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May Days

Barcelona May Days
Part of the Spanish Civil War & the Spanish Revolution
Date 3–8 May 1937
Location Barcelona and wider Catalonia
  • Recovery of government control in Barcelona and Catalonia

Spanish Republic

Generalitat of Catalonia
Communist Party of Spain

Friends of Durruti Group
Variable[note 1]
Casualties and losses
500–1,000 dead[1]
1,500 wounded[1]

The May Days of 1937, sometimes also called May Events, refer to a series of clashes between 3 and 8 May 1937 were a period of civil violence in Catalonia, when factions on the Republican side of the Spanish Civil War engaged each other in street battles in various parts of Catalonia, and centered on the city of Barcelona, in the context of the Spanish Civil War.

In these events the supporters of the

- Diego Abad De Santillan, Solidaridad Obrera, May 13, 1937.


  • Background 1
  • Opposing sides 2
  • Chronology of the clashes 3
    • Preliminary events 3.1
    • 3 May 3.2
    • 4 May 3.3
    • 5 May 3.4
    • 6 May 3.5
    • 7 May 3.6
    • 8 May 3.7
  • Aftermath 4
  • In popular culture 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Notes 8
  • External links 9


Having defeated the military rebellion in Barcelona in July 1936, the workers' militias controlled the city, and with it all of Catalonia. Most belonged to the National Confederation of Labour, and/or the Iberian Anarchist Federation CNT-FAI. Just after taking the last rebelling barracks, the C.N.T. liaison committee met with the President of the Generalitat Lluis Companys, and as result of this meeting the Central Committee of Antifascist Militias of Catalonia was established, the de facto government of Barcelona and Catalonia consisting of representatives of the unions, and parties from the Front d'Esquerres (the name of the Popular Front in Catalonia). The Generalitat existed in name only, propped up by the workers' committees. At that time the Confederation had approximately two million members, the socialist union UGT about half as many and the Communist party a few thousand, nevertheless these groups were given equal representation, in the interests of 'democratic collaboration' (Diego Abad de Santillan) in recognition of the part they had played in the battle, and their influence in the rest of Spain - also in France, which was viewed as an important potential ally against fascism.

The central government was powerless to oppose the revolution that was taking place in Catalonia. Within the first two weeks the militia columns had conquered half of Aragon where they established libertarian (anarchist) communism, working closely with the Aragonese peasantry, as they lacked the ammunition and other supplies to proceed any further. The Barcelona arms industries were collectivized, but bank loans to these industries were denied by the Madrid Government, under the influence of the Communists, who feared the libertarian movement above all. In October the Committee dissolved itself and its members became councilors of the government of the Generalitat of Catalonia. But the Patrullas de Control (Control Patrols, drawn from the unions, maintained order. ( The C.N.T. made up half the personnel, but had only four of the eleven section delegates, the remainder being Communist and Esquerra (Catalan left) given the anarchists disdain for supervisory roles.

The climate of distrust and confrontation was present not only among republican institutions and workers organizations, but even between these organizations, especially among anarchists, on the one hand, and Socialists, Communists and Catalan nationalists on the other. On the one hand the communist

External links

  1. ^ Three goups of the Guardia de Asalto (3.000 effectives) were available for the security forces, to which must be added 1,000 troops of the Guardia Nacional Republicana (GNR) and other security forces like the Mossos d'Esquadra. Later were sent 4.000 Guardias de Asalto as reinforcements, meanwhile the Navy sent the Battleship Jaime I and 2 destroyers. Should be noted the auxiliary forces of the PSUC, ERC and Estat Català.


