Although the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in July 1936 was followed by a far-reaching social revolution in the anti-Franco camp—more profound in some respects than the Bolshevik Revolution in its early stages—millions of discerning people outside Spain were kept in ignorance, not only of its depth and range, but even of its existence, by virtue of a policy of duplicity and dissimulation of which there is no parallel in history.
—BURNETT BOLLOTEN, in “The Grand Camouflage”.
IN THE PREFACE TO The Spanish Labyrinth Gerald Brenan quotes Karl Marx’s observation that the knowledge of Spanish history in his time was altogether inadequate. Marx went on the explain that this was because historians ‘instead of viewing the strength and resources of these people in their provincial and local organisation have drawn at the source of their court histories’. Paraphrasing Marx one could say that the inadequacy of Mr. Hugh Thomas’ The Spanish Civil War 1 lies in the fact that he is so fascinated by the personalities of politicians and military men, so carried away by considerations of military strategy and international political intrigues that he more or less overlooks the chief actors—the revolutionary workers—in a struggle that held the world’s attention for nearly three years. The military insurrection in July 1936 would have been one more coup d’état with which we are all only too familiar, for the Spanish government deprived of its real source of authority could only hope to save its skin by either arming the people or seeking to negotiate with the rebel generals. And in July 1936, the government of Casares Quiroga pinned its hopes on the latter. Indeed the socialist journalist Julian Zugazagoitia asserts2 that Quiroga not only refused to arm the people but also announced that anyone who gave arms to the workers without his orders would be shot. Mr. Thomas writes:
“The big man from Govan [Farquhar McHarg] harboured no illusions about the extent to which Cerrada’s activities straddled conflicting and seemingly irreconcilable worlds. On the one hand there was the Cerrada he had known and respected as a comrade and friend for over fifty years; on the other was this distinct ‘Mr Hyde’ personality, one whose nature and behaviour functioned on a completely different macroscopic level.
“Things had started going wrong for Cerrada in the autumn of 1949. Political tensions resulting from the trauma of defeat and the subsequent post-1939 power struggle within the emigré community, particularly among the members of the Executive Council of the Spanish Libertarian Movement (MLE) in exile(1) — aggravated by Cerrada’s clandestine activities and his compromising criminal connections made during and after the Nazi occupation — led, in 1950, to his expulsion from the CNT. His black market activities cost him many friends in the movement, or people he thought were friends but who turned out to be opportunistic acquaintances.
“At the time of his murder in October 1976, Cerrada was a supporter, albeit on the periphery, of the anarchist Grupos de Acción Revolucionario Internacional (GARI), the successors to the First of May action groups (1966-1972). Even after his expulsion and imprisonment in 1950, he continued in the role of ‘facilitator’ and as a ‘wise head’, someone the younger militants, the ‘Apaches’, could turn to for advice, moral solidarity and, when required, logistical and financial support.
November 1936 was a milestone in the civil war. Having surrounded Madrid, the mutinous fascist army was making a supreme effort to overrun the capital. On 4 November 1936 the ‘notable leaders’ [Horacio Prieto (CNT National Secretary before Vázquez), Mariano R. Vázquez (CNT National Secretary), Federica Montseny (Minister of Health), Diego Abad de Santillán (Secretary of the Peninsular Committee of the FAI), Joan Peiró (Minister for Industry), Juan López (Minister for Trade), García Oliver (Minister of Justice)] of the anarcho-syndicalist CNT and anarchist FAI Peninsular Committee finally and completely abandoned the Confederation’s apolitical stance by taking it upon themselves to accept four nominal ministries in the central government of Largo Caballero. Many believed this was a cynical move on the part of Caballero to facilitate the government’s flight to Valencia and to pre-empt any criticism, or, presumably, any revolutionary initiatives from the anarcho-syndicalist rank and file. Coincidentally (if you believe in coincidences!), two days later, on 6 November, Largo Caballero and his cabinet, including his newly appointed anarchist ministers, fled to Valencia — while the people of Madrid rallied to the city’s defence to cries of ‘Long Live Madrid Without Government!’
A modern re-telling of Dumas’s epic tale of suffering and retribution. The rivetting melodrama of a latter-day anarchist Count of Monte Cristo, Cristóbal Pinzón, a young Andalucian boy whose childhood is coloured by his father’s ruin and his family’s immiseration by three unscrupulous Englishmen and a Welshman (no Scotsmen, thankfully!). A lively page-turning but well-paced yarn of fraud, financial jiggery-pokery, revenge, radicalisation— and an illuminating romp through forty-odd years of Spanish and European culture and history from the fin de siècleto the opening shots of the Spanish Civil War. It is also about one man’s determination to bring about the social revolution by destroying capitalism from within — practically single-handedly! It was, after all, he, Cristóbal, who triggered the stock-market crash of 1929! A worthy comrade and contemporary of Farquhar McHarg!
I know nothing about the earlier or subsequent literary career of William Blake, but if THE WORLD IS MINEis anything to go by he was a fascinating character with a profound empathy and understanding of anarchist ideas and principles, at least as expressed through the actions and dialogue of his cultured, idealistic-yet-worldly Byronic protagonist, Cristóbal Pinzón, a cosmopolitan libertarian caped crusader given to deep philosophising, speaking in polysyllables, crisp ironic sentences, and plotting social revolution. Cristóbal’s fiscal high-jinks and complex schemes of spectacularly appropriate vengeance are remarkably plausible in detail; it is also a scathing indictment of Western civilisation, part of the story behind the Spanish Civil War and a handy vade mecum to capitalism and high culture. A rare classic, hard to put down; I wonder if Jeffrey Archer has discovered it yet?! — SC (Read Inside)
“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.