Anarchism/Anti-State

Contesting Barcelona’s Soul between Two Flags : Conceptual Frontiers of the Turn-of-century Catalonia between Catalan Nationalism and Anarcho-Syndicalism

By Seonghek Kang

In 1992 amidst the celebration of the upcoming Summer Olympics, a rectangular pavilion in the neighborhood of Horta was erected by the order of the Barcelona city government. Externally unimpressive with large, semi-transparent glass windows covering steel staircases, the edifice was in fact a reconstruction of the pavilion of the Second Spanish Republic (1931-1939) featured in the 1937 Paris Expo. Among the works of illustrious artists that the besieged republic presented to appeal to international cultural sensibilities in support of their war effort was a mural titled El Segador (the reaper) by Joan Miró.  The painting featured a Catalan peasant—insofar as one can tell human figures apart from abstract shapes—signified by wearing a traditional, red bonnet, and wielding a harvesting hand-scythe, referring to the seventeenth-century War of the Catalan Reapers (Guerra dels Segadors) which broke out against the fiscal demands of the royal government in Madrid, and had became a cornerstone of Catalan nationalist historiography. Although Miró’s mural was not restored along with the rest of the edifice—now serving as a local library—the 1992 reconstruction of the 1937 pavilion nonetheless offers a snapshot of how the histories, premodern, modern, and contemporary folds together in the Catalan nationalist imagination.[1] Founded upon conceptualization of a timeless Catalan past, the history was projected upon an exhibition intended as a condensation of Catalonia—and Spain’s—modernity symbolized by its artistic achievements. Consequentially, its reconstruction in the Catalan capital about to celebrate the international demonstration of its post-dictatorship development was a clear ideological statement regarding the continuity of democratic mandate from the Second Republic period to the Catalan, rather than the Spanish, present.

Catalonia’s story does not seem, on the surface, significantly different from other accounts of democratization throughout the course of twentieth-century ideological conflicts and authoritarianism widespread in Eastern and Central Europe.[2] But more than Spain’s westward geographical location, and that the prolonged authoritarianism came from the political right rather than the left, there are other factors that makes the case of Spain and Catalonia ‘different’, at the risk of repeating an old, Francoist era tourism slogan. Although the Second Republic was a direct precedent in democratic constitution, the Francoist regime’s depiction of the republic as an essential chaos doomed to failure due to its supposedly inherently volatile character was internalized and upheld by the Spanish public to a significant extent.[3] Nowhere else in Spain the advent of a democratic constitution and political pluralism was celebrated in such explicitly historicized form emphasizing its connection to the Second Republic other than Catalonia. Furthermore, the modern Catalan nationalist commemoration of the Second Republic’s democratic legacy is complicated by a further set of historical detail. During the republican period itself and crucially throughout the years of the civil war, the ideological current that dominated the city politics of Barcelona were not the Catalan nationalist. Instead, it was the anarcho-syndicalism represented by the National Confederation of Labor (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo, CNT) with its principles of anti-nationalism and electoral abstentionism that held the sway among the city workers, and was immortalized as the most significant ideological movement that emerged from the republican camp in historical memory and literature.[4] These divergences in the historical commemoration of the Second Republic highlight that the trials and evolution of the Catalan nationalism throughout the twentieth century can only be understood from a long-term historical analysis in relations to competing ideological currents. As the Catalan separatism have once again featured at the center of the constitutional tumults of contemporary Spain, literature analyzing the economic, pan-European, social, and legal dimensions of the ongoing dispute have significantly expanded, yet have limited themselves to a monolithic, dichotomic framework with a binary focus between regional nationalists backed by rigorous local economy centered in Barcelona against the centralistic national government in Madrid. Insofar as the intersection of the wider ideological rivalry between the left and the right is mentioned at all within the context of the Catalan question, tend to content themselves at contrasting the hardline stance of conservative parties inherited from Francoist españolismo as opposed to the left’s marginally more amenable attitude.[5]

