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Spanish Revolution of 1936


Spanish Revolution of 1936

Spanish Revolution
Part of the Spanish Civil War
Location Various regions of Spain – primarily Madrid, Catalonia, Anarchist Aragon, Andalusia, and parts of Levante, Spain.
Goals Elimination of all institutions of state power; worker control of industrial production; implementation of libertarian socialist economy; elimination of social influence from Catholic Church; international spread of revolution to neighboring regions.
Methods Work place collectivization; political assassination
Result Suppressed after ten-month period.

The Spanish Revolution was a workers' Catalonia, Anarchist Aragon, Andalusia, and parts of the Valencian Community. Much of the economy of Spain was put under worker control; in anarchist strongholds like Catalonia, the figure was as high as 75%, but lower in areas with heavy influence by the Communist Party of Spain. Factories were run through worker committees, agrarian areas became collectivized and run as libertarian socialist communes. Even places like hotels, barber shops, and restaurants were collectivized and managed by their workers.

Sam Dolgoff estimated that about eight million people participated directly or at least indirectly in the Spanish Revolution,[1] which he claimed "came closer to realizing the ideal of the free stateless society on a vast scale than any other revolution in history."[2] Dolgoff quotes the French anarchist historian Gaston Leval (who was an active participant) to summarize the anarchist conception of the social revolution:

In Spain during almost three years, despite a civil war that took a million lives, despite the opposition of the political parties (republicans, left and right Catalan separatists, socialists, Communists, Basque and Valencian regionalists, petty bourgeoisie, etc.), this idea of libertarian communism was put into effect. 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. In almost all the industries, factories, mills, workshops, transportation services, public services, and utilities, the rank and file workers, their revolutionary committees, and their syndicates reorganized and administered production, distribution, and public services without capitalists, high salaried managers, or the authority of the state. Even more: 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 coordinated their efforts through free association in whole regions, created new wealth, increased production (especially in agriculture), built more schools, and bettered public services. They instituted not bourgeois formal democracy but genuine grass roots functional libertarian democracy, where each individual participated directly in the revolutionary reorganization of social life. 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.... This experience, in which about eight million people directly or indirectly participated, opened a new way of life to those who sought an alternative to anti-social capitalism on the one hand, and totalitarian state bogus socialism on the other.[3]

The collectivization effort was primarily orchestrated by the rank-and-file members of the Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT; English: General Union of Workers) also participated in the implementation of collectivization, albeit to a far lesser degree.


  • William Blinch 1
  • Social revolution 2
  • Criticisms 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
    • Bibliography 5.1
    • Film 5.2
  • External links 6

William Blinch

The British author anti-authoritarian works Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, was a soldier in the militia of the CNT-allied Partido Obrero Unificación Marxista (POUM; English: Workers' Party of Marxist Unification). Orwell meticulously documented his first-hand observations of the civil war, and expressed admiration for the social revolution in his book Homage to Catalonia.[4]

Continuing, Orwell describes the general feeling of the new society that was built within the shell of the old, offering specific elaborations on the effective destruction of hierarchical arrangements that he'd perceived in anarchist Spain.

Orwell was a democratic socialist and a left-libertarian sympathizer who expressed solidarity with the anarchist movement and social revolution, later commenting, "I had told everyone for a long time past that I was going to leave the P.O.U.M. As far as my purely personal preferences went I would have liked to join the Anarchists."[5]

Social revolution

The most notable aspect of the social revolution was the establishment of a libertarian socialist economy based on coordination through decentralized and horizontal federations of participatory industrial collectives and agrarian communes. Here are just a few opinions of foreign journalists who have no personal connection with the Anarchist movement. Thus, Andrea Oltmares,[6] professor in the University of Geneva, in the course of an address of some length, said:

The well-known anti-Fascist, Carlo Roselli,[6] who before Mussolini's accession to power was Professor of Economics in the University of Genoa, put his judgment into the following words:

And Fenner Brockway,[6] Secretary of the I.L.P. in England who traveled to Spain after the May events in Catalonia (1937), expressed his impressions in the following words:

"I was impressed by the strength of the C.N.T. It was unnecessary to tell me that it was the largest and most vital of the Rudolf Rocker, Anarcho-Syndicalism, Original 1938, AK Press Edition, page 66-67.

