Learn more about the Spanish Revolution of 1936 and the important role of the anarchists….
Articles published in Fifth Estate related to the Spanish Revolution (in date order)
Notes on the Death of Franco (Part I)
Fifth Estate #268, January, 1976, Vol. 11, No. 4, page 14
Let me stress that if Francisco Franco was denied a place beside Hitler and Stalin as one of history’s most terrifying mass murderers, it was only because of the demographic limitations imposed upon him by the Iberian peninsula. Hitler had the hundreds of millions of Europe from which to collect his mountains of corpses; Stalin, the many tens of millions in Russia. Franco was limited to 24 million people.
In Catalonia and the Levant the anarchists arrested many a landlord and monarchist on the assumption that he had probably backed the uprising, but most of these people were released when the evidence, and the testimony of villagers who had known them for years, indicated they had nothing to do with the uprising. By contrast, the “largest single category of deaths were the reprisals carried out by the Carlists, the Falangists, and the military in the area captured by the Franco forces. Physical liquidation of the enemy behind the lines was a constant process throughout the war. The Nationalists had, by definition, far more enemies than the revolutionaries: all members of Popular Front parties, all Masons, all officeholders of UGT or CNT unions or of Casas del Pueblo, all members of mixed juries who had generally voted in favor of worker demands. The repression took place in three stages. At the outbreak of the war, the arrest and wholesale shootings corresponded to the revolutionary terror in the Popular Front zone; but there were a great many more victims because such arrests and shootings were officially sanctioned and because so large a percentage of the population were considered hostile. In the second stage, the Nationalist Army, conquering areas which had been held by the Popular Front, carried out heavy reprisals in revenge for those of the revolutionaries and in order to control a hostile populace with few troops…In the third stage, which lasted at least into the year 1943, the military authorities carried out mass court-martials followed by large-scale executions.”
This is the story of the “face” of Francisco Franco, the story we are requested to forget, to bury with Franco’s own corpse in the “Valley of the Fallen.”
Self-management and the Spanish Revolution
Fifth Estate #274, July, 1976, Vol. 11, No. 10, page 6
On the morning of July 18, 1936 General Francisco Franco began the fascist rebellion against the Spanish Republican liberal bourgeois regime in Madrid. This move was immediately met by armed resistance of the urban proletariat who, after defeating the fascists in half of Spain began the revolutionary process of expropriating industry, while their counterparts among the peasantry collectivized agriculture.
An analysis of the Revolution and the “Civil War,” which left over a million dead in three years, is presented here with its emphasis on workers’ councils, those organs of revolution established by the proletariat to self-manage its own affairs.
It is reprinted from Pointblank published in 1972. All footnotes are by the Fifth Estate staff.
Fifth Estate #323, Summer, 1986, Vol. 20 No. 4, page 12
Imagine the United States split regionally into conservative-fascist and leftist popular front-anarchist zones. Civil war rages at the shifting boundary lines with half the country under the domination of an insurgent military right-wing junta determined to destroy the elected government and all individuals and organizations of the left. Then imagine that simultaneously, behind the lines in the popular front zone (say, most of the East and West coasts), there are widespread decentralized efforts to transform the society through economic and social collectivization in producers’ cooperatives, free schools, free health centers, neighborhood councils, local popular assemblies-the assumption of community self-responsibility through direct action from the bottom up.
Imagine also that the organizations and individuals behind such efforts are constantly threatened with imprisonment or assassination by those in the official popular front government. Imagine all of this with an intensity at least four times greater than the enthusiasm, the polarization and the confrontations of the 1960s. At this point, we can begin to appreciate the dimensions of the Spanish revolution of 50 years ago.
Fifth Estate #323, Summer, 1986, Vol. 20 No. 4, page 20
Contains an annotated list of books and other writings on the Revolution and Civil War of interest to anarchists and other anti-authoritarians.
May Days 1937
Fifth Estate 328, Vol. 23 No. 1 Spring, 1988, page 20
a review of
The May Days, Barcelona 1937 by A. Souchy, B. Bolloten, Emma Goldman and José Peirats, Freedom Press, London, 1987, 128 pages, $5.00
Beginning in 1937, the Spanish central government aided by their communist allies, attempted to wrest control of the revolutionary gains from the anarchists through a campaign of murderous assaults on CNT positions of which the Barcelona May Days was perhaps the most pivotal.
