The Angry Brigade: The Spectacular Rise and Fall of Britain’s Urban Guerilla Group
PM Press (2008)
The film traces the role played by anarchists exiled from Spain during the Franco dictatorship in inspiring anarchist movements in Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy, Turkey, Netherlands and the UK. It primarily focuses on the Black Cross, an international group providing material and psychological support for anarchist prisoners; the French First of May Group; and Britain’s Angry Brigade.
For me, the most interesting part of the film is the role of the First of May group in instigating the mass insurrection (and near revolution) that occurred in France in 1968.
The only serious inaccuracy in the film relates to the identification of German’s Beider Meinhoff gang as an organic First of May anarchist group. It’s now recognized as a Gladio operation heavily infiltrated (and possibly run) by CIA operatives. See The Secret CIA Program to Control Europe
No Gods, No Masters – Part 3
Directed by Tancrede Ramonet (2017)
Part 3 covers 1917-1939 and uses the terms anarchist and libertarian interchangeably.
For fifty years prior to World War I (see Why Social Studies Never Made Sense in School: The History of Anarchism and The Vital Role of Anarchists in the Russian Revolution) anarchism was the backbone of social change, not only in Europe, the US, China and Japan, but throughout Latin America.
The decline of the anarchist movement would start with World War I, which killed one-third of working men in the countries that participated. Brutal crackdowns against anarchists (mainly in the Soviet Union and the US) in the final years of the war would further decimate their numbers. The US wars against the trade union movement (carried out by the Department of Justice with the help of the Italian Mafia) were unprecedented in global history.
The birth of Bolshevism during the Russian Revolution would also serve to displace anarchism. Not only did Lenin brutally suppress Soviet anarchists, but he would appropriate the anarchist anthem (the Internationale) and many anarchist slogans and teachings. In the US and Western Europe, growing numbers of trade union organizers turned to communism for inspiration, rather than anarchism.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Mussolini and other European fascists also appropriated anarchist symbol – as they simultaneously gunned down and imprisoned members of the anarchist resistance.*
With the crackdown against anarchism in their own countries, many US and Soviet anarchists emigrated to France, where they formed a new international collective under the leadership of Ukrainian anarchist Nestor Makhno. This collective focused most of its energy on Spain, where more than a million** anarchists had been organizing for revolution for 70-80 years.
In addition to covering the tragedy of the US government frame-up and execution of Italian-born anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti, most of Part 3 covers the Spanish Revolution (aka the Spanish Civil War).
This documentary provides a comprehensive outline of the role of Stalin, Spanish communists and Spain’s so-called republican government in launching the counterrevolution that would hand the last remnants of the Spanish republic over to fascist dictator Ferdinand Franco.
A worker-run film company filmed much of the actual Spanish Revolution, offering rare insight into what a true worker-run revolution looks like.
*In the US, the right wing also appropriated the term libertarian.
The Basque History of the World
by Mark Kurlansky
The Basque History of the World is a history of Basqueland, a semi-autonomous region in the Pyrenees straddling the French-Spanish border. Despite the recent declaration of independence by Catalonia, there is surprisingly little attention on historical efforts by Basqueland, to break away from Spanish rule. Like Catalonia Basqueland, which has its own unique language (Eskuera), has been a major industrial and economic powerhouse for the rest of Spain.
Global Mercenaries, Traders, Shipbuilders, Navigators and Bankers
Historically the Basques were traders and mercenary soldiers dating back to the 4th century BC. The Greeks hired them, as did Carthage in their war against Rome. Although Basque was technically “occupied” by the Roman empire for nearly 400 years, the Romans demanded no tribute (taxes) and exerted no military oversight.
In the 7th and 8th century, the Basques became Europe’s leading shipbuilders (which they learned from the Vikings) and iron mongers (which they learned from the Celts). They were the world’s first commercial whalers, establishing whaling stations as far distant as Newfoundland and Labrador. In the 9th century, they also dominated the European trade in salted cod, fishing off Iceland, Norway, Britain, as well as Newfoundland.
Beginning in the 15th century they were sought after by many European explorers (including Columbus and Magellan) as pilots, navigators and seamen.
They were also the first capitalists, financing their shipbuilding via private venture capital. In 1999, when this book was published, they were still global leaders in banking.
