In spite of the defeat of the Spanish Revolution it is nevertheless one of the most important landmarks in Man’s age-long struggle for his freedom and emancipation, and will eventually be so recognised, when the events, which to-day obscure our sense of proportion and capture the headlines, will have long been forgotten.
Madrid, 20 November 1936: Today is the 80th anniversary of the mysterious death of the anarchist Buenaventura Durruti.
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 short history summarising the transformation of Barcelona’s CNT Defence Committees during the 1930s from their origins as street fighting units to their reorganisation as integrated combat/ intelligence formations, to their suppression by the Republic after the working class defeat of May 1937. The defence cadres were formed shortly after the proclamation of the Republic, and were a continuation of the armed defence groups of the years of ‘pistolerismo’.
Austrian sociologist and disillusioned former Comintern official Franz Borkenau visited Republican Spain between August and September 1936, and again in January-February 1937. The account of his first-hand experiences as an independent socialist observer in revolutionary Spain, ‘The Spanish Cockpit’, was published in the early summer of 1937, when it impressed and influenced the recently-returned POUM miliciano George Orwell who recommended it (in a letter dated 1 August 1937) as ‘an excellent book’ for anyone wishing to understand Spanish affairs.
“The amount of expropriation in the few days since 19 July is almost incredible. The largest hotels, with one or two exceptions, have all been requisitioned by working class organisations (not burnt, as had been reported in many newspapers). So were most of the larger stores. Many of the banks are closed, the others bear inscriptions declaring them under the control of the Generalitat. Practically all the factory-owners we were told, had either fled or been killed, and their factories taken over by the workers. Everywhere large posters at the front of impressive buildings proclaim the fact of expropriation… All the churches had been burnt. “ (The Spanish Cockpit, pp 70-71)
“The Spanish revolution and civil war of 1931-39 has produced an oceanic quantity of original source materials, including documentation and memoirs, along with secondary studies, seldom matched in 20th century historiography. It is a paradox of this topic that the ‘history of its history’ has been controversial and remains so, eight decades later.