Lancashire Association of Trades Union Councils
North East Lancashire and the Spanish Civil War
North East Lancashire and the Spanish Civil War In memory of those from North East Lancashire who volunteered to defend democracy by joining the International Brigade in Spain during 1936-39: Freeman (‘Frank’) Drinkwater, age 23, Burnley (killed in action at Brunete, 1937) Frank Welsby age 24, Burnley (killed in action at Ebro, 1938) John Jolly, age 44, Burnley James Bridge, Nelson George Buck, age 22, Nelson Jack Howley, age 34, Colne
Lancashire lads of the International Brigade Published by Lancashire Association of Trades Union Councils c/o 10 East Crescent ACCRINGTON Lancashire BB5 5BS Supported by: The Raymond Williams Foundation, South Ribble National Union of Teachers, Burnley UNITE, North West International Brigade Memorial Trust Group
Charles Jepson, Lancashire Volunteers
Meirian Jump The Spanish Collection at the Marx Memorial Library
Stuart Walsh, The Aid for Spain Movement
Professor Richard Cleminson, University of Leeds, “A New World in Our Hearts” – Anarchism and the Spanish Civil War
Cover Illustrations Front cover: Republican Poster, Escuela para todos (School for all), CNT-AIT Federation of Region "Levante" General Education Union, 1937. Rear Cover: Top – Republican poster, Campesino este es tu puesto (Peasant: This is your place), CNT-AIT Federation of Region "Levante" peasants’ collectives, 1936 Rear Cover: Bottom – Republican poster, Nuestros brazos seran los vuestros (Our arms will be yours), 1937-38, “Union de Muchachas” and “Aliança de la Dona Jove” were young women’s associations that, besides working for the uplift and enfranchisement of Spanish women, engaged in antifascist agitation NOTES: 1. AIT: Asociación Internacional de los Trabajadores (international workers association), union network founded in 1864 2. CNT: Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (national labour confederation), Spanish anarchist union founded in 1910
FOREWORD This pamphlet is a record of a conference held in August 2016 by the Lancashire Association of Trades Union Councils (LATUC). The aim of the conference was to try to generate support for a memorial/s in Lancashire to those who volunteered for the International Brigade. Those who volunteered did so for the most selfless of reasons. They were defending the right of people to democratically decide what kind of society they lived in against an attempt to overthrow an elected government by military force. Despite the current UK Conservative Government’s definition of ‘fundamental British values’ as ’democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty…’, as Noam Chomsky has said, at that time ‘the Western powers…supported the fascists.’ There are no memorials in Lancashire while there are several in other parts of NW England. The idea was inspired by a talk by Charles Jepson of the International Brigade Memorial Trust (IBMT) on the need for a memorial to North East Lancashire volunteers. The conference was also intended to cover an account of wider support for the Spanish Republic which existed in Lancashire, such as local Aid for Spain groups. The conference was held in Nelson as two of the Lancashire volunteers came from the town. The programme for the conference was as follows: Charles Jepson, IBMT, ‘Lancashire volunteers’ DVD: 'Voices from a Mountain' by David Leach Meirian Jump, MML, ‘The Spanish Collection at the Marx Memorial Library’ Professor Richard Cleminson, ‘The anarchist movement in Spain: Cultural and Educational Initiatives’ Stuart Walsh, WCML, ‘The Aid for Spain Movement’ The conference was attended by over 40 delegates with stalls on behalf of the IBMT and Unite Against Fascism. The NW IBMT exhibition on the ‘North West and the Spanish Civil War’ was displayed at the Conference venue and had been displayed during the previous week at Nelson Library. Charles Jepson summed up the view of the organisers when he stated ‘my comrades and I were absolutely delighted with what we consider to have been a most worthwhile day. Let the event become the foundation stone of an International Brigade memorial in North East Lancashire.’ The next stage is to begin the process of raising funds for a memorial. We would like to thank all the conference sponsors, organisers, and speakers for their support. We would welcome financial contributions from organisations and individuals. These should be made payable to the ‘LATUC’ and sent to LATUC, c/o 10 East Crescent, ACCRINGTON, Lancashire BB5 5BS.
LANCASHIRE VOLUNTEERS Charles Jepson, International Brigade Memorial Trust I am delighted to have been invited to speak on behalf of the International Brigade Memorial Trust here in Nelson, a town whose role in the struggles for a Socialist society once earned it the grand title of Little Moscow. I would also like to thank the Lancashire Association of Trades Union Councils for organising this event and I sincerely believe that this conference will be a stepping stone that will eventually lead to the erection of a memorial in honour of the International Brigade volunteers from the North East of Lancashire. The International Brigade Memorial Trust was formed in 2001 to keep alive the memory and spirit of the men and women who volunteered to defend democracy and fight fascism in Spain from 1936 to 1939. I wish to address you on seven local men who fought as International Brigade volunteers
Lancashire lads of the International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War. Four came from Burnley, two from Nelson and one from Colne. Two made the ultimate sacrifice, four served with great distinction and sadly one deserted.
Some of you I am sure will know a great deal about the Spanish Civil War and the heroic battles fought trying to defend the Second Spanish Republic from the forces of fascism that were sweeping across Europe during the 1930’s. I am also very conscious that there will be some in the audience who know little about this long-forgotten war. So I will commence by giving a very, very simple overview, firstly of the events that led to the Spanish Civil War and, secondly, to the loss of that war by the democratically elected Popular Front government of Spain. The Spanish Civil War was without a doubt one of the major turning points of the last century and today there are many historians ready to argue that the Second World War really begins in July of 1936 as opposed to when Britain declared war on Nazi Germany following the invasion of Poland in August 1939. It may therefore seem somewhat surprising that this major event rarely figures on the school curriculum, in films, or on television. Where it does, the Popular Front government is usually portrayed as a government of communists and anarchists which encouraged its supporters to burn churches, kill priests and rape nuns. In fact, the very first reference to the Spanish Civil War in the Nelson Leader newspaper is a report on a meeting of the Nelson Irish League that took place in July 1936, I quote: We deplore and condemn the actions of the Spanish Labour Government in their actions against the Christian church and the murder of priests and nuns and the burning of churches, schools and convents which is being carried out in Spain by their armed forces and we condemn the Nelson Labour Party in sending working class funds to help the Spanish government in their foul and unchristian deeds and ask all Irish men and women to refuse to subscribe to Labour Party or to Trade Union funds until this is stopped. This evil government was to be challenged by a group of generals including General Franco, a Spanish gentleman, who would bring an end to anarchy, a restoration of the old order and a return to stability. If the International Brigade volunteers are mentioned at all, there is rarely any explanation as to who they were or why they were prepared to leave their homes, their jobs, their families, to go and fight for an ideal in a foreign land. Men like Frank Welsby of Burnley did not take the King’s shilling; these men didn’t fall-in behind the recruiting band, they weren’t going to fight for their country, they were not paid mercenaries. None of these seven local men were out of work with nothing better to do, and those who survived knew they were likely to be blacklisted or even imprisoned when they returned to England because the government had decided to enforced the Foreign Enlistment Act of 1870 which made it illegal for a British citizen to fight in a foreign army. These men, and 2,500 others like them from Britain and Ireland, went because they believed that the evils of fascism had to be
confronted and the rights of the common people defended. “The workers united” was not a slogan to be shouted in the streets - it was a principle to live by and if necessary die for. These were young working-class lads who knew that appeasement, the policy of the British and French governments, would not stop the evils of fascism from spreading beyond the boundaries of Spain. The fight of the Spanish workers was their fight, they went to Spain in the belief that if fascism could be stopped in Spain a greater European war involving Britain would be avoided. They knew that bombs on Madrid today would tomorrow lead to bombs falling on cities across Europe including Britain. To understand the civil war we need to know just a little bit of background history. The Second Spanish Republic had been declared in April 1931 when, following the abdication of the King, a coalition government of moderate Socialists and Liberal Republicans was elected on a mandate that would favour the masses. Land would be distributed to the landless. Education would be provided by the state as opposed to the Catholic Church. Workers would be paid a fair day’s wage for their labours and women were to be given rights including the right to vote. Such measures, which were popular with the masses, were most unpopular with the ruling class, the church and their middle class supporters, as they presented a real threat to their positions of privilege. To better understand the events that led to three years of bitter civil war and the destruction of Parliamentary democracy in Spain for almost forty years, we need to look very briefly at three particularly troublesome aspects of Spanish Society in the early 20 th century. These were the land, the church and self-rule. The Land: In 1931 over 70% of the population lived on the land but it was owned by less than 3%. The vast majority were landless peasants who were extremely poor as a result of having to live under a semi-feudal structure that had changed little in a thousand years. From autumn to spring their only hope of work was on one of the large estates. Agents would visit villages in order to hire workmen, those lucky enough to be hired received a non-negotiable pittance - utter a single word of dissent and you were never hired again. The Church: this was as medieval as the system of agriculture. Not only was it enormously wealthy, it was an extremely powerful, politically-committed institution, which supported the parties of tradition and military rule. Any suggested reforms were seen as a potential threat to the church and to its wealthy patrons. The church’s message was spread from the pulpit and taught in the classroom. A catechism of 1927 went: What kind of sin is committed by one who votes Liberal. Answer: a mortal sin. An encyclical of Pope Pius XI said: ‘the duties of a worker are to work and not damage the employer’s interests’. In 1937 the Bishop of Pamplona stated ‘Republicans are
the enemies of God and of Spainâ€™ and he offered indulgencies to anyone who killed a Marxist. In this period of Spanish history priests, because of their alliances with the rich were seen as figures of hate by most Spanish peasants and workers. In a widely supported move, the Republican government closed down the Jesuit schools, instituted civil marriages and legalised abortion. It is not therefore surprising that when General Franco made his illegal bid to seize power, his insurrection was largely financed by the Banco Espiritu Santo - the Bank of the Holy Ghost. Self-Rule: The third grievance the newly elected Republican government faced was the issue of self-rule. Spain had been a united as a single state since the 16 th century but two regions, Catalonia and the Basque Country, wanted more independence. A succession of anarchistled strikes and street riot in Barcelona finally persuaded the government to pass the Catalan Statute bring limited home rule to Catalonia. Unlike the anti-church, anti-government Catalans, the Basques were loyal to both the church and tradition; their motto was â€˜God and our old lawsâ€™ by which they meant self-rule. A Basque Republic was proclaimed in October 1936 shortly after the outbreak of the civil war. Unfortunately the new Republican government was weak, corrupt and reluctant to implement its promised reforms. Every peasant was to be given 10 hectares of confiscated land but at the rate proposed it would have taken over 500 years. Religious orders were to be disbanded and their immense wealth confiscated. It never happened; instead the government actually took over paying the clergy through a legal subterfuge of proclaiming them to be civil servants. Army officers who felt unable to serve the Second Republic were rewarded by promotion to the next higher rank, followed by retirement on their full salary, and given the right to wear their uniform, carry weapons and have free transport - a strange way to treat ones potential enemies. By 1933 the Republican government had antagonised the wealthy landowners, embittered the church, and infuriated the army. At the same time their reforms had not gone far enough to satisfy their supporters. The Socialist coalition government fell and was replaced by a right-wing coalition dominated by the Catholic Party whose slogan was: fatherland, order, religion, family, property and hierarchy: Fatherland meant no challenge to centralism; Order: no tolerance of public protest; Religion: the monopoly of the Catholic Church on education and religious practices;
Family: the subservient position of women and the prohibition of divorce; Property: land ownership was not to be challenged; Hierarchy: the existing order was sacrosanct. The savagery which the new government used over the next two years to suppress strikes, particularly in Barcelona and Andalusia, caused the parties of the left to unite in a Popular Front for the election of February 1936. Having won the election, the new government began to implement a more radical programme of reforms. In July of 1936, a group of army generals declared an uprising against this democratically elected left-wing government. They were backed by the pro-German Fascist Falange Party and by two ultra-pro-British conservative parties: the Monarchists (Bourbon) and the Carlists (Don Carlos) both of which sought the return of the King – albeit, different kings. The military coup was led by General Mola and General Franco, the commander of the Army of Africa in Morocco. They immediately began to fly troops over to the Spanish mainland in planes supplied by Adolf Hitler. The government were not in a position to quickly squash the uprising as most of the army and the civil guard had deserted the Republic to join Franco and his rebels. Defence of the Republic depended on Socialist and Communist party activists, revolutionary organisations such as the POUM and, in particular, the trade union militias led by the extremely powerful anarchist-dominated CNT. For several crucial days the government refused to arm these groups for fear of a counter-revolution from the anarchists. This failure to arm the workers and seize the barracks was a mistake. Whilst it may not have stopped Franco’s coup, it would have certainly strengthened the military position of the Republic. Franco didn’t win the war in the first three days, but the Republican government laid the foundations for its eventual defeat by its failure to arm those who had elected it and supported its more radical programme of social reforms - the peasants and the workers. Two days after the uprising began, both sides asked for assistance from foreign powers. The Republic asked France’s Popular Front Socialist government to supply arms, whilst General Franco asked Mussolini to send bombers and fighter planes. The responses could not have been different. France, influenced by its ally Britain, did not want to become involved in another European war and quickly helped to draft a Non-intervention Treaty pledging not to help either side in any way. It was a Spanish affair best settled by the Spanish people without any interference from outside powers. This was a hypocritical farce as Franco and his rebels were openly being supplied with troops, tanks, planes and naval support by Portugal, Italy and Germany.