  1. ^ a b c Hugh Thomas, p. 713
  2. ^ Hugh Thomas, p.700
  3. ^ Hugh Thomas, p.703
  4. ^ Hugh Thomas, p.704
  5. ^ Hugh Thomas, p.705
  6. ^ a b c d e f Hugh Thomas, p.706
  7. ^ Miravitlles, p.141
  8. ^ a b c Hugh Thomas, p.707
  9. ^ a b Hugh Thomas, p.709
  10. ^ Julian Gorkin, Caníbales políticos, p.69
  11. ^ Peirats, La CNT, p. 274
  12. ^ a b c Hugh Thomas, p. 710
  13. ^ Peirats, La CNT, p.274
  14. ^ Julian Gorkin, Caníbales Políticos, p.69
  15. ^ Peirats, La CNT, p.206
  16. ^ Hugh Thomas, p.714
  17. ^ Peirats, La CNT, p.346
  18. ^  
  19. ^ Hugh Thomas, p.714
  20. ^ Hugh Thomas, p.717


See also

Homage to Catalonia

In popular culture

The Generalitat of Catalonia, the Communists and the central government were determined to discipline the workers by force, if necessary. The new Director of Public Order in Barcelona, José Echevarria Novoa, soon restore normality in much of the judicial system,[18] but, in this way, the Communists could take more easily their crusade against the POUM.[19] The republican authorities took more measures against the CNT-FAI due the great power they still hold and their big popular support. The POUM situation was quite different, as the republican government eventually outlaw the party shortly after (June 16) and arrest its main leaders, including Julián Gorkin and Andreu Nin. The POUM would end disappearing from the political map, while the Anarchist movement would never intervene in the war as it had done until now. Ultimately, these internal disputes that were tearing the Republic apart were a burden in its internal unity against the rebels. Another consequences of the Events of Barcelona were the fall of the Government of the Victory presided by Caballero and the exit of the four Anarchist ministers represented on it, and a clear victory of Communists in influence and power in the Republican camp.[20]

The May Days had profound and long consequences. From one side it showed that Anarchists would not act with a single voice as it had been on 18 July 1936. A gap opened between the Anarchist ministers, who still believed in antifascist unity, and the Anarchist youth, determined to defend their the Revolution. Other time very influential personalities, like Escorza or García Oliver, had lost control over his own followers.[16] The crisis showed that there could be no truce between Communists and the POUM. The Generalitat of Catalonia was restored in its old functions, entering on it one representative from the UGT (the communist Vidiella), one from the CNT (Valerio Mas) and a one from ERC (again Tarradellas). Some responsible for the killings were tried later, but only in Tarragona, and are not sentenced to death but only to imprisonment.[17]


Streets return to normality with some isolated incidents and begins the clean up of barricades. The unrest in Barcelona had finally finished. The press of the day estimated the death toll in 500 dead and 1000 injured.[15] The May Days had secondary actions in many towns, mainly in the provinces of Barcelona and Tarragona. The fight was strong here too, but it ended with the defeat of the working class.

8 May

That day the CNT calls again for a return to work, by proclaiming on the radio: Down the barricades! Each citizen takes its paving stone! Let's return to normality! . Assault Guards in Barcelona, Tarragona and other many towns continue to arrest and murder members of the CNT, FAI, Libertarian Youth and POUM.

- Augustin Souchy: ‘The Tragic Week in May’

“The Regional Committee was informed that the armed forces of the Catalan Nationalists and the PSUC had taken possession of the village of San Juan. The armed workers of the CNT and the FAI entered the village, disarmed the enemy and liberated their comrades. In the open village square they had to answer for their actions. They were warned not to take up arms against the people. Then the anarchists set their enemies free again. … At six o'clock they telephoned that 1,500 Assault Guards had reached Tortosa on their way to Barcelona. They occupied the headquarters of the CNT unions, the cultural centres of the FAI and the Anarchist Youth, arresting all those found inside. These troops had come from the central part of Spain. According to the evening paper Noticiero Universal of Saturday May 8th, these troops had come from the trenches of the Jarama front, where they had been fighting for four months alongside the International Brigade. The anarchists could also have called in their columns from the Aragon front, as well as armed forces from other parts of Catalonia, and there is no doubt that they could have been victorious within 24 hours. But they did not want to break up the anti-fascist front. They never did more than defend themselves against the attacks directed against them.”

At 8:20 the expedition of Assault Guards reach Barcelona, occupying different points of the city. Some come by road from Valencia, after looting and pillaging confederal premises in Tarragona and Reus.[1]

7 May

Gregorio Jover returned from Huesca to Barcelona but saw no need to recall the militia.

6 May

An armistice was agreed, but the fighting continued, the regional committee asked several times who was controlling the police, because they were not taking orders from the government.