This was accomplished through widespread expropriation and collectivization of privately owned productive resources (and some smaller structures), in adherence to the anarchist belief that private property is authoritarian in nature. Spanish Civil War scholar (and anti-socialist) Burnett Bolloten writes of this process:[7]

The economic policies of the anarchist collectives were primarily operated according to the basic communist principle of "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need". In some places, money was entirely eliminated, to be replaced with vouchers and coupons distributed on the basis of needs rather than individual labor contributions. Bolloten writes of this process also:[8]

Bolloten supplements this analysis through quotation of anarchist journalist Augustin Souchy's remark that "The characteristic of the majority of CNT collectives is the family wage. Wages are paid according to the needs of the members and not according to the labor performed by each worker."[8] This focus on provision for the needs of members rather than individual remuneration effectively rendered these conditions anarcho-communist in nature.

Despite the critics clamoring for "maximum efficiency" rather than revolutionary methods, anarchist collectives often produced more than before the collectivization. In Aragon, for instance, the productivity increased by 20%.[9] The newly liberated zones worked on entirely libertarian principles; decisions were made through councils of ordinary citizens without any sort of bureaucracy (it should be noted that the CNTFAI leadership was at this time not nearly as radical as the rank and file members responsible for these sweeping changes). In addition to the economic revolution, there was a spirit of cultural revolution. Traditions some viewed as oppressive were done away with. For instance, women were legally permitted to have abortions, and the idea of "free love" became widely prevalent. In many ways, this spirit of cultural liberation prefigured that of the "New Left" movements of the 1960s.

As the war dragged on, the spirit of the revolution's early days flagged. In part, this was due to the policies of the Communist Party of Spain, which took its cues from the foreign ministry of Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union, the source of most of the foreign aid received by the Republican side. The Communist policy was that the war was not the time for the revolution, that until victory in the war was won the goal had to be the defeat of the Francisco Franco forces, not the abolition of capitalism, which was to be addressed once the war had been won. The other left-wing parties, particularly the anarchists and POUM, disagreed vehemently with this; to them the war and the revolution were one and the same. Militias of parties and groups which had spoken out too vociferously in opposition to the Soviet position on the war soon found further aid to have been cut off. Partially because of this, the situation in most Republican-held areas slowly began to revert largely to its prewar conditions; in many ways the "revolution" was over well before the triumph of the Franco forces in early 1939.


Criticism of the Spanish Revolution has primarily centered around allegations of coercion by anarchist participants (primarily in the rural collectives of

  • Spanish Civil War, a large collection of articles on the civil war and social revolution at
  • The Spanish Revolution (1936), a huge collection on the Spanish Civil War from an anarchist perspective.
  • The Spanish Civil War: Anarchism in Action, an essay on Anarchism in the Spanish Civil War, hosted on the Pierre J. Proudhon memorial server.
  • Collectives in the Spanish Revolution by Gaston Leval, perhaps the best study of the anarchist collectives created during the Spanish Revolution.
  • With the Peasants of Aragon by Augustin Souchy, a classic study of libertarian collectivisation in the countryside.
  • Spanish Revolution articles from the Kate Sharpley Library.
  • Michael Seidman's writings at
  • Spanish Revolution 2011 in Barcelona

External links

  • Vivir la utopía "Living Utopia". Juan Gamero, 1997 [4]. (About Anarchism in Spain and the Collectives in the Spanish Revolution).


  • Michael Seidman, , Berkeley: University of California Press, c1991Workers against Work: Labor in Paris and Barcelona during the Popular Fronts
  • *An Anarchist FAQ, Iain McKay (2012, AK Press), Oakland/Edinburgh. esp. p. 974-1005; section: I.8 Does revolutionary Spain show that libertarian socialism can work in practice? [3]


  1. ^  
  2. ^ Dolgoff 1974, p. 5.
  3. ^ Dolgoff 1974, p. 6.
  4. ^  
  5. ^ Orwell, 1938, p. 116
  6. ^ a b c Rocker, 2004, p. 66-67
  7. ^  
  8. ^ a b Bolloten (1991), p. 66
  9. ^ G. Helsey, Anarcosindicalismo y estado en el País Valenciano, 1930-1938, Madrid (1994)
  10. ^ Bolloten (1991), p. 74
  11. ^ Bolloten (1991), p. 75
  12. ^ Fraser, Ronald (1979). Blood of Spain: An Oral History of the Spanish Civil War. New York: Pantheon Books. p. 349.  
  13. ^  
  14. ^ Kelsey, Graham (1991). Anarchosyndicalism, Libertarian Communism, and the State: The CNT in Zaragoza and Aragon, 1930-1937. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic, International Institute of Social History. p. 161.  
  15. ^ Michael Seidman, Workers against Work: Labor in Paris and Barcelona during the Popular Fronts, Ch.6.
  16. ^ Seidman, Ch.4.
  17. ^ Seidman, Ch.7.
  18. ^ Gaston Leval, "Collectives in the Spanish Revolution", p252 n.8.
  19. ^ Gilles Dauvé, "When Insurrections Die", 2000.


