Anarchism and the Spanish Civil War

last great cause

The Last Great Cause

V.G. Tenturini

Search Foundation (2010)

Book Review

The Last Great Cause is a virtual encyclopedia of Spanish political history, starting from the Napoleon’s invasion in 1808. Although I was chiefly interested in the history of Spanish anarcho-syndicalism, the book also provides a comprehensive overview of the fascist coup Franco launched in 1936, the International Brigades who fought (unsuccessfully) to save the second Spanish Republic, the so-called “transition” following Franco’s death in 1975 and more recently efforts by the crusading Spanish jurist Baltasar Garzon to achieve justice for tens of thousands of victims of the Franco regime.

Venturini begins by identifying unique features of 19th century Spanish society that provided fertile ground for a major anarchist movement. Among these were Spain’s failure to achieve industrial revolution (except in Catalonia), the absence of a Spanish middle class and strong separatist movements in Catalonia and the Basque region of Spain. Unlike socialism, which historically develops among middle class intellectuals, Spanish anarchism had its origin in the working class.

The Rise of Spanish Anarchism

In 1868, a group of disconnected generals led the first major effort to depose the Spanish monarchy. The same year, Mikhail Bakunin, known as the father of collective anarchism, sent his disciple Giuseppe Fanelli to Spain to organize Spanish farm laborers. Within five years, the number of anarchists in Spain totaled 50,000.

The resulting “glorious revolution” produced in the First Republic. It lasted eleven months before the monarchy was restored.

Spanish history between 1902 and 1929 was marked by profound political and economic turmoil. During the early 1900s, Spanish anarchists merged with the Syndicalist* movement. In 1911, they formed the CNT.** CNT membership grew from 14,000 to 700,000 by 1919. In 1917, the CNT joined forces with the UGT*** to stage the first general strike.

In 1929, continuing popular unrest would lead to Alfonzo XIII’s removal from power and the creation of the Second Republic in 1931.

The Forces Backing Franco’s Coup

From the outset, the Republic faced powerful opposition from the Catholic Church, the Spanish military, wealthy landholders and Spanish and European Banks. Spain was embroiled in virtual civil war from 1933 on, as the forces of reaction engaged armed thugs (as the Falange Espanola) to thwart governmental efforts to carry out land and other democratic reforms.

These forces of reaction also assisted in planning and implementing the fascist coup Franco launched in 1936. The Republic was at a clear disadvantage in resisting the coup, owing to the major support Franco received from fascist Germany and Italy and the covert support he received from Britain and the US.  According to Venturini, Britain, which had major business interests in Spain, directly aided Franco with intelligence and naval support. American oil companies also provided him with oil (while refusing to sell it to Spain’s legitimately elected government), and Ford and other US manufacturers supplied him with trucks.

The International Brigades

Venturini estimates 40,000-50,000 volunteers from 53 countries participated in the International brigades. When Franco captured Catalonia in January 1939 500,000 Republican soldiers and civilians fled across the border to France. Many of the anarchists joined the Maquis, where they played a vital role in liberating France from the Nazis.

Venturini emphasizes that no allied troops fought in the South of France – that these regions were liberated by the Resistance – in many instances before the liberation of Paris.


*Syndicalism is a type of economic system in which industries are owned and managed by the workers.
**CNT Confederación Nacional del Trabajo National Confederation of workers.
***The Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT, General Union of Workers) is a major Spanish trade union, historically affiliated with the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE).
****Rural guerrilla bands of French resistance fighters.

7 thoughts on “Anarchism and the Spanish Civil War

  1. I thought this might be right up your alley. Obviously Venturini is Italian – currently living in Australia. Although his subtitle suggests he was only interested in the Italian and Australian brigades, his research into all the International Brigades is exhaustive, including the Abraham Lincoln brigade from the US.

    Like

  2. Pingback: The Decline of Anarchism in the 20th Century | The Most Revolutionary Act

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