They were also able to purchase arms and ammunition on the open market, something that Britain and France denied to the legally elected government of Spain. The Republic did receive material help from Mexico and Russia. It was also helped by a force of over 40,000 antifascist volunteers from 53 countries that made their own way to Spain in order to defend the cause of the Spanish workers. Turning now to a very simple overview of the war which can conveniently be view in three phases Firstly the Battle for Madrid General Franco had planned a quick military coup and his major objective was to capture the capital, Madrid. At first the situation seemed hopeless and the Republicans moved their government to Valencia. But the workers resisted - armed with newly arrived weapons from the Soviet Union and backed by the volunteers of the International Brigade they were able to halt the fascist advance on Madrid in the valley of the Jarama River. Of the 600 British volunteers who went into battle, only 225 survived, of which over 140 were wounded. One, Alex McCade, wrote: Thereâ€™s a valley in Spain called Jarama. Itâ€™s a place that we all know so well For its there that we gave of our manhood Where so many of our brave comrades fell. Secondly, the capture of the Basque Country When it became clear that Madrid was not going to fall, Franco opened a second phase by concentrating his forces on the capture of the Basque Country. This was the weakest point of the Republic as it was surrounded by territory held by the rebels. It was during this phase of the war that the town of Gernika was destroyed by the bombers of the German Condor Legion in a prelude to the blitzkrieg that would soon devastate cities all over Europe. When the Basque region finally fell to the overwhelming artillery and air power of the fascists, the Republic lost not only a quarter of its armed forces but vital iron, coal and armaments industries were now in the hands of the rebels. Thirdly, the fascist advance across Aragon towards the Mediterranean Sea The third, final and most bloody stage of the war came as the fascists advanced across Aragon towards the Mediterranean Sea in an attempt to cut the Republic in half. Despite some Republican success at Brunete, Quinto and Belchite, the tide had finally turned. The capture and subsequent loss of the town of Teruel showed that bravery and strategy could win a battle but the superiority of arms, particularly in the air, and limitless manpower backed by tanks would win the war.
When in April of 1938, Franco’s forces finally reached the Mediterranean and cut what remained of the Spanish Republic in half, the Republican government’s only hope was that the outbreak of a general European war might finally lead to help from some western democracies. In the summer of 1938 this seemed a real possibility as Hitler’s foreign policy had become more aggressive. He had occupied the Rhineland, absorbed Austria and was now threatening Czechoslovakia - just how long would it take for Britain and France to see the folly of appeasement? In October 1938, the Prime Minister of Republican Spain ordered the withdrawal of the International Brigades in the vain hope that Britain and France might persuade General Franco to do the same and negotiate a truce. Instead, when anarchist Barcelona fell in February 1939, both the British and French government recognised Franco’s unelected fascist government in the hope of winning his neutrality in the forthcoming war with Hitler. On 28th March 1939, Franco at the head of 200,000 troops marched unopposed into Madrid. Three days later the war was over; the terror would now begin and Spanish democracy would be crushed for the next 36 years until Franco’s death in 1975. We know of at least seven men from North East Lancashire who fought in Spain. There is evidence of others: Mary Slater, a nurse from Preston, and a nameless waiter from Blackburn who was reported as being ‘bloody useless’. Daily Worker report of Freeman Drinkwater’s death, 3 September 1937
These seven local men fought in the ranks of the International Brigade, as did most of the
2,500 volunteers from Britain. A few fought with the anarchist or Communist militias and some, most notably George Orwell, fought with the POUM, the Workers Party of Marxist Unification, an anti-Stalinist communist organisation which was a sister organisation to the Independent Labour Party. The International Brigades had been set up by the Comintern, a Moscow-led international communist organisation, and the men from this region, like most volunteers from Britain, followed a fairly set route to Spain. Freeman Drinkwater (see press cutting on previous page), aged 23, a weaver from Valley Street, Burnley, and Samuel Martin, aged 25, a metal broker of Tiber Avenue, Burnley, were members of the Communist Party and, along with George Buck, aged 22, an iron moulder from Nelson, travelled together to Spain taking what might be called the traditional route. First, they made their way to Communist Party Head Office at 16 King Street, London, where, after vetting, they were given travelling expenses to Paris. They crossed the English Channel using a weekend ticket to Paris, commonly known as a ‘dirty ticket’, as this didn’t require a passport. Once in Paris, they reported to a secret address where, when enough anti-fascist volunteers from all corners of Europe had assembled, they were taken by train into Spain or, following the closure of the border, they would be guided under the cover of darkness over the Pyrenees into Republican Spain and on to the base at Figueres. Here they were equipped and enrolled into the Major Attlee Battalion of the 15th International Brigade. These local lads were soon in the thick of action, fighting in the valley of Jarama River to halt the fascist advance on Madrid. It was during the subsequent Republican offensive on 10 th August 1937 at Brunette that Freeman Drinkwater was killed, shot through the brain by a sniper’s bullet with Samuel Martin standing by his side. He, like most of the fallen volunteers, has no known grave. Samuel Martin later deserted and, after a spell in a military prison, returned disillusioned to Nelson claiming that the Communist Party had tricked them into going to fight in Spain. He was later to serve several terms of imprisonment for petty theft. He died in 1970. George Buck was made of sterner stuff. Having travelled to Spain with Drinkwater and Martin, he was placed in a different company. He fought at Jarama where so many of the British Battalion fell, at Brunete and finally on the Aragon Front. Bill Alexander the Commander of the British Battalion reported ‘Buck is an excellent soldier with a very fine record, he displays unquestionable courage and his spirit is important in maintaining general morale amongst his comrades. The Moscow archive notes him as ‘a comrade with a most excellent military record on all occasions, not much capacity for leadership but entirely
reliable in every way.’ He returned to Nelson on leave in September 1938 shortly before the fall of the Republic. Two other from Burnley who served with distinction were: Frank Welsby, (see Lancashire Daily Post report of his death, 23 December 1938, right) aged 24, had been educated at Stoneyholme Council School before he emigrated to Canada under the Church Army emigration scheme at the age of 17. There, he worked as a farm labourer, a lumberjack and a fur trapper. In 1937 he joined the Pap-Macs, Canadian Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion of the International Brigade, and sailed for Spain to help in the defence of Madrid. He wrote to his mother ‘If in this struggle I should fall you will have no cause for sorrow or regret. Rather pride to know that one of your own flesh and blood fell in order that the common rights of the common people might be materialised’ Two days after Christmas 1938, a letter from the International Brigade Dependents and Wounded Aid Committee was delivered to Mrs Welsby’s home in Rectory Road, Burnley. It reported that her son Frank had been killed on the 29th July 1938 whilst fighting on the Ebro Front. The writer added: We sincerely hope that your sorrow is mitigated by the knowledge that your son died fighting for a cause which he loved and his death can not be, will not be, in vain. He too has no known grave.
Lancashire Daily Post report of Frank Welsby’s death, 23 December 1938
John Jolly (see photograph on following page) of Thorn Street, Burnley, aged 44, a silk-weaver, arrived in Spain just before Christmas 1936. He became the quarter-master at the British Battalion’s head-quarters. He was wounded in 1938 after which he served with the medical service until he was repatriated in October 1938 following the withdrawal of the International Brigades. He died in 1981 and is buried in Burnley.
John Jolly’s family back in Burnley were very active in the town’s Medical Aid for Spain Committee which raised funds to send much needed food, clothing, medical aid and ambulances to Spain. The Committee held regular street, house to house, and factory collections and eventually raised sufficient funds to purchase an ambulance, a marvellous achievement for such a small town. James Bridge from Nelson fought at the Battle of Jarama, and at the Battle of Belchite. In an article to the Nelson Leader 30th April 1937 entitled, Through Hell for Arganda Bridge, he gives an account of fighting on the Jarama Front and concludes: ‘V.C’s don’t count in this war, all we want is to smash fascism forever and have a decent home for our families, we still hold the bridge today.’ He adds that ‘Franco would have been beaten long ago were it not for Mussolini and Hitler. The tale of non-intervention was told John Jolly of Burnley these three days in blood and wounds, fine men would have been alive today but for the National Government and the Labour leaders back in Britain.’ The Nelson Leader reported: On the 11th June 1937, Bob Edwards, the leader of the Independent Labour Party contingent in Spain, addressed a large crowd up at the ILP Clarion Tearoom. He ended what was an optimistic speech: “Out of victory in Spain would emerge a Socialist Spain and as far as the ILP was concerned they would use every effort to see that out of that struggle would arise a classless society.” From nearby Colne, came Jack Howley (see photograph on following page), a 34 year old, drilling machine operator from Blucher Street, where he lived with his wife and child. He enlisted in the International Brigade in August 1937.
He fought at Saragossa, in the snow at Teruel, and at Belchite. He was one of a batch of 141 International Brigade volunteers captured by an Italian armoured column at Calaceite in March of 1938. He was imprisoned in an abandon monastery at San Pedro de Cardena, where the prisoners were poorly fed and very badly treated. After seven months, he was one of the lucky group to be repatriated to England after a prisoner exchange with the Italians. On his return to Colne, he gave a vivid account of his time in prison to the Nelson Leader and pledged to devote his time to helping forward schemes to provide food for the Spanish people. Why did Franco and the fascists win? To say because Italy and Germany helped them is too simplistic. Historian, AJP Taylor, is nearer the mark when he says: â€˜British and French policy, or lack of it, decided the outcome of the Spanish Civil Jack Howley of Colne War.â€™ True, the Nationalists did received substantially more foreign aid than the Republic but, equally important was the fact that the international business community favoured the rebels and made it easy for them to obtain credit whilst putting obstacles in the way of the Republic. The Republic was denied essential supplies whilst Franco was supplied throughout the war with vital commodities by American companies such as Esso, Texaco and Firestone, the very same companies which today are stealing the oil of Iraq.
To conclude - currently the North East of Lancashire does not have any memorials to the volunteers of the International Brigade. George Buck, James Bridge and others were men of high principle, men who were prepared to fight and if necessary die rather than turn a deaf ear to the cries of strangers in their hour of need. The International Brigade Memorial Trust believe these men deserve permanent memorials because their story is such an inspirational story whose message is so relevant today when once again we see fascism on the rise across Europe. Above, local support for the Spanish Republic in Burnley
30 years ago there were less than 50 such memorials in Britain and Ireland - today there are over 150 and more are being planned as I speak. Thank you for your attention, please consider joining the IBMT. No Pasaran!
THE SPANISH COLLECTION AT THE MARX MEMORIAL LIBRARY Meirian Jump, Archivist & Library Manager at the Marx Memorial Library, London The archive of the international brigades at the Marx Memorial Library, what we call the Spanish Collection, is both professionally and personally very close to my heart. This paper will open with some details on the Marx Memorial Library itself, describe the Spanish Collection, then examine what the archives can tell us about the brigaders and, finally, look to our future plans for the collection. I will also touch upon my own family history, which is
what brought me to the Marx Memorial Library, where I have been working now for the past eighteen months. On this anniversary year, 80 years since the formation of the International Brigades, at a time when the vast majority are no longer with us, it is important that we delve into the archives and remember the heroic volunteers of the International Brigades. The Marx Memorial Library is an iconic eighteenth century grade II listed building situated on Clerkenwell Green. Its history is rooted in the area’s radical past. From 1900 it was home to Twentieth Century Press, the printer of Britain’s first socialist party, the Social Democratic Federation. When Lenin was in exile in London he shared an office with Harry Quelch, editor of the Press. For thirteen months in 1902-3 he edited the revolutionary Marx Memorial Library Bolshevik newspaper ISKRA (The Spark) from a poky wood panelled room, which visitors can still see today. The MML itself was founded in 1933 – fifty years since Karl Marx’ death – in response to the Nazi book burnings in Germany. A group of Trade Unionists, socialists and communists assembled in London’s Conway Hall to discuss action. The founding of a Library, which would protect and preserve Marxist texts, seemed the obvious choice. Since our founding we have also functioned as a Workers’ School, organising evening classes and lectures on Marxism, political economy and the history of socialism. We are now an educational charity (no. 270309). In addition to putting on online courses, instead of our correspondence courses of the 1940s, we have branched out offering workshops for school children, tailored courses for trade union activists and putting on temporary themed exhibitions online and in our main hall. For over 80 years now we’ve been accumulating books, periodicals, pamphlets, archives, posters, banners on Marxism, the history of socialism and the working-class movement. We have over 50,000 books and pamphlets and several significant archive collections on campaigns for peace, solidarity struggles, the trade union movement and, of course, the Spanish Civil War and the International Brigades. The Spanish Collection is one of the most significant archives held at the MML, and certainly the most used by researchers the world over.
The Spanish Collection is a phenomenal archive and library covering the Spanish Civil War and the International Brigades, the Aid Spain Movement and campaigns against the Franco dictatorship throughout the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. This archive spans the period 19362000 and is huge, comprising around 250 boxes. It includes correspondence, photographs, memoirs and diaries, in addition to printed ephemera - flyers and leaflets - on campaigns and appeals. The collection is housed in dedicated cupboards in our The Spanish Collection at the Marx Memorial Library main hall where two original banners of the brigades are also on permanent display, one designed by the Artistsâ€™ International Association (right) that saw action out in Spain (it was draped over the coffins of the brigaders who fell in battle), and another which was gifted to the brigaders from the textile workers of Barcelona when they left Spain in 1938 (bottom left). We even have a large number of posters appealing for support for the besieged Republic, and artefacts such as a bullet-marked plaque once on the side of an ambulance donated by â€˜the workers of Batterseaâ€™.
