Iain McKay on the Spanish Revolution

I am a few weeks late for marking the anniversary of the Spanish Revolution, but here is a recent piece on that topic by Iain McKay. I included a chapter on Spanish anarchism and the Spanish Revolution in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.

Anti-Fascist and Anti-Capitalist

The Spanish Civil War is usually considered as a forerunner of the Second World War – a struggle between the Spanish Republic and Franco’s fascist forces. This is not quite the case for the Spanish Labour movement [which], thanks to the influence of anarchists, was the most revolutionary one in the world. The CNT, a mass anarcho-syndicalist union, rightly saw the rise of fascism in the 1920s and 1930s as a product of capitalism’s fear of revolution.

To fight fascism effectively meant to fight the system that spawned it. Hence the CNT National Committee on 14 February 1936:

“We are not the defenders of the Republic, but we fight against fascism relentlessly, we will contribute all of the forces that we have to rout the historical executioners of the Spanish proletariat [… to] ensure that the defensive contribution of the masses leads in the direction of real social revolution, under the auspices of libertarian communism…”

“Either fascism or social revolution. Defeating the former is the duty of the whole proletariat and all those who love freedom, weapons in hand; that the revolution be social and libertarian must be the deepest concern of Confederates.”

In short, the CNT was not fighting fascism to maintain an exploitative and oppressive system in which a nominally democratic government protects an economic system mired in years of depression. It was fighting fascism for a better society – and it was this fear which had driven ruling classes across Europe to embrace fascism to protect themselves.

Spanish Revolution Timeline

These were the ideas which were commonplace in working class circles in many parts of Spain in 1936. Yet, as Noam Chomsky noted, the social revolution of 1936 dates back decades and starts in 1868 with the formation of the Spanish section of the International Workers’ Association. State repression soon saw this smashed but it was replaced by other union federations which suffered the same fate.

Then, in 1911 the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) was founded – and was quickly banned. Legalised again, it surged in membership as workers in Spain (as elsewhere) were radicalised by the First World War and the Russian Revolution. 1919 saw the CNT declare at its national congress that its objective was libertarian communism. It was soon banned by the quasi-fascist Primo de Rivera regime. While the CNT was banned in the 1920s, in 1927 the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI) – a specially anarchist federation – was founded.

In 1931 the Second Republic was created. The CNT re-organises and leads countless strikes and revolts – all faced repression by the liberal republic. Two years later, in 1933, a right-wing government was elected and, again, numerous libertarian revolts were crushed and the CNT repressed. In 1934 an insurrection in Asturias and Catalonia called by the UGT-run Workers Alliance is crushed. 1936 is the year of civil war and revolution as 19th February sees the Popular Front elected. The CNT starts to re-organise. On 17th July the Army revolts against the Republic, starting in Morocco but soon spreads across Spain. The government is paralysed – the workers’ organisations, with the CNT and FAI at their head, respond and draw upon their years of experience in the class struggle to resist the army.

I cannot cover all the popular resistance and so will concentrate on what happened on the 19th of July in Barcelona. The troops started to leave their barracks around 5am, with the officers claiming to be defending the republic against (yet another) anarchist uprising. The CNT declares a general strike and factory sirens called the masses onto the streets. Libertarians seize weapons wherever they could and barricades are built — some assault and civil guards join the resistance. Fighting takes place all day and into the next. The Army revolt is finally ended with the storming of the final rebel barracks (the Andreu barracks).

All this, I must stress, was no spontaneous response. It was prepared and organised by libertarian “committees of defence” in Barcelona’s working-class neighbourhoods as well as by CNT unions – not to mention years of strikes, rent strikes, street fighting, etc. However, while the fighting was organised the subsequent Revolution was spontaneous – it was created by militants who had taken Kropotkin’s call to “act for yourselves” seriously.

The Revolution Begins

Where the army had been defeated, the people took the opportunity to transform society into one worthy of human beings. Anarchist militant Enriqueta Rovira paints a vivid picture:

“The atmosphere then, the feelings were very special. It was beautiful. A feeling of – how shall I say it – of power, not in the sense of domination, but in the sense of things being under our control, if under anyone’s. Of possibility. We had everything. We had Barcelona: It was ours. You’d walk out in the streets, and they were ours – here, CNT; there, comite this or that. It was totally different. Full of possibility. A feeling that we could, together, really do something. That we could make things different.”

The workers did not go back to being wage-slaves but expropriated their workplaces. The days and weeks following the 19th of July saw the collectivisation of industry and the land. About eight million people directly or indirectly participated, with over 60% of the land collectively cultivated by the peasants without landlords while in Catalonia almost all the industries run by workers and their committees, without capitalists, well-paid managers or the state. Every branch of industry was taken over and run by their workers – factories, mills, workshops, transportation, public services, health care, utilities, even football teams. As visitor Emma Goldman recounted:

“I was especially impressed with the replies to my questions as to what actually had the workers gained by the collectivisation [. . .] the answer always was, first, greater freedom. And only secondly, more wages and less time of work. In two years in Russia I never heard any workers express this idea of greater freedom.”