José Peirats: A Comrade, A Friend
Fifth Estate #333, Winter, 1990, Vol. 24, No. 3, page 25
His meager schooling did not deter him from acquiring extensive knowledge. An avid reader and a prolific writer, he contributed articles to the CNT press and became active in the day-to-day social struggle.
During the years of the Spanish Revolution and Civil War (1936-39), his classic anarchist convictions led him to criticize the CNT for entering the government. Perhaps Peirats is most noted for his insistence on portraying the 1936 events in Spain as a veritable revolution, not merely a civil war, a fact that continues to be ignored by many.
Germinal Gracia (Victor Garcia) August 24, 1919-May 10, 1991
The Marco Polo of Anarchism
by Federico Arcos
Fifth Estate #338, Winter, 1992, Vol. 26, No. 3, page 10
Among Germinal Gracia’s many pseudonyms (Germen, Julio Fuentes, Quipo Amauta), Victor Garcia was the most common. Born in Barcelona, Spain on August 24, 1919, he spent his infancy and boyhood in Mequinenza, a village in Aragon, a fact that he always mentioned with pride. But it was in Barcelona, at the age of 14, that he started working in a textile plant and became a member of the anarcho-syndicalist union, the C.N.T.
On the fateful day of July 19, 1936 the people of Barcelona defeated Franco’s fascist rebel army and started carrying out a true revolution, one for which the workers had been preparing and waiting for a long time. Drawn by the enthusiasm of these events, Germinal Gracia, at 16, volunteered for the Anarchist column “Los Aguiluchos de la F.A.I.” When his true age was discovered, he was sent back to Barcelona where he took part in “Libertarian Youth” actions against the already growing counter-revolutionary acts of the politicians and the cowardly attitude of some of the so-called “responsible militants” of the anarchist C.N.T.-F.A.I. committees.
Pura Arcos, 1919-1995
“She never stopped thinking, questioning, and learning.”
Fifth Estate Collective
Fifth Estate #347, Spring, 1996, Vol. 31, No. 1, page 4
[Although most girls and women in Spain did not go to school, or even learn to read and write, before the 1930’s, Pura was very interested in obtaining an education. She prevailed on her parents to allow her to attend elementary school with an older cousin who was living with them. Most working class children who attended school left when they were 11 or 12, but, Pura was eager to learn whatever she could, and determined to continue attending school.] A very bright and promising student, Pura went to work at age thirteen to contribute to her family’s income while attending night school at the Escuela Moderna. [In the Escuela Moderna or “modern school” students were not forced to learn lessons by rote, but were able to learn by pursuing their interests. There Pura met other young people who were concerned about social issues, and became involved in the anarchist movement.]
Pura was very active with the local federation of the Barcelona Mujeres Libres [Free Women], and became a member of the organization’s national sub-committee. [In 1936, groups of women in Madrid and Barcelona founded Mujeres Libres, an organization dedicated to the liberation of women from their “triple enslavement through ignorance, through the traditional social subordination of women, and through their exploitation as workers.” During the Spanish Revolution Mujeres Libres mobilized over 20,000 women and developed an extensive network of activities to help individual women grow, realize their full potential and fully participate in creating a revolutionary anarcho-communitarian society.]
“You experienced the war; I experienced the revolution!”
excerpt from Detroit Seen
Fifth Estate Collective
Fifth Estate #348, Fall 1996, Vol. 31 No. 2, page 30
“You experienced the war; I experienced the revolution!” With these words our companero, Federico Arcos, confronted three veterans of the communist-dominated International Brigades as part of a panel invited to comment on Ken Loach’s film about the Spanish revolution, “Land and Liberty,” following an April 13 showing. The movie depicts revolutionary fervor in 1936-37 Spain, concentrating particularly on a frontline workers’ militia. They attempt to fight together without the social stratification of rank privilege, and the communist-dominated government endeavors to “militarize” them, to return them to hierarchy and the discipline of the barrack.