In an attempt to provide a account that better explains the development of Catalan populist politics in its formulative historical context, this study seeks to highlight the evolution of the Catalan nationalism from the first liberal period (1868-1874) to the advent of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) by analyzing its relations with the competing and parallel emergence of anarcho-syndicalism among the Barcelona working class politics. Examining romantic historical writings, party pamphlets, and memoirs, the study argues that the rivalry between the Catalan nationalists and the anarcho-syndicalists went beyond the simple clash of incompatible ideologies. Rather, analysis of the discourses regarding the civic and historical identities according to the respective parties demonstrate that beyond the ideological content per se, what lied at the heart of conflict between the nationalists and the libertarians was competing ways of imagining Barcelona as a conceptual, if not real borderland that had marked Catalonia as different from the rest of Spain. While the socioeconomic background of turn-of-the-century Barcelona as the center of industrialization with a cosmopolitan culture was crucial to both movements alike, how it was respectively interpreted in elaborating partisan versions of the city’s communal identity and uniqueness created fundamental and antagonistically different worldviews. One side envisioning the city as the capital of a historic nationality proudly partaking in the advancements of contemporary European modernism, and the other as a microcosm of a revolutionary paradise organized around the solidarity of working-class neighborhoods, the conflict between the Catalan nationalists and anarcho-syndicalists came to play leading influence in the political cultures of Barcelona until the rupture created by the imposition of Francoism.

The emergence of both Catalan nationalism and libertarian socialism in Spain both owed crucial formulative experience to the gradual industrialization of the country that began around the middle of the nineteenth century, and impacted the region faster and more profoundly than any other region of the Iberian Peninsula. Alongside the socioeconomic transformations, the development of the worldview and aspirations of both movements were also deeply influenced by the events of the national politics, primarily, the failure of the series of militarily-installed liberal governments to establish a stable, lasting governance over the country. After the collapse of the monarchy of Isabel II in 1868, none of the constitutional regimes until the first Borbón restoration of 1874 (Sexenio Democrático, 1868-1874) lasted for longer than three years. In addition to the frequent regime changes always accompanied by a military coup, the decades of 1860s and 70s were marked by three, four-way civil and external wars involving the ultra-traditionalist, Carlist supporters of a cadet branch of dynastic heirs, militant regional autonomists allied to the syndicalist workers called cantonalists, Cuban independence movement, and the colonial conflict in North Africa.

The chronic instability of power in the government, and its vulnerabilities against the challenges from various political sectors left an important, formulative impression in the eyes of its dissidents. At the most fundamental level, the perception of weakness decisively discredited the central state as a reliable vehicle of social change on behalf of both socialist agitators and regional nationalists. For the nascent Catalan nationalism that organized first and foremost around intellectual and literary circles, the weakness of the Spanish central state and its ideology provided impetus towards developing an essentially different version of Catalan identity from its historical political traditions. As the late nineteenth century was a period of great romantic nationalist historiographies everywhere else beyond just Catalonia and Spain, the drive for conceptualizing an essentially different, more liberal Catalan political identity fundamentally distinct from the rest of Spain was reflected strongly in the realm of historical literature. “Eclipsing the fame of Sparta, Athens, and Rome… In thou, Catalonia, there was always an undefeatable bastion of public and civic liberties!”, declared the playwright and historian Victor Balaguer in his multi-volume study of the history of Principality of Catalonia and the Crown of Aragón.[6]

