“That land was the land of wine, and Salvatierra, with the impassivity of the abstainer, cursed the power that alcoholic poison wielded over the people, transmitting its evil from generation to generation. The bodega was the modern counterpart of the feudal fortress that held the masses in slavery and abjection.”
Literature often offers a window into the cultural feelings and attitudes of a given time and place. By examining how the representations of Spanish anarchists in literature are related to the actual historical rise and development of the movement, we can more easily understand the obstacles and influences such a movement faced in the larger culture. Such study provides an important cultural context to the literature of anarchism while adding value to the works themselves.
Vicente Blasco Ibanez’s ‘La Bodega’, which first appeared in 1905, allows for an examination of the way anarchism as a social movement was represented in Andalusia at the turn of the 19th century; its conclusion highlights the value of literature in complementing the knowledge gained from historical study.
Vicente Blasco Ibañez (1867-1928) was a Valencian author, journalist, and prominent Federalist who was inspired by the ideals of the French revolution and the literary examples of French realism, as exemplified by Flaubert, Zola and Hugo; to Ibañez the novel was a means of explaining and understanding the social, political, ethical and economic problems that besieged mankind.
Blasco Ibañez published La Bandera Federal and El Pueblo, Federalist newspapers that mercilessly condemned the Restoration monarchy for its forcible maintenance of a corrupt and feudal status quo, and led to imprisonment and exile. Between 1903 and 1905 he based himself in Jerez, in Andalusia, where he wrote his four social novels: the anti-clerical La catedral; El intruso, targeting capitalism and the Jesuits; La bodega, denouncing the latifundia system, the feudal scourge of Andalusia; and La horda, a combination of all these social plagues.
“La Bodega” is the author’s description of the social situation in Andalusia in the late 1880s, in particular Jerez de la Frontera, centre of the Sherry-wine trade. The story focuses on a number of characters in various roles whom he uses to convey a sense of the region as a whole. A key figure and noble protagonist in La Bodega is Don Fernando Salvatierra, an elderly anarchist revolutionary who Ibañez modeled loosely on Fermín Salvochea y Álvarez, a real leader of the contemporary social movement. Other prominent characters include the Dupont family, modelled loosely on the ill-famed Domecqs, owners of the winery and most of the land in the valley, who treat the region as their own personal fiefdom. In the background are the labouring masses of Jerez, vineyard workers, braceros and gypsies.
The story culminates in the dramatic retelling of the unsuccessful 1892 Jerez uprising. In response to the brutal repression of anarchists and union leaders, thousands of workers gathered outside Jerez. Around five hundred eventually entered the city, breaking up into small groups but achieving little more than accosting late night travellers in the hope of finding members of the hated bourgeoisie. The Civil Guard, who had been strategically dispersed throughout the city, waited for the mob to kill two passers-by before responding. These incidents provided the authorities with the excuse they needed to arrest hundreds of workers, including the anarchist Fermin Salvochea, a former mayor of Cádiz and ex-president of Cádiz province. In spite of the fact that he took no part in the events of that night, having been securely locked up in Cadiz prison, Salvochea was convicted by a military court martial on a charge of incitement and sentenced to 12 years imprisonment. Other show trials ended in the garroting of four defiant anarchists.
La bodega offers a fascinating glimpse into the lived experience of Andalusia around the turn of the century. As a naturalist work it pays special attention to the social positions, authority, opportunities and desperate conditions of its characters. Through its focus on an anarchist leader it says a great deal about the libertarian movement in southern Spain and its relationship with the agrarian workers — day labourers and peasants — and helps explain the resiliency of anarchism in spite of periods of violent suppression.
Salvatierra is a universally respected “apostle of the Idea”, a student of both medicine and science whose personal commitments require him to walk enormous distances to give what aid and support he can. He doesn’t drink alcohol. nor does he smoke; living on a meager diet of bread and oil he gives away whatever money, clothing, or food that comes his way.