In 1936 Spain: A New World Was Possible
Peter Werbe, Paul Preston
FIFTH ESTATE #356, Spring, 2002, Vol. 37, No. 1, page 20
José Pierats’ The CNT in the Spanish Revolution (3 volumes) is the most detailed history to date of the million-strong revolutionary trade union, the CNT, and of its grassroots supporters, who, in July 1936, embarked upon the most far-reaching of all twentieth-century revolutionary experiments.
Antonio Tellez Sola
Anarchist, guerrilla, historian
Fifth Estate #370, Fall, 2005, Vol. 40, No. 3, page 46
Antonio Tellez Sola January 18, 1921–March 27, 2005
Antonio Tellez Sola was one of the last survivors of the Spanish anarchist resistance which fought to overthrow the Franco dictatorship in Spain following the fascist triumph in 1939. He was also one of the first historians of the post-civil war urban and rural guerrilla resistance to the regime. In his actions and his writings, Tellez personified refusal to surrender to tyranny.
The Spanish Revolution 70 years later
Fifth Estate #372, Spring 2006, Volume 41, Number 1, page 24
And, so we return to Spain. Nearly 70 years after the people’s response to a right-wing military uprising, those events remain a source of wonder, optimism, confusion, strife and tragedy. It was a high mark of personal and social possibility that has yet to be matched. It was a real revolution of everyday life that shattered the patterns and relationships created by the agencies that constituted a growing capitalism.
Yet it was also a tragedy, comprised of millions of individual and interdependent tragedies; the curtailment of the revolutionary project by brave and well respected anarchists in the name of realism, what activist and historian José Peirats called, “a new theology of circumstantialism;” the slaughter of thousands who attempted to change and enrich their lives, by communists and their supporters; and a long, slow painful retreat relieved only by the individual courage of isolated groups of militants throughout the world.
Spanish Revolution Bibliography
Fifth Estate Collective
Fifth Estate #372, Spring 2006, Volume 41, Number 1, page 30
Spain: model for anarchist organizing
Fifth Estate #386, Spring, 2012, Vol. 47, No. 1, page 45
a review of
The CNT in the Spanish Revolution, Volume I by José Peirats, Edited and Introduced by Chris Ealham; Translated by Paul Sharkey
PM Press / Christie Books; 432pp, 628; www.pmpress.org
The Spanish anarchist movement and revolution of the late 1930s are undoubtedly the historical force and context most praised by Western anarchists. In absolute numbers, in proportion of the overall population they were part of, and in the radical transformation they accomplished in much of Spanish society, the reputation is well deserved.
Highlighting their accomplishments, José Peirats, the author of the best history (in three volumes) of the immense Spanish anarcho-syndicalist Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT), states as well that, “We write for history’s sake and also for the purpose of enlightening future generations of fighters.” For this reason also, he says, “none of the mistakes made by workers should be glossed over in silence.”
A Stalwart of the Spanish Revolution Passes: Federico Arcos
July 18, 1920-May 26, 2015
Fifth Estate #394, Summer 2015, Vol. 50, No. 2, page 9
(Link to online only article)
Remembering Federico Arcos
Fifth Estate #395, Winter 2016 – 50th Anniversary
The Spanish Revolution, Pura & Federico Arcos, & the Fifth Estate
How two Spanish exiles made a revolution real to us and our readers
Fifth Estate #395, Winter 2016 (vol. 50 no. 3), page 31
Next year will mark the eightieth anniversary of the beginning of the Spanish Revolution, an event which most of those involved with the Fifth Estate only learned of in the 1970s, but one which profoundly contributed to what the paper and the broader anarchist milieu have become.
The Spanish Revolution 80 Years On
Fifth Estate #397, Winter 2017, Vol. 51 No. 2, page 25
Some thoughts on how to understand and learn from the history of the Spanish anarchist movement. Like all good history, this knowledge challenges preconceptions and makes it necessary to reassess what was previously understood.
Between myth and reality: The Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War
Fifth Estate #400, Spring, 2018, page 31
In recent years, many leftists and even anarchists glowingly cite the communist-organized International Brigades (IB) that went to Spain to fight fascism during the late 1930s as an example relevant to many of today’s struggles. Men and women came from around the world to join forces with the army of the liberal Republican Spanish government in its civil war against a military-fascist rebellion that began in July 1936 led by Gen. Francisco Franco, who was aided by Hitler and Mussolini’s governments. The authoritarian right was finally triumphant in 1939.
