Saturday, June 25, 2011

Spain and the World: Aspects of the Spanish Revolution and Civil War (6)

Barcelona May 1937 : a contemporary view

The article below was written in May 1937 and published in the weekly periodical New Statesman and Nation (NSN). In many ways it is an extraordinary piece of political writing, firstly because of who the writer is and secondly that it should appear in the NSN.

Liston Oak was a member of the American Communist party and in 1936 went to Moscow to work on the English language daily Moscow News. While awaiting clearance for the post he went to Paris. For reasons that are not clear he used his contacts with the Comintern (Communist International) to move on to another job based in the offices of the foreign minister of the Spanish Republic, Alvarez del Vayo. Del Vayo was in charge of propaganda in the English speaking world and Oak was to be the Director of Propaganda for Britain and the United States. Part of his responsibility was to chaperone leading celebrities such as Ernest Hemingway around. Oak was therefore a committed communist and an apparatchik of the Comintern. He went to Valencia at the beginning of 1937, but quickly moved on to a new office that was opened in Barcelona. It seems highly likely that Oak knew what was happening, that is the disappearances and assassinations, and that the intrigues against the anarchists and the POUM were leading to a full scale assault. In fact Oak did something that was extraordinary considering his politics: he went to interview Andres Nin, the leader of the POUM, not once but twice! This would have marked him and meant his life would be in danger. Oak was aware of the situation and made plans to escape from Spain.

Another American writer who was in Spain at this time was John Dos Passos. He was in Spain for the same reason as Hemingway, to contribute in the making of the film Spanish Earth. Oak and Dos Passos know each other, as

Saturday, June 18, 2011

MEETING : The Spanish Revolution 1936-39

Speaker is Brian Bamford from the Solidarity Federation [Manchester]: Trades Council secretary, building worker, writer, and editor of Northern Voices.
8 p.m. on Wednesday 20th July, at Wood Green Social Club, Stuart Crescent N22-
Just up the hill from Wood Green tube station, across the gardens and the WGSC is on your right.

Seventy-five years ago many of the Spanish people launched a spirited defence of their country against an attempted coup by right-wing Spanish Army generals, supported by German and Italian military power. The popular insurrection took a ‘leftward turn’ as the armed people began to take over factories, depots, farms, estates, municipal authorities – indeed the whole of most of east Spain. Militias with 100,000 volunteers including the famous Durruti column, marched against the Nationalists under Franco.

In the rear, regions of Catalonia, Aragon, etc., became a workers’ republic, as chronicled by George Orwell and others. In a social experiment that last nearly three years, the people were in control and business institutions were collectivised or ‘adjusted’ to the new world. This can be regarded as the foremost example of workers’ power the world had ever seen, and remains so today.

Sadly fascism – Franco, Hitler, Mussolini – had armed forces and air power to ensure the eventual defeat of the people. There were divisions among the defenders, many were anarchists while the socialists/communists held more orthodox left-wing views, but armed might won out anyway. And the ‘civil’ war became a ‘dress rehearsal’ for the world war against the Axis powers that began within a few months. However we still celebrate the 1936 libertarian revolution, the breathtaking courage of the Spanish people, and the vision of a workers’ New World, not forgetting the international volunteers who went to assist them.

Already published on this blog about the Spanish revolution
Spain and the World : Aspects of the Spanish Revolution and Civil War
Women in the Spanish Revolution

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Spain and the World: Aspects of the Spanish Revolution and Civil War (5)

British Imperialism and non-intervention

The revolt of the sections of the Spanish army led by Franco in July 1936 left the British ruling class with a series of immediate dilemmas, the most important of which was to stay out of a war that had a potential to conflagrate and not to support the Republic a state that had shown itself incapable of stable government. The British ruling class hoped that Franco’s forces would be quickly successful and stable government that represented no threat to British interests would resume.
Leon Blum : Socialist Prime Minister of France's Popular Front Government
The establishment of the Non-Intervention Committee
Since the First World War Britain and France were in alliance and tended to follow the same diplomatic path. In 1936 a Popular Front government was elected in France consisting of Socialists, Radicals and Communists. This government had strong links with the Spanish Popular Front government in Spain and indeed contracts in place were for the provision of French arms and munitions for Spain. Immediately after Franco's revolt some aeroplanes and other munitions were dispatched to Spain on the order of the French premier Leon Blum. Blum had strong sympathies for Spain but found himself constricted in his actions by the attitude of the British, the possibility of a split in the French government with the Radicals clearly indicating their aversion to any support to Spain; and lastly the possibility of igniting mass protests against the PF government by the very large French fascist

Spain and the World: Aspects of the Spanish Revolution and Civil War (4)

Workers’ control in the Spanish Revolution 1936

The Army mutiny in Spain in July 1936, and the resulting 3-year civil war, had a few positive effects. Well away from the fighting, in the cities, towns and countryside, thousands of anti-fascist committees were set up; thousands more workplaces were occupied and work kept going. The collectivised workplaces were run by workers’ committees, or Comit├ęs, and we give two examples below - a major transport system and a health service.

