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(en) The tradition of antimilitarism in Spain [total objection movement in Spain] (tr)

From oldsletter <oldsletter@yahoo.com>
Date Thu, 13 Nov 2003 08:28:56 +0100 (CET)

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[The following article is written by an anarchist activist from Madrid as
the preamble of a booklet titled "Insumison Total" which is about the total
objection movement in Spain. The related booklet has recently been published
by oldsletter PUBLISHER collective (*) in Turkish]
The tradition of antimilitarism in Spain
The social situation in Spain in the 19th century
was dominated by two strong claims of the peasants and worker movements
(even before their politicization or becoming communists or anarchists): the
abolition of the indirect taxes, called “consumos”, and the end of the
military conscription, called “quintas”. We’ll take a look at the evolution
of the second problem and will see how this affected to the history of this
state (which only after the Napoleon’s invasion in 1808, was called Spain).
In that time “¡Abajo las quintas!” (down with the conscription!) was the
shout of thousands of Spaniards.

The military service was regulated by the Mendizabal’s Law of
Conscription in 1849, which allowed the possibility of paying a substitute
instead of joining the army. In this time there was a situation of chronic
war in the colonies and also chronic civil wars between liberals of the
government and conservatives who struggled for the old aristocratic
privileges. In the time of the First Republic, in 1871, there were three
wars at the same time in Spain: The first one was the “Second Carlist War”
commanded by the followers of Prince Carlos, the conservative’s aspirant to
the crown of the Kingdom of Spain, who controlled the north-east of the
country. The second one was the “Philippine’s War” in the other side of the
world and finally the “Federal War” against the revolutionary cantons in the
South-East of Spain. On the other hand the way of fighting of the Spanish
army caused then a high level of mortality among the conscripted soldiers
(more than thirty percent of the soldiers died in the battlefield). So the
people preferred to pay the exemption and not to join the army if they
could, even if this could mean the ruin of the whole family. Anyway, this
was always better than the death of the sons. In this context the banks and
other moneylenders offered to the families abusive credits with high
interest rates, which could reach up to sixty percent per year. This, of
course, worsened the social problems and was one of the causes of the
polarization of the society, destroying the Medium Class. But the Low Class
couldn’t even think about paying a substitute and there were some riots
against the conscription. The most important one happened in 1909 in
Barcelona, and it is known as the “Tragic Week”. It started when the mothers
of the soldiers who where departing to Morocco tried to avoid it. The whole
city (known at that time as the “Fire Rose” for its revolutionary flame),
became a battlefield full of barricades. Communists, anarchists and
catalanists (a movement which searched the independence for Catalonian) at
one side and the government army at the other side. Due to these events
Cánovas del Castillo, the prime minister, ordered to execute Ferrer i
Guardia, anarchist and founder of the Free University, who wasn’t really
involved in the revolt. A few days later Cánovas was killed by Angiligio, an
Italian anarchist who wanted to revenge the death of hundreds of anarchist
executed by the government. This was the time of the “pistolerismo”
(“pistolero” means “man with guns”), a bloody time full of murders committed
by anarchist terrorists or paramilitaries paid by the bourgeoisie. The final
balance shows one capitalist dead for each twenty workers dead and two
presidents murdered (Cánovas and Canalejas). At the same time, the war in
Morocco was bleeding the Spanish’s youth and showing the incompetence of
the Spanish army, which, for instance, lost 20.000 men in only one battle,
and soon the names of Annual or Gurugú were well known around the country
because of the thousands falls in battles without strategic interest. In the
traditional songs of all Spain these events still remain in the folk
conscience, a there’s a special kind of songs, called “quintos´ songs” which
talk about the sadness of the young men who had to leave their village and
their life back, and maybe never return.

After the first World War in Spain there wasn’t any
antimilitarist or pacifist movement like in the rest of Europe was. There
the War Resistence International (WRI) was starting, but in Spain the the
social situation was becoming worst everyday, with huge differences between
rich and poor people and a really very small Medium Class. The roots of the
Civil War in 1936 were growing fed by the dissatisfaction and hunger of the
population. Inside the worker’s movement, among the anarchist groups there
were a very strong antimilitarist conscience. They organized several
campaigns of insubmision (this name was popularized by Tolstoi to express
the disobedience to the military service). During the Second Republic
(1931-36) there were some pacifist and antimilitarist groups who joined the
WRI and also a little campaign of insubmision. That is the reason why, when
in the eighties (after the new Law of Concientious Objection, which
regulated the alternative civil service was approved), the objectors called
themselves “insumisos”, remembering the beginning of the disobedience to the
military service. However the Civil War broke this basic movement in Spain
down and set to the War Resisters International into a crisis. The question
then was the necessity of fighting against the fascism with violence or not,
and how to support the antifascist struggle in the war context.

After the Civil War, during the forty years of Franco’s
dictature, the army played the role of the defender of the fascism and was
very unpopular, but the revolutionary movements thought that the military
service could learn to the guys how to use the weapons in case of
revolution. In spite of this, the most important movement during the
dictature (specially in the sixties and seventies) was the fight for
democracy, specially in movements grown in the universities, at the same
time that a strong libertarian movement in Europe was growing. In that
moment, anarchist and christian groups joined their strength and began to
speak about nonviolence, influenced by Gandhi, and started to speak about
conciencious objection. In this frame, in the seventies, started the fight
of Pepe Beunza, the first one who choose not to join the military service
due to political and pacifist arguments. After him, influenced by the bad
reputation of the army, connected with the fascism even after the Franco’s
death in 1975, thousands of young followed in the eighties the way of
disobedience until the government was forced to create a professional army
in 2001. So the success of insubmission in Spain comes from a long tradition
of antimilitarism who was connected with the importance of the anarchism in
this country.

Cthuchi Zamarra de Villanueva


Grupo Antimilitarista de Carabanchel:


(*) ["oldsletter" is a revolutionary anarcho-pacifist collective from

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