The “democratic” and liberal interpretation of Catalonia’s medieval history based upon Principality of Catalonia’s councilor system of government, as Balaguer himself cited from the American historian Prescott, was not an intellectual innovation original to the Catalan intellectuals of the literary Renaixença. It was, however, the Catalan intellectuals of the period who established such modern reinterpretation of the medieval history as the basis of a nationalistic, constitutionalist vision for the future distinguished essentially from whatever that was conceived as belonging to ‘Spain’ from an explicitly modernist light. Refuting other commentators who attempted to play down the democratic uniqueness of the medieval Catalan conciliar government as a mere local manifestation of pan-European feudalism, Balaguer insisted, “the origins of the Catalan municipal institutions can be found solely… in the formal character of the Catalans in their innate independence, free and entrepreneurial spirit.” Balaguer’s concern for the present and future of his nation based upon his exceptionalist conceptualization of the Catalan past reveals itself most explicitly when he asserted, “no other country could offer a more pure example of parliamentary practices and patriotism”, and that “Catalonia, like England, can serve as a model and a mirror.”[7] In contrast to his essentialized laudation of the supposedly inherent Catalan love of political liberalism and democratic institutions, the Castilians, “with their irrationality (sin razon) and egoistic conduct” are consistently depicted as servile people ruled by oppressive and avaricious princes consistently bent upon invading the Catalans to deprive their liberties. Citing from the seventh chapter of the thirteenth century Fuero Viejo de Castilla outlining the proprietorial rights of landed nobility, Balaguer claimed that the retention of Visgothic practice of hierarchical bondage into medieval legal codes have produced a social system so oppressive that “We do not know of any other legal code of Christendom comparable.”[8]

Curiously in treating other historical nationalities, Balaguer placed himself much closer to being an empirical, rather than romantic historian arguing that “nationalities reconstruct themselves” rather than being timeless. Citing from his contemporary historians of the view that Don Pelayo, the legendary founder of the Kingdom of Asturias who supposedly began the process of Reconquista was a mythic figure, Balaguer stated, “The Visigoths did not call themselves as such, and [in the face of Moorish invasion] the Spaniards did not set out with the political goal of forming one monarchy over all the peninsula.” Attacking the core of the Spanish nationalist ideology inextricably tied to the Christian reconquest, Balaguer went far as declaring that in long-term, the Moorish conquest was a “highly beneficial” event that “awakened” the dormant nationalities of Spain such as “the Asturians, Basques, the Catalans, the Aragonese, the Navarrese”’—conspicuously, no Castilian. As for the Muslim invaders themselves, Balaguer’s views surprisingly display no hostility nor derision, but almost seems forward-looking for the common prejudices of the period. “The Arabs in fact behaved with less barbarism than the Visigoths, and even less than the Romans,” and Balaguer acknowledged that the Muslims behaved more honorably than the latter-day Christians in respecting the religious pluralism of the conquered peoples. One is led to suspect, however, that Balaguer’s respect for the traditionally antagonistic figure of the Moor is less of a demonstration of ‘tolerance’ in the modern sense of the term, but more a conscious historiographical and ideological statement. Since the conventional Castile-centric, Reconquista-based historiographical imagination of European, Christian Spain located itself genealogically from the Visigoths through the Asturians to the Castilians, there is a remarkably backhanded, yet stinging insinuation from Balaguer’s assessment about the Arabs having being more civilized than the Visigoths in an age that relished in racist conceptualization of hierarchy within the humankind.[9]

Balaguer’s conceptualization of the origins of Catalan nationhood traverses a fine, delicate ground in his treatment of its early medieval foundations from the borderland conflict between the Umayyad Caliphate and the Frankish Empire. On one hand, to emphasize the indigenous origins of the Catalan nationhood as all nationalists are inclined to do, Balaguer rejected the majority view of his cited chroniclers that the County of Barcelona in the beginning had been a direct vassal of the Frankish kings, accusing that such views are an attempt to “prove that France since time immemorial had dominion and lordship over Catalonia.” On the other hand, however, Balaguer was also just as keen to highlight the ‘European’ aspects of the Catalan sovereignty through the repeated digressions and lionization of semi-mythic figures such as eighth-century Otger Cataló who descended from “supposedly of the dukes of Bavaria… or of Savoy.” Seemingly aware of the delicate line between nativism and historical empiricism, Balaguer admitted the significant ‘foreign’ influences in the creation of the early medieval Catalan polities, yet, “What does it matter… whether he was a German belonging to the army of Charles Martel, or a soldier-adventurer?… Were they [adventurer barons] not the valiant, the patriotic… and first restorers of the patria?”[10]

