The Spanish Anarchists: The Heroic Years, 1868–1936

By Murray Bookchin (1978)

Revolt Library Anarchism The Spanish Anarchists

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(1921 - 2006)

Father of Social Ecology and Anarcho-Communalism

: Growing up in the era of traditional proletarian socialism, with its working-class insurrections and struggles against classical fascism, as an adult he helped start the ecology movement, embraced the feminist movement as antihierarchical, and developed his own democratic, communalist politics. (From: Anarchy Archives.)
• "...a market economy based on dog-eat-dog as a law of survival and 'progress' has penetrated every aspect of society..." (From: "The Crisis in the Ecology Movement," by Murray Bo....)
• "...Proudhon here appears as a supporter of direct democracy and assembly self- management on a clearly civic level, a form of social organization well worth fighting for in an era of centralization and oligarchy." (From: "The Ghost of Anarcho-Syndicalism," by Murray Book....)
• "Or will ecology groups and the Greens turn the entire ecology movement into a starry-eyed religion decorated by gods, goddesses, woodsprites, and organized around sedating rituals that reduce militant activist groups to self-indulgent encounter groups?" (From: "The Crisis in the Ecology Movement," by Murray Bo....)


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It’is not widely known to the general reader that the largest movement in pre-Franco Spain was greatly influenced by Anarchist ideas. In 1936, on the eve of the Spanish Civil War, approximately a million people were members of the Anarchosyndicalist CNT (Confederation National del Trabajo, or National Confederation of Labor)—an immense following if one bears in mind that the Spanish population numbered only twenty-four million. Until the victory of Franco, the CNT remained one of the largest labor federations in Spain. Barcelona, then the largest industrial city in Spain, became an Anarchosyndicalist enclave within the republic. Its working class, overwhelmingly committed to the CNT, established a far-reaching system of syndicalist self-management. Factories, utilities, transport facilities, even retail and wholesale enterprises, were taken over and administered by workers’ committees and unions. The city itself was policed by a part-time... (From :

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In late October 1868, Giuseppi Fanelli, a tall, heavily bearded Italian of about forty, arrived at Barcelona after a railroad journey from Geneva. It was Fanelli’s first visit to Spain. He had reached the city without incident and he would leave it, a few months later, ^without any interference by the Spanish authorities. There was nothing in his appearance that would have distinguished him from any other visiting Italian, except perhaps for his height and his intense prepossessing stature. But Giuseppi Fanelli was not an ordinary visitor to Spain. His brief journey was to have a far-reaching influence, providing the catalyst for what was not only the most widespread workers’ and peasants’ movement in modern Spain, but the largest Anarchist movement in modem Europe. For Fanelli was an experienced Italian revolutionary, a supporter of the Russian Anarchist Mikhail Bakunin, and a highly gifted propagandist. His journey had been organized by Bakunin i... (From :

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Background What was the “Idea,” as it was destined to be called, that Guiseppi Fanelli brought to Madrid and Barcelona? Why did it sink such deep and lasting roots in Spain? Few visions of a free society have been more grossly misrepresented than Anarchism. Strictly speaking,, anarchy means without authority, rulerless—hence, a stateless society based on selfadministration. In the popular mind, the word is invariably equated with chaos, disorder, and terrorist bombings. This could not be more incorrect. Violence and terror are not intrinsic features of Anarchism. There are some Anarchists who have turned to terrorist actions, just as there are others who object to the use of violence as a matter of principle. Unlike Marxism, with its founders, distinct body of texts,and clearly definable ideology, anarchistic ideals are difficult to fix into a hard and fast credo. Anarchism is a great libidinal... (From :

