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The Spanish Anarchists

The Spanish Anarchists: The Heroic Years 1868–1936, by Murray Bookchin. San Francisco: AK Press, 1998. 316 pp. $19.95

AK Press provides an admirable service reprinting this book first published in 1977 and long out of print. 31 of the original 32 illustrations are reproduced here with the unfortunate exception of the most useful one, the map of Spain. A new "Preface" replaces the original introduction, another sad loss since a comparison is useful. Recent comments on both sides of the Atlantic indicate that this book was not carefully read or well-remembered even among Amarchists. It is to be hoped that making this book generally available again will eliminate those silly mistakes.

Bookchin energetically disputes the idea that Spanish Anarchists are the "amorphous mass" of primitive rebels "described by Brenan and Hobsbawm." (p. 159) He begins his history with Giuseppi Fanelli's visit to Spain in October/November 1868 bringing Bakunin's collectivist ideas to the already organized workers and peasants. They fell on fertile ground, the "intense localism of Spanish social life: the patria chica…an almost untranslatable term that denotes the village and its immediate region — in short, the living arena of the rural Spaniard's world….not merely a geographical or political unit, but the unit of society in every context". (p. 34-35) "Spanish Anarchism tried to sift the more positive features of the pueblo from its reactionary social characteristics and rear its concept of the future on the mutualism of village life." (p. 36)

Because of this emphasis on localism and the treatment of the working poor by various governments — monarchy, dictatorships, and elected rulers — as well as the absentee landlord situations, even the gradually growing industrialization and the migration of peasants to cities as workers, potential workers, and unemployed workers, didn't eliminate the growth of Anarchism as independent affinity groups. When the various groups joined together as a network in October 1910, as the CNT (National Confederation of Labor), they retained their independent nature (p. 144). In the cities the unions were sometimes groups of the same or similar crafts, but the stronger emphasis was on locality and diversity, and in small cities and in the rural areas the affinity groups were formed on the basis of locality rather than crafts. (e.g. see the discussion of the "congress of Sans," Barcelona, 1918 and the diagram of CNT organization, p. 187)

This is all important to the long and complex history of Spanish Anarchism because throughout its development until 1936-7 and through the various struggles between moderates and centralists on the one hand and active revolutionists and independents on the other, the focus was always on a revolution which would lead beyond the work place to a whole new life of free development in education, in relations between the sexes and between generations, in social organization, and in individual development and choices. Such was the case even among Anarchosyndicalists who, Bookchin asserts, were usually more anarchists than they were syndicalists. (pp. 119-126)

Murray Bookchin writes engagingly with clarity and in great detail on the development of Spanish Anarchism in its social context from early membership in the International through the years to the gathering of the independent groups into the CNT in 1910, the creation of the separate but connected Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI) in 1927, up to 1936. He fills in the details of the development of the well known groups as well as their often fluxuating positions, including the often nasty struggles between them, and there were the struggles within the CNT between moderates and syndicalists who tended toward reform and centralization and the Anarchist collectivists and later the affinity groups of the FAI who stood for revolution and a new way of life beyond the work place. Bookchin ends his history on July 18, 1936: "The generals' uprising had begun — but so too had the libertarian social revolution." (p. 276)

In his final chapter, "Concluding Remarks," Bookchin summarizes his argument for the continuing importance of Spanish Anarchism, especially in his final long paragraph beginning, "Yet the Spanish Anarchists left behind a tangible reality that has considerable relevance for social radicalism today." (p. 288)

This is the one essential history of Spanish Anarchism and should be read by anyone interested in the subject. Bookchin didn't write his projected second volume on the revolution and civil war, but he has written essays on the subject: in Our Generation, Vol. 17, No. 2 (Spring/Summer 1986) and in Anarchist Studies, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Spring 1993) are two. In another sense, he didn't have to write a second volume. He names seven books on the subject in his "Preface," six of which I list below plus two others, which are necessary works for understanding Spanish Anarchism. He dismisses Gabriel Jackson's The Spanish Republic and Civil War, 1931-1939 (Princeton, 1965) agreeing with Noam Chomsky's extended criticism in "Objectivity and Liberal Scholarship," American Power and the New Mandarins (New York, 1969), and Hugh Thomas's The Spanish Civil War (New York, 1961) agreeing with Vernon Richard's extended criticism in "July 19, 1936: Republic or Revolution?" Anarchy, No. 5 (London, 1961).

The Spanish Anarchists: The Heroic Years 1868-1936, by Murray Bookchin. San Francisco: AK Press, 1998. 316 pp. $19.95.


Burnett Bolloten, The Spanish Revolution: The Left and the Struggle for Power during the Civil War (Chapel Hill, 1979) an expanded version of The Grand Camouflage, 1961.

Pierre Broue and Emile Temime, The Revolution and the Civil War in Spain (Cambridge, MA, 1970).

Ronald Fraser, Blood of Spain: An Oral History of the Spanish Civil War (New York, 1979).

Gaston Leval, Collectives in the Spanish Revolution, translated from the French by Vernon Richards (London, 1975).

Jose Peirats, Anarchists in the Spanish Revolution, translated from Spanish by Mary Ann Slocombe and Paul Hollow (Detroit, 1974).

Vernon Richards, Lessons of the Spanish Revolution (1936-1939) (London, 1972 revised 1983).

Juan Gomez Casas, Anarchist Organization: The History of the F.A.I., translated from Spanish by Abe Bluestein (Montreal, 1986).

Jerome R. Mintz, The Anarchists of Casas Viejas (Chicago, 1982). Mintz corrects Hobsbawm's error on the Seisdedo story which was accepted by all subsequent writers.