The collection has a rather complex history. At its core is the archive of the International Brigade Association. This was donated to the Library in 1975, following Franco’s death. The IBA was a veteran’s association. Those involved had accumulated a combination of official records and correspondence of the IB during the war – battalion rolls, lists of those in hospital, correspondence with brigaders – in addition to many books on the civil war and campaign related material on the broad Aid Spain Movement. The MML continued to accumulate papers over subsequent decades including the personal papers of individual volunteers such as Reg Saxton and Len Crome. These were added to the collection in a piecemeal fashion. It was during this period on three separate occasions – 1986, 1990 and 1994 – hand-lists were published, giving item by item information. Albums of photographs were compiled and annotated, and individuals identified by a committed team of volunteers. At this time, the MML also collected papers from other sources, including on the Appeal for Amnesty in Spain – a much later campaign dating from the late 1950s and 1960s -, while adding to its phenomenal library and pamphlet collection. It has evolved in a unique fashion, which is part of its charm, but also means it is quite a Cayetana Lozano Diaz & James Robert Jump challenge for an Archivist, working out where all the pieces of the puzzle fit together. Despite this challenge, in many ways working as Archivist at the Marx Memorial Library is my ideal job. My grandmother, Cayetana Lozano Diaz, from San Sebastian in northern Spain was a socialist. She was a seamstress, and one of the 20 young women, or ‘senoritas’ as they were known – who accompanied the 4,000 children evacuated from the Basque country in response to the advance of Franco’s forces in 1937. Prompted, in part, by aerial
bombardment of Guernica by Nazi planes in April 1937, the Basque government had appealed for asylum from foreign nations. Cayetana, aged 23, arrived on The Habana in May 1937 and was posted out in a ‘colony’ in Worthing in Sussex with a dozen of the children. Meanwhile my grandfather, James Robert Jump, from Merseyside, had moved down to Sussex and worked as a reporter for a local paper, the Worthing Herald. These visitors from Spain – a far flung country in those days – were big news. Jimmy went to report on the newly arrived children at Worthing and met my grandmother. They fell in love. Aged 21, he volunteered to fight in the International Brigades.
Jimmy died when I was four years old. While I do have a James Robert Jump, standing few memories of him, unfortunately I didn’t get the in second row, far right change to ask about his experiences out in Spain. I know now, though, that he was instrumental in setting up the Ian Walters memorial on the Southbank where crowds gather every July as part of the IBMT commemorations. He was a life-long hispanophile and he and my grandmother returned to live in Spain, buying a flat not far from my grandmother’s ancestral home in Logrono in 1975, the year of Franco’s death.
As a child, family history isn’t usually something at the forefront of the mind, but with twice annual trips to Spain, it was something I was aware of. It was when I began studying history at undergraduate and masters level, I started exploring some of this history, looking first at the Basque children in Oxfordshire and the British Battalion banners local Aid Spain movement, then at the anti-Franco campaigns in London in the 1960s and 1970s, and later at the role of archives in the current movement for historical Letter home from Chris memory in Spain. To find myself back at the MML, a Thorneycroft, British volunteer decade or so after this research, having qualified as an Archivist, and working with the Spanish collection in particular, is a dream come true. What can the Spanish Collection and other such archives - tell us about the experiences of people like my grandfather? When approaching archival research on the Spanish Collection it is important to understand that few of the documents are ‘official’ organisational records. Instead, they reflect the organisations at the time; the records were often created for immediate impact, not designed to survive – flyers for a meeting later that week and telegrams alerting family
members to hospitalisation. The collection comprises a complex network of archives on campaigns and appeals, on organisations like the National Joint Committee for Spanish Relief and of journals and newsletters of different national organisations across Europe. Lists of brigaders in hospital and on battalion rolls can tell us who they were and where they came from, although nicknames were often used, while personal accounts, diaries and letters can help us understand the motivations behind their decision to fight. A particularly moving letter from Chris Thorneycroft, for example, in which he asks his sister about the struggle against the blackshirts back Extract from British casualty list home, underlines that many saw direct parallels between the fight against fascism in Spain, and on the home front. Pamphlets and printed ephemera tell us about the plethora of events and activities â€“ from music and drama performances, to appeals for food and milk - organised by popular front Cave hospital organisations to raise funds and collect provisions for the Spanish Republic. They highlight key Extract from British casualty list contemporary debates on issues like the policy of nonintervention. The breadth of grass roots activities which make up the Aid Spain movement is a striking feature of the archive.
Press cuttings British indicate how volunteers on the brigaders the front line were presented by the mainstream media and perceived by the public at large. Photographs are one of the most popular parts of the archive; they set the scene. With images of the volunteers on the front line, we can start to understand their experience, look at what they wore, what equipment they had to hand and the conditions in which they lived and fought. Crucially, some of our images of the cave hospitals have provided valuable clues to historians of science on the significant medical advances that took place during the civil war. The Marx Memorial Library, as custodian of this archive, has a serious responsibility. In many cases, International Brigaders have bequeathed these papers to us themselves. We have a duty to make sure that they are preserved, maintained and made available to the widest possible audience. This is particularly the case in a period when the history of the twentieth century is rife with revisionist interpretations which seek to equate communism with fascism, and undermine the heroic example of the International Brigades. We must not be complacent; history is a battleground and the legacy and ideals of the brigaders need to be defended. I was in British Budapest just a few Communist weeks ago with old Party school friends and pamphlet, came across the cityâ€™s 1936 only memorial to the
International Brigades which had been removed from the centre of the city to a ‘memento park’ – as a legacy of the soviet period. 80 years on, when only one of the British brigaders survives in Australia, we have an even more important task of keeping their memory alive. (Note that since this paper was given, Stan Hilton, the last Briton who fought in the International Brigades, died on 21 October 2016). What is the MML doing about it? Firstly, we aim to catalogue to professional standards all our archives enabling access to our collections, while respecting the work of volunteers from previous decades. We have submitted two significant funding bids which we hope will make this possible. (Note that since this paper was published the ML was awarded a grant of £27,841 from the National Archives Cataloguing Grants Scheme to catalogue the Spanish National Joint Committee for Spanish Collection). Next May-July six of our ‘Aid Relief pamphlet, 1937 Spain’ banners will be shown at Islington Museum, with related archival material. We are also undertaking an ambitious programme of digitisation, having recently launched an online photo library, and are continuing to scan large numbers of our photographic prints. Education is at the core of what the Library does; we are hosting classes and lectures marking 80 years since the formation of the International Brigades in October this year, and are inviting school groups and trade union activists to the MML for tailored sessions on anti-fascism and international solidarity. If you would like to support the work of the MML by becoming a member, or if you would like further information on our events and activities, please visit our website here www.marx-memorial-library.org.uk
THE ‘AID FOR SPAIN’ MOVEMENT Stuart Walsh, Working Class Movement Library The focus of what I am going to say here will be very much on Aid Spain within the UK, though a little will be said on the Spanish Medical Unit in Spain. The Aid Spain Movement was very much a creation of the troubled political history of the 1930s, and drew on the experience of campaigns and organisations such as the National Unemployed Workers Movement, Left Book Club, the hunger marches, and most important of all the anti-fascism that followed the rise of Mussolini and Hitler. When the time came for organising aid for Spain the people that were most active had all served an apprenticeship in one or more of these extra-parliamentary organisations and movements. In keeping with the theme of the conference I will be citing Lancashire and North West material wherever possible and will conclude with some general remarks about the nature and achievements of the Aid for Spain Movement. A lot of my illustrative material I would like to stress is from the archives of the Working Class Movement Library in Salford, where I am a volunteer. The first point I would like to make is the title of this talk, which is the organisers not mine, and in the concluding remarks will suggest an alternative. The Aid for Spain Movement is a generally accepted term, but it gives it a more monolithic character than it in fact possessed, in that there was no unified Aid Spain Movement, but instead a plethora of bodies that drew on a wide range of religious, political, and civic society groups. This can be seen from the following list. 1. The Spanish Workers Fund, National Council of Labour (July 1936) 2. Spanish Medical Aid Committee (August 1936) 3. Friends Spain Committee (September 1936) 4. Scottish Ambulance Unit (Sept.1936) 5. British Youth Foodships Committee (Sept. 1936) 6. National Joint Committee for Spanish Relief (January 1937) 7. Sir George Young’s Ambulance Unit (March 1937) 8. Basque Children’s Committee (May 1937) 9. International Brigade Dependents Aid (June 1937) 10. CWS Milk for Spain (Autumn1937) 11. Voluntary Industrial Aid (Autumn1937) 12. NJC Foodship Campaign (March 1938) The first to be set up, the Spanish Worker’s Fund, National Council of Labour, was the official organisation of the Labour Party and the TUC, whose funds were channelled through the International Solidarity Fund. The other organisations were more grass roots and had a somewhat prickly relationship with the Labour Party and the TUC; primarily it must be said because of the involvement of the CPGB in many of these organisations. The most important of the grass roots organisations was the National Joint Committee (NJC) for Spanish Relief, and it has been estimated that the NJC was the umbrella for at least 150 different fund-raising groups, which themselves had local branches.
The Lancashire & Cheshire branch of the NJC, with two examples of the NJC collection envelopes Together with these local branches and one off initiatives, the number of organisations sending aid to Spain has been estimated at 850 plus. Whether the grass roots organisations were a British version of a Popular Front is controversial, and I do not want to go into that today. Or the total number of people involved, which some put as high as 3 million involved in some way, again I cannot really go into this, except to say that we are talking about a mass movement. The keynote of all the grass roots organisations wherever you look is diversity, with activists coming from all spectrums of the political landscape, a good example of this can be seen in the Liverpool Echo’s report of a meeting for the Lancashire and Cheshire Joint Food-ship for Spain, in Blackburn’s King George’s Hall in February of 1939, “The Free Churches, Church of England, the Labour and Liberal parties, Trade Unions and Youth and Women’s organisations”, are all reported as being present and contributors to the campaign in question. The wide-ranging nature of the groups involved in this Lancashire meeting could be replicated in myriad groups around the country. As well as these local branches of national organisations there were a number of one off events and initiatives, such as the fundraising cycle ride from Glasgow to Barcelona in 1938, by two members of the National Clarion Cycle Club, Geoff Jackson and Ted Ward (right). National Clarion Cycle Club, fundraising cycle ride from Glasgow to Barcelona, 1938 This took the form of them visiting towns and cities on their ride through Scotland and England, and attending events at which money was raised, and altogether over two hundred pounds was raised to buy food for Spanish children, which was then distributed in Catalonia. It should be added here that Clarion also had members in the International
Hawick Scheme - woollen goods for the Spanish people Brigades, ten of whom we have been able to identify so far, and four of our Clarion members were to die in Spain. Another very interesting grass roots initiative was the Hawick Scheme. This came about when the branch of the National Unemployed Workers Movement in the Scottish border town of Hawick, were looking for premises for their meetings and events, and were given permission by a local woollen millowner to use one of his closed mills. This eventually led to their arranging to use the idle machines to produce woollen goods for the Spanish people, there were many other such local initiatives though not all on the scale or ambition of the Hawick scheme. One of the most intriguing one-off events for Aid Spain, and one which is very little known, was the exhibition of Picassoâ€™s famous canvas, Guernica, in a Manchester car showroom. A letter from the WCML archive is one of the rare manuscript notices of the event, though not entirely accurate in that Picasso was not in Gernika at the time of the bombing as stated there. Notice of exhibition of Picassoâ€™s famous canvas, Guernica, in a Manchester car showroom, 1939 The canvas was shown at the showroom between the dates of 1 and 15 February 1939, and admission was 6d, with all proceeds to go to the Manchester Food-ship for Spain. Those of you who have seen Guernica will know that it is an enormous canvas, and it seems that the car showroom, whose owner was a supporter, was the only large enough space they could procure to display it, and it is related how it
Fundraising concert attended by Indira Nehru (left) was brought into the showroom rolled up, rather like a carpet, and simply nailed to the wall. Unfortunately no photographs of the event have been found as yet, and there is only a very short account of it in the Manchester Evening News, though it seems they did not think it worth sending a photographer, a group of us are actively searching for an image of the event, and if anyone ever comes across one please get in touch with the Working Class Movement Library. The Picasso exhibition was near the cathedral and ironically the car showroom was destroyed by German bombs during Knitting competitions (below), the Manchester of which I will say more later Blitz. The forms that the fundraising took were as varied as the organisations, and here are some random examples, mostly from the archives of the Working Class Movement Library. Concerts, such as this one above attended by, among others, Indira Nehru, later prime minister of India.
Street collections where lapel pins were given (below)
Admission ticket for a 1937 showing of â€˜Defence of Madridâ€™ in Horwich (below)
Film shows, such as The Defence of Madrid, a propaganda film made by the Spanish republican government in 1937. The image on this page shows an admission ticket for a showing at Horwich near Bolton in April 1937, while the image on the following page shows some members of the very active Aid Spain Committee
Aid Spain Committee in Burnley, with a placarded lorry (left)
in Burnley, with a placarded lorry going round the town, drumming up an audience for a showing in Burnley in February 1937. And just to give Rawtenstall a further plug, here is a picture (bottom left) of the interior of a slipper factory where we are informed that their union, The Rossendale Union of Slipper Workers had donated £40 to ‘the Spanish Fund’. In the last couple of days we have also found some evidence that there was a Rossendale ambulance sent out, but that has to be confirmed with more digging in the archives. Both of these pictures are from August 1936. There were door to door, and factory gate collections, such as this dinner time meeting at a mill in Rawtenstall (right)
Workers at Rossendale slipper factory (left)
Rounding off this look at some of the surviving ephemera of the fundraising campaign, is this rather touching handwritten form, “Help to Send Milk & Food to Spain, Millions of Homeless
Posters from Horwich Aid Spain branch shop (below, left and right)
Refugees, Every Penny Helps." It is in a folder of material related to the Horwich Aid Spain branch, near Bolton, and I would guess this was displayed in the shop they had at Leigh Road in Horwich town centre, from which this poster (below) also probably comes.