The question of the origins of Catalan nationhood between Reconquista Iberian indigeneity and ‘European’ influence represented by the Frankish connection is highly representative of the overall dilemma of relational distinctiveness that the Catalan intellectuals faced in envisioning their nationalistic past. Although not every Catalan intellectual shared Balaguer’s romanticist tendency to exaggerate and essentialize, they nonetheless shared the view of a strong, conceptual line connecting the vibrant, Mediterranean commercial imperialism of medieval Crown of Aragón to their own present of the late nineteenth century Catalonia. Moreover, they were foremostly invested in sculpting out a sense of historical nationality essentially distinct from that of Spain which back then unfortunately had reputation such as, according to Stendhal, was a “living representative of the Middle Ages” that was indistinguishable from “complete African” save for the religion, Chateaubriand’s infamous “Arab Christians.” Subsequently, pride in Catalonia’s achievements in the terms of European high modernism such as constitutional traditions, articulate sense of nationhood, and capitalist-commercial development contrasted with the rest of the Iberian Peninsula became the foundation for the ‘Europeanizing’ element of the Catalan nationalism that can be summed up in one phrase, “the only true Europeans in Spain.”[11] Balaguer’s rejection of the Marca Hispanica theory regarding the origins of the County of Barcelona in turn can be read in two ways; at a plain level, it is a reaffirmation of the traditional distrust of the historical French ambitions over the Iberian Peninsula. Moreover, the claim that the first Christian polities of the eastern Pyrenees liberated from the Muslims by adventurer-warriors from the Frankish Empire were somehow not under the Frankish rule seems as an impossible contradiction unless it is read as a more ideological, rather than historical statement that indeed, the Catalans are one of the ‘indigenous’ peoples of Europe with fully independent source of distinct collective identity. The lesson of the national history for intellectuals of the Catalan Renaixença such as Balaguer, then, was this; Catalonia’s future burrowed from its timeless past lied with Europe connected through the threads of industrial economy, entrepreneurialism, and parliamentary traditions, away from the backwardness and irrationality of the ‘African’ Castilians and Andalusians.[12]

These discourses reflecting the confidence of the Catalan industrial bourgeoisie operated at a milieu clearly different from those of the increasing industrial proletariat, many of them internal migrants from elsewhere in Spain. While some have argued against the common description of the turn of the century Catalan nationalism as quintessentially upper-middle class phenomenon, it nonetheless is difficult to deny that the spatial centers of the Catalan nationalists in the early twentieth century were cafes and lecture halls, and its first electoral manifestation, the Regionalist League of Catalonia (Lliga Regionalista) was clearly bourgeoisie in platform and orientation.[13] Notwithstanding the clear differences in class composition, ideological contents, and conflictive worldviews, however, the parallel development of libertarian communist movement shared some common and likewise crucially formative contexts of turn of the century Catalonia. Introduced to country in 1868 during the visit of an Italian entourage of Mikhail Bakunin, Giuseppe Fanelli, anarcho-syndicalism in Spain, too, for a starter, was strongly conditioned by the endemic weakness of the central state that first manifested in the coalescence of the socialist, labor agitation and demands for greater local autonomy in the Cantonalist Revolt of 1873. For the rest of the century, the Spanish anarchists like their comrades elsewhere pursued the propaganda of deed as the leading strategy focused upon militant confrontation against the state, presiding over erection of barricades in the streets of Barcelona in “1870, 1874, 1902, 1909, 1917.”[14] Naturally met in kind with increasing repression by the restoration Borbón state, the anarchist physical militancy culminated in a spontaneous, anti-draft, anticlerical uprising in Barcelona in 1909 labelled ‘The Tragic Week’ that ended with hundreds of insurgent workers shot in punishment. Coming to terms with the fact that instantaneously violent militancy such as assassinations and short-term uprisings were not going to usher in a new age of self-managed society of fraternal equals, the anarcho-syndicalist attempts to reorganized themselves into a mass-based, sustainable vehicle of holistic socioeconomic change eventually crystallized in 1910 with the formal inauguration of the CNT.[15]