The books opening description of him is full of praise:
“He was a ‘lay saint,” as even his opponents confessed…Above egotism there was no action that he considered insignificant if it aided the unfortunate, and yet, his name produced anxiety and fear among the rich. It was enough for him to show himself, in his wandering existence, for some weeks in Andalusia, for the authorities to sound the alarm and assemble the public forces. He went from one place to another as Revolution’s wandering Jew, incapable of causing harm himself, hating violence while preaching it to those below as the only means of salvation.” (194-195)
Salvatierra’s saint-like qualities are counterposed with the religion-obsessed owner of the bodega, Don Pablo Dupont (a thinly disguised Pedro Domecq). Capricious in giving, quick to anger and self-righteous, Don Pablo is feared by everyone. All labor unrest and insurrection he believes to be the result of sin and erosion of the Faith, and he forces his workers to attend mass at the vineyard’s ornate chapel, with each worker recording his attendance to safeguard his job. Dupont’s commanding personality comes from his own sense of self-worth:
“For Dupont. every owner was one by divine right, like the ancient kings. God desired the existence of rich and poor, and those below should obey those above, because it was so ordained by a social hierarchy of celestial origins. Sometimes, on meeting in the street a dismissed worker from the winery, he became indignant when the worker did not bow. ‘You’, he said imperiously, although you are not of my house, your duty is to bow to me always, because I was your owner.” (225-226)
These examples help to demonstrate how anarchism has been presented by some ideologically driven historians as a quasi-religious, essentially millenarian movement. Religious symbolism is used ironically to describe the apostate who looks to science and progress in the place of religious dogma. It coincides with the strict morality invoked by Salvatierra. This deeply emotional and ironic vocabulary was, according to Murray Bookchin, actually a common characteristic of the Andalusian movement. Appeals to justice and the cause of the people, experiments with more ‘natural’ practices such as vegetarianism and nudism, and the firm belief in a natural man corrupted by the restraints of society, were all certainly more personal and relationally based than the scientific rationalism of the state socialists and the communist parties.
Salvatierra denounces charity as the egotism of the rich, to be replaced by justice in the division of resources. Instead of obedience we have the call to rebellion and protest. Sympathy is to be replaced by solidarity with the oppressed. Salvatierra describes the social values as the actual fulfillment promised by religion:
“Men had begun again their march towards brotherhood, the ideal of Christ; but detesting gentleness, looking down on begging as debasing and useless. To each his own, without concessions, whose privileges degrades and awaken hatred. The true brotherhood was Social Justice.”
Much like the Second Coming of Christ, “modern man. now looks to the time of the Social Revolution for the hope of equality and peace on Earth. This replacement of values is profoundly human, placing people, or more specifically the muses of the oppressed, in the position to enact fundamental change.
In reference to the social novel as an educational tool, Blasco lbañez comments:
“Today we live in a period of revolution. The Christianity of our age is socialism: the human application of well-being We perceive a new atmosphere in our turn, those above, looking with growing interest at those below, no one feels secure in the place they occupy; new rights are recognized, and the great mass shakes off the shroud of shadow and forgetfulness.” (Francisco Caudet 79)
The difference between Marxist scientific rationalism and the outlook of the peasant anarchists, often described as millenarians, actually had more to do with Nietzsche than with Christ. The Marxist tradition, by explaining social change completely within the context of the materialist dialectic, takes progress out of the hands of the participants. Thus the damaging effects of capitalism are seen as a welcomed and necessary step in the process towards socialism. Socialism can only come when capitalism has created a mass proletariat. Pre-capitalist societies do not have the potential for revolutionary change.
For the anarchist, the determining factor in creating a liberating society is the desire to live those values now, such desire being an example of the Nietzschean “will to power”. The possibilities of ever increasing freedom among humans are only predicated on our desire so live differently Because the growing authorities of the State and capitalism are not necessary steps, they are only to be fought against and replaced by new social forms. These ideological differences echo the disputes between Marx and Bakunin. They also illuminate Bakunin’s insightful reservations about scientific claims replacing religious claims in limiting possibilities for action.
The same obsenation was made by George Orwell during the Civil War in reference to Catalonia.
“It struck me that the people in this part of Spain must be genuinely without religious feeling —religions feeling. I mean, in the orthodox sense… To the Spanish people, at any rate in Catalonia and Aragon, the Church was a racket pure and simple. And possibly Christian belief was replaced to some extent by Anarchism, whose influence is widely spread and which undoubtedly has a religious tinge.”
