to be announced in advance. The socialist U.G.T. submitted, of course, to all these terms and put its members into the vacancies of the Jurados Mixtos (Labor Arbitration Courts). Not so the C.N.T. They did not recognize the law and did not submit to it.

According to the letter of the law they should have been dissolved automatically, yet the government did not dare to take this step. But the anarcho-syndicalist organization was hampered in its activities; its militant members were arrested, and its headquarters closed wherever possible. The C.N.T. and its great social revolutionary mass movements all over the country were slandered as never before. The militant workers of the Confederacióm and the Anarchist Federation of Iberia (P. A. I.) were branded as "bandits with a membership card" by the Socialists. Towards the end of the Azaña government, in the summer of 1933, a new attack was prepared against the revolutionary labor movement. News items in the press for which neither the police nor the ministry of the Interior wanted to assume responsibility announced the discovery of a far reaching "anarchist-monarchist plot". The government ordered new mass arrests. The example of an Andalusian town where the chief of police received orders from Madrid to arrest a certain number of leading monarchists and the same number of anarchists shows clearly how this "plot" was "discovered". Orders were carried out. One of the best known monarchists of the town, having been on a trip, reported voluntarily to the police upon his return. But they declined to arrest him, stating that they had already the desired number of monarchists!

The legislative activity of the Socialist Party and the bourgeois republicans reached its highest point in the new laws for public safety and against vagrancy. The former offered the police a much desired power to proceed against the workers and to suppress any move of the revolutionary organizations. Leading anarchist militants were to be subjected to the law against vagrancy under which they would finally land in the concentration camp. But this attempt had to be abandoned. The law for public safety which had previously served to sap the vitality from anarcho-syndicalism, was used against the Socialist organizations themselves after the Socialist Party was eliminated from the government of the Republic. After the fall of Azaña and the Socialists, the governments of the republic used to justify their various acts of suppression against the workers by referring to the legislation, that had been created with socialist cooperation; in questions of the rights of labor they referred to the decisions and interpretations of Largo Caballero.

The entire activity of the republican-socialist coalition in matters of labor policy consisted in the attempts fostered by the government departments to secure for the U.G.T. a position of monopoly in labor matters, and to eliminate all other tendencies within the workers' movement. At the same time the real activities for labor reforms were pushed into the background. Neither the contemplated social insurance nor unemployment relief were introduced. The unemployed mounted to over a million. Begging and vagrancy increased tremendously; crime spread more and more.

A passing glance at the conflicts that have been rocking the Spanish republic since April 1931 will show that the revolution of April 1931 has never been completed, but continually proceeds in new revolutionary outbursts. The social organism has been shaken to its very foundations, and is unable to attain any stability.

When the Azaña government resigned in the fall of 1933, not less than 9,000 militants of the Confederación were still in Spanish prisons. Up to that time 331 workers had been shot by the police since the proclamation of the Republic.


One of the first large struggles waged by the workers under the republic was the strike of the telephone workers in 1931. The government suppressed it brutally to eliminate any revolutionary activity which might be detrimental to the American owned telephone company. The strike lasted for months. July 8, 1931, the chief of the state police ordered all civil guards to lie in ambush on the highways and to shoot without warning anybody who was suspected of tampering with telegraph poles, etc. The Minister of the Interior, Maura, had all strikers systematically arrested. They were later replaced by social democratic union men.

In September 1931, the Confederación in Barcelona declared a general strike as a protest against the mistreatment of political prisoners. The police stormed the locals of the C.N.T. unions, but succeeded in occupying the building workers' union headquarters only after a lengthy siege.

During the summer of 1931 the big agricultural laborers' strike in Andalusia took place, the city of Seville declared the general strike as an act, of solidarity with the rural workers. The civil guard arrested four workers and shot them "while escaping." The general in command had the headquarters of the C.N.T. shot to pieces by the artillery.