Starting with the decision to support the Bakuninist faction in the splintering of the First International in 1872, Spain marks an exception within the history of European socialisms as the only country where the anarchists traditionally held greater influence than the Marxists. ironically, this distinctiveness of Spanish leftism also resulted from Barcelona’s greater integration into wider, international networks of labor movements and ideological trends similar to how the Catalan nationalists indulged in the idea of ‘Europe’ for conceptualizing a political identity alternative to ‘Spain’. One such example would be the role of the Russian and Swiss exiles of 197 who according to Juan García Oliver, the future spokesman of the ideological wing of the CNT, Federación Anarquista Ibérica, then a seventeen-years old boy freshly participating in a general strike of restaurant waiters, had brought along with them “suspicion of Bolsheviks” that would remain for a long time in Spain as well.[16]

Furthermore, although politically the anarchists clashed with the Catalan nationalist parties almost immediately since the foundation of Regionalist League of Catalonia (Lliga Regionalista), they, too, were affected by the intellectual pursuits of the bourgeoisie society not only in antagonistic ways. The interaction of the intellectual culture of turn-of-century Catalonia with the anarchist movement culminated in the establishment of pedagogical tradition of libertarian education most famously associated with Francesc Ferrer i Guardia, the founder of the Modern School movement. In a country where the youth education truly remained one of the last bastions of clerical entrenchment, the need for a new system of worldview that distinguished themselves from ‘the generic Spaniard’ with all its association of backwardness was felt just as dearly by the radicalized proletariat as the nationalistic intellectuals. First founded in 1901 by Ferrer i Guardia returning from his Parisian exile where he acquainted with figures such as Louise Michel, Elisée Reclus, Anselmo Lorenzo, and Kropotkin with just thirty students, the libertarian Modern School by 1905 had grown to over fifty branches in Spain, expanding also into South America and the United States. The reorganization of libertarian workers’ movement centered around self-created educational and syndical institutions illustrates that the peculiarity of the modern Barcelonese—rather than ‘Catalan’ in this case—history that prompted the creation of new, internal mental boundary with ‘Spain’ was at work not only across ethno-national identities, but classes as well.[17]

“If you submit, you can have peace; if you refuse to submit, you’ll have to wage war. That is how I viewed things, and in this sense, Spain had long been in a state of civil war even before I was born”, recounted the aforementioned anarchist militant, García Oliver much later in his exile.[18] Notwithstanding some common milieus, the industrial workers lived in a social world fundamentally different from that of self-comfortable proprietors, and the antagonism between the libertarian workers and the nationalistically-drawn bourgeoisie soon manifested at a level of conceptual, ideological conflict as well as that of class. Although there were meaningful endeavors, attempts to establish leftist Catalan nationalist parties and unions capable of mass proletarian mobilization scuttled throughout hazards of parliamentary negotiations and coalitions. Catalan nationalist party formally of leftist orientation, yet independent of any wider all-Spanish affiliation with meaningful electoral basis only appeared in 1931 formation of the Republican Left (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, ERC) under the charismatic leadership of Francesc Macià, and even this lagged well behind the anarcho-syndicalist and socialist organizations.[19] As for the anarcho-syndicalists themselves, although throughout the 1920s during the dictatorship of general Primo de Rivera they could be found occasionally making a common cause against the heavy-handed rule of Madrid, from the realm of principles, there was no reason adopt any less harsh attitude to the Catalan nationalists than any other variants. In a marked contrast to the massive investment by the contemporary Bolsheviks to devise suitable theories of socialist nationalism, the anarcho-syndicalists never entertained any notion of ‘taming’ the political nationalism neither in revolutionary Russia nor Spain on its own revolutionary course.  “If the Spanish centralism is one form of tyranny”, declared an editorial in Solidaridad Obrera, the official paper of the CNT dated from December 1918, “the Catalan autonomism is yet another one.”[20]