Barcelona Tramways
Perhaps one of the best examples of socialisation was that of the Barcelona Tramways, described extensively by the major book on the collectives. It covered trams, buses, underground, taxis and two funicular railways, and 7,000 workers of whom 6,500 were members of the CNT*. After the military coup there were 600 operating trams and many of them had been used in the street barricades, ther was also extensive road damage and the main company's offices were guarded by Civil Guards. Armed workers saw off these troops and found the building deserted except for a lawyer left behind to parley. This man was well known as he had led the prosecution two years previously of workers’ leader Comrade Sanches, which resulted in a 17 year sentence. He had demanded 105 years for the crime of heading a 28 week strike! The workers wanted to shoot the man on the spot but Sanches opposed

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Spain and the World: Aspects of the Spanish Revolution and Civil War (2)

The tragic consequences of anarchist participation in the Popular Front government

At the time of the conflict there were two governments in Spain, the central government in Madrid and the Generalitat, the government of the autonomous region of Catalonia. The CNT-FAI entered the latter on September 27th 1936 referring to it as a Regional Defence Council; on November 4th 1936 four members of the CNT entered the central government [Richards 1995 p63 and 68].
 Juan Garcia Oliver : leading anarchist became Minister of Justice
Collaboration and its prelude.
Was the entry of the CNT-FAI into the Popular Front (PF) government an abandonment of principle [Richards p42] or a strategic mistake that led to an abandonment of principle and a dismantling of its autonomous and revolutionary structures [Schmidt and Van der Walt 2009 p200]? From the start of the military uprising anarchists were placed in a very difficult, or maybe an impossible situation that according to Peirats they had no clear plan to deal with [ibid p202]. Lacking, as they saw it, the necessary support to carry through a revolution, they put all their efforts into the fight to defeat Franco. To many putting the war before revolution was a false dilemma [Guerin 1970 p129] and by this thinking they failed to recognise that the real enemy was the capitalist system of which fascism was but one form of expression [Richards p51]. The basis of the CNT, its independence from political parties, opposition to the state, its decentralised structure and opposition to permanent and paid officials should have prevented any temptation to participate in government [ibid p82]. There were tight rules preventing anyone representing a political party from becoming a militant of

Spain and the World: Aspects of the Spanish Revolution and Civil War (3)

Writing about medicine and health care in the Spanish Civil War

Angela Jackson, Beyond the Battlefield: Testimony, memory and remembrance of a cave hospital in the Spanish Civil War. Pontypool, Warren & Pell Publishing, 2005.

Nicholas Coni, Medicine and Warfare: Spain, 1936-1939. London, Routledge, 2008.

Jim Fyrth, The Signal Was Spain: The Aid Spain Movement In Britain, 1936-39. London, Lawrence and Wishart, 1986.

Jim Fyrth, Sally Alexander, eds. Women's Voices from the Spanish Civil War. London, Lawrence & Wishart, 1991.

Paul Preston. Doves of War: Four Women of Spain. London, HarperCollins, 2002.

These books deal with the civil war rather than the revolutionary aspects of events in late 1930s Spain. Some information on healthcare in relation to the latter can be found in the ‘Libertarian Medicine’ posting on this blog, May 2010.

The focus of Angela Jackson’s analysis in Beyond the Battlefield is memory and remembrance – an angle that has special significance in Spain after the decades-long suppression and willed forgetting of those times, institutionalised until quite recently in the post-Franco ‘pacto de olvido’ (‘Don’t mention the civil war’). She looks at the hospital set up in a cave to treat casualties from the battle of the Ebro, summer 1938. By this stage the People's Army medical services were bringing their most seriously wounded to improvised hospitals as near to the front line as possible. Many patients were International Brigade volunteers, interspersed with injured prisoners-of-war and civilian victims of bombing raids. (Caves were also used as bomb shelters.)