Finally, in this first section, it would be remiss of me not to mention that women took a leading role in the whole Aid Spain Movement. Some were active in Spain and in the UK, such as the Preston nurse Mary Slater, who has the distinction of having served the longest time in Spain, man or woman. The photograph (below) shows her with a group of her comrades from the International Brigade in Dundee, while they were on an extended tour of the UK on their return from Spain. This â€˜International Brigade Convoyâ€™, travelled throughout the UK between 9th of January and the 8th of February 1939, during which they raised money for yet another foodship. The Convoy was in this area on 18th and 19th of January, having meetings and events at Colne, Burnley, Nelson, Rawtenstall, Accrington, and Blackburn. Many of the leaders at national level were women, such as Leah Manning and the Preston nurse Mary Duchess of Atholl, and their role is well covered in the Slater (above, centre) literature. But I believe we get at the essence of Aid Spain by rescuing from undeserved obscurity such people as Mary Slater, and the countless others
in less exalted positions in the movement, such as the otherwise unknown, ‘Miss Taylor‘, who was thanked by Arthur Kirkwood of the Horwich Committee in a letter of May 1938, “for drawing out the poster for the Spanish children. “ He goes on to say, “Do you know, the receipts went up on the day that we showed it“. Let the otherwise anonymous Miss Taylor’s name be set down here in lieu of the countless other women whose names are either lost to us, or lie buried in the archives, and what a pity that her poster has not survived! The results of all this effort were impressive, and the amount of money raised by nine of the larger groups has been reckoned at: £166,000 from the National Joint Committee. A levy of the Miners Unions raised on its own £86,000. The Spanish Medical Aid Committee £60,000. The International Solidarity Fund £49,000. Youth Foodships £30,000. Quakers £25,000, The Co-op £16,000. Milk Tokens Scheme £25,000. Jim Fyrth’s estimate in his, The Signal Was Spain, gives, "A not unrealistic figure of £2 million pounds" as being the grand total raised by all of the various groups. Using an historic inflation calculator, this comes out as £128 million pounds at today’s prices. Among the things this considerable amount of money was spent on, were 38 foodships in the autumn of 1938 alone. Burnley ambulance for Spain There were also an as yet unknown number of ambulances, but certainly in the hundreds, including a few that were adapted motor bikes. As mentioned earlier, Rossendale possibly sent one, and Bolton and Burnley both certainly sent at least one each, of which this (right) is a picture of the Burnley one in the town centre in 1937, being, “A gift from Burnley to the people of Spain.“ The lady who is marked with a cross here is Edith Jolly who, “who was
active in raising funds for the Spanish children, especially by collecting Milk Tokens throughout the Burnley/Nelson area. â€œ Her husband John Jolly, was at this time driving an ambulance in Spain, though he was with the American, John Jollyâ€™s military pass book Abraham Lincoln Brigade, and this is his military pass book (right). Of medical aid in Spain, to take 1937 as an example, the Spanish Medical Aid Unit in that year sent out 126 men and women: doctors, nurses, orderlies, ambulance drivers, stretcher bearers, pharmacists, radiologists, and other secretarial and Bombing of Spanish Medical Aid hospital, Granen support staff. In the first hospital set up by Spanish Medical Aid, at Granen, on the Aragon Front, during the five months of its existence, 2,000 military personnel passed through its wards, this is not to mention the help that they gave to the local population, which is well attested in the memoir material, though not as easy to quantify. The picture (left) is of the bombed garage at Granen, which was a common occurrence, both against hospitals and ambulances, a red cross alas was considered fair game by fascist bombers.
One of the better known episodes of these years is the evacuation of 4,000 children from the war ravaged Basque country in May 1937 and I would like to say a few words about the 54 Basque children, who were settled at Watermillock House on Crompton Way in Bolton. I do not have time to say much, so am picking out three ‘moments’ from their story: arrival, departure, and a 1983 reunion at Watermillock of three of the children. The children arrived at the house on the late evening of 9th of June, having spent the previous weeks at a camp in Hampshire. Their arrival left a great impression on a local man named John Webster, as described in his autobiography, A Tonge Moor Childhood, which was published in 1996, nearly sixty years after the events described. He was then 12 years old, and had volunteered to help clean up the house after a request for volunteers at his school assembly. His account in the chapter, The Arrival of the Basque Children is in itself unremarkable, he describes the hard work that went into getting the building ready for the children and some of the leading local personalities who took part, what is remarkable in my view is how vividly he remembers this event as a significant one in his life story, and his conclusion to what he saw as the excitement of the children’s arrival was that, “I walked home along Crompton Way with a heavy heart, yes, I was pleased that I had done my part in trying to provide a haven for Basque refugee children leaving Bolton for Spain, 1938 desperately unhappy children, but no matter what material comforts had been provided they were over a thousand miles away from their homes and loved ones. Surely no one deserved this.” The children’s time in Bolton seems to have been a happy one, but eventually they were either returned to their families in Spain, or were settled in Britain, and of the original four thousand, some 470 were to settle for life in Britain. The first group to leave for Spain from Watermillock, left on 22 March 1938, and this is a picture (right) of them from the Bolton Evening News at Bolton Station on their departure. During their time in Bolton, the children had
become very well known for concert and dance parties, where they performed traditional Basque dances and songs, and in another article on their departure, in the Manchester Evening News, one of the helpers at the home laments the fact that many of their best performers will be going back to Spain, including a young girl named Mercedes. Many years later in 1983, three of the women were to return to Watermillock on a visit, which was again covered by the Bolton Evening News (below), with the emotive headline, “Teardrops fall from their Spanish eyes.” Very appropriately it was on the 23rd of May, the anniversary of their arrival in Southampton all those years ago. At this time the building was a council run Old Folks Home. “We were all welcomed with open arms in 1937, and we have been welcomed here again today.” The three women visitors of 1983 were Elvira Buckley, who had stayed in England Former Basque refugee children revisiting Bolton, 1983 and had settled in Southport, her sister Susana Lopez had also stayed and lived only a stone’s throw away in Over Hulton, and Mercedes Casado who had been one of those who went back to her home in Bilbao, and she is no doubt one of the group who are photographed on Bolton Station in 1938, and so would probably be the very same Mercedes whose departure left such a gap in the children’s concert party. The Basque children’s story is a fascinating and complex one, and only brushed the surface of one of their colonies here, for anyone wanting to find out more about the Basque children in Watermillock, and in the Greater Manchester Area, Bill Williams very long chapter in his book, Jews and other Foreigners: Manchester and the Rescue of the Victims of European Fascism 1933-1940 (Manchester UP 2015), is a fascinating entrée into the subject. Finally, a few general remarks. Researching this short talk has been a most heartening experience, as I have uncovered more and more unselfish and inspiring stories; like the woman at a meeting in York as reported in the Yorkshire Post of 22 of March 1937, “who sent a diamond ring up to the platform as a contribution to the cause“, or the pensioner from Bristol as reported in the Western Daily News, of 28
December 1937, who sent a 2 shilling Postal Order which, “was sent by me for a Christmas gift. When I read of your worthy cause I felt I had to add my mite.” Going back to my opening remarks about the title, perhaps a more fitting one would be, “From Diamond Rings to Pensioners Mite: The Aid Spain Movement in Britain 1936-39“, which I think accurately reflects the range of support that the Aid Spain cause was given by all sections of society in Lancashire, and in the rest of England, Wales, and Scotland. The final picture (below) is an admission ticket for a great concert starring Paul Robeson, attended by nearly three thousand people in January 1938, with funds to go to the International Brigades Dependents Aid, it is, deservedly, one of the most famous of the many big meetings and concerts that were held for the various Aid Spain causes in these years. What impresses me most though is the contributions of unsung individuals like the two women just mentioned from York and Bristol, or the indefatigable Arthur Kirkwood of Horwich, who was active in more than one of the Aid Spain campaigns, and whose very substantial archive is now at the Working Class Movement Library. In a typical letter of 7th of December 1938, he tells his recipient International Brigade concert ticket, 1939 that, “I have distributed the Knitting Books and Folders over a wide area of England and Scotland, and I hope that my appeal will bring widespread support for your scheme. “ In another letter from the archive, written to him in the following March, he receives some of the fruit s of his knitting endeavours from a teacher at the local girls school, “Dear Mr Kirkwood, we are sending herewith 11 woollen blankets which have been made by the school for the Spanish Relief Ship. With our best wishes, I am yours sincerely, D.H. Green.” Most endearing in my opinion is a letter of 10th of April 1938, addressed to a Miss Stewart, in which at the close he tells her that, “I have just finished washing through thirty or so garments, a gift from a church in Horwich, a fine Sunday afternoons job.“ This little anecdote I feel perfectly illustrates the humdrum and tedious work that underwrote the headline events such as the Paul Robeson concert mentioned above. Yes, the big ticket events like the Empress Hall Concert, London marches, and the launch of foodships, are important, and have to be given their place in the story. For me though, it is the thousands, indeed tens of thousands, of ordinary people like the 12 year old John Webster of Tonge Moor, Arthur Kirkwood of Horwich and Edith Jolly of Burnley, who are the real heroes of this great mass movement and best exemplify the ethos of the ‘Aid Spain Movement.’
Further Reading: Jim Fyrth, The Signal Was Spain: The Aid Spain Movement in Britain 1936-39 (1986) Lynda Palfreeman, Salud! British Volunteers in the Republican Medical Service 1936-1939 (2012) Adrian Bell, Only Three Months: The Basque Children in Exile (2nd edition 2007) Bill Williams, Jews and Other Foreigners: Manchester and the Rescue of European Victims of Fascism 1933-1940 (2015) Tom Buchanan, Britain's Popular Front? , History Workshop Journal, No.31 (1991), pp.60-72 Jim Fyrth, The Aid Spain Movement in Britain 1936-39, History Workshop Journal, No.35 (1993), pp.153-63 The final two short articles address the controversy that I allude to in the text and readers who want to explore that further should consult these two works; the first is a review and critique of Fyrth's book, followed by Fyrth's rejoinder.
“A NEW WORLD IN OUR HEARTS” – ANARCHISM AND THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR Professor Richard Cleminson (University of Leeds)1 After being approached to give this talk, and having given some thought to the subject I would like to speak about, I opted to focus on particular aspects of the Spanish anarchist movement and its role in the 1930s broadly and, more specifically, during the civil war itself. In doing so, however, I decided to address not perhaps the most obvious historical questions or controversies such as the well-rehearsed conflicts between anarchism and other forces on the left, such as parliamentary socialism or communism as represented by the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) and the Catalan communist party, the PSUC. I also decided not to address extensively the rights and wrongs of the integration of certain sectors of the organized anarchist movement into positions of responsibility, that is, positions of local, regional and national government within a reconstructed state apparatus from the autumn of 1936 onwards and whether such a move – governmental participation, the anathema of anarchist politics – was in fact justified as a tactic, a momentary deviation or indeed as a sacrifice in order to consolidate anti-fascist 1
The text reproduced here is the script of the Seventh Annual Frow Lecture given in May 2016. The talk given in Nelson in August 2016 was a much shortened version of this with the title “The Anarchist Movement in Spain: Cultural and Educational Initiatives”. I would like to thank the Working Class Movement Library (Salford) for the original invitation, the Lancashire Association of Trades Union Councils and its Secretary, Peter Billington, for the invitation to speak in Nelson and the Arts and Humanities Research Council for providing funding for a Research Fellowship (2015-2017), which has allowed me to locate some of the documents mentioned here. Finally, I would like to thank my PhD student Danny Evans for sharing some materials with me. Research, reading and writing is always a collaborative gesture and I am grateful for the input of others into this process. The interpretations reflected here are, of course, my own.
unity in order to win the war. Finally, I will not be addressing the debacle over the significance of the so-called May Days of 1937, where different elements of the anti-fascist and republican “side” collided and combatted one another, although I do think and would say in passing that any notion of one republican “side” and another Nationalist, Francoist or fascist “side” can be shown to be historically questionable if not unviable as a tool to understand the complexities of what we call the “Spanish Civil War”. What I will do, however, is focus on the articulation, politics behind and legacy of the social revolution that anarchists undertook, with all its tensions, within the early months of the civil war. In this sense, I will attend to the issue of the relationship between, on the one hand, the war against fascism and against the military revolt and, on the other, the development of what many historians have understood to be one of the most profound, if not the most profound revolutions of the twentieth century. In order to accomplish this task, I have opted to focus primarily on the cultural and educational aspects of the Spanish libertarian or anarchist movement and its emphasis on and ability to mobilize its supporters to this end, i.e., the revolution. Before doing so, I will also discuss other aspects of this revolution, such as the changes in the economic field, in agriculture and industry, within the framework of the project of workers’ control, socialization or collectivization undertaken by the anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists (mainly the CNT, National Confederation of Labour, and the FAI, the Iberian Anarchist Federation, but also ML, Free Women and the Libertarian Youth), some questions related to the military struggle, in particular the resistance to the creation of a national disciplined army, and, as I say, the significance of the debate between war and
revolution that characterized many internal misgivings within the movement particularly in the early months of the war. Most of my references will be to the revolutionary heartland, Catalonia and Aragon, and in particular, to Barcelona. In 1969, the great British Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm dedicated a chapter of his book Primitive Rebels (1959) to the anarchists of Andalusia in what constituted one of the first in depth accounts of anarchism in any region of Spain since the work of Gerald Brenan, author of the Spanish Labyrinth, in turn the first extensive treatment of the historical circumstances giving rise to the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939.2 I will refer to Brenan’s 1943 chapter on the anarchists in his book a little later on this afternoon, but first I want to say a few words about Hobsbawm’s highly readable essay. As a young undergraduate I was always fascinated by Hobsbawm’s chapter on the Andalusian anarchists for its mixture of sympathy for the anarchists and their attempt at social transformation – revolution if you like – and Hobsbawm’s simultaneous dismissal of the libertarian movement’s ability to effect real and lasting change. What was at the heart of this apparent paradox, between means and ends, between what was idealized and what was actually possible in terms of solid and discernible achievements? Front cover of Hobsbawm’s Primitive Rebels If you are not familiar with Hobsbawm’s account, it is worth recounting some of its arguments now. Hobsbawm classified anarchism, and especially Andalusian anarchism, within his understanding of “millenarianism” – the notion among supporters of certain movements that the revolution had to come about almost as an inevitable act and one which was believed in with almost religious devotion and which would provide redemption for the suffering masses of humanity. After describing the dire working and living conditions to which the rural and agricultural workers were submitted in Andalusia, he traced anarchist revolts in the region as examples of rural banditry or brigand activity and populist guerrilla movements. He summarized their movement thus: “The ideology of the new peasant movement was anarchist; or, to give it its more precise name, libertarian communist. Its economic programme aimed in theory at common ownership, in practice, in the early stage almost exclusively, at the reparto, the division of the land. Its political programme was republican and anti-authoritarian; that is, it envisaged a world in which the self-governing pueblo was the sovereign unit, and from which outside forces such as kings and aristocracies, policemen, tax-collectors and other agents of the 2
In order to maintain the flow of the original talk, I have not included full bibliographical references for the sources employed here.