The Spanish Revolution created a socialism which was based on workers’ control rather than, as in the Russian Revolution, controlled workers. The new collectives were structured like the CNT and its strikes and so based on, as historian Martha A. Ackelsberg put it, “general assemblies of workers [which] decided policy, while elected committees managed affairs on a day-to-day basis”. The collectives showed that capitalists were not needed for investment and innovation either, for “they maintained, if not increased, agricultural production, often introducing new patterns of cultivation and fertilisation […] collectivists built chicken coups, barns, and other facilities for the care and feeding of the community’s animals. Federations of collectives co-ordinated the construction of roads, schools, bridges, canals and dams.”

While individual workplaces were taken over by their workers, federations were seen as a means to co-ordinate and socialise the economy. The CNT was well aware of the need “[t]o socialise an industry” as “partial collectivisation will in time degenerate into a kind of bourgeois co-operativism”. As anarchist theorists had predicted, the process of federation and socialisation took time and developed unevenly. However, as CNT militant Saturnino Carod reminds us:

“For it can never be forgotten that it was the working class and peasantry which, by demonstrating their ability to run industry and agriculture collectively, allowed the republic to continue the struggle for thirty-two months. It was they who created a war industry, who kept agricultural production increasing, who formed militias […] Without their creative endeavour, the republic could not have fought the war”.

Getting the economy running again was not the pressing task facing the members of the CNT. Franco had only been defeated across two-thirds of Spain and so the defence of the revolution predicted by anarchist thinkers had an even greater urgency. This led to the organisation of militias by the CNT and other unions and parties. However, the CNT’s armed forces were based on libertarian principles as militant Buenaventura Durruti summarised:

“I don’t believe—and everything happening around us confirms this— that you can run a workers’ militia according to classical military rules. I believe that discipline, coordination, and planning are indispensable, but we shouldn’t define them in the terms of the world that we’re destroying. We have to build on new foundations.”

It should be noted that only the CNT militias were democratic, those organised by Marxist parties like the POUM and PSUC were modelled on the [Soviet] Red Army.

As well as organising militias to free those under Army rule elsewhere in Spain, the workers of the CNT took the initiative in creating war industries by the conversion of existing industry to produce home-made armed vehicles, grenades, etc. However, it was not forgotten that a key measure to defend the revolution and defeat the forces of reaction was the interest and active participation of the many rather than power to a few. As Pilar Vivancos, a collective member, put it:

“It was marvellous to live in a collective, a free society where one could say what one thought, where if the village committee seemed unsatisfactory one could say. The committee took no big decisions without calling the whole village together in a general assembly. All this was wonderful.”

As well as transforming the economy, the social revolution also looked to transform all aspects of social life. Women activists of the CNT and FAI created the Mujeres Libres (Free Women) movement which was organised to fight against the “triple enslavement to ignorance, as women, and as producers” and recognised the interwoven nature of social oppressions and hierarchies:

We could not separate the women’s problem from the social problem, nor could we deny [its] significance […] by converting women into a simple instrument for any organisation, even our own libertarian organisation. The intention […] was much much broader: […] to empower women to make of them individuals capable of contributing to the structuring of the future society, individuals who have learned to be self-determining”

This was needed because, in spite of a theoretical awareness of the need for sexual equality, many male anarchists in Spain practiced manarchy in action. Thus patriarchy within the libertarian movement also had to be combated as Kyralina, a Mujeres Libres activist, argued:

“All those compañeros, however radical they may be in cafes, unions, and even affinity groups, seem to drop their costumes as lovers of female liberation at the doors of their homes. Inside, they behave with their compañeras just like common husbands.”

Another, Soledad, stressed that [i]t was essential that we work and struggle together, because otherwise, there would be no social revolution. But we needed our own organisation to fight for ourselves.” This was based, to use the words of Lucia Sanchez Saornil, empowerment (capacitación):

“It is not [the man] who is called upon to set out the roles and responsibilities of the woman in society, no matter how elevated he might consider them to be. No, the anarchist way is to allow the woman to act freely herself, without tutors or external pressures; that she may develop in the direction that her nature and her faculties dictate.”

With this perspective Mujeres Libres were active across Republican Spain and created alternatives which undercut patriarchy wherever it raised its ugly head – including in the CNT and FAI.