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We must now try to see how remarkably well Bakunin’s ideas suited the needs of a revolutionary workers’ and peasants’ movement in Spain. To nineteenth-century liberalism, the problems of Spain could be reduced to a classic formula: a backward agrarian country, faced with the tasks of land reform, industrial development, and the creation of a middle-class democratic state. The parallel with France on the eve of the Great Revolution is unmistakable: a liberal bourgeoisie, demanding a governing voice in the state; an absolute monarchy, passing into an advanced state of decomposition; a stagnant nobility, lost in darkening memories of its past grandeur; a reactionary church, steeped in medievalism; and a savagely exploited working class and impoverished, land-hungry peasantry. The consciousness of this parallel, almost bordering on fatalism, was so strong that Spanish political factions often modeled themselves on Jacobins, Girondins, Royalists, and Bo... (From :

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The International in Spain As for the nuclei Fanelli left behind in Spain in 1869, little was heard from them for a time. Before his departure from Madrid, the Italian had given his admiring group of workers a small miscellaneous legacy of written material: the statutes of the International, the program and regulations of the Bakuninist Alliance of Social Democracy, the rules of a Swiss workingmen’s society, and several radical periodicals which included articles and speeches by Bakunin. These precious texts were carefully studied, discussed, and passed around (presumably in translation), until the fledgling Madrid Anarchists began to feel assured and confident of their views. They called themselves “Internationalists,” and were to do so for years, basking in the mounting prestige of the great workers’ International north of the Pyrenees. They also began to write letters to the Internation... (From :

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Proletarian Anarchism The founding of the Spanish Regional Federation opened an entirely new period in the modern history of Spain. Since the respectable Liberal parties had shut themselves off from the masses of Spain the lower classes would try to form organizations of their own. The political polarization of rulers and ruled merely paralleled one that had long since developed on an economic and cultural level, but it was to lead to increasingly bitter confrontations in the years to come. The earliest of these were mild. The founding congress had evoked press attacks throughout Spain, particularly in Madrid where the Liberals and Republicans viewed the antipolitical stance of the new Federation as a threat to their waning influence on the working class. Fortunately, the most immediate practical result of the Barcelona congress was to furnish the Federation with the nucleus of its own national press; in addition to La Fed... (From :

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Peasant Anarchism To claim as some writers have done that Anarchism was imported into Andalusia and the Levant would not be entirely true. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that Anarchism was latent there, and the Internationalists evoked it. If the Anarchists of the cities had to build their own countersociety to an inhospitable and corrosive commercial world, the Anarchists of the countryside found one in their very midst. They had only to reshape some of its elements in order to create a living social milieu for libertarian ideas and ways of life. The International had no difficulty in winning over the braceros, the great mass of exploited gang workers who cultivated the latifundia of the Guadalquivir basin. But the real strength lay in the mountain pueblos, of Andalusia and the Levant—the “people of the sierra,” as J. A. Pitt-Rivers calls them. Here, where a few hund... (From :

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The 1880s in Spain were a period of rapid industrial growth and overall agricultural prosperity. British and French capital flowed into the mining industry and turned the country into one of Europe’s leading producers of iron and copper. The development of Cuba as a market for cheap textiles served to buoy up the Catalan cotton industry, and when the French vineyards were nearly destroyed by the phylloxera virus, Spanish wines enjoyed a brief period of supremacy on the world market. With the coming of the 1890s, however, economic growth became spotty, broken by ominous years of stagnation and decline. If the earlier upswing had brought some limited benefits to the urban and rural working classes, the decline was agonizing for them. What tormented the country were the contrasts between rich and poor. At the one extreme, Spain seemed to have plunged into a world of feverish business in which the wealthy classes were occupied with amassing immense fortunes, while those below l... (From :

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The New Ferment By the closing years of the nineteenth century, an organized libertarian movement in Spain had virtually ceased to exist. Police reprisals against the terrorists, coupled with repressive legislation, led to the dissolution in 1896 of the Pact of Union and Solidarity. The Anarchist Organization of the Spanish Region was in shambles. Workers began to leave libertarian organizations as rapidly as they had entered them several years earlier. In Cordoba, for example, after the promising revival of the 1880s, only a few acolytes could be persuaded to attend the May 1 celebration of 1893. In the following years, the rallies were given up altogether. In vain did leading Anarchists reverse their views and speak out against terrorism. As early as 1891, Kropotkin warned that while “the development of the revolutionary spirit gains enormously from heroic individual acts ... it is not by these heroic acts that revolutions are&rsquo... (From :

