Civil War and Revolution: Anarchism in Spain

[For the same article with photos, see Notts Indymedia.]

On Sunday July 18th, the Anarchist Federation’s Nottingham group hosted an event at the Sparrow’s Nest entitled “Civil War and Revolution: Anarchism in Spain”. The event came the day after the re-dedication of the memorial to the International Brigades at County Hall, West Bridgford.

The event was an opportunity for the Nest to display its extensive archive of materials about the Spanish Civil War. This includes famous titles like George Orwell’s “Homage to Catalonia” and Anthony Beevor’s “The Battle for Spain,” but also includes many other less well-known works. Among these is “The Shallow Grave” written by Walter Gregory a member of the Communist Party in Nottingham who travelled to Spain and survived despite being shot and later captured. The Nest also has a wide array of anarchist books on the struggle against Franco including memoirs, biographies and analyses, among them Emma Goldman’s “Vision on Fire” and Antonio Tellez’s “Sabate: Guerilla Extrodinaire”.

The books were supplemented by reproductions of posters from the war, alongside images of the memorial at County Hall and a letter written by an International Brigade volunteers from Nottingham. The posters demonstrated the surprisingly diverse iconography used by Republican and anarchist propagandists. Posters varied from bare-chested men wielding rifles to almost Pre-Raphelite images of naked people presumably enjoying a fascist-free future.

Aside from the displays, the Anarchist Federation had invited two speakers from the Solidarity Federation. Solfed, as it is known, is a national anarcho-syndicalist group, affiliated internationally to the International Workers’ Association (formerly the International Workingmen’s Association). The Spanish section of the IWA is the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT), the anarcho-syndicalist union which came to prominence during the civil war.

The talk was split into two halves, one focusing on the war itself and the anarchist revolution which took place in the anarchist controlled areas and the second on aftermath of the war, the role of the CNT and the international growth of the IWA. The speakers discussed the history of the CNT, how it had survived repression prior to the civil war and how, having predicted Franco’s coup in July 1936, they had been ready to resist and been able to do so successfully in Barcelona and areas where they were strong, unlike areas where the socialist where more influential which had wavered, waiting for government instructions and fallen to the fascists.

The CNT had organised collectives, which the speakers argued had been hugely successful feeding the population, providing free health care which had never existed before, improving safety on the trams and building an arms industry from nothing. At their height, millions of people had been involved in the collectives which were ultimately put down through military force by the Republican army.

After the end of the war Republicans and anarchists felt the full force of fascist repression. Hundreds of thousands were killed, imprisoned or forced to flee. Many of those who did escape ended up in horrific detention facilities in France. Some returned to Spain, but others stuck it out only to find their situation deteriorate further once the Germans invaded. Some were sent back to Franco while others ended up in German concentration camps.

Resistance to Franco would continue into the fifties, but the West came to see Franco as an ally against Communism, even after the war against German and Italian fascism. Even after Franco died, much of his regime remained in power and anarchists were deliberately excluded from the political process, even as the Communists were actively brought into the mainstream. The CNT fought on despite these restrictions and ongoing repression. The resurgence of the CNT fuelled the growth of the IWA and while it has a fraction of the members it had at its height in the 1930s, it has sections across the world.

The talks fuelled a wide-ranging discussion which took in the applicability of the Spanish model in a post-industrial society like the UK today, the comparisons between the collectives and the transition movement and the weaknesses of mainstream unions.

Inevitably the event overran, but this does not detract from what was a very successful meeting. Although not huge, the event was well attended and people seemed interested and engaged in the talks. Attendees were plied with food and sangria which went down well and to top it off, the weather was nice enough to sit in the gardens during the breaks. While we aren’t really any closer to a revolution of our own the organisers have good reason to be pleased with themselves.

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