Thus a new world was created across Spain, one which transformed every aspect of life – from the economic to the personal. A world which George Orwell vividly recounted when he arrived in Barcelona in December 1936:

“The Anarchists were still in virtual control of Catalonia and the revolution was still in full swing. […] It was the first time that I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle. Practically every building of any size had been seized by the workers and was draped with red flags or with the red and black flag of the Anarchists […] Above all, there was a belief in the revolution and the future, a feeling of having suddenly emerged into an era of equality and freedom. Human beings were trying to behave as human beings and not as cogs in the capitalist machine.”

An Incomplete Revolution

After 19th July, the members of the CNT started to build the beginnings of Anarchy. Workplaces and land expropriated and collectivised under workers control while union- and party-based militias were organised to defeat Franco’s forces.

Yet, was the State smashed and replaced by a federation of workers’ organisations as anarchism had long argued? No – the CNT in Barcelona decided to cooperate with other anti-fascist groups in a Central Committee of Anti-Fascist Militias. As they later recounted, the leadership of the CNT decided “not to speak about Libertarian Communism as long as part of Spain was in the hands of the fascists.” This eventually led to the CNT joining the Catalan and Spanish governments [where they] were quickly marginalised.

The question is: why? Was this anarchist theory or the situation facing anarchists? As anarchist theory was ignored, it must be the second.

For, lest we forget, immediately after the defeat of the Army in Barcelona the CNT was isolated – it had no idea what the situation was elsewhere, even elsewhere in Catalonia. Then there was the danger of fighting on two fronts if libertarian communism was declared as there was a distinct possibility of having to fight Franco and the Republican State in that case. Then there was the fear of wider foreign intervention against the revolution beyond the help Franco received from Germany and Italy. Finally, there was optimism in the membership who had just defeated the Army in Barcelona and so were willing to tolerate the remnants of the State for a short period while Franco was defeated – particularly as there was so much else to do like organise militias and an economy.

All these factors help explain the decision to ignore Anarchist theory rather than push for libertarian communism even if it does not justify it nor make it correct.

The Counter-Revolution

Ultimately, the decision of the CNT to avoid fighting on two fronts did not mean it did not happen. The remnants of the State and the capitalist class regrouped and pursued a counter-revolution. At its head was the Communist Party – and this party soon created a civil war within the civil war.

In Spain, it sided with the urban and rural petit-bourgeois and bourgeois to (finally) get a mass base and undermined the gains of the revolution while USSR shaped Government Policy by supplying weapons (and to get its claws on Spanish gold). The attack on the revolution reached its climax in the May Days of 1937 which began with a government attack on Barcelona’s collectivised telephone exchange. This saw CNT members raise barricades across the city while the Communist and State forces assassinated anarchist activists (including Italian anarchist and refugee from Mussolini, Camilo Berneri). Elsewhere, saw the destruction of the rural collectives by use of troops and tanks while falsely claiming the peasants were forced to join – at the same time praising Stalin’s collectivisation!

As well as using troops and tanks against peasants rather than Franco’s troops, the State denied resources and weapons to libertarian troops and collectives. George Orwell stated the obvious:

“A government which sends boys of fifteen to the front with rifles forty years old and keeps its biggest men and newest weapons in the rear is manifestly more afraid of the revolution than the fascists”

Finally, I should note the political repression and trials of radicals – starting with the dissident Marxists of the POUM as “Trotsky-Fascists” (although Trotsky had few, if any, kind words for the party). It was experiencing this at first hand which forced Orwell – a member of the POUM militia – to flee Spain.

Lessons of the Revolution

Yes, ultimately the revolution was defeated but it must be stressed that every political grouping failed – anarchists, socialists, Stalinists, the POUM and the handful of Trotskyists.

In areas were the socialist UGT was bigger than the CNT the revolution was correspondingly less. As anarchist Abel Paz notes “in Madrid, thanks to the Socialist Party, bourgeois structures were left intact and even fortified: a semi-dead state received a new lease on life and no dual power was created to neutralise it.” In terms of the Stalinists, they defeated the revolution, replaced the militias with an army, placated the bourgeoisie but Franco still won. So the Communist solution completely failed – the People Armed won the revolution, the People’s Army lost the war.

The Spainish labour movement clearly vindicated the anarchist critique of Marxism. While the anarchist influenced unions remained militant, the socialists soon became as reformist as Bakunin predicted:

“the workers […] will send common workers […] to […] Legislative Assemblies. […] The worker-deputies, transplanted into a bourgeois environment, into an atmosphere of purely bourgeois political ideas, will in fact cease to be workers and, becoming Statesmen, they will become bourgeois, and perhaps even more bourgeois than the Bourgeois themselves. For men do not make their situations; on the contrary, men are made by them”.