Certainly anarchism’s historical religious symbolism, the focus on morality in its rhetoric, and its sometimes simplistic view of revolution as the end to all forms of oppression, have all encouraged misunderstanding of the essence of the movement. A similarly simplistic naiveté is evidenced in the novel when Salvatierra claims that the Revolution will signal an end to disease. Many historians have seen in this and in anarchism’s praise of peasant communalism a reactionary, backwards focus that, while voicing the discontent of powerless sections of society, harmed by the merciless advance of modernity, was sorely unable to adapt to the changing circumstances and offer an organized resistance. Eric Hobsbawm in Primitive Rebels describes anarchism as essentially a millenarian movement whose impractical idealism and illogical aims doomed it to obsolescence as it gave way to more modern forms of labor organization. Raymond Carr presents a similarly unfavorable account of anarchism in Spain: 1808-1975 (443-445). Gerald Brenan compares the movement to the American revivalist periods; its heavy emotionalism causing periodic swelling of the ranks, “And so the Spanish anarchist movement, narrow, ignorant, often terribly ruthless, holding with uncompromising determination and unfailing optimism utterly impractical designs…” (197).
Such a view of anarchism does not adequately take into account the truly revolutionary challenges and experimentation that caused the movement itself to develop over time. Science and rational inquiry were highly respected for providing opportunities for human development; self-education was seen as one of the greatest responsibilities of an individual. The changing ideological currents from early collectivism to a focus on anarcho syndicalism produced alterations in tactics which by the time of the Civil War had changed the political landscape of Spain. The simplistic views of revolution proclaimed by peasants in the 1880s was to change into the nuanced, practice-based views of revolution illustrated by the CNT’s Zaragossa Congress in 1936 or by the writings of the anarchist leader Diego Abad de Santillan. Yet the means chosen were dependent on the ideals of anarchism and always related to them. This opinion of the movement can be demonstrated by comparing anarchism to the truly anachronistic, tradition-based movement that was active in Spain at the same time, Carlism. As Bookchin shows, the differences are as stark as possible (109),
In La Bodega readers are provided a context for religious parallels. The selfless actions and ideals help to explain the use of symbolism in anarchist propaganda as well as its frequency in descriptions of activists. Such language was typical of peasant anarchism; a testament to its obvious appreciation of irony. It is also fitting in the representation of Fermin Salvochea, a man adored by the movement as anarchism’s greatest saint- (Bookchin 126).
Blasco Ibanez offers a number of other insights into the movement in Andalusia. The first is the spread of the works and ideas of Peter Kropotkin. Much of the terminology and focus is influenced by his The Conquest of Bread: the pressing need of food as both the reason people continue to work in bondage, and as the primary cause of the failure of previous insurrectionary attempts. Kropotkin notes:
“The three great popular movements which we have seen in France during the last hundred years differ from each other in many ways, but they have one common feature.. it was always middle-class ideas which prevailed They discussed various political question, at great length, bur forgot to discuss the question of bread.” (95)
“It has always been the middle-class idea to harangue about ‘great principles—great lies rather! We have the temerity to declare that all hare a right to bread, that there is bread enough for all, and that with this watchword of ‘Bread for All. the Revolution will triumph.” (97)
References to bread as the nagging predicament of the poor is one of the constant themes in the novel. It is also understood that the world is capable of producing bread for all in a more just social system.
Also evident is the growing acceptance of libertarian communism as the ideal social organization. Salvatierra is convinced that communism will bring an end to inequality and human suffering:
“And Salvatierra, before the respectful silence of his friends, praised the revolutionary future, that of the communist moiety, the generous dream in which men would find material happiness and peace of mind. The evils of the present were a consequence of inequality. The same sicknesses were another consequence. In the future, the hungry would die from the eventual wearing out of their body, without knowing suffering.” (201)
The anarchist sees a benefit in the great estates of the latifundia, the Spanish plantations prevalent in Andalusia. They will make the revolution easier
“He did not loathe the great estates. They represented an easy transition to the communal ownership of the land, the generous dream whose realization he believed was approaching. To the degree that the number of the landed properties was reduced, the problem would more easily resolve itself and the protests of the former owners would lessen.” (385)
Such statements reflect the dissemination of Kropotkin’s ideas and their growing popularity over Bakunin’s collectivism. Fermin Salvochea agreed with the value of the Russian’s work, himself translating into Spanish Kropotkin’s widely read Fields, Factories and Workshops (Bookchin 126).
