Sam Dolgoff, editor of the best anthology of Bakunin’s writings, has now produced an excellent documentary history of the Anarchist collectives in Spain. Although there is a vast literature on the Spanish Civil War, this is [was] the first book in English that is devoted to the experiments in workers’ self-management, both urban and rural, which constituted one of the most remarkable social revolutions in modern history. —Paul Avrich
Lenin once identified “the sum total of the conditions necessary for socialism” as large-scale capitalist engineering and planned organization subordinated to a Soviet state, that is, a “proletarian dictatorship” ruled by a vanguard party. The eyewitness reports and commentary presented in this highly important study reveal a very different understanding of the nature of socialism and the means for achieving it.
Libertarian communism, as it was realised during the Spanish revolution, was truly the creation of workers and peasants. It was a “spontaneous” creation—for which, in fact, the groundwork had been laid by decades of struggle and education, experiment and thought.
Varied, complex, often inspiring, the achievement of the people of Spain is unique in the history of 20th century revolution. It should be carefully studied, not merely as the record of a remarkable human accomplishment, but also for the insight it provides into the problems of constructing a social order that is just and humane, committed to freedom from exploitation and oppression, whether by a capitalist autocracy or an authoritarian state apparatus.
For a brief period, the Spanish people offered the world a glimpse of a future that differs by orders of magnitude from the tendencies inherent in the state capitalist and state socialist societies that exist today. —Noam Chomsky
Joaquín Ascaso Budría (Zaragoza, aprox. 1906 ó 1907 – Caracas, marzo de 1977), anarcosindicalista español, presidente del Consejo Regional de Defensa de Aragón entre 1936 y 1937. De profesión obrero albañil, en su juventud se afilió a la Confederación Nacional del Trabajo, participando en la agrupación anarquista “Los Indomables” y colaborando con otra llamada “Los Solidarios”. Fue detenido en Zaragoza por sus actividades sindicales en 1924 y la ficha policial le daba una edad de 17 años, tras lo que huyó a Francia hasta el advenimiento de la Segunda República Española, viéndose muy influenciado por la Sublevación de Jaca.
Written during the Spanish Civil War, published in 1943, revised in 1950 and republished in paperback in1960, The Spanish Labyrinth assesses the social and political background of the war, not the war itself. Brenan a middle-class, liberal, Anglo-Irish expatriate who lived in Spain from 1919 until 1936, returning in 1953 — wrote comprehensively about the political and religious divisions in Spain from the 16th to the 20th centuries: the church, the tensions with Liberalism, the ‘patria chica’ and the main autonomous regions, Carlism, industrialisation, the agrarian question, communal life, the Republic, the Constituent Cortes, class struggle, etc. — not forgetting the important role of anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism in Spanish politics. And although his attitude to the Spanish anarchist–anarcho-syndicalist movement and working class in general is patronising and condescending, it is to an extent understandable given his middle-class upbringing, prejudices and friendship circles.
Brenan swallowed, uncritically, contemporary hysterical, calumnious and propagandistic accounts of ‘irresponsible’, ‘ruthless’ and ‘typical’ acts of mass terrorism allegedly ‘carried out by the Durruti column in Aragón, and by the militia in Madrid on their way to the front’. Describing them as ‘the counterpart of the September Massacres of 1792’, he goes on to compare Durruti to the fanatical ultra-Catholic Carlist general Ramón Cabrera, and refers to the FAI (Iberian Anarchist Federation) as a ‘secret society’, which it most definitely was not (see my We, the Anarchists. A Study of the Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI) 1927—1937). He also states as fact (and without adducing any evidence) that the advent of the FAI brought with it an increasingly noticeable trend in Spanish anarchism: ‘the inclusion within its ranks of professional criminals — thieves and gunmen who certainly would not have been accepted by any other working class party — together with idealists of the purest and most selfless kind.’
In spite of Brenan’s shortcomings as an historian and his ambivalence toward the Spanish anarchist movement, as a personal insight The Spanish Labyrinth remains a highly readable, comprehensive and valuable account of social and political life in Spain in the years leading up to the Civil War.
REVIEW OF THE SPANISH LABYRINTH BY MARIE LOUISE BERNERI, an editor of War Commentary and later Freedom, until her death at the age of 31 in 1949. She was the author of Journey Through Utopia(Routledge) and Neither East Nor West(Freedom Press). Her article was originally written for Now! in 1944 as a review of the original edition of Brenan’s book:
This is not yet another book about the Civil War, and its author is not yet another academic jumping on the Spanish band wagon. The book is about what Burnett Bolloten in the opening paragraph of his remarkable book (‘The Spanish Civil War. Revolution and Counterrevolution’) calls “a far reaching social revolution more profound in some respects than the Bolshevik revolution in its early stages”.
This book can only deal with a few of the collectives that were established in Spain during the struggle against Franco, for, as the author points out, there were 400 agricultural collectives in Aragon, 900 in the Levante and 300 in Castile. In addition, the whole of industry in Catalonia, and 70 per cent in the Levante was collectivised.
In a world where relations in industry between management and worker, and in the public services between workers and government, become daily more strained, not simply over money but over the growing demand by more and more workers to be responsible for and in control of the organisation of the work they do, surely the Spanish experiment of 1936 is of more than academic interest. Such experiments are never exactly repeated, not even in a Spain which has been freed from the military dictatorship. They don’t have to be. Their importance for us now is in showing what ordinary people, land- and industrial workers, technicians, and professionals of goodwill, can do when the State machine collapses even for a brief moment and the people are left to their own devices. The result is not chaos but cooperation, the discovery that for most of us life is richer and happier when we practise mutual aid than when we engage in the power and status struggle which invariably leads to permanent bitterness for the many and a doubtful “happiness” for the few.
In 1936-37 Augustin Souchy Bauer visited towns and villages in Aragón that, soon after July 19, 1936, began to live a lifestyle without precedent in all history. One after the other they collectivised the land and established libertarian communism, spontaneously — but with all due deliberation. The story of this trip that Souchy made together with Emma Goldman part of the way is a document of extraordinary importance not only for the facts presented but because it informs the reader of today how and in what circumstances an idea regarded as purely utopian until then became a reality . . . The reader will learn how an economic and social system developed that was truly communal and anti-authoritarian. Anarchists of the National Confederation of Labour and the Iberian Federation of Anarchists (CNT-FAI), socialists of the General Union of Workers (UGT) and individualists lived together in the same community in a way of life not even imagined until then.