Indeed, it was the libertarian labour movement which was the innovative trend – so much so, many Marxists often point to the Spanish Revolution as an example of socialist revolution! As such, Engels was completely wrong when he proclaimed in the 1870s that “we may safely predict that the new departure will not come from these ‘anarchist’ spouters, but from the small body of intelligent and energetic workmen who, in 1872, remained true to the [Marxist dominated wing of the] International.”

The reasons are clear enough – as anarchists had long argued, organising and fighting on the economic plain radicalised those involved rather than producing the apathy and reformism associated with electioneering. Likewise, the anarchist critique involved all social hierarchies and oppressions which meant – to use the words of historian J. Romero Maura – that “the demands of the CNT went much further than those of any social democrat: with its emphasis on true equality, autogestion [self-management] and working class dignity, anarcho-syndicalism made demands the capitalist system could not possibly grant to the workers.”

It should also be noted that Anarchism itself had predicted the failure of the revolution. Kropotkin, for example, had repeatedly stressed that “a new form of economic organisation will necessarily require a new form of political structure” but the CNT refused to do this out of a desire to promote anti-fascist unity. However, in practice this cooperation within non-worker organisations did little to aid the revolution nor even the fight against fascism. As Kropotkin had suggested:

“what means can the State provide to abolish this monopoly that the working class could not find in its own strength and groups? […] Could its governmental machine, developed for the creation and upholding of these [class] privileges, now be used to abolish them? Would not the new function require new organs? And these new organs would they not have to be created by the workers themselves, in their unions, their federations, completely outside the State?”

The experience of 1936 reinforces this argument for Anarchists did not fully apply Anarchist ideas and disaster resulted. In short, as British anarchist Vernon Richards put it, the CNT-FAI “failed to put their theories to the test, adopting the tactics of the enemy”. Rather than, to use Bakunin’s words, creating “the federative Alliance of all working men’s associations “in order to “constitute the Commune” and so “the federation of insurgent associations” to “organise a revolutionary force capable of defeating reaction,” the CNT in Barcelona [joined the] Central Committee of Anti-Fascist Militias. Instead of [joining] this body it should have called a full plenum of CNT unions and neighbourhood defence committees with delegates invited from the [socialist] UGT and unorganised workplaces. Only this would have built the popular federations which could have successfully resisted Franco and defended the revolution.

The decision to work with other anti-fascist parties and unions was understandable but such co-operation had to be based on popular organisation from below. Anti-Fascism is not enough – the need remains to destroy the system which spawns it. As Scottish Anarchist Ethel McDonald put it:

“Fascism is not something new, some new force of evil opposed to society, but is only the old enemy, Capitalism, under a new and fearful sounding name [. . .] Anti-Fascism is the new slogan by which the working class is being betrayed.”

However, the most important lesson of the revolution is that libertarian socialism worked – but this is usually downplayed or ignored by “objective” historians. As Noam Chomsky argues, “there is more than enough evidence to show that a deep bias against social revolution and a commitment to the values and social order of liberal bourgeois democracy has led the author to misrepresent crucial events and to overlook major historical currents.” The revolution shows that products and services can be provided to workers, by workers without bosses and bureaucrats. It shows that there is a viable alternative to both privatisation and nationalisation in the form of socialisation and associationism.

This is why the Spanish Revolution should be remembered today. As Orwell put it, it was “a foretaste of Socialism […] the prevailing mental atmosphere was that of Socialism. Many of the normal motives of civilised life – snobbishness, money-grubbing, fear of the boss, etc. – had simply ceased to exist […] no one owned anyone else as his master […] One had breathed the air of equality”. It shows that a genuine socialist alternative exists and works. As Durruti memorably put it at the Aragon Front:

“We have always lived in slums and holes in the wall. We will know how to accommodate ourselves for a time. For, you must not forget, we can also build. It is we the workers who built these palaces and cities here in Spain and in America and everywhere. We, the workers, can build others to take their place. And better ones! We are not in the least afraid of ruins. We are going to inherit the earth; there is not the slightest doubt about that. The bourgeoisie might blast and ruin its own world before it leaves the stage of history. We carry a new world here, in our hearts. That world is growing this minute.”

These words, like the revolution that inspired them, should inspire all seekers of liberty today.

Conclusions

The experience of Spain in the 1930s shows that it is not enough to just oppose fascism for, after all, defending the status quo is hardly inspiring. This helps explain the often limited appeal of campaigns today against the far-right in which the critique of the social problems which the right blame on scapegoats is muted in the interest of widening the campaign. This portrays the left as being part of the problem rather than the solution by linking it with those who benefit from the system. As Chomsky noted long ago:

“Why should a liberal intellectual be so persuaded of the virtues of a political system of four-year dictatorship? The answer seems all too plain.”