supra-local State, being essentially agents of the exploitation of man by man, were eliminated […] They were for a new moral world.” (pp. 81-82). This new world was to come about by the light provided by the lure of science, Hobsbawm adds, by means of progress and education, in which the anarchist peasants believed with passionate fervour, rejecting organized religion and the influence of the Catholic Church. At the head of this movement were those who were labelled the “conscious workers”, the “obreros conscientes”. It was these figures who would provide leadership and continuity for the movement through thick and thin, in moments of exaltation and triumph and in the event of the all too common repression of the movement by the state. These were the “apostles” of anarchy. Hobsbawm described how waves of unrest would sweep the countryside. To this effect, he cited not only Brenan but also Juan Díaz del Moral’s classic book on peasant revolts in the region, A History of Agrarian Agitations in the Province of Cordoba. Díaz del Moral, writing in 1929 on the situation in Cordoba province, wrote memorably that such was the ferment of ideas and the conviction with which the revolution would be acted out, such was the devouring of the new ideas held by anarchism, that the situation could only be described as one of “frenzy”. He writes “We who lived through that time in 1918-19 will never forget that amazing sight. In the fields, in the shelters and courts, wherever peasants met to talk […] there was only one topic of conversation […]: the social question. Admittedly, 70 or 80 per cent were illiterate, but this was not an insuperable obstacle. The enthusiastic illiterate bought his paper and gave it to a comrade to read. He then made him mark the article he liked best. Then he would ask another comrade to read him the marked article and after a few readings he had it by heart and would repeat it to those who had not yet read it. There is only one word to describe it: frenzy” (cited in Hobsbawm, pp. 87-88). But, Hobsbawm argues, at the end of the day, such tactics were ineffective and always would be: “In defeat, anarchism was and is helpless”, he wrote. And then he observed in a rather unfair under-estimation of the power of repression: “Nothing is easier than illegal organization in a unanimous village”. Further: “They knew enough to be aware that communism could not be introduced in a single village, though they had little doubt that, if it were so introduced, it would work. Casas Viejas tried it 1933. The men cut the telephone lines, dug ditches across the roads, isolated the police-barracks and then, secure from the outside world, put up the red-and-black flag of anarchy and set about dividing the land. They made no attempt to spread the movement or kill anyone. But when the troops came from the outside they knew they had lost, and their leader told them to take to the hills, while he and his immediate companions fought it out in one cottage, and were killed, as they obviously expected to be” (p. 89). And finally:
“And thus the history of anarchism, almost alone among modern social movements, is one of unrelieved failure; and unless some unforeseen historical changes occur, it is likely to go down in the books with the Anabaptists and the rest of the prophets who, though not unarmed, did not know what to do with their arms, and were defeated for ever” (p. 92). It would seem from the British historian’s analysis that anarchism was hopelessly doomed to failure, not only to be filed among the failed social movements like Anabaptism but also relegated to “primitive” forms of social organization and protest. After Hobsbawm’s publication, it took a while for a counter-attack, as it were, and one of the forms that this took was Temma Kaplan’s work on anarchist agrarian struggle in Andalusia, Anarchists of Andalusia, 1868-1903 (1977), 1868 being the date when anarchism “arrived” in Spain. Before writing about Picasso, about social movements in Barcelona and after writing about women’s mobilization in strikes and protests in the same city Kaplan argued that Hobsbawm had in fact missed the point. While some aspects of the anarchist struggle could perhaps be defined as “primitive” – one has to remember the truly primitive conditions in which peasants lived, with no running water, little food, ten- or twelve-hour working days and no education to speak of – Kaplan studied peasant revolts in Andalusia over the years and came to the conclusion that instead of disorganization and millenarianism, the ebb and flow of uprisings, often with ten-year gaps between them, were in fact due to the working out of a clear strategy of opposition to the power of the rural landlords. Indeed, the long gaps between uprisings responded to the fact that the instigators of the movement realized that good harvests only came once or so every decade. Why was this important? Kaplan argues that a good harvest presented precisely the opportunity to press for the greatest gain in terms of wages and conditions from landlords because if the workers’ demands were not met the produce would remain unharvested and would rot in the ground. This form of leverage, then, was a highly thought out strategy articulated by our primitive rebels and in tune with the social, climatic and technological circumstances in which they lived. In the intervening years, anarchist agitators would not be sitting back waiting for the next opportunity but would be preparing for the forthcoming insurrection, instilling the workers with the spirit of revolt through educational means. It was this aspect that was captured most congenially by the Irish writer Gerald Brenan. In The Spanish Labyrinth he painted a picture of the anarchists as utopian thinkers and doers with an almost simplistic but messiah-like zeal – a little like Hobsbawm’s “primitive rebels”. Once the Civil War had begun, Brenan, who had a house in the mountains near Malaga in the village of Yegen, where there is now a plaque dedicated to the author, stood looking down from the hills onto the city. Beside him was an anarchist peasant and the conversation developed as follows: “‘What do you think of that?’ he [the peasant] asked. I said: ‘They are burning down Malaga’.
‘Yes’, he said. ‘They are burning it down. And I tell you – not one stone will be left on another stone – no, not a plant nor even a cabbage will grow there, so that there may be no more wickedness in the world’” (p. 189). Despite this messianic or almost religious fervour displayed by the anarchists, Brenan was astonished by the enthusiasm of the anarchist workers for their cause and was convinced that the anarchists in reality stood for a new world. Gerald Brenan Whether we subscribe to Hobsbawm’s, Kaplan’s or Brenan’s version of the anarchists, one thing appears to be certain and it is what Hobsbawm stated clearly: that the anarchists attempted to create an evidently new moral and idealistic world. In what follows, I will assess critically the contribution that the anarchist movement made to politics and culture in Spain in the 1930s and, especially, during the civil war. Before entering into the main part of my talk, however, perhaps a number of clarifications are in order. In this talk, it is not my intention to present a naïvely positive account of the anarchists in the 1930s. On the other hand, I think it is necessary and can be profitable to analyse their contribution not least to correct some imbalances and perhaps naïve interpretations in the historiography of the period, but also because a study of the past is always useful for the present in a number of ways. What possibly could be the value of reflecting some eighty years later on the anarchist movement, apart, of course, from providing the subject of a public talk? The left has always been misrepresented in various ways, sometimes by others on the left and most notably by the right. We need to be clear about what anarchism was. In this sense, it may be useful to recount what one anarchist, the American Alexander Berkman, said in 1929 what anarchism was not: “It is not bombs, disorder or chaos. It is not robbery and murder. It is not a war of all against all. It is not a return to barbarism or to the wild state of man. Anarchism is the very opposite of all that” (What is Communist Anarchism?, p. vi). The German anarchist Gustav Landauer argued that anarchism entailed a fundamental change in mentality, which rejected the state as a fundamental evil: “The state is a condition, a certain relationship among human beings, a mode of behaviour between them;
we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently toward one another… We are the state, and we shall continue to be the state until we have created the institutions that form a real community and society of men” (cited in Marshall, Demanding the Impossible, 1992, p. 411). In Spain itself, anarchists of the stature of Anselmo Lorenzo and Ricardo Mella argued that anarchy, a society without central government and without capitalism, was an expression of the highest order, in tune with human beings’ natural tendency towards solidarity, collectivity and harmony. Their contemporary, Josep Llunas, invited his comrades in 1882 in a little booklet on philosophy and anarchism to “make your own contribution to the grand edifice of social Redemption”, by means of “the adoption, dissemination and propagandizing of materialism in the sciences, the sentiments of each and everyone in respect of religion, collectivism in administration, autonomy in politics and Love which like a benevolent god should bind all men within the fraternal fold that will cement society in the future” (Estudios filosófico-sociales, 1882, p. 126). Anarchist ideas, commonly recognised as “La Idea” amongst its supporters, arrived in Spain in 1868 by means of Giuseppe Fanelli, the emissary of the Russian anarchist, Mikhail Bakunin, who spread the word of anarchism to all those who would listen. Murray Bookchin in a perhaps slightly over-embellished account recorded the scene thus: “Using a wealth of Latin gestures and tonal expressions, Fanelli managed to convey with electric effect the richness of his libertarian visions and the bitterness and his anger toward human suffering and exploitation. The workers, accustomed to the moderate expressions of Spanish liberals, were stunned” (Bookchin, The Spanish Anarchists, 1978, p. 14). Their astonishment perhaps did not last that long as they put into practice quite swiftly Fanelli’s ideas and anarchist organizations were consolidated and waned over the next decades. By the early 1910s, new ideas coming especially from France adopted by the CGT union in 1906 and which were eventually encapsulated in 1912 in the so-called Charte d’Amiens and later as a new kind of trade unionism – revolutionary syndicalism – percolated the Catalan working class first and then spread throughout the country. It percolated the Catalan federation of trade unions, Solidaridad Obrera, formed in 1907. Moves were afoot to fuse the Catalan federation with other unions in Spain and to form a national organization. By 1910, the CNT, the National Confederation of Labour, had been formed in order to advance this syndicalist struggle. In a letter later addressed to the assembled workers, representing some 124 workers’ associations (67 of which came from Catalonia), the veteran anarchist Anselmo Lorenzo encouraged his audience to speak loudly to the bourgeoisie and to the oppressors “so that at the same time all the workers who still vegetate in a state of lack of solidarity realize that you want to be men in the fullest sense that nature and society can provide in terms of human development; that Syndicalism, economic power, must replace the authoritarian politics of the state; that humanity has set off on a new road; that society must merge with man and not man with society and that the day is nigh when rights are
recognised in the individual as an individual rather than whether or not his name is inscribed in the Property Register” (http://madrid.cnt.es/historia/fundacion-de-la-cnt/). Formation of the CNT, 1910 The ensuing years saw the illegalization of the CNT, significant advances, such as the eighthour day as a result of the forty-some days Canadiense strike in 1919, a rent strike in Barcelona in 1931 covering some 75% of tenants demanding a 40% reduction in rents and the involvement of women within the organization and an all-important periphery of those who would pitch in if the going got tough with landlords and employers. The Republic had apparently turned over a new leaf for politics in Spain and it seemed that the past would be overcome and displaced by a new regime which was progressive, democratic and more equal than the previous regimes. It has to be said, however, that the relationship between anarchism and the Republic was ambivalent. Shots were fired against CNT protestors during their demonstration against higher rents, cannon were trained on the CNT’s headquarters in Seville in mid-1931 and armed Assault Guards shot anarchist peasants in villages such as Casas Viejas in 1933. While many anarchists probably voted in the republican elections of 1931 and 1936, many classified the Republic as bourgeois, too timorous and too much in thrall to a slow evolutionary process of democratization. Anarchism appeared to many to be more radical than all that and it was perhaps the energy, vigour and very ideas that anarchists professed that attracted workers, both women and men alike, into its fold. As Soledad Estorach, a future member of Mujeres Libres, the anarchist women’s organization, would state on looking back to when the Republic was created, “When the Republic came, many people went to storm the prisons to free the prisoners, and I went, too. There was some guy there shouting, “Abajo la política. Abajo la Guardia Civil … all sorts of abajos. And then he yelled, “Viva la Anarquía!” And I thought, “Aha, here is an anarchist”. This was my first encounter with an anarchist – and he did not look like he was a terrible person. He had a good face” (in Martha Ackelsberg, Mujeres Libres, 2005, p. 37). The demeanour of this
anarchist and the ideas he represented encouraged Soledad to embark on a life-long project of libertarian endeavour. Just as the coup attempt on the 23 February 1981 did not take the CNT or progressive sectors by surprise, neither did the one perpetrated against the Republic on 17-18 July 1936. The action of workers’ organizations in August 1932 had been decisive in quelling the botched coup attempt by General Sanjurjo in Seville. When the right won the November 1933 elections and eventually put into power several rightist CEDA representatives in key governmental roles in autumn 1934, this occasioned the Asturian uprising as fascism was deemed to be incarnate in the ministries. By 1936, the tensions in the Republic were greater (historians have referred to the “primavera ominosa”, the ominous spring) and the organization of the fascist rebels more extensive. Violence was common place in these months, with armed fascist Falange gangs involved in shoot outs with leftist workers. It is worth recalling some of the build-up to this particular coup and the actual declaration emitted by the generals once the putsch began. Franco, pronouncing in Tetuán, Spanish Morocco, on 18 July 1936 declared that “Once more the Army, united with other forces of the nation, has found itself obliged to respond to the wishes of the great majority of Spaniards who, with infinite bitterness, have seen disappear that which unites us in a common ideal: Spain”, demanding the return of authority and an end to the “anarchy” of the Republic. The visceral divisions within Spanish society were plain to see and a violent “resolution”, most historians would now agree, was in the air since at least February 1936 when the Popular Front was returned to power. Numerous sources attest to the preparedness of the CNT and working-class elements across the country. The battle between the forces of the right, an amalgam of interests representing the conservative classes, the interests of the Catholic Church, fascist and quasifascist parties, an assortment of monarchists of different stripes and para-military groups and those of the left were starkly drawn up as clear as the battle lines and the trenches that would evolve in the days following July 18th. The atmosphere in Barcelona, the stronghold of the CNT, was electric. Individual acts of courage and political determination abounded. On the one hand, anarchist leaders, such as García Oliver, blackened with the smoke of fire and gunpowder, burst into the Palace of the Generalitat and faced the President, Lluís Companys, who acknowledged that the CNT-FAI were the owners of the city and who promised he would subordinate himself before them as another soldier in the fight. On the other hand, smaller acts such as that recorded by Miquel Coll, a member of the non-Stalinist POUM party, who witnessed the ransacking of a gun shop in the Paral.lel area of Barcelona. He ran in and grabbed a shotgun. He recalls that a CNT man broke open the safe and pulled out wads of banknotes: “The he struck a match and set fire to the lot. He burnt every note. It was amazing – true proof of the honour that so many CNT militants like him displayed” (Fraser, Blood of Spain, 1981, p. 66).