Other works related to the Spanish Revolution of 1936 through 1939 (by date of publication)
“Lessons of Spain”
by Dashar = Helmut Rüdiger [Rudiger] (1903-1966)
Vanguard (Vol. 4, No. 9, July 1939) page 11
This 1939 article addresses the question of how the libertarians/anarchists
in Spain differed from the Socialist and Communists of the time in both
theory and practice. It informs us that
“They oppose historical fatalism and emphasize their creative will to
struggle towards the creation of a new social order; they are opposed to the
thought, born out of exhausted slave mentality, that equality can be
realized by force from above. Social justice can only come alive in freedom,
and freedom can be deserved and obtained only if it is “conquered anew every
day.” The libertarian revolutionists therefore consider freedom not only as
an end, but also as a means; they propagate direct action in all its forms
and warn against amalgamation of revolutionary aims with capitalist
interests and existing political factors.
“But the libertarian idea is no “ism” deriving from a salvationist doctrine
“revealed” by some great personality. Anarchism gives no rules of conduct
appropriate for all times—its only rule is the will to libertarian activity;
creative construction from below; the resistance against dictatorship,
against regimentation, against sapping the initiative of the people.”
“Homage to Federico Arcos”
(on the occasion of his 80th birthday, 18 July, 2000)
News of the Spanish Revolution
Anti-authoritarian Perspectives on the Events
Edited with an introduction by Charlatan Stew
Authors: A. Shapiro, Bill Wood, Federico Arcos, Joseph Wagner, Nicholas Lazarevitch, Robert Louzon, Russell Blackwell, Sophia Fagin
The anarchist Library
From a review by Pedro Garcfa-Guirao in Anarchist Studies Volume 21 Number 1:
For better or for worse, it seems no matter that more than 75 years have passed since the outbreak of the Spanish Revolution in 1936. The event has become a part of the anarchist international imagination and a model to follow. But what is the real relevance of this short-lived political experiment? In other words, can we extrapolate the political lessons of the Spanish Revolution to the contemporary Arab Spring, the Greek or Spanish riots and the Occupy movements? For the editors of this pamphlet the answer is ‘yes’: although the historical junctures in each case are very different, these revolutionary movements past and present all embody an irreconcilable lack of understanding between governments and the masses. Yesterday, as today, ‘Struggles for individual liberty and social solidarity, human dignity, egalitarian sociability and social justice continue to be of the greatest relevance to the majority of the world’s people’ (p.4).
Read in the light of the current social protests, the nine articles in this collection– seven originally published in 1937-38 in One Big Union Monthly (a journal of the Industrial Workers of the World), plus two later pieces written on the experiences of participants–reveal that democratic decisions made today and the outcomes of contemporary mass movements will shape the future of humanity. Hence, it is very important to revisit the anti-authoritarian perspectives of the Spanish Revolution and their anarchist heritage.
Spain, 1936–1939 : Gravediggers of the Revolution
“Why We Lost the War: A Contribution to the History of the Spanish Tragedy” by Diego Abad de Santillán [Por qué perdimos la guerra; Imán, Buenos Aires, 1940 ; G. del Toro; Madrid, n.d. — translation from the Madrid edition by Charlatan Stew, from pp. 211–215] Foreword and Afterword by Charlatan Stew
Diego Abad de Santillán was an anarchist who was prominent in the Federatión Anarquista Ibérica (FAI) and the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) before and during the Spanish Revolution.  He was a well-known writer and anarchist theorist, member of the regional committee of the CNT and of the editorial board of the anarchist journal Tiempos Nuevos. Santillán was also one of the organizers of the popular militias in Catalonia, and later one of the anarchists who participated as a minister in the Catalan government.