Many foreigners were sent to help set up and run the hospital; others came later. Memoirs, letters and interviews are used extensively in the book, along with photographs. Conditions were, inevitably, incredibly difficult – up to a hundred beds, ‘all higgledy-piggledy’ – but somehow the work proceeded. At least one nurse ‘even began to doubt that anything could be worth the suffering that she saw around her … this misery and this horror’. Still the staff managed some improvements: in wound treatment, a new system of triage, blood transfusion (sometimes direct arm-to-arm), and training Spanish nurses. There were of course numerous patients who did not survive, buried in a grave outside the village. Eventually the cave, which had featured in pro-Republican reportage, had to be evacuated, at the end of 1938.

Parts of the broader medical history of the Spanish Civil War were being written up in professional journals as they happened, but the comprehensive treatment of the subject provided by Nicholas Coni’s book was long overdue.

Spain and the World: Aspects of the Spanish Revolution and Civil War (1)

Spain 1936: the view from the East End

Extracted and adapted from: Joe Jacobs, Out of the Ghetto – My Youth in the East End: Communism and Fascism 1913-1939. London, Janet Simon, 1978, 319pp. (Later reprinted by Phoenix Press)

Joe Jacobs, in his well-regarded memoir of early 20th-century left-wing political activism, had quite a lot to say about the Spanish Civil War, showing how important it was in the political life of the time, in London’s east end as elsewhere. He refers extensively to his files of the Daily Worker (DW, the Communist Party newspaper which eventually became the Morning Star), highlighting the inadequacy and inaccuracies of its coverage and using it to show how the official ‘line’ lagged behind events.

Chapter 10 of his autobiography is entitled ‘Three Tailors from Stepney in Spain’ (pp.213-21 in first edition). He tells the story of how Nat Cohen, Sam Masters, and Alec Sheller set off by bike for the Barcelona Olympiad (the alternative to the ‘Nazi’ Olympics in Berlin), due to start on 19th July 1936; Joe and his wife Pearl were expecting to see Nat and Sam in Antwerp in about a fortnight. But by 20th July headlines were appearing, if not yet as front-page news, about the attempted right-wing military coup, already termed ‘Fascist’, and resistance to it: ‘Masses defend the Republic’; ‘General strike begins’...

Within a week reports had started coming from a DW special correspondent, the headlines were big, and the word was out to rally supporters to the cause of the Spanish Republic: ‘All into action now’. Joe noted that no more than two days’ notice was required to fill any hall when events in Spain were being

Spain and the World: Aspects of the Spanish Revolution and Spanish Civil War

Preface : Celebrate the Spanish Revolution

This is a first for the Radical History Network of North East London: a pamphlet published only online. This is an unusual undertaking for us, as normally we would publish in paper and charge a price to recoup our printing costs. However we have decided to publish a series of short pieces on various aspects of the Spanish revolution and civil war (SR/CW) which interest members of the group and our supporters. Books, pamphlets and articles abound on the SR/CW, but we hope that these pieces will add a different take on things and give a different point of view on these historical events. We hope that from the beginning of publication to the year's end more contributions will be received and enlarge the project. Anyone who is in broad agreement with the group can make a contribution.

The pamphlet is published on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the attempted military coup begun on 18 July 1936 by right-wing generals, and stopped in its tracks by the people of Spain who went on to fight a bloody civil war that lasted nearly three years. During this period sections of the Spanish people experimented with self-managed organisation of work and society in town and country, and with a new economics. This revolution was to be destroyed by the authoritarian communist reaction and the politics of popular frontism, fascist militarism and the machinations of international deplomacy. The pamphlet explores some of these themes, how they have been perceived, and how the contexts changed and undermined the truly phenomenal revolution in life undertaken in such adverse circumstances. Anarchists and libertarian socialists celebrate this achievement!
 "You Comrades of Barcelona and Catalonia in general are giving a shining example to the workers of the rest of the world, that you fully understand the meaning of revolution. For you have learned through past mistakes that unless the revolutionary forces succeed in feeding, clothing and sheltering the people during the revolutionary period, the revolution is doomed to ruin. For its strength and security lie not in the state or in the political power of parties but in the constructive efforts during the fighting period. Your marvellous experiment will and must succeed. But whether it does or fails, you are planting new roots deeply in the soil of Spain, in the hearts and minds of your people and in the hearts and minds of the oppressed all over the world."
Emma Goldmann - Barcelona September 1936

* Spain and the World - originally published by Freedom in London from 1936-39, edited by Vernon Richards


Please click on link to go to any of the chapters
Workers' control in the Spanish Revolution 1936
Spain 1936: the view from the East End
Spain 1936 and the tragic consequences of anarchist participation in the Popular Front government: a lesson for the future
British Imperialism and non-intervention
Writing about medicine and health in the Spanish Civil War
Barcelona 1937 : a contemporary view of events
Eric Hobsbawm and the politics of writing history

Previously published on this blog
Women in the Spanish revolution