It also shows that revolutions cannot be half-made. Even in the face of immanent threat of Franco’s troops, the so-called anti-fascist parties spent time and resources crushing the revolution and the CNT-FAI. It is hard to not draw the conclusion that the Republicans seemed to prefer fascism to anarchism. As such, attempts to limit the revolution were a fatal error by the CNT-FAI leadership.

However, we must not forget that Anarchists failed, not Anarchism. Unlike the Russian Revolution, which failed because Marxist theory was applied, in Spain the revolution failed because [anarchist] theory was not applied. Yet for all the errors and limitations, the social revolution of 1936 was Anarchy in Action and remains an inspiration for today – although, of course, one to be learned from rather than idolised.

Iain McKay

Gascón and Guillamón: In Defence of the Spanish Anarchists

The misrepresentation of the history of the Spanish anarchists, particularly with respect to the Spanish Revolution and Civil War, is something that anarchists have had to combat when the events were occuring and ever since. In this manifesto, Antonio Gascón and Agustín Guillamón challenge continuing attempts to blame on the anarchists every atrocity committed outside of the fascist controlled areas (see also “Autopsy of a Hoax,” regarding the shabby attempts to blame the anarchists for mass executions in Madrid). These misattributions of responsibility go back to the Civil War itself, something that, as the authors point out, George Orwell tried to bring to the world’s attention in his memoir of the Civil War, Homage to Catalonia, which professional historians hostile to anarchism continue to denigrate. Gascón and Guillamón’s manifesto has been translated by Paul Sharkey and was originally posted at Christie Books and then reposted by the Kate Sharpley Library. I included a chapter on the Spanish Revolution in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.

The Rag-Pickers’ Puigcerdá Manifesto: Fight for History

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The fight put up by workers in order to learn their own history is but one of the many class wars in progress. It is not sheer theory, abstraction nor banality, in that it is part and parcel of class consciousness per se and can be described as theorization of the historical experiences of the world proletariat and in Spain it has to embrace, assimilate and inevitably lay claim to the experiences of the anarcho-syndicalist movement in the 1930s.

There is spectre hanging over historical science, the spectre of falsification. The amnesia worked out between the democratic opposition’s trade unions and political parties with the last management line-up of the Francoist state at the time of the dictator’s demise, was yet another defeat for the workers’ movement during the Transition and it had important implications for how the Francoist Dictatorship and the Civil War are remembered historically. An amnesty amounted to a clean slate and a fresh start with the past. This required a deliberate and “necessary” forgetting of all pre-1978 history. There was a brand new Official History to be rewritten, since the Francoist and the anti-Francoist versions of the past were of no further use to the new establishment, its gaze focused upon papering over the antagonisms that triggered the Spanish Civil War.

At present (April 2018), every reference to conflict or antagonism having been banished from the collective memory along with anything that might make it plain that the Civil War was also a class war, the business of recycling it as a chapter in bourgeois history has peaked. Having played down, covered up or ignored the proletarian and revolutionary character of the Civil War, the mandarins of Official History are busily recuperating the past as the narrative of the formation and historical consolidation of representative democracy, or, in the historically autonomous regions, enshrining the basis of their nationhood.

The working class has had its historical protagonism wrested away from it, to the advantage of the brand-new democratic and nationalistic myths of a bourgeoisie that holds economic and political power. LET US PLACE IT ON RECORD THAT HISTORICAL MEMORY IS A CLASS WAR BATTLEGROUND.

The bourgeois institutions of the state’s cultural apparatus have always controlled and exploited history for their own advantage, by covering up, ignoring or misrepresenting facts that call into question or challenge class rule and, with a few honorable exceptions, the vast majority of academic and professional historians have gone along with this willingly.

As the research presently stands, the book by Pous and Sabaté about Antonio Martín and the Civil War in the Cerdanya, as well as the tiresome repetition of their theses and contentions by virtually every other historian who had dealt with the subject, stands out as the most striking and extreme sample shedding light on the Official History mentioned in this Manifesto. OFFICIAL HISTORY IS THE CLASS HISTORY OF THE BOURGEOISIE.

As a platonic ideal, objectivity is actually non-existent in a society divided into social classes. In the specific instance of the Civil War, Official History is characterized by its EXTRAORDINARY ineptitude and its no less EXTRAVAGANT attitude. The ineptitude resides in its utter inability to achieve, or indeed to strive for, a modicum of scientific rigour. The ATTITUDE springs from its knowing IGNORING or DENIAL of the existence of a hugely mighty revolutionary movement (libertarian, for the most part) which, like it or not, shaped every aspect of the Civil War. These servitors of the bourgeoisie in the field of History are prone to a number of intellectual aberrations (aberrant even from a bourgeois viewpoint):