In January 1932 the first social revolutionary uprising on a large scale took place. During a strike in Figols (Catalonia) the local miners started to take possession of the mines, to disarm the rich, and to proclaim libertarian communism. The movement extended into the entire region of the upper Llobregat river. Everything proceeded peacefully all in orderly fashion when the government ordered a large detachment of police to suppress the movement; after that anarchists were arrested en masse, 120 of them were exiled to Spanish Guinea, where they had to live under the most terrible conditions, which caused the death of one of them. These events, in their turn, led to a protest in the form of a general strike, which extended to cities and villages all over Spain. During this strike the police shot three children who were playing in front of a house in Navalmoral (Estremadura). In Tarrasa the Anarchists took possession of the city hall, raised the black and red flag of the C.N.T., and proclaimed libertarian communism. The leaders of this uprising were condemned to 20 years' imprisonment.

One of the most magnificent strike movements started in the fall of 1932 in the iron works of La Felguera (Asturias). There a number of aged workingmen had been dismissed and were not to get any old age pension. Then all the workers of the plant struck. This movement developed into a general strike in La Felguera and was followed by a general strike all over Asturias. This example is typical of the Spanish class struggle. Actions of solidarity play the most important part. The proclamations of the strike committee of La Felguera show this characteristic strongly. One of them reads as follows: "The workers must not fail their brothers, grown old at the work bench, who have taught them their trade and given them a shining example of how to fight." The ultimate goal of the movement: the social liberation of all, was the guiding spirit of every one of these struggles.

The year of 1933 started with a new tragedy for the revolutionary movement. In Barcelona an uprising of the Anarchist Federation of Iberia broke out; it spread to several villages and small towns in Valencia and Andalusia where the workers believed the hour of the final struggle had arrived. In Casas Viejas (Cadiz) the workers had also seized the village and tried to organize production and distribution on a communistic basis. The government sent strong police detachments to the village. Prime Minister Azaña in person told the police officers: "Neither wound, nor take prisoners, Who will only be found innocent later! Shoot them straight in the belly!" The same instructions were given by the Minister of the Interior and the head of the police to the leader of the Guardia de Asalto who promptly carried out his duty. Obviously these orders had been prompted by decisions of the entire cabinet, probably with the sanction of the socialist ministers. Thus in Casas Viejas, after the village had been conquered and many old and young men, women and children had perished in a cabin that had been set on fire, twenty-three unarmed prisoners were shot by the police without any reason. The police officer in charge was sentenced to thirty years in prison for having committed a sixteen-fold murder. The responsible party in the government escaped unscathed.

In the country, in the villages, every year, especially in Spring, revolutionary mass actions almost always started spontaneously, without being led by any organization. The workers ransacked olive store houses and granaries; in many villages they drove the landowners out of their houses, and began to cultivate the un- ploughed fields for their own benefit until the civil guard stopped them. Thousands of farm laborers were driven to such acts of despair by stark hunger. Strike movements' in the rural districts also occurred frequently.

Every one of these strikes was declared illegal by the Azaña government. In 1932, the minister of the Interior said once that he would "place a policeman near each corn stalk" to safeguard the harvesting. That year the laborers actually worked under the (bayonets of the civil guard. In spite of that there were successful strikes in the rural districts, one of the most remarkable taking place in the environs of the famous wine city of Jèrez in the spring of 1933. Here the workers in the vineyards walked out to improve their living and working conditions. After the strike had lasted more than a month, the C.N.T. inspired all labor organizations in the city of Jèrez to show their solidarity by a general strike. This was carried out; no newspaper appeared, no bread was baked, all cafes were closed in Jérez. The vineyard workers won their point; their daily wages were raised to 9.75 pesetas, working hours were shortened to six hours and fifteen minutes, and one hour each for breakfast and lunch, and six recesses called "cigars", consisting of fifteen minutes each, were allowed.