Night-long negotiations resulted in the resignation of the entire Generalitat. A provisional government was formed with one representative from each party. But calm was not restored. Upon the return of the representatives of the CNT-FAI from the Generalitat, the various committees of the CNT-FAI held a meeting. The two officials involved (Aiguade and Salas) whose dismissal was demanded by the workers, resigned with the rest. At 9.30 in the morning the assault guards attacked the headquarters of the Medical Union at Santa Ana Square in the centre of the city. At the same time they attacked, with greater fury the headquarters of the Local Federation of the Libertarian Youth. Six young anarchists were killed in the defence of their premises. Both places telephoned the Regional Committee for help. When, in the afternoon, the hostilities still continued the Defence Committee decided to call for three more armoured cars to defend the threatened Union headquarters. They came within a few hours to the Casa CNT-FAI, and were put into action to aid and support endangered unions and comrades. Soon after their arrival, opposite the Regional Committee, three unarmed workers were seeking refuge in a doorway, being shot at from the barricades of the PSUC, they seemed lost. One of the armoured cars went to the rescue of the endangered comrades upon the initiative of a woman comrade.

5 May

"Long life to the revolutionary offensive - No compromises - Disarmament of the National Republican Guard and reactionary Assault Guard - Timing is crucial - Next time it will be too late - General strike in all the industries that do not work for the war effort, until the resignation of the reactionary government - Only Proletarian Power can ensure military victory - Give weapons to the working class - Long live to the CNT-FAI-POUM unity of action - Long Live to the Proletarian Revolutionary Front - in the workshops, factories, barricades, etc.. Revolutionary Defense Committees."

At about 5 o'clock in the afternoon, on Via Durruti, (current Via Laietana) two cars were coming up the street from the direction of the docks to get to the Casa CNT-FAI, headquarters of the Regional Committees. Some 300 metres away a barricade of Catalan city guards and members of the PSUC, with red arm-bands was located. As the cars approached this barricade, they were ordered to stop and surrender their weapons. As they were getting out of the car to carry out the order, they were shot down by volleys of rifle fire. The POUM began to support resistance publicly.[14] In shootings occurring during this day the well-known libertarian Domingo Ascaso, family of the mythical Francisco Ascaso and president of the Regional Council of Defense of Aragon Joaquín Ascaso, was killed. The Bolshevik-Leninist Section of Spain, official group of the Fourth International in Spain, distributed on the barricades of Barcelona leaflets titled "Long life to the revolutionary offensive", which included the following statement:

“Maximo Franco, chief of the 127 brigade, most nervous, had already passed Monzón, at the front of a battalion, with its corresponding material, some cannons and machine-guns. I gave instructions to the Organization in Binefar to meet the column, and get Maximo Franco to call me on the telephone. He did, and on my assuring him that I continued at the head of the Councillorship of Defense and in Barcelona we had enough and more than enough to dominate the Communists, he returned to the front his unit. In spite of the fact that the chief of the Red and Black had distributed his forces on the front, leaving its defense assured, we could not give pretext to the enemies and to public opinion that a military unit had abandoned the front.” - Juan Manuel Molina: ‘El Comunismo Totalitario’, Editores Mexicanos Unidos, Mexico, 1982.

In the Aragon front, units of the 26th Division (Durruti Column) under the command of Gregorio Jover, the 28th Division (Ascaso Column) and the 29th Division of the POUM, captained by Rovira reached Barbastro having followed a P.S.U.C. column, which they believed intended to march on Barcelona. However, receiving the assurances of Juan Manuel Molina (Juanel) acting Councillor of Defence, they remained in their positions.