Neither the Moors (in the 8th century) nor King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella (in the 15th century) succeeded in conquering Basqueland. Owing to the immense wealth the Basques generated, they paid no duty on foreign goods imported through their ports. Until 1876, they paid no tax to Madrid and were exempt from serving in the Spanish military. French Basqueland fared far worse after the French revolutionary government eliminated France’s three Basque provinces in their campaign to erase ethnic identities.
Spain was so poor when the second Spanish Republic was declared in 1931, only Basqueland and Catalonia (thanks to their strong industrial base) enjoyed a European standard of living. Both regions demanded full autonomy as a condition of supporting the Republic.
Following the successful coup of Spain’s fascist dictator Francisco Franco in 1939, the Basques provided the only organized resistance against his regime. They also played an extremely important role in the French resistance to Hitler’s occupation of France.
Role in Downfall of Franco Dictatorship
In 1973, ETA, the Basque armed militia assassinated Franco’s second in command, and Basque and Catalan leaders began meeting secretly to plan Spain’s transition to democracy.
Franco’s death and the fall of his government in 1975 would prove disastrous for the Basque economy. The dictator had been heavily subsidizing archaic Basque factories, which were totally unable to compete with modern European industries after Spain joined the EU.
In 1998, after uniting with Catalonia to win constitutional guarantees of legislative autonomy (for both Catalonia and Basqueland), ETA unilaterally renounced violence. This followed a 16-year battle with the GAL, an undercover police/paramilitary operation that engaged in extrajudicial assassinations and torture against Basque nationalists.
Living Utopia: The Anarchists and the Spanish Revolution
Directed by Juan Gamero (1997)
Spanish with English subtitles
In this documentary, the history of the 1936 Spanish revolution is told by anarchists* who actually participated in it. What imperialists commonly refer to as the Spanish Civil War, Spanish anarchists refer to as the Spanish revolution. The revolution lasted from 1936-39 before the counterrevolution, led my Franco, Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin (in conjunction with the western powers), overturned it.
The film begins by describing the roots of Spain’s anarchist movement, in Europe’s first workers society, formed in Barcelona in 1840. In 1902, they organized the first free (ie non-Catholic schools) to combat Spain’s high illiteracy rate (50%). In 1910 they formed the CNT (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo) and won an 8-hour day through a series of major strikes. By 1919, the CNT had a membership of 700,000.
Banned in 1923, the CNT organized in secret, until 1931 when the king was deposed. By this point they had one million members. However 90% of them boycotted the 1934 election. This enabled fascists to take control of the government and reverse most of the land and other reforms enacted by the Republic.
CNT Steps Up to Defend Against Franco’s Coup
In 1936, the CNT united with other Spanish leftist groups to elect a National Front government. Under General Franco, the military’s response was to launch a military coup. Failing to organize any resistance, the government of the Republic crumbled. Thus it was left up to civilians to organize military resistance to prevent the fall of Madrid – as well as to organize basic survival infrastructure in the territory under their control.
The CNT joined with other resistance forces to form the Anti-Fascist Militias Committee. As volunteer militias marched towards the front line, they assisted rural peasants in bringing in the harvest and expropriating barren land from large landowners to put it into cultivation. A total of 7 million peasants voluntarily formed collectives.
Republic Crumbles Leaving Civilians to Re-organize Society
In the cities and villages, working people seized large buildings to provide lodging for the homeless and set up committees to distribute food, clothing and other necessities and put a halt to revenge killings. In Barcelona, the advance guard of the revolution, 80% of factories were seized by workers. Factory owners either fled or joined the worker-run management teams. Participation in the collectivization scheme was totally voluntary.
All production significantly increased during the revolution, as worker-run committees increased production efficiency and adopted new technology. After seizing Ford, GM and other factories, workers converted them into arms factories. Revolutionary councils coordinated the exchange of commodities between regions and exports, via sympathetic contacts, to other European countries. They also enacted decrees guaranteeing equal rights for women and legalizing abortion.