Abad de Santillán argued in favor of urging anarchists to break with their traditional stance against participating in state processes in order to vote for the left-wing parties in the February 1936 Spanish Republican elections. Along with the others who favored this tactic, he argued that the election of leftist politicians was important to fight for in order to achieve the liberation of thousands of anarchist political prisoners who had been arrested during the savage repression following the Asturias rising of October, 1934. Because of the concerted efforts of many anarchists, a large number of rank-and-file urban and rural workers indeed did vote for and elect a majority of leftist politicians in the February, 1936 elections. However, as Vernon Richards tells us in Lessons of the Spanish Revolution [Freedom Press, 1972], once the left-wing politicians were in office, they ignored the desires of the workers, who had to act in their own behalf. Most of the political prisoners were not released immediately, and many were only freed because the prisons were opened in response to massive popular demonstrations, before the central government authorized it.
Abad de Santillán later came to recognize that the February, 1936 change in government which he had worked for, had not substantially deprived the capitalist class, the church and the military of real power. And, even with the leftist politicians in office, the government continued to arrest anarchists. By the time of the July, 1936 revolution, the prisons were once again overflowing with anarchist prisoners.
“Living Utopia” (Vivir la Utopia: El anarquismo en España)
Juan Gamero, Francesc Rios, Mariona Roca (English translation by Paul Sharkey)
English translation of screenplay
This 1998 documentary contains interviews with several anarchist participants in the Spanish Revolution of 1936, , excerpted and arranged in such a way as to afford discussion of several aspects of the revolution from each of their points of view.
“All Our Lives”
English translation of the film “De Toda la Vida”
Carol Mazer, Lisa Berger, 1986
This documentary contains interviews with several participants in the Spanish Revolution of 1936, with particular emphasis on the role of anarchist women involved in creating liberatory possibilities within that context.
Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell
written in 1938
This is an eye-witness narative of George Orwell, relating his experiences in the Spanish Revolution and war in 1936 through 1937. It is a well-written and moving introduction to the topic.
The Modern School Movement: Historical and Personal Notes on the Ferrer Schools in Spain
Contributions by Pura Perez, Mario Jordana, Abel Paz, Martha Ackelsberg.
With a foreword by Abe Bluestein
Published (1990) by Friends of the Modern School
c/o Abe Bluestein, 55 Farrington Road, Croton-On-Hudson, NY 10520
This pamphlet deals with a significant chapter in the history of anarchist education in Spain, the Modern School movement and the role it played in helping to create and strengthen the social solidarity and mutual aid that made the Spanish Revolution of 1936 through 1939 possible.
The Spanish Revolution of 1936
Archival documents vs. the myths of the historians
by Vadim V. Damier, Translated from the Russian by Malcolm Archibald
Anarcho-Syndicalist Review 68, Fall, 2016, page 17
This article briefly discusses and challenges two significant myths about the Spanish anarchists and their role in the Revolution and Civil War: 1. the claim that the anarchists of the National Confederation of Labor (CNT) and Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI) almost unanimously agreed to refrain from proclaiming libertarian communism, thereby declining to implement the decisions of the May 1936 CNT Congress in Zaragoza, in favor of collaboration with the other so-called “anti-fascist forces” and 2. the claim that the majority of members of the CNT and FAI subsequently supported the course of “antifascist unity,” which was opposed by only a small clique of radicals.
The Anarcho-Syndicalist Genesis of Orwell’s Revolutionary Years
by Raymond S. Solomon
Anarcho-Syndicalist Review 68, Fall, 2016, page 19
This article gives a brief overview of George Orwell’s experiences related to the 1936-39 Spanish Revolution and his writings on the topic.When Orwell went to Spain he did not know exactly what he would find. He wanted to fight against fascism, defend democracy, and support workers. The article describes how he came to appreciate and respect the Spanish anarcho-syndicalists and the world they were striving to build.
Two New Books on Spanish Anarchism
Review essay by Jeff Stein
Anarcho-Syndicalist Review 68, Fall, 2016, page 22
A review of: Chris Ealham, Living Anarchism: José Peirats and the Spanish Anarcho-Syndicalist Movement. AK Press, 2015, 336 pp., $20, paper; and Jason Garner, Goals and Means: Anarchism, Syndicalism, and Internationalism in the Origins of the Federación Anarquista Ibérica. AK Press, 2016, 384 pp., $19.
This article discusses some of the conflicts and contraditions within the Spanish anarchist movement, thereby giving helpful context to the events of the revolution which blossomed in 1936 through 1939.
The Anarchist Library also has several other texts on the Spanish Revolution: