Spanish anarchism and Communist Party rule

Lorenzo Penya Laurentius at PINAR1.csic.es
Tue Nov 21 17:48:23 MST 1995


Spanish Anarchism and Communist Party rule
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
On Wed, 11 Oct 1995 Bryan A. Alexander wrote

      Sigh. Once again a flung bash at the anarchists. And a
      weird harmony between Louis and MIM, both reproaching
      anarchism for its real results. I'll point to Spain for
      now - you all know when. The anarchists as a popular
      movement abolished state power, trashed elites, improved
      life, successfully lived in anarchist-modeled society, and
      defended themselves for years despite comparative
      originary weakness. Then again, having the Stalinists help
      destroy them might have played a role? NB, folks: this is
      an old, old debate that never fails to create fire and
      smoke. It can swell up to eat a list. Not that we
      shouldn't talk about it! -but that we should keep other
      issues alive.

On Fri, 13 Oct 1995 he wrote:

      As for Spain: the struggle was complex. And the CP there
      managed very well to keep good info about the anarchists
      out of the hands of the citizens they ruled. So perhaps
      anarchists weren't as good as the CP at early 20th-century
      propaganda; we need to talk about this as a failing, if we
      consider it so.


I knew nothing of the sort, Bryan. Whatever I know about the Spanish
civil war points in the opposite direction. Is it because the
communist party has ruled Spain ever since?
      Spanish anarchism had its glorious days. Let us say about one
hundred years ago. They organized many peasant revolts against the
land-owners, they developed a collectivist sense in the peasantry
(`comunismo libertario'). As an urban-workers movement, at a later
stage, they were less successful. Not in the sense of failing to
attract a huge number of followers; unfortunately though their
movement was very often misguided and tended to undermine proletarian
unity.
      When the civil war began, their apogee had long been past. Their
role all through the Spanish Republic years (ever since 1931) had been
in general deplorable. When the military revolted, in those horrible
days of July 1936, they immediately seized some sort of street- or
mob-power. They set up unofficial chambers of torture and murder. As
PolPot anticipators (no other revolution -- if that was one -- in our
century can be compared to those events) they heckled whosoever spoke
with a middle-class accent, or wore a suit or a tie. Saying `Thanks!'
was dangerous, a token of upper-class membership, hence of fascism.
      They were not alone in such a madness. Many spontaneously sprung
actions of the sort took place. You've read FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS.
But the anarchists were alone among political organizations to support
and spur such a folly. The main victims were nuns, priests and monks,
as well as many church-goers. Admittedly most of them were Franco
sympathizers (many of those who were not became pro-fascists upon the
wretched events of those hectic and heady days).
      In Eastern Aragon (Western Aragon having been run down by the
rebels) the anarchists managed to establish forced collectivization
and a form of local power. Even today their misdeeds are remembered by
the local population. A film is being shot there, called
`Libertarias'. The local population have attacked the cinema people on
account of the atrocities committed by `the reds', i.e. the
anarchists.
      Fortunately in most parts of the Republican-held Spanish
territory such misdeeds did not last. So the balance in number of
murders may be modest (nothing of PolPotian proportions). The
Stalinists quickly organized an efficient militia which restored the
legal authorities to power and protected the freedom and  rights of
the population, with a few exceptions (namely the communist dissenters
of the POUM and chiefly the Phalangist 5st column, whose members were
hounded by the communist-led SIM). What churches remained open, what
priests and nuns were not killed owed it to the protection of the
Stalinist communist party of Spain. That's truth. That's history
      Is it at least true that the anarchists abolished state power
and improved life conditions? They cannot be blamed for doing nothing
like the latter under the conditions of the war. But as for state
power, their local dictatorships were forms of state-power as much as
any such institution can be. Moreover they joined the Republican
government (which was possibly the only sensible thing they did during
the war). Anarchist ministers may sound paradoxical, but life is that
paradoxical.
      Did the Spanish communist party ruled in the Republican-held
territory in Spain? They secured important positions since they were
the only organization to have a clear policy, to follow a line of
organized efficient resistance. They gained the support of many
Spaniards, including most intellectuals, the cultivated low-middle
class, many workers, a few peasants, and so on. There were two
communist ministers (a modest government participation). For some time
Prime Minister Negrin (a right-wing social-democrat) felt some sort of
fleeting sympathy for their devotion to the cause and occasionally
took their advice. Nothing more. (Had Franco been defeated, perhaps
... Who knows?)
      Franco's and the Phalanx's attitudes are interesting. They
courted the anarchists. The Phalangists chose as their flag a black-
and-red one, the anarco-syndicalist colours, and portrayed the
anarcho-syndicalists as truly Iberians, genuine Spaniards, unlike the
communists who were agents of Moscow. Franco's propaganda blamed the
communists for all anarchist murders and misdeeds. Of course,
thousands of anarchists were also killed by Franco, the sporadic
superficial courting notwithstanding.
      All in all, if nowadays more than 10 percent of Spaniards still
vote for the Communist-party led `United Left' coalition whereas
anarchism is nonexistent (barring a handful of isolated individuals),
I gather that has something to do with historical experience. At least
in part.

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