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the spanish civil war

>> Monday, June 9, 2008


when i first became interested in practical, as opposed to theoretical anarchy, i was schooled on how little i knew about anarchist history, in particular, the spanish civil war. i still don't know as much as i would like, but recently have been educated on the topic more.

i watched a lecture (put on by our local anarchist rabble-rousers, pittsburgh organizing group, and our local christian peace workers, the thomas merton center) with george sossenko, pictured below...


he was a bit daft, but with it enough to recount some of his experiences running away from home to take part in what some have argued was the most successful non-hierarchical uprising in the history of the earth. for a long while, the anarchists held control of barcelona and other lands, until they we're defeated by the facists on one side and the state socialists on the other.

i asked him whether or not modern anarchists should be actively pursuing violence with the state and he said yes. easier said than done, in my eyes, considering the power of the u.s. military. i liked ashanti allston's answer better... he was the next speaker in the series, and he said, yes, we should train in violent methods, but we shouldn't put all our eggs in one basket... self defense is a must, but glamourizing violent uprising has it's problems... he should know. he said it's most important to talk and build with people, face to face. hear hear!

anyway, if you want to talk face to face with me about anarchism and revolution (and can get to pittsburgh sometime or wait till i get near you, email me... j at gyreworks dot com)

bonus album of spanish civil war songs courtesy of zerogsound.

bonus folio of bourgeois personalities courtesy of i flips me lid.

UPDATE: from the comments, reader carlos points out subtleties:

"the uprising itself was the nacionales (fascists). the anarchist thing was basically pre-existing, as spain was mostly agrarian at that point and had been anti-monarchy + anti-clerical for decades. they had also organized into syndicates / militias, and were supportive of and supported by the socialist government at the time (it was all you could do to keep the nationalists out of government in th 1930s).

so to me, the most interesting thing is that restructuring barcelona into an 'anarchist' city (and abolishing money, etc) was actually a defensive act, reactionary as opposed to the 'revolutionary' (violent, military) stance taken by the nationalists!

finally, i think it wasn't exactly the state socialists who ruined everything (specifically the POUM, that group so often associated with Orwell thanks to Homage to Catalonia). it was actually the communists from moscow, who'd become major players in the war by 1939 and were fixated on consolidating power 'to win the war'. there were plenty of state socialists who sided with the moscow commies, but just as many were very skeptical of these cats and sympathized w/the anarchist critiques of them.

in any case, if you want to read any more on this, i really really really recommend anthony beevor's The Spanish Civil War. it's pretty darn good, although there's a lot of (overly) specific descriptions of battles and shit."

4 comments:

carlos June 15, 2008 at 7:34 PM  

hi james! seen ya around the ol' blogosphere, and have been reading around here for a minute, but haven't shouted till now. great, great stuff on here.

i'm sort of a spanish civil war freak, partly because of anarchism and partly because of my family's history with it (this is kind of the case with most folks here in spain).

in any case, just a little knee-jerkiness; the uprising itself was the nacionales (fascists). the anarchist thing was basically pre-existing, as spain was mostly agrarian at that point and had been anti-monarchy + anti-clerical for decades. they had also organized into syndicates / militias, and were supportive of and supported by the socialist government at the time (it was all you could do to keep the nationalists out of government in th 1930s).

so to me, the most interesting thing is that restructuring barcelona into an 'anarchist' city (and abolishing money, etc) was actually a defensive act, reactionary as opposed to the 'revolutionary' (violent, military) stance taken by the nationalists!

finally, i think it wasn't exactly the state socialists who ruined everything (specifically the POUM, that group so often associated with Orwell thanks to Homage to Catalonia). it was actually the communists from moscow, who'd become major players in the war by 1939 and were fixated on consolidating power 'to win the war'. there were plenty of state socialists who sided with the moscow commies, but just as many were very skeptical of these cats and sympathized w/the anarchist critiques of them.

in any case, if you want to read any more on this, i really really really recommend anthony beevor's The Spanish Civil War. it's pretty darn good, although there's a lot of (overly) specific descriptions of battles and shit.

Hyssop June 17, 2008 at 6:43 AM  

Great blog James - I have really been enjoying it! I happened to read "Homage to Catalonia" about 6 months ago and was blown away by the book, not only for Orwell's fascinating descriptions of successful anarchist activity in Barcelona, but for his first hand experiences on the front.

And thanks for recommending Beevor's book Carlos, I'll check it out...

Anonymous July 10, 2008 at 5:48 PM  

Hey James. I have to respectuflly disagree with a lot of what carlos wrote. The anarchists were not "supportive of and supported by the socialist government at the time". The CNT made an unethusiastic decision to not recommend people vote or not vote, thus giving implicit support to the left in the elections. The prevailing view at the time was a revolution was inevitable either way. The decision to not recommend abstension was in exchange for left agreement to free CNT militants after taking power. Repression against anarchists continued by the left gov't, though it didn't move as agressively as before. Never did the CNT go so far as I'm aware to openly/actively support the left gov't prior to the revolution. One has to understand even in somewhere like Catalonia the Generalitat was ruled by Companys who had bitterly repressed and undermined the CNT in the past.

And while the uprising included fasicsts it also included many other tendencies within the right.

I also think it's worth pointing out Barcelona never experienced a complete or true anarchist revolution, mostly because the CNT never removed the gov't. The province of Aragon (which was far more agrarian) did however. Money was abolished entirely (this did not happen in Barcelona except in isolated areas that refused to respect CNT decisions about not toppling hte gov't, wages were still paid), decisions were made in directly democratic ways through the council of aragon (also didn't happen in Barcelona, the GMCC was probably the closet thing and it was based on union/group reps rather than on collective represenation and elections), collectivization occured in it's full forms.

If people are interested in the spanish anarchist movement I would highly recommend The Spanish Anarchists: The Heroic Years by Murray Bookchin and Durruti by Paz.

And yes, it was state socialists who continually attacked and undermine the revolution and anarchist groups. I've not seen any documentation to support the view state socialists split evenly on these questions. Moscow did use the power of arms shipments to insert themselves and supporters into positions of power, but the represssion of the communists against anarchists was much more pervasive. And the gov't/communists had pretty much quashed anarchists after maydays in 1937.

james gyre... July 10, 2008 at 9:03 PM  

anonymous -

interesting... i'll have to do more research. it's definitely an interesting piece of history, and i'd like to get a clearer picture...

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