In May 1937, strengthened by Stalin’s support (the Soviet Union was the only country willing to arm the Spanish Republic against Franco’s coup), the Republican leadership declared war against the anarchists who ran Barcelona when they refused to surrender the telephone exchange. After five days and 500 deaths, Barcelona’s anarchists allowed anarchist ministers who had joined the government to persuade them to accept a ceasefire. According to several interviewees, this was their big mistake and ultimately cost them their revolution.
In view of their vast numerical superiority, it would have made more sense to continue guerilla warfare against both the communists who controlled the government and Franco’s forces.
*Most of the interviewees refer to the movement behind the Spanish revolution as “libertarian” communism,” rather than anarchism.
The Spanish Civil War
This is the first of two posts concerning the 1936 Spanish Revolution – which the US and its western allies refer to as the Spanish Civil War. This BBC documentary offers a more or less conventional pro-capitalist interpretation of events. Tomorrow I will post an alternative view by Spanish anarchists who actively participated in the revolution.
Ironically, although Spain was the birthplace of guerilla warfare,* Stalin (the only foreign leader willing to sell them arms) forced the Spanish Republic to engage in a conventional war against overwhelmingly superior forces.
Owing to the massive grassroots mobilization behind the Republic, guerilla warfare would have had a far greater chance of success (as it ultimately did in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan).
When Franco ultimately crushed Spain’s first republic in 1939, it would result in a brutal fascist dictatorship lasting 36 years.
Part 1 describes
- the non-violent fall of the Spanish monarchy in 1931, resulting in the establishment of Spain’s second Republic
- land reform of a semi-feudal system in which landless peasants lived in virtual slavery
- the creation of 10,000 non-church schools in a country with 50% illiteracy
- declaration of emancipation of women and home rule for Catalonia and the Basque region
Part 2 describes
- the 1934 takeover of the Republic’s governing coalition by fascists, who repealed most land and other reforms
- the success of socialists, communists and anarchists in winning back the government in 1936 as the United Front
- the move by 60,000 landless peasants to retake 3,000 farms they lost between 1934-36
- the coup launched by Franco and thousands of Arab troops and Spanish legionaries from Spanish Morocco
- how the grassroots resistance led by Spain’s one million anarchists became a revolution, in which they formed revolutionary committees to organize and arm the resistance and seized factories, which they turned into workers cooperatives, and to redistribute food and other necessities which they distribute to the poor.
- how effective civilian resistance held back Franco’s forces, confining them to regions to the north and west of Madrid for nearly three years.
Part 3 describes
- how Mussolini and Hitler supported Franco with arms, funding and troops, while western Europe and the US signed a pact of “non-intervention” – allowing Roosevelt to sell Texas oil to Franco but prohibiting any western country to supply fuel or arms to the Republic.
- how only the Soviets came to the Republic’s assistance by selling them weapons (for Spanish gold), providing air cover and coordinating the International Brigades – 40,000 international volunteers from more than a dozen countries (including most of Europe, Australia and the US).
Part 4 examines Franco’s background and that of the right wing groups that supported his coup.
Part 5 examines life inside the revolution and how Stalin’s agents and supporters in the Republican government systematically crushed it – by murdering anarchist leaders and launching a formal battle (lasting five days and leaving 500 dead) against anarchist forces in Barcelona.
Part 6 covers Franco’s final defeat of Republican forces after Stalin withdrew his support for the Republic (to pacify Hitler). It also examines the irony of Stalin and the communists forcing the Republic to wage a conventional war they couldn’t possibly win – in the country that invented guerilla warfare.
*The term was first used in 1808, when Spanish guerillas repelled Napoleon’s invasion of Spain. It refers to the use of a small, mobile force competing against a larger, more unwieldy one.
The Man Who Loved Dogs
By Leonardo Padura
Translated by Anna Kushner (2013)
The Man Who Loved Dogs is a fictional account of the Stalinist Conspiracy to assassinate Leon Trotsky in Mexico in 1940. Havana author Leonardo Padura uses three distinct perspectives to relate his story: that of Trotsky and his family, that of his assassin Roman Mercader and that of a failed Cuban writer who accidentally encounters Mercader on a Cuban beach in the 1970s as he’s on the verge of death.
