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(en) A new world in their hearts: The Spanish Revolution (1936- 1937) by the Workers Solidarity Federation, South Africa, 2005

Date Thu, 28 Jul 2005 12:16:51 +0300

The 19th of July 2005 marked the 69th Anniversary of the Spanish Revolution.
For a brief time, capitalism and the State was replaced by solidarity,
mutual aid, and respect for others.
Workers and peasants, who were deeply influenced by anarcho- syndicalist
ideas, ran society collectively and gained control over their lives,
industry and land. A central part of the revolution was the struggle against
a fascist attempt to take over Spain.
We must remember both the magnificent triumphs and tragedies of the Spanish
revolution and attempt to learn from our comrades' mistakes.

Libertarian socialist (anarcho- syndicalist) ideas had deep roots among
Spanish peasants and workers.
In 1911, a massive revolutionary trade union federation, the CNT (National
Confederation of Labour) was formed. It had two aims: first, to fight the
bosses with mass action in the daily struggle. Second, to make a workers
revolution by organising the workers and the poor to seize back the land and
factories and mines.

The CNT led many militant and successful struggles against the bosses and
the government. By 1936 it was the biggest union in Spain, with nearly 2
million members. But the CNT was always democratic. Despite its giant size,
the CNT never had more than one paid official.

The libertarian socialists (anarcho- syndicalists) did not restrict
themselves to the workplace. They also organised a political group to work
within the unions (the FAI), rent boycotts in poor areas, youth and women.
The CNT itself included working peasants, farmworkers and the unemployed. It
even organised workers schools!

In July 1936, fascists led by General Franco, and backed by the rich and the
Church, tried to seize power in Spain. Fascists believe in an extreme right-
wing dictatorship, and are used by the bosses to violently suppress the
masses' struggle for a better life.

The elected government (the Popular Front coalition of left- wing parties)
was unable and unwilling to deal with the fascists. It even tried to strike
a deal with the fascists by appointing a right- winger as Prime Minister.
Why? Because they would rather compromise with the right wing and protect
their wealth and power than arm the workers and the poor for self- defence.

Fortunately, the workers and the peasants did not wait around for the
government to act. The CNT declared a general strike and organised armed
resistance to the attempted take over. Other unions and left wing groups
followed the CNT's lead.

In this way the people in arms were able to stop the fascists in two- thirds
of Spain. It soon became apparent to these workers and peasants that this
was not just a war against fascists, but the beginning of a revolution!
Libertarian socialist (anarcho- syndicalist) influence was everywhere-
workers militias were set up independently from the State, workers seized
control of their workplaces and peasants seized the land.

There are many triumphs of the revolution. In this article we are only able
to consider a few of the Spanish workers' and peasants' victories. These
included the general take over of the land and factories. Women also made
many important gains.

Small peasants and farm workers faced extremely harsh conditions in Spain.
Starvation and repression was a part of their daily lives. Therefore it was
no surprise that libertarian socialism (anarcho- syndicalism) was
particularly strong in the countryside.

During the revolution, as many as 7 million peasants and farmworkers set up
voluntary collectives in the anti- fascist region. After the majority of
landowners fled, a village assembly was held. If a decision to collectivise
was taken, all the land, tools and animals were pooled together for the use
of the entire collective. Teams were formed to look after the various areas
of work and each team elected accountable delegates to a village assembly. A
committee was elected to co- ordinate the overall running of the collective
and each collective had regular general meetings in which all members

Individuals who did not want to join the collectives were NOT forced to.
They were given enough land to farm on, but were forbidden to hire labourers
to work this land. Most "individualists" eventually joined the collectives
when they saw how successful the collectives were.

Libertarian socialism (anarcho- syndicalism) inspired massive
transformations in industry. Workers seized control over their workplaces
and directly controlled production by themselves and for the benefit of the
Spanish workers and peasants.

The tram system provided a shining example of just how much better we can do
things under direct workers control. On July 24 the tram crews got together
and decided to run the whole system themselves. Within 5 days 700 trams were
in service, instead of the usual 600.

Wages were equalised and working conditions improved. Free medical care was

Everyone benefited from the trams being under workers control. Fares were
reduced and an extra 50 million passengers were transported. Yet more money
was made and used to improve transport services and produce weapons. With
the capitalist profit motive gone, safety became much more important and the
number of accidents was reduced.

In the early stages of the revolution, the armed forces of the state had
effectively collapsed. In their place, the trade unions and left- wing
organisations set about organising the armed workers and peasants into
militias. Overall, there were 150,000 volunteers willing to fight where they
were needed. The vast majority were members of the CNT. All officers were
elected by the rank- and- file and had no special privileges.

The revolution showed that workers, peasants and the poor can create a new
world without bosses or a government. It showed that libertarian socialist
(anarcho- syndicalist) ideas and methods (such as building revolutionary
unions) can work. And it showed that imperialism is the enemy of all
workers: the fascists used the colonial army from North Africa to launch
their attack.

Yet despite all this, the revolution was defeated. In 1939, the fascists had
won the civil war and crushed the working- class and peasants with a brutal

Why did this happen? The revolution was defeated partly because of the
strength of the fascists. They were backed by the rich, by fascist Italy and
Nazi Germany.

The CNT also made mistakes. It aimed for maximum anti- fascist unity and
joined the Popular Front alliance that included political parties from
government and pro- capitalist forces. This required the CNT to make many
compromises in its revolutionary programme.

It also gave the Popular Front government an opportunity to undermine and
destroy the revolution, the collectives, and the workers militias. The
Communist Party played a leading role in this attack. The Communists
organised amongst small employers and conservatives and was only interested
in expanding Russia's power.

Instead of joining the Populist Front, the CNT should have stuck to its
original programme:
*Revolution against the bosses, the State and their fascist friends.
*Alliances only with worker and peasant structures.
*Defence by a democratic workers/peasant army.
And the immediate decolonisation of all Spanish colonies.

This Leaflet was based on:
1) E. Conlon, "Spanish Civil War: Anarchism in Action."
2) [DAM] N/A, "The Spanish Revolution: Anarchism in Action."
3) C Mcloughlin, "The Spanish Revolution: A New World in Their Hearts. "
Workers Solidarity (Ireland) Spring 1996.
Workers Solidarity Federation = South African anarchist group

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