La bodega also reflects the close ties between the anarchist and federalist movements in the South. Salvatierra, as did Salvochea, spent his youth involved in the attempts of the Cantonalist uprising at the time of the First Republic. After the failure of the federalist movement, the revolutionary, like many others, was drawn to the more sweeping anarchist views of the roots of oppression. Blasco Ibañez himself, a federalist leader, maintained relations with various anarchist clubs. While not an anarchist, the author’s affinity to the movement caused him to represent it as the point of view of the working poor (Francisco Caudet 70,72, PS).
Perhaps more developed in the story is the overlapping of the temperance movement with the anarchists. Drinking and drunkenness are condemned very forcibly as the vice that robs the strength and will of the working classes.
Salvatierra spoke of wine as an invisible and omnipotent character who intervened in all the actions of those human machines, blowing into their limited thought and sly as a bird, spurring them on while disheartening them in their gleeful disorder… ‘Wine’, exclaimed Silvatierre, ‘that is the greatest enemy of this country. It kills the energy, creates false hopes. ends with a premature death: it destroys everything: even love.’ (387)
Once again this description is contrasted with that of the Duponts as owners of the winery who encourage drunkeness and view the land of wine with great pride.
In spite of his sympathetic portrayal of the landless workers, the author’s description of the Jerez uprising at the end of the story is a merciless criticism of the futility and hopelessness of revolt Lacking any clear direedon or plan, the thousands of laborers have still assembled out of a desire to act. Fear and temerity outmatches their zeal, however. The small minority that eventually enters the city wanders aimlessly in broken groups. Provoked into the city by false rumors of support and nervous in the strange surroundings, the workers begin the pointless farce of checking pedestrians hands for calluses in search of the bourgeoisie. When such spectacle finally ends in useless murders the police and Civil Guard rush out of hiding to crush the bewildered herd. The exaggerated punishment on the working classes for what came to be a minor event would play out for months.
The purpose of retelling the story of the uprising was not only to demonstrate its failure, but draw attention to the hopeless cycle of similar events as long as the underlying problems are not addressed. As Francisco Caudet explains:
“In La bodega, were recounted the events of Jerez in 1892, but as a key to the present, for those tragic events were presented as an example of the inability of the Restoration find solutions to the social question, so that already at its height in the first years of the new century, between 1901 and 1905, it was again producing besides strikes in Bilbao and in Barcelona, new peasant revolts in many parts of Andalusia.” (62)
The miserable workers are doomed by their isolation and material condition, the author seems to say, until they can be aided by the other regions of Spain. The last statement of Salvatierra, still filled with religious symbolism, looks for hope in the cities where similar dispossessed workers may yet lead the way:
“…in them other flocks of the hopeless and the miserable, but those who denied the false comfort of wine, who bathed their rising souls in the brightness of a new day, who felt on their heads the first light of the sun, while the rest of the world remained in shadow. They would be the Elect, and while the peasant remained in the countryside with the resigned seriousness of an ox, the disinherited of the city were waking up and beginning the trek towards the only friend at the wretched… Social Revolution.” (540-541)
The overwhelming value to stress concerning La Bodega is its ability to convey a sense of what life was like on a daily basis for the people in the South. It expresses the persecution of labor leaders following the Black Hand hysteria, placing it in a relatable context to similar Red Scares throughout the world. It demonstrates the relationship of anarchist ‘believers’ to a larger public who considers the radical notions utopian, yet still harbor a deep respect. Perhaps most successfully, the novel puts human faces to the material depravity of the masks in Andalusia. Such forms of knowledge surely supplement the rich historical record available.
Much of the above commentary is extracted from Michael D Gilliland’s essay: ‘Representing Chaos: Spanish Anarchism in Literature” in Specters of Anarchy: Literature and the Anarchist Imagination edited by Jeff Shantz (available from Algora Publishing, 2015)