LESSONS OF THE SPANISH REVOLUTION (1936-1939) Vernon Richards — eBook £1.50 (see eBookshelf)

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In this study the Spanish workers’ resistance to the military insurrection of July 1936 is viewed not as a struggle between Fascism and Democracy but as a heroic attempt to bring about a far-reaching Social Revolution. In this task the Spanish revolutionaries had to deal both with Franco’s armies and with the forces of counter-revolution in their midst. It is on this latter aspect of the struggle the author attempts to shed some light, drawing on the vast documentation available, most of which, however, is quite unknown to the English-speaking public.

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.

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TO DIE IN MADRID. THE MAN WHO KILLED DURRUTI — José Manzana; the person responsible, Federica Montseny

durrutikiller
Above left: Durruti’s Generalidad-appointed military adviser, Sergeant José Manzana (circled), a professional soldier, was a drill sergeant in the Corps of Artillery and an Olympic-standard pistol-shooting champion. On the morning of 19 July he escaped from the besieged Barcelona Dockyard to join the Confederal militias. From that time on he accompanied Durruti everywhere, and was at his side on the Aragón front where he became his military adviser following Captain Enrique Pérez-Farrás’s recall to Barcelona by the Generalitat to head up the Mossos d’Escuadra (Catalan police). After Durruti’s death Manzana returned to the Aragón front to reorganize the remainder of the Durruti Column and prepare it for militarisation while Ricardo Sanz assumed command of the column in Madrid. Militarisation of the column was finally completed on 28 April 1937, less than a week before the Stalinist coup of May 3-8. Above right: Sergeant José Manzana, wearing a militiaman’s cap, his wounded right arm in a sling, is in the first line of mourners. On his left is the grieving widow, Emilienne Morin, whose features bear all the emotion evoked by the death of her compañero. Holding her other arm is Miguel Yoldi’s wife.

Madrid, 20 November 1936: Today is the 80th anniversary of the mysterious death of the anarchist Buenaventura Durruti.

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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!’

 

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THE SPANISH LABYRINTH An Account of the Social and Political Background of the Civil War Gerald Brenan eBook £1.50/€2.00 (see eBookshelf)

SpanLabyrinthsmallTHE SPANISH LABYRINTH An Account of the Social and Political Background of the Civil War eBook £1.50/€2.00 (see eBookshelf)  Also available from Kobo

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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:

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FROM DEFENCE CADRES TO POPULAR MILITIAS by Agustín Guillamón eBook £1.50 (see eBookshelf)

DefenceCadrescoversmallFROM DEFENCE CADRES TO POPULAR MILITIAS by Agustín Guillamón

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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’.

1936

THE SPANISH COCKPIT. An Eye-Witness Account of the Political and Social Conflicts of the Spanish Civil War by Franz Borkenau. Foreword by Gerald Brenan. First published 1937. eBook £1.50/€2.00

BorkenausmallTHE SPANISH COCKPIT. An Eye-Witness Account of the Political and Social Conflicts of the Spanish Civil War by Franz Borkenau. Foreword by Gerald Brenan. First published 1937.

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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.

SPborkenau
Franz Borkenau 1900-1957

“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.

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