The situation that evolved has been described by many observers and through numerous second-hand accounts, including those of John Langdon-Davies in his Behind the Barricades and Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia. Here, Orwell wrote, referring to the situation in Barcelona in December 1936, having recently arrived in Spain: “It was the first time that I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle. Practically every building of any size had been seized by the workers and was draped with red flags or with the red and black flags of the Anarchists; every wall was scrawled with the hammer and sickle and with the initials of revolutionary parties; almost every church had been gutted and its images burnt […] Every shop and café had an inscription saying it had been collectivized; even the bootblacks had been collectivized and their boxes painted red and black […] Servile and even ceremonial forms of speech had temporarily disappeared […]There were no private motor-cars, they had all been commandeered, and all the trams and taxis and much of the other transport were painted in red and black […] There was much in it that I did not understand , in some ways I did not even like it, but I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for” (p. 9).
Barcelona, July 1936 In addition to these sources, somewhat unusually, I am going to draw on a recent novel which has treated this very issue. Novels are, apart from being a good read if they are well written, a source that provides a different kind of insight, especially if they are historical novels. There has been a flurry of novels related to the Civil War and early Francoism in
recent years such as Aly Monroe’s The Maze of Cadiz, Guernica by Dave Boling and Winter in Madrid by C.J. Sansom, to mention just a few of those written in English. This novel, Memòria d’uns ulls pintats (2012) by the folk singer-songwriter Lluís Llach, centres on the period before, during and after the Civil War, taking us through the complex political turmoil of the Republic and the possibilities for radical change that it offered through to the institutionally violent and repressive fascist regime of Francisco Franco. At the heart of the novel are the lives of a group of children and the author depicts how their growing up mirrored the changing political and social circumstances of their existence and captured their aspirations, their disappointments and the catastrophe of the war and the installation of the new fascist regime. It is also a love story, but we will come on to that later. We see events unfold through the eyes of the main protagonist, Germinal, and his description of the events of July 1936 coincide with those mentioned above. Llach has obviously very carefully reconstructed these events and he notes in the epilogue to the book that many of the happenings described drew on the testimonies of people he knew or people very close to him, such as his adopted grandmother Presentació Sendra, friends and those who lived through the period. By means of the informers that were active in the military barracks and, in general, because a military coup had been expected for weeks, workers’ organizations had had time to prepare for a response and for the putting down of any military uprising. The father of Germinal, the protagonist tells us, had not slept for nights on end, fervently attending local committee meetings – probably the CNT’s Defence Committees meetings – discussing tactics, communication plans and the means to curtail the fascist revolt. When, at dawn on the 19th July, the factory and port sirens agreed by workers to signal the start of the military uprising sounded, Germinal’s barrio, the Barceloneta, “trembled, just as the whole city trembled”. Not so much because of the racket produced by the sirens but because of the fear produced by the fascist uprising. Just as Germinal’s father had said, the CNT militias would take control of the port of Barcelona and would proceed to attack the Drassanes barracks, the main military post of the city, a stone’s throw from the port, at the waterfront edge of the Ramblas. Their aim of putting the military down was aided by the capturing of some 30,000 rifles from another barracks, that of the Mestranza de Sant Andreu. Through the combined action of workers’ organizations and sections of the military and Civil Guard that had remained loyal to the regime, the military uprising, in Barcelona at least, was crushed. Perhaps drawing a leaf from Orwell’s and Langdon-Davies’ descriptions, Llach, speaking through Germinal, observes that during the days immediately after the revolt and for the next few months in the city there were neither “rich nor bosses… No-one dressed like the rich and there were neither cars nor carriages of the rich… or maybe the rich had dressed like workers… The whole city was dressed like this”. The militias raised in order to quell the military rebellion and fight against what might now be termed the fascist paramilitary organizations emanating from the Falange and others
have been the site of either more or less limitless exaltation or denigration according to political point of view. For the right, of course, they represented everything that was wrong with republican Spain with lazy workers, pillaging, and “loose women” having risen to the fore. For the left, this depended. On the one hand, they may have been praised initially as an enthusiastic out-pouring of anti-fascist struggle and revolutionary power; on the other, particularly as the war became prolonged, as inefficient, ineffective and even counterproductive to the war effort. For many anarchists, alongside those of a more Marxist or Trotskyist position who were organized in the POUM, it was these militias that not only had defeated the military but, as a result of the workers’ triumph, were the guarantors of the social revolution that was taking place and about which Orwell and others had written. It must be emphasized that, once triumphant, many sectors of this radical left did not believe that going back to the days of the bourgeois Republic was possible or desirable. The combined and concerted action of the workers had defeated the reaction and the city was theirs for the taking. It was, in short, the time for the implementation of the long desired social revolution. Going beyond their ad hoc role in the suppression of the military revolt in mid-July 1936, once they were constituted into columns and fighting forces these militias and armed workers’ groupings had a dual role. The first of these was to make their way to the front in order to quell the military revolt in those places where it had been successful or where the workers’ victory was in the balance, such as in Zaragoza. The second mission of the people in arms was to guarantee the new revolutionary order in the rear-guard. Both these roles were evidently controversial: would the militias be a temporary, emergency response, to be side-lined or dissolved once the Republic was restored or a different order introduced? For many anarchists and observers the militias and their cousins, the control patrols, were the personification of the revolutionary spirit of the masses, the means by which the gains of the revolution in the city and the country would be consolidated and maintained. New times had dawned and the responsibility for the decay of the old order and the concomitant creation of the new was clear in many workers’ minds. As one editorial of the anarchist review Ideas, based in the libertarian stronghold of the Llobregat, would state in December 1936: “the politicians, all the Spanish politicians of the so-called left, are as responsible as the fascists for the battle that bloodies the Iberian soil, because they allowed the fascist movement to organise itself from the ministries, barracks and colonies of Spain… To those, today as yesterday, we must say:... The time of Governments has passed; the time of politics has passed… the social hour has sounded. You are the victims of your own errors; you think of nothing other than Power and Money”. To loose the militias, the people armed, was therefore understood to be nothing less than an attack on the revolution itself. After the initial banding together of militants from trade unions and political parties, through whose efforts the uprising was suppressed in cities such as Barcelona, in this same city the militias were consolidated into a Central Committee of Anti-Fascist Militias, an outfit that was dominated by the CNT but in which the socialist trade union, the UGT, and other
forces also participated. This committee organized the first columns to spearhead the attack against the military beyond Barcelona. The Durruti Column is perhaps the most famous of these from the libertarian movement but we should not forget the Libertarian Youth Aguiluchos (the Young Eagles). Both these formations incorporated women fighters. For Buenaventura Durruti, it was clear what these militias should do and it was clear what they were fighting for: “We are not interested in medals or in Generals’ sashes. We want neither Committees nor Ministries. When we have won, we will return to the factories and workshops from which we have emerged, keeping away from the safe deposits, for the abolition of which we have long struggled. It is in the factory, in the fields and the mines that the true army for the defence or Spain will be created” (in Vernon Richards, Lessons of the Spanish Revolution, 1983, p. 155, citing Durruti in Solidaridad Obrera, 12 September 1936). In one of his many previous declarations, this time on the occasion of an interview by Pierre van Paassen for the Toronto Daily Star, published on 24 July 1936, Durruti declared: “We have always lived in slums and holes in the wall. We will know how to accommodate ourselves for a while. For you must not forget that we can also build. It is we who built these palaces and cities, here in Spain and America and everywhere. We, the workers. We can build others to take their place. And better ones. We are not in the least afraid of ruins. We are going to inherit the earth; there is not the slightest doubt about that. The bourgeoisie might blast and ruin its own world before it leaves the stage of history. We carry a new world here, in our hearts. That world is growing in this minute”. Buenaventura Durruti Others were perhaps not quite so positive in their accounts of the militias, even those who supported them and participated in them. Orwell, recognising that they had been born out of the difficulties experienced by a hitherto unarmed civilian population, proclaimed them to be “an extraordinary-looking rabble” and even after a few days’ training, were “still a complete rabble by any ordinary standard”. But camaraderie and egalitarianism prevailed as far as was possible in a war situation and made up for some of the deficiencies. Orwell reflects that before the constitution of the Popular Army in 1937, the party militias theoretically being gradually incorporated into it, the status quo of the militias entailed and this was the situation on the front on which he fought: the Aragon front. Here, the militia system remained more or less intact until June 1937. He writes: “The essential point of the system was social equality between officers and men. Everyone from general to private drew the same pay, ate the same food, wore the same clothes, and mingled on terms of complete
equality” (pp. 28-29). “In theory, at any rate each militia was a democracy and not a hierarchy […] a temporary working model of the classless society”. He recognized, nevertheless, that full equality was perhaps somewhat elusive “but there was a nearer approach to it than I had ever seen or than I would have thought conceivable in time of war”. Discipline was clearly a problem but, in a sense, Orwell argues, this was natural in such a situation without a regular army. This was not, he reflected somewhat wryly, the British Army. But it was a tribute to the existence of revolutionary discipline that the militias stayed in the field at all. The early practice of militiamen returning home for lunch at midday was replaced by a revolutionary discipline that depended in turn on revolutionary consciousness and the realization of what was being fought for. This realization could not necessarily be instilled instantaneously.
The Lenin barracks of the POUM At this point, I think it is useful to reflect further on the two-fold mission of the militias and their sister organization in the rear-guard, the patrullas de control or control patrols, as understood by their participants. As always, we risk taking a small set of voices for an understanding of the whole and no doubt contrary versions can be produced to counter each and every interpretation that is made. Despite this, the changing circumstances that
Orwell (and Ken Loach, of course, in his film Land and Freedom) referred to, whereby the militias were progressively incorporated into a national army on pain of dissolution (some militias did disband or individuals did leave them rather than submit to military discipline) are worth examining. The philosophy behind the national army with a “mando único” or single command structure was to produce a fighting force capable of defeating the rebellious Spanish army and ending what had well before the end of 1936 become a war. Doing away with the varied militias, each with their own command structure and political affiliations and preferences, was seen to be the route to victory over the fascist insurgents. For the anarchists, or many anarchists (we can’t talk of one voice or a unitary movement), the move to dissolve the militias was tantamount to yet another attack on the revolution, just as the decree of collectivization had been in October 1936 and a series of other restrictions on the revolutionary movement, to which we will refer in due course. But back to my example: what did the militias make of the move to create a national army under unified command? The CNT militias The merits or otherwise of the national army under a unified command were amply debated in the anarchist press. Seen in some quarters as part of the onward process of halting and rolling back of the revolution under the guise of “national unity” against fascism, anarchists denounced the so-called militarization of the militias as a transparent move to curtail the revolutionary gains and the people in arms as the incarnation of the revolution, one of a series of moves made in the autumn of 1936 and spring of 1937. Nowhere was this debated more than in the bulletin of the Iron Column, the anarchist militia column of Valencia, which was finally militarized on 21 March 1937. That same month, a member of the Column, signing his article “An Uncontrollable” as an attempt to rebuff the criticism of the militias made by those who wanted to dissolve them, wrote about the reasons why he had joined the militia in the first place. Having been a prisoner in the San Miguel de los Reyes prison, “the sinister prison, which the monarchy set up in order to bury alive […] the oppressed”, was one of many freed by the anarchists in July when the prison’s doors were broken asunder. Some of those released, he says, went their own way. But others, “like myself, joined our liberators, who treated us like friends and loved us like brothers”. In addition to fighting off the military, the Column set about liberating the countryside in order to place “wealth in the
hands of the only ones who knew how to create it – the workers”. Nobody, this uncontrollable stated, could reproach or accuse the Column “which alone, unaided and even obstructed has been in the front lines from the very beginning – with a lack of solidarity, for being arbitrary, for cowardliness or laxness in battle, or for hostility towards the peasants, or for not being revolutionary enough, because boldness and bravery have been our standard, magnanimity toward the vanquished our law, cordiality towards brothers and sisters our motto and goodness and respect the underlying framework of our lives” (“A Day Mournful and Overcast”, 1993, originally published in Nosotros, 1937). Poster celebrating the Iron Column But this would be jeopardized by the threat of militarization: “One day – a day that was mournful and overcast – the news [came] that we must be militarised”. The fear of the barracks and its stupid rules had bred in him “hatred for hierarchy pure and untarnished”. For “prisons and barracks mean the same thing: tyranny and free rein for the evil instincts of a few, and suffering for everyone else”. The very model of organization of the Column was different from that proposed under the army with unitary command: “The delegate of a group or century was not imposed on us, he was elected by us. He did not regard himself as a lieutenant or as a captain, but as a comrade”. Even if the Column was made into a battalion under the new regime, it should not relinquish its aim to prosecute the revolution. If a new structure were to be imposed, “either the corporal, sergeant, lieutenant and captain will be from within our movement, in which case we will all be comrades; or they will be enemies, in which case it will be necessary to treat them as such”. One of the iconic images of the civil war was that of women who had taken up arms. Initially the object of scorn or ridicule, both on the left and the right, women began to shed centuries of patriarchal constraints that placed them firmly in the domestic sphere and refused them an active role in society beyond the home, cooking and tending to their men folk and children. The Republic, in its liberalizing moves with respect to the legalization of
divorce, the availability of contraception, legislation on working conditions for women and the legalization of abortion in December 1936 in the midst of the war – a measure brought in by the anarchist medical doctor Félix Martí Ibáñez – had paved the way for the kinds of changes that women and the rest of society adjusted to from July 1936 onwards. Women took up arms, went to the front (where admittedly they were often given gender-specific tasks such as nursing and cooking), but also taught milicianos to read and write and took their part in the fighting. It was this freedom of movement that was literally worth fighting for. The notion that the revolution and the war needed to be prosecuted at the same time, indeed that they were both an integral part of each other and mutually inseparable and mutually dependent, was what fired early anarchist action. The lack of separation of the war against fascism and the continuation of the revolution energised another aspect of the militias’ activity. Throughout Aragón, in particular, the militias helped peasants establish the long yearned after right to till their own land and to collectivise the farms. Drawing their lessons in part from an age-old desire to do so and in part from inspiration provided by texts such as Peter Kropotkin’s Fields, factories and workshops, anarchist peasants and those not so anarchist found that their best option in a revolutionary and war situation was to pool their resources, eliminate the middle man and the landowner and establish what the CNT in its confederal conference of May 1936, following a manifesto written by the anarchist doctor Isaac Puente, designated “libertarian communism”. The images and the actions of the movement that stormed the rural areas are arresting. Town halls were sacked and the evil documentation listing property rights were burned. Money was deemed to be a relic from the past and a hang-over from an egotistical and morally corrupt social order; it too was put to the cleansing fire. Sometimes money was abolished or a system of vouchers, each bearing the name of the particular collective and only valid within that area, was established. The land was taken over by the collective and communal farming was instituted. As the French anarchist Gaston Leval noted in his firsthand account of these collectives: “Very quickly more than 60% of the land was collectively cultivated by the peasants themselves, without landlords, without bosses, and without instituting capitalist competition to spur production […] the various agrarian and industrial collectives immediately instituted economic equality in accordance with the essential principle of communism, ‘From each according to his ability and to each according to his needs’. […] They built more schools, and bettered public services […] They replaced the war between men, ‘survival of the fittest’, by the universal practice of mutual aid, and replaced rivalry by the principle of solidarity…” (Collectives in the Spanish Revolution, 1975). Such a state of affairs affected, Gaston documents, some eight million people through their direct or indirect participation.