On May 4 Barcelona was a city plunged into silence, interrupted only by the fire of rifles and machine guns. Shops and buildings were covered with barricades. During the early hours of the morning the shooting started in the centre of the city. The Palace of Justice was occupied by the police. A few headquarters of the CNT were seized by the police. Most of the Barcelona proletariat supported the anarcho-syndicalists and fears started over a Civil War inside the Civil War. At eleven o'clock the delegates of the CNT met and agreed to do everything possible to restore calm. Meanwhile, the anarchist leaders Joan García Oliver and Federica Montseny launch an appeal on the radio asking to their followers to lay down their weapons and return to their jobs. Jacinto Toryho, director of the CNT newspaper Solidaridad Obrera, expressed the same sentiment.[12] Anarchist ministers arrived in Barcelona, and with them Mariano Rodríguez Vázquez "Marianet" (secretary of the national committee of the CNT), Pascual Tomás and Carlos Hernández (from the executive committee of the UGT).[12] None of them wanted a confrontation with the Communists, and President Largo Caballero was himself engaged in a bitter power struggle with the P.C.E. and the right-wing of his own party.[12] Federica Montseny later said that the news of the battle had caught her and the other anarchist ministers totally unprepared.[13]

4 May

The PSUC and the Estat Català controlled the urban sectors situated at east of the Ramblas. Workers' committees dominated the western sectors and all the suburbs were also in their hands. In the city center, where the headquarters of trade unions and political parties (installed in requisitioned buildings and hotels) were relatively close, gunfire began to be heard and all the cars circulating were machine gunned.[9] In the telephonic building a truce was agreed and telephone communications, which were essential for war operations, were not interrupted. The police, installed on the first floor, even sent bocadillos to the anarchists, who occupied the upper floors. However, from the rooftops, various grenades blew up several police cars.[9] Early in the evening, the leaders of the POUM proposed to the regional commitee the formation of an alliance against the counter-revolutionaries.[10] The anarchist leaders refused immediately.[11]

A crowd gathered in Plaça Catalunya: at first it was believed that the anarchists had captured the head of the police.[8] The POUM, the Friends of Durruti Group, the Bolshevik-Leninists and the Libertarian Youth took positions, and after a few hours, all political parties had taken the weapons they had hidden and began building barricades. From this skirmish battles began in different parts of the city. Several hundred barricades were built and police units occupied roofs and church towers.[8] By the evening, Barcelona was a city at war.

A body of 200 police officers commanded by the Minister of Public Order of the Government of Catalonia, Eusebio Rodríguez Salas, went to the Telefónica central and presented himself at the censorship department (located on the second floor) with the intention of taking control of the building.[6] The anarchists saw it as a provocation, since Telefónica was legally occupied by an anarcho-syndicalist committee according to a decree about collectivization from the Generalitat itself. Rodríguez Salas, in his part, had authorization from the head of internal affairs in the regional government, Artemi Aiguader i Miró.[6] Then the anarchist workers opened fire from the second floor. Salas phoned in for help, with a company of the National Republican Guard arriving along with two Control Patrols heads, Dionisio Eroles (head of the anarchist police station) and José Asens (head of the Control Patrols). Eroles persuaded the CNT workers to cease fire and although they resisted at first, they surrendered their weapons but not before shooting through the windows to empty their ammunition.[8]

3 May

That same afternoon of May 2, shootings occurred between members of Estat Català and the FAI in Barcelona, killing a member of the latter. This was evidence of the explosive situation that existed in Barcelona at the time.

On May 2, the Minister of Marine and Air, Indalecio Prieto, telephoned from Valencia to the Generalitat; anarcho-syndicalist telephonist on the other side replied that in Barcelona there was no government but only a Defense Committee.[6] The Government was convinced that anarchists recorded their telephone conversations (they, of course, had the means to do so).[6] The same day there was a call from President Manuel Azaña to Companys, President of the Generalitat. During the conversation, they were cut by the operator, who said that the lines should be used for more important purposes than a mere talk between presidents.[7]

The workers stood firm, disarming police throughout the city, and the defence committees erected barricades; outside the administrative centre they retained full control. In those districts police sided with the workers and voluntarily handed over their weapons.

Control of the telephone exchange by the unions was of vital importance since it permitted monitoring of government communications with the sanction of cutting them off. Having given equal representation to the political parties and the Catalan bourgeoisie, this was their only guarantee against a breach of faith by the politicians. This was an intolerable situation for the bourgeois-Stalinist bloc. Its collectivisation had been ‘legalised’ by decree in October, and it was jointly administered by the C.N.T. and U.G.T. with a government delegate, not as is often claimed, controlled by anarchists. (At the outbreak of civil war, the U.G.T. was tiny in Catalonia compared to the Confederation, and the Communist and other left parties were insignificant, joint control meant that the anarchist had the majority of personnel, but the other factions had their share of delegates, giving them a political influence out of all proportion to their numbers. The Communists' talent for political intrigue allowed them to take control of the bureaucracy as fast as it was being rebuilt.)