The conspiracy is vaguely reminiscent of the JFK assassination conspiracy, in that it was meticulously planned and took three years to set in motion. Mercader was a Spanish Communist recruited by Stalin’s agents and brought to the USSR for specialized intelligence training. Posing as a Belgian journalist, he cultivated an American Trotskyite girlfriend to facilitate his entry into the high security compound where Trotsky’s family lived in Coyoacan Mexico.
The early part of the book contains long sections about the Spanish Civil War. These focus on Stalin’s brutal efforts to undermine the Spanish Revolution by assassinating anarchist and Trotskyite rivals, including members of the International Brigades. He then proceeded to abandon Spain’s Republican government to Franco’s fascists to improve his negotiating position with Hitler.
The History of Trotsky’s Exile
The narrative from Trotsky’s perspective begins with his forced exile to Turkey in 1929. He’s eventually offered asylum in France and Norway, both of which expel him (under pressure from local communists) after a few months. These sections also focus on Trotsky’s dismay regarding Stalin’s decade of show trials and executions, which systematically eliminated the primary Bolshevik luminaries responsible for the 1917 revolution, as well as one-third of the leadership of the Soviet Army.
Prior to 1990 Books About Trotsky Banned in Cuba
The narrative based on the fictional Cuban writer focuses on the intellectual and artistic repression that characterized the early Castro regime and the severe hardship (literal starvation in many cases) that began when the USSR collapsed in 1989 and Cuba ceased to have access to cheap soviet oil essential to their system of industrial agriculture.
Prior to the 1990s, books by or about Trotsky were banned in Cuba, as they were in the USSR. As Padura reminds us in his acknowledgements, Cubans of his generation grew up totally unaware that Trotsky or Trotskyism even existed. From this perspective, one can’t help but marvel at his extensive research into Trotsky’s personal and political history, as well as the Spanish Civil War and Stalin’s show trials.
The Last Great Cause
Search Foundation (2010)
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.
The Slow Burning Fuse: the Lost History of British Anarchists
by John Quail
Granada Publishing (1978)
A number of chapters are available free on-line at Libcom.org
The Slow Burning Fuse is the first (and only?) textbook of British anarchism, a social movement that’s virtually invisible in mainstream British history books.
According to Quail, anarchism evolved out of the 1830-48 European revolutions.* He describes it as a reaction to the ease with which electoral reform and democratic socialism snuffed out popular desire for genuine revolution. Proudhon, Bakunin and Kropotkin were the primary architects of anarchist thought.
Although British anarchism never became the mass movement it did in France and Spain, it had a major influence on the British trade union movement and British socialism.
In the UK, anarchism grew out of the Chartist** and Radical*** clubs and their demands for an end to the aristocracy and the privilege of unearned income (enjoyed by the royal family and Church of England clergy), abolition of the House of Lords, home rule for Ireland and nationalization of major industries. The most vocal proponents were German, French and Russian refugees who fled to Britain (as Karl Marx did) following the passage of antisocialism legislation in their native countries. For many years, all German revolutionary and anarchist literature was produced in London.
British anarchism reached high points during significant periods of working class unrest (1889-94 and 1910-19). Its influence declined after 1920 for four main reasons:
1) Police infiltration and false flag events (the British police appear to be responsible for most of the major bombings attributed to British anarchists).
2) The incorporation of anarchist supporters into the fledgling Labour Party (aka Socialist Labour Party) which first assumed power in 1924
3) The absorption of anarchist supporters into the British communist party following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. News of Lenin’s brutal treatment of Russian anarchists was very slow to reach the UK. Initially most British anarchists jubilantly supported the Bolshevik Revolution.
In their heyday, British anarchists boasted an active membership (ie participating in street protests) of 4,000, although 7,000-8,000 subscribers bought their newspapers and magazines.
In the early twentieth century, members of the anarchist movement collaborated with socialists, suffragettes and trade union syndicalists in staging major strikes and mass
Anarchism experienced a brief resurgence during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) and campaigned for British volunteers to join the International Brigades fighting Franco’s fascist coup.
- Galicia (Ukraine)
- Danubian principalities (Romania)
- Schleswig (Denmark)
**Chartism was a working class movement between 1836 and 1848 with a principal aim of gaining political rights and influence for the working class.
***The Radicals were a parliamentary political grouping in the UK who helped to transform the Whigs into the Liberal Party