A voucher that replaced money in a village in Huesca province Leval’s account is evidently a positive one, forged from the revolutionary zeal of the moment but other studies subsequently have documented the functionality, efficiency and new life that the collectives provided. Evidently, there were problems with these new measures. Undoubtedly, some were forced to join these “free” collectives and there were several cases of violent reprisals against those who refused to do so or who were conceived as “bourgeois” by wanting to hold on to their land. The presence of the militias was a factor that inexperienced and peaceful peasants cowered in front of. Collectivization of the transport industry by the CNT But estimates are that not only production increased and was more efficient, but that most of those who collectivized did so not under threat of violence or acting as part of some kind of pipe dream but as a means of engendering a more equal society even in a war situation and as a contribution to a revolutionary process that was thought to set the tone for the future. Burnett Bolloten recounts the tone of this new order when he writes that “Locally produced goods, if abundant, such as bread, wine, and olive oil, were distributed freely, while other articles could be obtained by means of coupons at the communal depot. Surplus good were exchanged with other anarchist towns and villages, money [the national currency] being used only for transactions with those communities that had not yet adopted the new system” (cited in Dolgoff, The Anarchist Collectives, 1974, p.
73). The level of organization was impressive, as Herbert Read, the art historian and philosopher noted at the time and another account, by Agustin Souchy, who also travelled through the collectives making notes for posterity, described the situation in Valencia: “In the region of Valencia, the centre of the great orange industry […] the CNT set up an organization for purchasing, packing, and exporting the orange crop with a network of 270 committees in different towns and villages, elbowing out of this important trade several thousand middlemen”. A similar process entailed in the towns and the cities. Bakeries and carpentries were collectivized. The old, damp, unsafe bakeries in Barcelona were closed down and new ovens were inaugurated under workers’ control. In many cases, although the original owners fled, technicians (and indeed some owners) stayed on, tacitly or tactfully agreeing to the new order. Diego Abad de Santillán, prominent member of the Iberian Anarchist Federation or FAI, in his account of the war and the reasons why it was lost, described the structure of the new economy in Catalonia. This was simple: “Each factory organized a new administration manned by its own technical and administrative workers. Factories in the same industry in each locality organized themselves into the Local Federation of the particular industry [following the CNT’s own model of industrial federations of unions]. The total of all the Local Federations organized themselves into the Local Economic Council in which all the centres of production and services were represented: coordination, exchange, sanitation and health, culture, transportation, etc.” (Dolgoff, p. 66) These were then federated upwards into regional and national councils. This system was exemplified by the almost complete collectivization of certain towns such as Alcoy in the Valencia region. Some 20,000 workers in this small Valencian town were integrated into collective workplaces. In Barcelona, the transport system was collectivized and trams and buses were turned out in CNT colours; the hairdressers were also collectivized as were the boot-blacks, as Orwell had noted in his Homage to Catalonia. All this was not, even though some anarchists liked to think so, the mere product of a “spontaneous” uprising. It was spontaneous in the sense that it responded to an emergency situation and had not been planned step by step in the previous months, but it was the fruit of some seventy years of planning of another sort. Since the late nineteenth century, as the historian José Álvarez Junco pointed out in detail, anarchism in Spain embraced a huge variety of intellectual and operational challenges, from discussions on how to organise in factories, to the best ways of bringing up children, through to the role of scientific thought in the emancipatory movement – Darwin, Spencer and Haeckel were avidly discussed as antidotes to the church and religious teachings from the 1870s onwards. Fundamental to this movement was what its leader, Federica Montseny, would call, following Nietzsche, a transformation, or transubstantiation, of values whereby all that was old would be rejected and replaced by new economic, social and moral codes. This is perhaps the most mesmerising facet of anarchism, along with its ability to organise from the
ground up. By the 1930s, as Martha Ackelsberg in her book on Free Women has noted, “anarchists had succeeded in demonstrating the effectiveness of a strategy that built on people’s communal and neighbourhood connections – developing workers’ centres, storefront schools, and the like – and insisted on the linkages between work and community, workers and the poor, women and men” (p. 70). The Barcelona rent strike I mentioned before was an example of this combined strategy; the potent factory strikes and boycotts were another. Protests and strikes were not centred on purely economic aspirations. As Raymond Carr has pointed out, in Zaragoza, for example, “strikes were characterized by their scorn for economic demands and the toughness of their revolutionary solidarity: strikes for comrades in prison were more popular than strikes for better conditions” (cited in Dolgoff, xx). Women on the front line In addition to a strong and permanent trade union organization, in so far as it could be given the repression of the 1920s and 1930s, the key to this remarkable linkage was the anarchist emphasis on change now in readiness for the future society. In a word, education was deemed to be a key factor in such a development. Once more, we can return to the anarchist women’s organization to understand this strategy. On the one hand, Mujeres Libres argued for captación or the affiliation of new members by making the organization attractive to women and by addressing issues of gender oppression or providing mutual support for women. On the other hand, as Ackelsberg points out, it was keen on capacitación, that is, making women capable of living their own lives and changing society for the better. This twin strategy of affiliation and awareness raising (called consciousness-raising in the feminist organizations of the 1970s) was a seam that ran through the whole of the anarchist educational project. Mujeres Libres declared in its publications that it aspired to free women from a triple-sided slavery: the slavery of women’s ignorance, the slavery of women as producers and the slavery of women as women. The educational projects undertaken by the ML Women’s Institutes included the establishment of a sports section for women, an activity frowned upon by many conservatives and highly limited once the dictatorship was imposed. Children’s camps were established to take children out of war zones or two make their lives better while living under attack. In a report in the ML publication, the sports section transformed women’s lives by uniting freedom with physical movement and with nature as a background.
An issue of the Mujeres Libres magazine As Brenan has pointed out, the role of the obrero consciente, the “conscious worker”, was fundamental to anarchist success in small towns and cities. The way of engendering this conscious worker who would, by extension, enthuse and “capacitar” all workers eventually was by the creation of a culture of knowledge and opposition that infused the workers’ centres, the 500 or so reviews of the anarchist movement by the 1930s, flashy and attractive covers, the broaching of topics that were of relevance to workers and the embracing of a general educational undertaking that state schools, if they existed, had never provided. From the late nineteenth century onwards, anarchists, through their linkages with progressive educational thought, ranging from French thought on co-education in Paul Robin’s work and schools, through to Pestalozzi and the home-grown Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia, and what they termed “integral education”, sought to demystify education in a number of ways. Their enthusiastic embracing of science – in the Revista Social in the early 1880s one author praised the fact that The importance of rationalist co-ed schools since Darwin, the natural world had been seen not as the work of a creator who brought to life “a fish one moment and a polyp the next”, but the result of natural evolutionary processes – meant that anarchists saw the value of science as a means of strengthening their anticlericalism, their support of a natural rather than merely nuclear family, and education as of worth in itself as an emancipatory tool. Anarchist schools were established that taught such values, they co-educated boys and girls (a horror for upright Catholic commentators), they broached issues of health, hygiene and the body, and viewed education as a means of forging a chink in the bourgeois armour. These alternative schools were no more trifles. As Chris Ealham recounts in his book on social struggle in Barcelona, the Can Tunis school
educated some 400 children and was organized by the Ateneo Cultural de Defensa Obrera. There were others, such as the Escuela Natura in the Clot area of Barcelona, which was supervised by the rationalist teacher Juan Puig Elías. This establishment refused to employ corporal punishment. All enjoyed a naturist and rational ethos, often taking children on hikes and nature trails, and some enjoyed the facilities of a large house near Puigcerdà in the foothills of the Pyrenees (Ealham, Anarchism and the City, 2010, pp. 86-87). In addition to schools, the hundreds of pamphlets and journals, anarchists established a readily accessible, cheap production line of novelettes that examined topics that were relevant to the social struggle. These often dealt with issues of love, romance and betrayal, but also the hardships faced by women and men in a capitalist society. Conditions were particularly tough for women who were often left to care for children when the striking husband was imprisoned or who had to cook on the meagre resources of the household when no strike funds were provided (the CNT was actively against them) and they often had to work outside of the home too. The Novela Ideal series of novelettes ran to hundreds of different titles and according to Federica Montseny, who edited the series, between 10,000 and 50,000 of each were printed weekly. As Montseny reflected later, the Franco regime held that publications like the Novela Ideal were responsible for “poisoning three generations of Spaniards” (Montseny, Mis primeros cuarenta años). It would indeed take three generations to eliminate the stories and the lessons of the Novela from Spaniards’ minds. In addition to the schools, of huge importance to the building of a libertarian oppositional culture were the so-called Ateneos, or Athenaeums, which were established as a contrast to the more bourgeois variants devoted to literature and science but out of the reach of the everyday worker. Here, publications would be displayed and classes on a variety of subjects were given. For one woman anarchist, the ateneo was the place “where we were formed, most deeply, ideologically”. She was not alone. Martha Ackelsberg has illustrated how these centres were fundamental to the building of a culture of empowerment and confidence and they operated in tandem with the union halls, where speeches were given and publications made available, as well as the classes given in the open air through the anarchist excursionist movement. Developing from a late nineteenth-century phenomenon whereby rationalist school maters and mistresses took children into the mountains to literally discover nature, anarchists developed, like many socialist movements across the world, walking groups that would appreciate the wonders of the natural world to contrast to the story of their creation by a theocratic force. Just as this provided education, it also provided physical activity and exercise, along the lines of the northern English cycling clubs. For one historian, Mary Orgel, this practice of excursionismo revealed “the unnaturalness of hierarchical capitalism and state government and the naturalness of egalitarian anarchism were read from nature
itself” (Orgel, “Excursionismo”, 2002). Other activities, such as vegetarianism and nudism (“body culture”) added to the range of purifying activities. Enriqueta Rovira summed up the “cambio de mentalidad” entailed by such activities as follows, with a particular focus on alternative schooling: “The building [housing the school] belonged to the union (textiles). The Escuela Libre [Escuela Natura El Clot] was upstairs, and the sindicato and our group [ML] were downstairs… My sisters and I went to the school at night. (We couldn’t go during the day, because we had to work). And – remember this detail, because it’s important – in order to save money, the union had the women do the cleaning… Afterwards, there would be meetings of Sol y Vida [the cultural and naturist group]… True, people went to the union meetings, but relations within the group were more intimate, the explanations more extensive. That’s where we were formed most deeply” (Ackelsberg, p. 85). What, then, was the role of all this in the civil war period? In this final section I am going to talk about a few initiatives undertaken by the CNT and the libertarian movement during the war. I think these initiatives show how for many active in the movement there was no dichotomy between the war, on the one hand, and the revolution – the revolution as profound social change – on the other. One was understood to be part and parcel of the other. This was no ordinary war that was being fought. For many anarchists it was not reducible to a war against fascism, however important that may have been, nor was it reducible to a war to re-establish the democratic Republic. Not everyone in the movement agreed, of course, and this became one of the most searing conflicts within the anarchist movement itself. There were tendencies within anarchism that believed that it was necessary to prioritise the war over the revolution, just as many sectors of the left, particularly socialists and communists, had argued and would continue to argue throughout the autumn of 1936 and the whole of 1937. But despite this lack of unity and despite, for example, the destruction of the anarchist collectives in Aragon in the summer of 1937 (they were later re-established and, in some areas, even increased in size and breadth), the revolutionary message of anarchism infused a huge range of social, military and educational activities that co-existed with the war. One of the most obvious of these, although not unique to anarchism, was the educational programme unleashed in the trenches. This was, of course, not unique to anarchism, but the reading and writing battalions, often led by women, were fundamental to keeping up morale in the trenches and preparing the worker-in-arms for the new world once the military fight was over and libertarian communism implanted. Another area of constant reform of values and real lives was that which centred on the existence of women, both within the movement and outside of it. We have already heard how Enriqueta Rovira praised such educational undertakings embarked upon by the unions, cultural associations and schools under the libertarian banner. Other women were clear