It would, of course, be utterly wrong to draw conclusions from the condition of these workers and apply them to Spanish farm laborers in general. The great mass of the rural proletariat lives under absolutely inhuman conditions. Even a bourgeois paper in Barcelona wrote about this topic in 1934: "Spain, so geography tells us, is a nation of twenty-two million people. But from an economic point of view, the country has only fourteen million inhabitants. There are actually existing eight million human beings in Spain that do not consume anything. They vegetate, but they do not live. What do these people purchase during the entire year? Well, these eight millions of poor farm laborers and midget farmers, especially in Andalusia and Estremadura, buy themselves two pairs of cloth shoes and one pair of very cheap trousers per annum. This enormous number of people does not mean anything to Spanish industry." And this after three years of the republic, of agrarian reform, and socialist labor policy!

From among the tens of thousands of strikes that succeeded one another during recent years, we can record here only a few. Let us mention the national general strike, organized as a protest against the mass arrests and the closing of many trade unions, in the beginning of May 1933, which spread all over the country, wherever the C.N.T. had any influence. The government was much concerned over the strike, the newspapers wrote of nothing else for days.

In the summer of 1933, a movement for shorter hours and corresponding increase in wages started in different parts of Spain. The building workers of Barcelona struck for this purpose fully four months. Their demand for reduction of working hours was granted only in part, but their wages were increased, so that their earnings were not reduced. Activities of this kind started in several places in Catalonia and spread to the rest of Spain. Wherever the C.N.T. could influence the course of events, better wages were obtained, so that the decrease in working hours never meant a loss of wages. If the Spanish proletariat was generally able to keep its wages at the same level or could obtain better pay during the two and a half years after the proclamation of the revolution, this was almost exclusively due to the numerous bitter fights that the Confederación led, not only against the bosses but also against the authorities who in every case sided with the capitalists. Every one of the big strikes of the C.N.T. was declared illegal, and always the armed forces were called out against the workers; clashes occurred regularly; streets were red with blood and prisoners were taken. Thousands of workers were kept in jail without knowing why.

It is hard to say anything in general about the wages of the workers in Spain. Daily wages in the larger cities range from nine to fifteen pesetas, while they are much lower in the country. In the villages of the farm laborers, the daily earnings amount to two pesetas or less, and work is only seasonal. The trade unions of the C.N.T. tried as far as possible to carry into the collective agreements the principle of wage equalization and to reduce the differences in wages among the many classes of workers. They succeeded in many cases in obtaining favorable regulations concerning vacations. The bosses were obliged to continue paying for several weeks a large percentage of a workers' wages in case of illness. The syndicalist gas workers of Barcelona had a clause in their agreement to the effect that every worker who went to prison for political reasons had to be reinstated if his jail term did not exceed a certain number of years.

In connection with the union fights of the Spanish workers, the two other great weapons of direct action must be mentioned: sabotage and boycott were liberally used. After a thoroughly organized three weeks' traffic strike in Barcelona, toward the end of 1933, the street car companies dismissed 400 syndicalist workers. This was met by an embittered sabotage campaign. Dozens of valuable street cars were destroyed by fire on remote lines. Finally all means of communication in Barcelona began to function again only under strong police guard. Numerous Spanish industries were successfully boycotted. The biggest action of this kind was against the Damm brewery in Barcelona, which had dismissed around seventy workers of the C.N.T. after the general strike in May 1933. The boycott slogan spread all over Spain, the firm sought to avoid the ruinous consequences by delivering their beer without a label. In many cafes where the boycotted beer was served, bombs exploded. Finally the concern gave in, put the dismissed workers back on the job, and paid a large compensation, most of which was used for the political prisoners.

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Jan 8 2010 21:32


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David in Atlanta
Jan 8 2010 23:06

Wow! That needs to be in the library, not a forum post, but thanks.