THEY PRAISE and EULOGIZE the methods and repressive efficacy of the Assault Guards and Civil Guard (renamed the Republican National Guard) or political police (the Military Intelligence Service, or SIM). Perhaps they not very aware that in so doing they are singing the praises of torture. But that is a feature that, like no other, flags up the influence of class outlook and interests in the field of history, because such praise for the efficacy of torture and republican police and judicial crackdowns on revolutionaries, runs parallel to the displays of horror at the class violence unleashed against bourgeois in July 1936 by “uncontrollables”. Experts on the subject of violence and efficient in keeping the books on violent deaths they may well be, but they display total partisanship when they describe as anarchist “terror” or police “efficiency” what was at every step the violence of one class against another. Except that, as far as they are concerned, workers’ violence amounts to terror, whereas, violence coming from the state, the SIM, the Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia (PSUC), the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) and Estat Catala is to be classed as “efficiency”. On no grounds other than their class outlook. Violence is judged by double standards, depending on one’s view of the person inflicting or enduring it.

They DENY, though they would rather IGNORE (in that the latter would be handier, more effective and more elegant) the decisive strength with the republican zone of a mostly anarchist revolutionary movement.

They DENY, or so extensively downplay as to misrepresent the documented record of the facts, the hugely repressive, reactionary complicity of the Catholic Church in the army coup d’etat and its active involvement in preparing, unleashing and blessing the subsequent fascist repression.

They DEPLORE George Orwell’s having written an “accursed” book that should never have been read and Ken Loach’s having filmed a “ghastly” movie that ought never to have been watched. We wish to sound the ALARM against a rising tide of revisionist historians of the Civil War.

ALARM at the determined brazen misrepresentation of historical events, in defiance of the available documentary record. The facts themselves are being forced underground and the documentation is ignored or misinterpreted. The writing of Civil War history has shifted from being an activist history written by the protagonists and eye-witnesses to the civil war, (with all of the risks that that implied, but also offering the irreplaceable passion of those who do not dice with words because they had previously diced with death) into a cack-handed, obsolete academic history characterized by bloopers, lack of understanding and even contempt for the militants and organizations of the workers’ movement.

ALARM at the increasing banality of Official History and the methodical marginalization of research that highlights the crucial historical role of the workers’ movement, no mater how rigorous it might be. In actual fact, the bourgeois historians are utterly incapable not just of understanding but even of accepting the historical existence of a mass revolutionary movement in 1936 Spain. We are dealing here with a history that refuses to acknowledge the revolutionary upheaval that played out during the Civil War period.

Official History approaches the Civil War as a fascism-antifascism dichotomy, which facilitates consensus between left- and right-wing academic historians, Catalan nationalists and the neo-stalinists who, across the board, are all agreed in chalking the republic’s failure up to the radicalism of the anarchists, POUMists and revolutionary masses who are thereby made into their shared scape-goats.

By ignoring, omitting or down-playing the proletarian and revolutionary aspects of the period of the Republic and the Civil War, Official History manages to turn the world upside down, so that its leading pontiffs have awarded themselves the task of rewriting the whole thing ALL OVER AGAIN, thereby completing their hijacking of historical memory, in yet another step in the overall process of expropriating the working class. When all is said and done, it is the academic historians who write History. Even as the generation that lived through the war is dying out, the books and handbooks of Official History are ignoring the existence of a magnificent revolutionary anarchist movement and, ten years from now, might dare claim that NO SUCH MOVEMENT EXISTED. The mandarins firmly believe that NOTHING THEY do not write about ever existed: if the history calls the present into question, they deny it.

It is the function of revolutionary history to show that legends, books and handbooks tell lies, misrepresent, manipulate and kowtow to the bureaucratic and class-biased academic discipline.

Faced with the growing bringing of the profession of historian into disrepute, and in spite of whatever honorable and outstanding examples there may be around, we, Antonio Gascón and Agustín Guillamón, abjure the description ‘historian’ in the aim of averting undesirable and unpleasant confusion: grounds enough for us lay claim to the honest pursuit of collectors of ancient testimonies and papers: rag-pickers of history.

Following the political (though not military) defeat of the anarchists in May 1937, in Barcelona and all across Catalonia, the crackdown on the libertarian movement during the summer of 1937 was accompanied by a campaign of insult, degradation, outright lies, abuse and criminalization which conjured up a brand-new reality in place of the social and historical facts: the anti-libertarian black legend which has, since then, become the only acceptable explanation, the only living history. For the first time in history, a political propaganda campaign replaced what had happened by a non-existent, artificially constructed fiction. George Orwell, eye-witness to and a victim of this campaign of denigration, falsehood and demonization, posited a Big Brother in his novels. The academic historians were able to rewrite the past time and again, depending on the shifting sectarian and political interests, the wrath of the gods they worshipped or the tastes and whimsies of whoever was their master. As Orwell wrote in his novel 1984: “Whoever controls the past controls the future. Whoever controls the present controls the past.”