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The Early Years The decade following the “Tragic Week” opens the mature period of Spanish Anarchism, when the movement assumed massive dimensions and fully developed its tactics and organizational forms. At this time we also witness the emergence of the CNT, the largest of the libertarian organizations that were to play a role in the Spanish Civil War. The maturing of Spanish Anarchism was a complex process of rounding out earlier methods of struggle which had been used too one-sidedly, almost to the exclusion of all others. During the period of the International, the Anarchists were trying to find their way to a coherent body of theory and practice, and their influence on the laboring classes of Spain was very limited. This was probably the most experimental period in the early history of the movement. Its methods—the general strike tactic combined with local insurrections—could be deployed only on a v... (From :

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The Primo de Rivera Dictatorship On September 13, 1923, General Miguel Primo de Rivera, the ^captain general of Catalonia (a post to which he had been appointed during the previous year), proclaimed himself military dictator of Spain, bringing to an end the parliamentary oligarchy Sagasta had labored to create in the 1870s. The dictatorship was the culmination of a period of growing disenchantment with the army and with the role of the monarchy in the couritry’s political affairs. The army had proven itself grossly incompetent. Two years earlier, in June 1921, a large column in Spanish Morocco, advancing under the command of General Silvestre from Melilla to Alhucemas, was ambushed at Annual and virtually destroyed by a smaller force of Riff tribesmen. Ten thousand were killed, four thousand captured, and all the column’s equipment lost to the Riffs. In the following two weeks the Riffs took the Spanish-fortified p... (From :

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El Bienio Negro The parliamentary elections of November 19, 1933, brought an overwhelming victory to the right and ushered in what the Spanish labor movement was to call el bienio negro—the two black years. Yet despite this harsh characterization, the period generally fell far short of the fearful prognoses advanced by the labor movement. Newly organized fascist groups such as the JONS and the Falange, the latter led by Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, the dictator’s charismatic son, had supported the right. They supplied it with a sufficient amount of street thuggery to arouse fears that Spain was following the same path that had just brought the Nazis to power in Germany. But the Falange, even after it had absorbed the fascistic JONS, (Juntas de Ofensiva National Sindicalista), barely numbered 3,000 members. Despite the adulation the young Primo de Rivera aroused amOTg reactionary university students and aristoc... (From :

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We must leave the details of that revolution—its astonishing achievements and its tragic subversion—to another volume. That Sanjurjo was to perish in a plane crash on his way to Spain, leaving Franco commander of the entire military uprising; that the war on the peninsula was to become inextricably tied to European power politics; that ijpain was to endure three tormenting years of internecine conflict—all of these events belong to the conventional histories of the Spanish Civil War. Without entering into a discussion at this time of the Anarchist collectives and the experiments in workers’ control of industry that developed in the latter half of 1936, we must try to assess the meaning of the events recounted in this volume. What was the place of the Spanish Anarchist movement in the larger history of proletarian socialism? What were its possibilities—and its limits? Are the organizational forms developed by the CNT and FAI relevant to radical moveme... (From :

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For an explanation of the different forms of Anarchism, see pages 17–31 below. Engels, it is worth noting, clearly showed an understanding of the Anarchosyndicalist nature of the Spanish section in his article “Bakuninists at Work.” Surprisingly, this fact has yet to be adequately reflected in many current works on the Spanish Anarchist movement. Perhaps the greatest single failing of Bakunin is his inconsistency in translating his avowed organizational precepts into practice. For a discussion of this problem, see pp. 46–50 below. Which is not to say that the pueblo did not harbor the petty tyrannies of rigid custom, parochialism, superstition, and the more overt tyrannies of the caciques, clergy, and nobility. As we shall see, Spanish Anarchism tried to sift the more positive features of the pueblo from its reactionary social characteristics and rear i... (From :


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