how difficult it was to surpass old values within the libertarian movement. One man, taking revolutionary changes in respect of gender seriously in the 1930s did the cooking and washing while his wife went out to work and he was riled as a “nancy boy” for his troubles (I am using the old terminology deliberately). Mujeres Libres co-founder Mercedes Comaposada told Martha Ackelsberg how hard it was for women to gain a place in the political movement of the time. Reflecting on her time during the Republic, she stated: “In 1933, I went along with Orobón Fernández to a meeting at one of the sindicatos. They were also trying to help with the “preparation” of the workers, and asked me to come along. Lucía [Sánchez Saornil, another of the founders of MMLL] was there, too. They wanted me to teach, since they had no women teachers. But it was impossible because of the attitudes of some compañeros. They didn’t take women seriously. There is a saying: “Las mujeres – a la cocina y a coser los calcetines – [women should be in the kitchen or darning socks]. No, it was impossible; women barely dared to speak in that context”. Tired of this discrimination, anarchist women formed Mujeres Libres in 1936 and the organization went on the recruit some 28,000 women, according to the organization’s own figures, producing its own educational campaigns and its own bulletin. Like Federica Montseny, MMLL did not define itself as “feminist” as this adjective was, for the anarchists, tainted with bourgeois demands such as the vote and merely bestowing on women the same kind of role held by men in an unequal society in other senses, such as the economic and social. The relationship with the rest of the libertarian movement was also somewhat problematic; the organization endured much opprobrium and ridicule for daring to organise as women, but they persevered. When they helped put down the fascist uprising and fought at the front, however, some attitudes altered. Helen Graham has written that “the grassroots focus on individual realization – rather than a specific range of activities/initiatives implemented – is what most clearly distinguishes ML from the other mass organization encadring women in Republican Spain – Mujeres Antifascistas”. ML, she continues, was mainly devoted to the needs of proletarian women while the AMA was a more inter-class initiative growing out of Popular Frontism, incorporating a very large constituency of middle-class women (“Women and Social Change”, 1995, p. 111). ML led direct action campaigns by women to seize bread when the workers were hungry, even during the civil war, and even though the AMA’s and ML’s activity tended to blur as the war went on, being devoted increasingly to winning the war, a number of separate initiatives can certainly be discerned. I will focus, briefly, on three aspects. First on the institutions created by ML such as the Casal de la Dona Treballadora, second on the question of prostitution and third on the issue of abortion. One of the most substantial achievements of ML was that of the “Casal de la Dona Treballadora”, a cultural institution founded in Barcelona in 1937. It was here that some 800 women and girls per day received some sort of education. At the end of 1938, the bank of Spain wished to take over the building that housed the “Casal”, and tried to throw out
MMLL. In order to do so, it had recourse to the authority of the Ministry of Finance, which was backed up by a division of carabineros (no lack of arms in the rear-guard for such a task). The picket of some 500 women stopped the eviction in its tracks. In addition to the Casal, ML set up Institutes of Mujeres Libres, which gave classes to women on a variety of practical and educational topics. Many of these were indeed oriented towards training women to take up jobs in factories and in the transport networks while men were at the front and the Institutes themselves were established in several localities, including Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia. There were also interest-specific activities of a more social dimension but, keen to show that more and more effort was required to win the war and consolidate the revolution, ML always argued that such initiatives were not for the idle. The sports group within ML was dedicated to changing women’s lives in the here and now. A report from 1938 on this group argued that “Sun, air and water have once more become a vital necessity for the bodies of the younger generation. As the morbid influence that religion inflicted upon humanity for over two thousand years has disappeared, laughter once more lightens up the face of the world and agility replaces the former lethargy of action” (Actividades de la F.N. de Mujeres Libres, 1938). Something similar can be said of the schools and activity centres set up for children. Partly as a diversion from the horrors of war and the loss of parents, ML established supervised outings for children, sports activities and refectories. The same report from 1938 proclaimed that such facilities had improved the lives of the children and had facilitated a political change the likes of which had not been seen before: “You can see how they dive into the water and lie about in the sun. In a month they have progressed centuries. There are no longer boys and girls. Soon, there will be comrades only”. Another initiative was the “La Casa de la Maternidad”, a jewel in the crown of both ML and the health reform project introduced by the CNT. The same 1938 report discussed the visit by the Russian-American anarchist, Emma Goldman, who had joyously declared that, of its type, the Maternity House was the most perfect she had seen in Europe. The director of the House, Aurea Cuadrado added her voice to that of Martí Ibáñez in illustrating how such facilities were part and parcel of a new way of conceiving maternity and women’s role within it. As such, this endeavour was part of a much broader root and branch reform of the health services in Catalonia, all the way from the psychiatric facilities through to the venereal disease prevention campaign. In the anarchist doctor’s words, maternity would now take on a new significance for women and humanity as part of the proletarian struggle for better health and a better society in the longer term. Women would no longer be housed in the bleak rooms of the maternity ward, but would be surrounded by flowers and colours in order to celebrate the new life brought forth.
Dr. F. Martí Ibáñez From the late nineteenth century, alongside movements such as Josephine Butler’s campaign to abolish the “white slave trade”, anarchists had argued that prostitution was a remnant of capitalism in the sense that a woman’s body was sold for someone else’s pleasure. It was also a product, in many anarchists’ eyes, of the domination of men over women. During the war, many anarchists complained that the bordellos of the so-called Chinese quarter (or Fifth District) were draped in red and black flags and, in addition to the spreading of venereal diseases, such a scenario meant that women’s emancipation still had quite some way to go. Mujeres Libres published a bulletin after the outbreak of the war denouncing prostitution as “the greatest of slaveries” and as such declared that it should be the organization’s first priority. Prostitution was not the problem of women who were prostitutes, they argued; it was the problem of men of women who made up society and who could not shed the old values. The labelling of some women as “dishonourable” was what allowed other women to label themselves “honourable”. But it was not just a question of illegalizing prostitution as some social hygiene movements had wanted and which had occurred under the CEDA government in the Republic. Charity, Montseny argued, was insufficient – the issue would not be resolved by the handing out of cups of tea and slices of cake, she stated in one crushing assertion. Women needed full economic emancipation in order to leave the ranks of prostitution and to aid in this objective ML backed the creation of the “liberatorios de prostitución”, or houses for the liberation of prostitutes. The liberatorios, housed in suitable locales, would “retrain” the women and would involve, for example, medical-psychiatric research and treatment; psychological and ethical programmes to develop a sense of responsibility; professional orientation and “capacitación”; and, moral and material assistance whenever the women in question required it after leaving the establishments. This project was incorporated into the work programme envisaged by the anarchist-run department of Health and Social Services (SIAS) and was endorsed by Félix Martí Ibáñez as Director of Health Services. Despite the enthusiasm that such a project engendered, it
would appear that the houses were never actually established or that at most they were only partly brought into being. Félix Martí Ibáñez in a report in June 1937 lists the liberatorios as one undertaking he would have liked to have undertaken alongside youth sex clinics and an institute of sexual science along the lines of that of Magnus Hirschfeld in Berlin, destroyed by the Nazis. Others within the movement argued for prostitutes to be unionized within the CNT; others still, that men should cease to patronize them. There were other more daring proposals, such as “houses of sexual satisfaction”, but this never left the drawing board. Some women did cease being prostitutes and Pepita Carpena, an activist in ML, recounted that one woman left her activities to become a travelling propagandist for the libertarian movement. Such a development was, nevertheless, rare. More successful were the campaigns in favour of contraception, sexual health and anti-VD programmes. One member of ML, Julia Mirabé, recounted that doctors affiliated with the anarchist youth organization, the Libertarian Youth, and others with ML itself (probably Amparo Poch i Gascón, among others), “arranged to get us silver gadgets [some sort of IUD]. Every six months, you would go, and they’d take out the mechanism and boil it, they’d examine you, and put it back in, and you wouldn’t get pregnant”. The anarchist review Estudios promoted sexual health, nudism, “conscious maternity” and contraception Perhaps one of the most important changes in sexual morality in respect of the centuries-old Catholic
restrictions and even the pre-war situation was that of abortion. On 25 December 1936, in the words of Félix Martí Ibáñez, free, medically sound abortion took the process from the backstreets and enrolled it in the revolutionary process. The move meant that “abortion leaps out of the dark clandestine realm and incompetence in which it was performed until today, and acquires a high biological and social status, as it is converted into a eugenic instrument in the service of the proletariat”, Martí Ibáñez wrote in early 1937. Abortion from March 1937 was available in three centres in Barcelona. The historian Mary Nash views the measure as a failure, however, given the fact that only some 15 women were treated in one of these centres. But, if considered alongside changes in sexual morality and the use of contraceptives, perhaps success should not be measured by the number of operations alone. As I have stated above, the women’s federation had a somewhat problematic relationship with the rest of the libertarian movement, although it was probably on best terms with the youth federation. It also had a somewhat shifting or at least diverse stance on the significance of the war and the role of the other left parties. On the one hand, articles appeared in its bulletin praising the initiative to form a united single army. On the other hand, the communist left was criticized for having too much of an upper hand in relation to its size. Paeans to the revolutionary transformation undertaken by the CNT were voiced, and almost literally sung, as a hymn was invented for the ML, and the idea of a flattened, lowest common denominator anti-fascism was also attacked. Founder Lucía Sánchez Saornil wrote in August 1938 that “Our Federation has a determined personality; it is a revolutionary organization with its own perspectives on the Spanish struggle and a clear conscience of its mission that goes way beyond any limited anti-fascism” (Solidaridad Obrera, 14/08/1938). This was consistent with her stance developed since the beginning of the conflict. After the fall of Malaga in February 1937, a catastrophe in the on-going war, she wrote the following lines: “We consider the set of circumstances that have surrounded the fall of Malaga and, far from demoralize us, our fists clench with ill contained rage, we spit out our hatred and our derision at the world, its civilization and its democracy – above all at its democracy – which, among all those factors most culpable, we signal above all others […] And yet still in Spain there is talk of democracy and there are attempts to suppress and force us in its name […] Democracy, no! Social Revolution, yes!” (Horas de Revolución, 1937). If one thing has become clear over the last forty or so minutes, it is the fact that the libertarian movement, like any other movement not completely hidebound or fundamentally constrained by the straight-jacket of a domineering central committee, was a diverse movement, capable of multiple perspectives at the same time. For example, despite Martí Ibáñez’s comments on homosexuality – and even less liberal words and deeds no doubt from other anarchists – it was well known that Lucía Sánchez Saornil was a lesbian and in a relationship with another woman. Before my conclusion, I want to return finally to
our novel by Lluís Llach, at the heart of which is a relationship between Germinal and David. Germinal comments at one point in the book as he relates his story to a young film maker who is writing his script for a film on the civil war: “I don’t know, and you must forgive me, if you can actually imagine what a loving relationship between two young men who were barely seventeen could possibly mean at that time. And I also wonder whether you can grasp what it meant to actually say the words. It was a type of relationship that was derided o condemned by nearly everyone, even in those times when all the old moral schemes were being questioned” (p. 249). Old values indeed die hard but it is noteworthy that despite the prevalence of traditional values it was the libertarian movement where new, previously unseen or hidden relationship could find a place to thrive. Conclusion In mid-1937 the Valencia-based anarchist paper, Nosotros, emblazoned on its front cover “We are fighting so that the past does not return”. Such a sentiment encapsulated the new dawn that many anarchists, as well as many others on the Left, wished for, had planned for and believed that they were in reach of grasping. But as we have seen, this project was not an easy one in times of war. The discussions within the anarchist movement as to the direction of the war and the position within it that the movement should adopt were long, complex and often invidious, if not vicious for their divisions. If on the one hand, the General Secretary of the CNT, Horacio Martínez Prieto, could proclaim in July 1936 that the only role for the CNT was “to be a solid force within anti-fascism, identified with it and protected by it” and if Solidaridad Obrera could proclaim in November 1936 that “The entrance of the CNT into central Government is one of the most transcendental occurrences in the political history of our country. The State and Government will oppress the people still less with the intervention in them of elements of the CNT”, there were dissident voices. On the other hand, that of Lucía, for example, and the critique of the Catalan Libertarian Youth, voiced in November 1936, the same month, as stated in its publication Ruta: “if that unity serves only to defend the democracy in ruins or to bolster the Republic, it does not interest us in the least”. On 4 June 1937, at a CNT rally held in the Olympia theatre in Barcelona to pay homage to the defenders of Madrid and the Basque country, a delegate from Madrid asked the assembled audience: ‘“Do you want to win the war?” and the crowd barely answered the question. One person shouted out “What we want is to win the revolution!” It was between these two options or positions – war and revolution – that the cultural, political and economic endeavours of Spanish anarchism were played out in the Spanish civil war of 1936-1939.
This pamphlet aims to create support for a memorial to those from North East Lancashire who volunteered to defend democracy by joining the International Brigade in Spain during 1936-39. For trade unionists, socialists, students and intellectuals, the Spanish Civil War represented a necessary battle to stop the spread of fascism. There are no memorials in Lancashire while there are several in other parts of North West England. Seven North East Lancashire men fought as International Brigade volunteers during the Spanish Civil War. Four came from Burnley, two from Nelson and one from Colne. Two were killed in action, four served with great distinction and one deserted. The pamphlet looks at the North East Lancashire volunteers and also covers an account of wider support for the Spanish Republic which existed in Lancashire and the radical cultural and ideological debates in Spain at that time.
These young men were the generous blood of the world. And in spite of their youth, or maybe because of it, they were also its conscience. Here was conscience in action, warning of the terrible danger which had to be confrontedâ€Ś Many would remain for ever under the earth which they had defended. The rest were reluctantly required to leave, as part of an effort to counter the dishonest arguments of those countries which had decided to abandon us. They left with their scars and wounds.â€? Antonio Buero Vallejo
The International Brigade Memorial Trust keeps alive the memory and spirit of the 2,500 men and women from Britain and Ireland who volunteered to defend democracy and fight fascism in Spain during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39. We also remember those who supported the volunteers and the cause of the Spanish Republic at home. Join online at http://www.international-brigades.org.uk/ 64
This pamphlet aims to create support for a memorial to those from North East Lancashire who volunteered to defend democracy by joining the I...
Published on Nov 25, 2016
This pamphlet aims to create support for a memorial to those from North East Lancashire who volunteered to defend democracy by joining the I...