In the realm of historiography, the bourgeoisie’s Hallowed History inherited, pursued and completed this defamatory Stalinist and republican campaign, which needs to be denounced, criticized and demolished. History is but one more fight in the class war in progress. The bourgeoisie’s history we counter with the revolutionary history of the proletariat. Lies are defeated by truth; myths and dark legends by archives.

There is a stark contradiction between the trade of retrieving historical memory and the profession of lackeys of Official History as the latter needs to forget and eradicate the past existence and, consequently, the feasibility in the future, of a redoubtable revolutionary mass workers’ movement. This contrast between trade and profession is resolved by means of ignoring what they know or ought to know; and this makes them redundant. Official History purports to be objective, impartial and all-encompassing. But it is characterized by its inability to acknowledge the class element in its alleged objectivity.  It is, of necessity, partisan and cannot embrace any outlook other than the bourgeoisie’s class outlook. And it is, of necessity, exclusivist and banishes the working class from the past, future and present. Official Sociology would have us believe that the working class, the proletariat and the class struggle are no more; and it is up to Official History to persuade us that they never existed.

A perpetual, complacent and a-critical present renders the past banal and eats away at historical awareness.

The bourgeoisie’s historians have to rewrite the past, just the way Big Brother did, time and again. They need to deny that the Civil War was a class war. Whoever controls the present controls the past and whoever controls the past determines the future. Official History is the bourgeoisie’s history and its mission these days is to weave a myth around nationalisms, democracy and market economics, so as to persuade us that these things are eternal, immutable and immoveable.

The promoters of this Manifesto, Antonio Gascón and Agustín Guillamón, having set themselves up as a History Defence Committee, hereby declare themselves belligerents in this FIGHT FOR HISTORY. For that reason, and as set out in our book Nacionalistas contra anarquistas en la Cerdaña (Nationalists versus anarchists in the Cerdanya), published by Ediciones Descontrol (editorial@descontrol.cat)

WE FIND IT PROVEN

That the crackdown on priests and right-wingers in the Cerdanya between 20 July 1936 and 8 September 1936 was directed by the mayor of Puigcerdá, Jaime Palau, a member of the ERC (Esquerra).

That the list of 21 right-wing Puigcerdá citizens “who had to be eliminated” was thrashed out and drawn up in the Esquerra Republicana de Cataluña Clubhouse and its president Eliseo Font Morera “approved the list of victims”. The persons featuring on the list were arrested and murdered on the night of 9 September 1936.

Then when it came to the establishment of the Puigcerdá Town Administrative Council on 20 October 1936, the anarchists forced the ERC to participate in the shape of the two chief protagonists of the crack-down on rightists: Jaime Palau and Elise Font.

That ANTONIO MARTÍN ESCUDERO, the Durruti of the Cerdanya, was assassinated on the bridge in Bellver on 27 April 1937 in an ambush set by the ERC and Estat Catalá. The murder was due to the anarchists’ steely monitoring of the border, to the detriment of the smuggling activities of stalinists and (Catalan) nationalists.

That, after 10 June 1937, in the wake of the political defeat suffered by the anarchists in the May Events, it was the anarchists’ turn. Seven libertarians were murdered in La Serradora by stalinists and nationalists.

An Executive Committee made up of stalinists and nationalists was set up to coordinate and oversee the crack-down on libertarians in the Cerdanya. That crack-down and the campaign of defamation were closely connected. The massacre on 9 September 1936 and all murders committed in the comarca, plus all thievery and criminality were laid at the door of a wrongly blamed scapegoat: the anarchists. This was a distraction from the criminal culpability of the PSUCERC and it criminalized the class enemy: the anarchists.

That the majority of historians lie, manipulate or falsify, some of them unknowingly, but most unconsciously: this is within the very nature and condition of the trade by which they make their living. The bourgeoisie’s Hallowed History is a forgery, concocted to spare the nationalists and stalinists from all blame for the outrages during the early days of the Revolution. One good example would be the prevailing historical writing about Puigcerdá and the Cerdanya, which, for upwards of 80 years now, has successfully concealed the fact that the protagonists of the 1934 coup suffered harsh reprisals at the hands of the pro-Spain rightists (españolistas) in 1935; that that repression provoked the Catalanist coup-makers of 1934 into taking revenge by participating in the abuses and arbitrary acts which followed the July 1936 defeat of the military in Barcelona and across Catalonia. And, in particular, that more than one of them belonged to Estat Catalá, or were, for the most part, known members of the ERC listed in the Causa General as answerable for the local killings.