Jan 18 2010 19:11

Excellent piece of research. Great read!
I am a Scotsman, currently living in Barcelona, and as such am very interested to find out more regarding the circumstances of the civil war.
Although I am obviously a foreigner, and as such have a shallow understanding of the Spanish people in general, the statement made by Pi y Margall: "If the same yardstick were to be applied to all, discord would be perpetuated in Spain" makes sense to me when considering the separatist mentality that seems apparent today here in Catalunya.
A number of my Spanish friends describe Spain more as a collection of federal states than as a united country.

Jan 18 2010 19:58

thanks very much for posting this!

If someone else could tag and format this properly as a library article that would be great. If not I will do it when I get a chance.

I have moved it from being a forum post to a library article already.

Jan 24 2010 11:25

There needs to be more said about Rüdiger. There is nothing factually wrong with the biogragraphical details given above, but in needs to be said that his contribution to revolutionary syndicalism was far from positive.

Rüdiger came from a middle-class family. He joined the anarchoßsyndicalist movement in Germany as a teenager in the early twenties, after giving up his art history studies.Later as a member of FAUD, he was responsible for editing" Der Syndikalist", and "Die International". In 1932 he moved to Spain, seeing the writing on the wall in his homeland, and duely joined the CNT. He remained there for the next 6 years, and witnessed the mistakes of the CNT, and the maschinations of the Communists. He left for Paris in 1938, sayed briefly and travelled to Sweden in 1939, on IWA business, when WW2 broke out. His intention then was to travel to Mexico to live, but he remained in Sweden unil his death in 1964.

He frequently sated thathis major influences were Proudhon and Gustav Landauer, who Augustin Souchy ( a fellow revisionist) descibed as having a Christ like countenance! Now these two theorists and activists share the belief in the creation of islands of socialism, within capitalism, Landauer in particular had very little time for the working-class, and addressed himself to those enlightened few who had the courage to drop out of the nexus of capitalist-state power relations.Landauer was very much the proto-hippie, and lets face it who the heck trusts a hippie?

In Sweden Rüdiger very swiftly gained admission to the inner circles of Swedish syndicalism, with his knowledge of Spanish conditions and his linguistic abilities he became a frequent contibutor to the SAC's daily "Arbetaren" and the less frequent theoretical journal, "Syndikalisten". His articles often written under a different name (he used no less than four!), often delt with utopian socialist theory, like those of Fourier, Owen, Proudhon and Landauer.Underscoring his belief that syndicalism must take a different road from confrontation with capital and the state. In 1945, his booklet Syndicalism and Parliamentarianism, states that"... the state is no longer the same apparatus as it was in Bakunin and Kropotkins time, it is a complex of innumerable social functions of great importance.", therefore smashing the state would not win the support of the masses. He also suggested a role for a political party formed of libertarians in local elections. Indeed the Libertarian Localist Party, won a number of seats in Swedish local elections.

Rüdiger's activity abroad was constant. He had contacts throughout the world and, promoted his ideas of syndicalism-lite, as well as his pro-West, anti-Communist beliefs. He supported the creation of a new "syndicalist" international comprising the SAC, groups in Latin America, and Spanish exiles in France. He attempted to get the IWA to change its principles in 1956, to state that Revoutionary Syndicalism "springs from" the class-struggle, instead of "is based" on the class-struggle. He failed in that attempt, but suceeded in Sweden in 1952, introducing a period of liberal revisonism, which had been developing for a while in the SAC.

Many of Rudiger's ideas reflected those held by a number of individuals who had come into contact with anarchist and syndicalist ideas prior to and after the war. Many of this individuals equated liberatarian ideas with art, and bohemian lifestyles, or with a kind of militant liberalism.Many no doubt believed that what they were doing were merely reacting to a new situation in the world. But why still pretend that this is revolutionary syndicalism, thus muddying the waters for those trying to re-establish unions. Rudiger had long since ceased to be a revoutionary unionistby the time he got to Sweden and should have had the honesty to say so.