It has been accepted by historians that the key event that sparked the conflict in Barcelona was the assault by Civil Guards on the telephone exchange, which had been a workers’ collective since its recapture from the army, a decisive moment in the July revolution. Their orders were signed by the minister of internal security Artemi Aiguadér, who told the Regional Committee he knew nothing about it. Like the fascists before him he only took the ground floor before being engaged by the workers upstairs with machine-gun fire.

On Friday 5th March 1937, ten armoured cars were requisitioned from the arms factory in Barcelona with an order signed by the factory director Vallejo, which proved to be a forgery, they were followed to the Voroschilov Barracks of the P.S.U.C. Josep Tarradellas intervened. When threatened with a forced inspection of the barracks the Communists admitted they had the armoured cars.

Preliminary events

Chronology of the clashes

'Homage to Catalonia'

"The thing for which the Communists were working was not to postpone the Spanish revolution till a more suitable time, but to make sure that it never happened. This became more and more obvious as time went on, as power was twisted more and more out of working-class hands, and as more and more revolutionaries of every shade were flung into jail. Every move was made in the name of military necessity, because this pretext was, so to speak, ready-made, but the effect was to drive the workers back from an advantageous position and into a position in which, when the war was over, they would find it impossible to resist the reintroduction of capitalism. Please notice that I am saying nothing against the rank-and-file Communists, least of all against the thousands of Communists who died heroically round Madrid. … … In England the Communist war-policy has been accepted without question, because very few criticisms of it have been allowed to get into print and because its general line — do away with revolutionary chaos, speed up production, militarize the army — sounds realistic and efficient. It is worth pointing out its inherent weakness. In order to check every revolutionary tendency and make the war as much like an ordinary war as possible, it became necessary to throw away the strategic opportunities that actually existed. I have described how we were armed, or not armed, on the Aragon front. There is very little doubt that arms were deliberately withheld lest too many of them should get into the hands of the Anarchists, who would afterwards use them for a revolutionary purpose; consequently the big Aragon offensive which would have made Franco draw back from Bilbao, and possibly from Madrid, never happened." -
— George Orwell

There were groups inclined to return to the Republican legality too, the authorities of the Republican Government in Valencia and the Generalitat, with the support of the aforementioned PSUC and Republican Left of Catalonia. A third sector was composed by the higher committees of the CNT, now embedded in the state apparatus, supporting an immediate cessation of hostilities between both sides for the sake of unity. The PSUC was a bourgeois party, created from scratch after the coup, to absorb elements who feared workers' control. From the point of view of the Republican authorities it presented itself as an alternative to the revolution, and it advocated the strengthening of the central government that had spectacularly failed to bring either peace or stability to the country since the failure of the Monarchy. To get it done an organized and instructed army led by a single command was needed. Orwell summarized the party line as follows:

Three main political forces were involved in the events that led to the May Days. The Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia (PSUC) had as main objective protecting British and French capitalism, and keeping the Spanish conflict going until war broke out in the rest of Europe, a conflict in which Stalin hoped to remain neutral, the better to pick up the pieces afterwards.

Opposing sides

On April 25 a force of Carabineros under the Pro-Stalin Finance Minister, Juan Negrín, took over the customs house at Puigcerdà on the French border [5] killing the anarchist mayor, Antonio Martin, and three of his comrades. After this, the violence flared up along the entire border, the CNT, determined to maintain antifascist unity, reacted to these provocations with disciplined restraint, confining themselves to self-defence. In Barcelona began the fear of an outbreak of open warfare between anarchists and the POUM on one side, and the government and the communists on the other. Each side formed weapon caches and fortified their buildings in secret, fearing rivals attacking first.[6] The tense calm continued for one week. May Day, which was traditionally a day of celebration, was spent in silence, as the UGT and CNT agreed to suspend the parades, which inevitably would have caused riots.[6]

[4] The tension was rising due a chain of events taking place during the winter that heated the political climate and paved the way for what would take place later. The


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