That the myth of mass shootings in the Tosas Pass, carried out on the instructions of the Puigcerdá Committee, collapses in the face of the emphatic detail in a document in the Causa General which, following the disinterment and analysis of those 26 cadavers, found that most belonged to very young people, some of whom were identified as right-wingers and deserters, slain by the carabineers whilst attempting to cross the border. No mention of Committee nor of firing squads; just carabineers and deserters and in any case these deaths had nothing to do with internal issues in the Cerdanya and ought not to be counted as resulting from social and political conflicts in that comarca.

That it should not escape anyone that the irrefutable demolition of the dark legend surrounding Catalan anarchism in the Cerdanya, and more specifically, the fantastic criminalization of Antonio Martin, in the pages of our book on the Cerdanya, carries significant implications:

A. In 1937 the republican and stalinist authorities were deliberately lying and knowingly concocted that dark legend denigrating Catalan anarchism. It was a powerful political weapon used against the CNTFAI, as well as the perfect defence against their own crimes; these could be pinned on the anarchists.
B. The bourgeoisie’s historians lie and painstakingly choose from among the documentation held in the archives and thereby become the heirs and successors to the propaganda campaign of denigration and defamation which, for the first time in history, successfully ensured that the genuine social and historical facts were eclipsed and replaced by a different fictional reality conjured up by this campaign of propaganda and infamy.
C. In 1937-1938, Catalan stalinists and nationalists subscribed in the same innate, civilized and ethical way to a radical political racism vis à vis the anarchists, in a muddle of ethnic, cultural, ideological and linguistic prejudices. Anarchists were scorned and de-humanized, so that, in the nationalist and stalinist imagination, they stopped being people and instead became brutes and beasts who could be and deserved to be sacrificed on the altar of the homeland. Just the way the españolista right-wingers had been a few months earlier.
D. All of these monsters, serial killers, vampires and priest-eaters who had popped up all over Catalonia like some virus and whom the historians have described as criminals are deserving of a second look. All the historians are under suspicion of partisanship and sectarianism.
E. Over the summer of 1937, the CNT – as an organization – effectively ceased to exist in the Cerdanya. The brutal anti-libertarian repression was orchestrated by an Executive Committee on which Vicente Climent (PSUC), Juan Bayran Clasli (PSUC), Juan Solé (mayor of Bellver), a Watch officer by the name of Samper and another, unnamed officer, both of them Estat Catalá members, served.

IN CONSEQUENCE OF WHICH WE CONCLUDE:

That history is yet another battle in the class war in progress. We posit the proletariat’s revolutionary history as a counter to the bourgeoisie’s history. Lies are routed by truth; myths and dark legends refuted by archives.

That history as a social science is no longer feasible in academic university institutions, where historians are turned into functionaries subject to the authorities and the established order. Honest, scientific, rigorous History is these days only possible in spite of the academic historians and outside of those institutions.

That the mission of bourgeois History is to weave myths about nationalisms, democratic totalitarianism and capitalist economics in order to persuade us that these are eternal, immutable and immoveable. A perpetual, complacent and a-critical present  renders the past banal and demolishes historical awareness. We are shifting from Hallowed History towards post-history. Post-truth is a newspeak for a (these days frequent) situation wherein the reporter creates public opinion by bending facts and reality to suit emotions, prejudices, ideologies, propaganda, material interests and politics. If something seems true and in addition flatters one’s vanity or is satisfying emotionally, as well as bolstering prejudices or identity, it deserves to be true. A decent advertising campaign turns lies, fraud and the counterfeit into a palatable, convenient post-truth. Post-history is no longer the narration or interpretation of events that happened in the past, and is turning into a narrative that hacks of every hue and ideology concoct for the publishing market, regardless of facts and historical reality, which are now regarded as being merely symbolic, secondary, dispensable, prejudicial or hidden.

AS A RESULT WE DEMAND:

That the informational panels erected on the bridge in Bellver be removed or amended.

That the ERC claim its share of the responsibility for the killings in Puigcerdá on 9-9-1936 and drop the slanders that that organization has been constantly and systematically peddling against libertarians.

That Pous and Sabaté formally acknowledge their errors and shortcomings, and do so publicly and openly, for the sake of their own self-respect and because it is only fair.

WE ARE EMBARKING UPON the dissemination of this text with the aim of alerting libertarians and dispelling and freeing them from the huge moral damage they have endured because of this degrading defamatory campaign, driven by the nationalists and stalinists.

There can be no compact or collaboration with the class enemy. We invite the inevitably minority of anarchists and rebels, armed with principles, even though they have no homeland and no flags, no gods and no frontiers, not to give up nor give in, but to associate themselves with these demands by sending messages of support for this Manifesto to the HISTORY DEFENCE COMMITTEE, e-mail: chbalance@gmail.com

Antonio Gascón and Agustín Guillamón, Puigcerdá, 27 April 2018