See also

Anarchist authors have sometimes understated the problems that the working class sometimes faced during the Spanish Revolution during the early period of the movement. For example, while Gaston Leval does admit that the collectives imposed a 'work discipline' that was 'strict', he then restricts this comment to a mere footnote.[18] Other radical commentators, however, have incorporated the limitations of the Spanish Revolution into their theories of anti-capitalist revolution. Gilles Dauvé, for example, uses the Spanish experience to argue that to transcend capitalism, workers must completely abolish both wage labour and capital rather than just self-manage them.[19]

Michael Seidman has suggested there were other contradictions with workers' self-management during the Spanish Revolution. He points out that the CNT decided both that workers could be sacked for 'laziness or immorality' and also that all workers should 'have a file where the details of their professional and social personalities will be registered.'[15] He also notes that the CNT Justice Minister, García Oliver, initiated the setting up of 'labour camps'[16] and that even the most principled anarchists, the Friends of Durutti, advocated 'forced labour'.[17] Whether or not these assertions are true, however, it should be noted that there were never any such systems of forced labor in the anarchist territories, and due to the strain of wartime production it's highly unlikely that any workers were fired for "immorality".

There is also focus placed by pro-anarchist analysts on the many decades of organization and shorter period of CNT–FAI agitation that was to serve as a foundation for high membership levels throughout anarchist Spain, which is often referred to as a basis for the popularity of the anarchist collectives, rather than any presence of force or coercion that allegedly compelled unwilling persons to involuntarily participate.

"Libertarian communism and agrarian collectivization were not economic terms or social principles enforced upon a hostile population by special teams of urban anarchosyndicalists, but a pattern of existence and a means of rural organization adopted from agricultural experience by rural anarchists and adopted by local committees as the single most sensible alternative to the part-feudal, part-capitalist mode of organization that had just collapsed."

Historian Graham Kelsey also maintains that the anarchist collectives were primarily maintained through libertarian principles of voluntary association and organization, and that the decision to join and participate was generally based on a rational and balanced choice made after the destabilization and effective absence of capitalism as a powerful factor in the region.[14]

"The justification for this operation (whose ‘very harsh measures’ shocked even some Party members) was that since all the collectives had been established by force, Líster was merely liberating the peasants. There had undoubtedly been pressure, and no doubt force was used on some occasions in the fervor after the rising. But the very fact that every village was a mixture of collectivists and individualists shows that the peasants had not been forced into communal farming at the point of a gun."

Anarchist sympathizers counter that the presence of a "coercive climate" was an unavoidable aspect of the war that the anarchists cannot be fairly blamed for, and that the presence of deliberate coercion or direct force was minimal, as evidenced by a generally peaceful mixture of collectivists and individualist dissenters who had opted not to participate in collective organization. The latter sentiment is expressed by historian Antony Beevor in his Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939.[13]

"[V]illagers could find themselves under considerable pressure to collectivize - even if for different reasons. There was no need to dragoon them at pistol point: the coercive climate, in which 'fascists' were being shot, was sufficient. 'Spontaneous' and 'forced' collectives existed, as did willing and unwilling collectivists within them. Forced collectivization ran contrary to libertarian ideals. Anything that was forced could not be libertarian. Obligatory collectivization was justified, in some libertarians' eyes, by a reasoning closer to war communism than to libertarian communism: the need to feed the columns at the front."

This charge had previously been made by historian Ronald Fraser in his Blood of Spain: An Oral History of the Spanish Civil War, who commented that direct force was not necessary in the context of an otherwise coercive war climate.[12]

"Even if the peasant proprietor and tenant farmer were not compelled to adhere to the collective system, there were several factors that made life difficult for recalcitrants; for not only were they prevented from employing hired labor and disposing freely as their crops, as has already been seen, but they were often denied all benefits enjoyed by members...Moreover, the tenant farmer, who had believed himself freed from the payment of rent by the execution or flight of the landowner or of his steward, was often compelled to continue such payment to the village committee. All these factors combined to exert a pressure almost as powerful as the butt of the rifle, and eventually forced the small owners and tenant farmers in many villages to relinquish their land and other possessions to the collective farms."

He also emphasizes the generally coercive nature of the war climate and anarchist military organization and presence in many portions of the countryside as being an element in the establishment of collectivization, even if outright force or blatant coercion was not used to bind participants against their will.[11]

"Although CNT-FAI publications cited numerous cases of peasant proprietors and tenant farmers who had adhered voluntarily to the collective system, there can be no doubt that an incomparably larger number doggedly opposed it or accepted it only under extreme duress...The fact is...that many small owners and tenant farmers were forced to join the collective farms before they had an opportunity to make up their minds freely."


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