In fact, the CNT refused to concede the Catalan nationalists even the conceptual grounds for dialogue by rejecting the question of national identity as a meaningful lens of analyzing and transforming the society of Catalonia in the first place. Insofar as the cenetista press talks about the ‘Catalans’ in national sense at all, they are associated far more with the predatory bosses whose political leadership are “plutocrats… with no sympathy for the Catalan worker” than anything resembling a beleaguered nation oppressed by a foreign power. “The reality of nationalism is that in fact… it is not even a sufficient incentive to induce the people to rise up in general struggle.” While admitting that “the questions of language, maternal attachment to the land” consist “primary agenda regarding the freedom of the peoples”, the CNT maintained “after a river of blood has been spilt”, they had ceased to be the most urgent and relevant question of the day, interesting “nobody except those engulfed in only one among many aspects of human life… and the currents of the progress.[21]” Mocking the Catalan nationalists as “the poets singing about emotions almost dead already (“los poetas de sentimientos ya casi muertos”)”, the editorials concerning the issue proclaim that “the international problem” of capitalist exploitation “does not recognize any boundary…, and cannot be circumscribed by conventional limits that a handful in positions of leadership want to draw, but only by the whole humanity… as a common inhabitant of the planet.” As “internationalists in front of all the patrioticking (“patriotería”), syndicalists in regards to the economic problems, and anarchists in the moral ones”, the Catalonia regional committee asserted, “if the question [of national autonomy] that the various organizations have wasted time and energy engaging were meaningful at one point, they no longer are now.” Striking at the very assumption of ethnic solidarity that lies at the emotive heart of any nationalism, the CNT even suggested that ‘alien’ despots faraway can be less insufferable than pettier yet closer ones at home with a caution, “It is entirely possible… the indigenous folks of a region could become enslaved even more after regional autonomy has been granted” as long as it is done within the broader and fundamentally oppressive structures of nation-states and the monopolistic capital.[22]

The second fall of the Borbón monarchy and the advent of the Second Republic in 1931 did little to change the fundamentally uncomfortable coexistence between the Catalan nationalists and the libertarian communists as the leading political force in Barcelona. Beyond the conceptual incompatibility between anarchism and regional nationalism itself, another factor influential in sustained mistrust between the two movements seems to have been the relations with the Catholic church. As the Catalan nationalism drew significant impulses from its cultural imagination of national past with plenty of marks made by Virgin of Montserrat, the Royal Monasteries of Poblet and Ripoll, cult of St. George, and so on, the laic and rationalist outlook of the nationalist politicians did not necessarily lead to anticlericalism and militant atheism as its own end. Given the tolerant sociocultural ambiance of Barcelona towards personal liberties then as now, even at the level of individual moral outlook, there was little pressure to develop conscious and militant atheism when one could simply ignore the church’s teachings where it did not suit. [23] The sociocultural relationship of the industrial and radicalized working class with the church was drastically different, on the other hand, and such discrepancy transplanted deeply into the violently anticlerical agenda of the anarcho-syndicalists as a matter of ideological principle. Once again, in a country where many of the social services that elsewhere in Europe was becoming domain of the state still remained within the church’s jurisdiction, the working class unsurprisingly were far more regularly victimized by abusive, unqualified, and violence-prone church members in “schools, hospitals, workhouses, orphanages and borstals” with little avenues of escape or justice. Once the mutual referential between the ‘church-burning godless reds’ and ‘child-beating obscurantist priests’ became a self-regenerating dialectic, the vicious cycle of each party further repeating the same acts that caused resentment in the first place predictably worsened.[24]

From the logical universe of an ideology that defined itself as conscious and principled rejection of any and every form of permanent, hierarchical authority, the Christian providence to the anarchist worldview represented the crux of illegitimate, manmade hierarchy. For the Interwar period Barcelonese anarchist workers in particular, the Catholic church was not only ‘false hierarchy’ often instrumentalized to morally legitimate their suffering in the painful world of early industrialization, but also one they had to endure being blasted more loudly into their faces than those elsewhere by the virtue—or in this case, the sin—of having been Spaniards. Seen together with newer historiographical researches regarding their organization and execution, these motivational factors appear in contrary to the view long-held by both the defenders and condemners of the libertarian social revolution of 1936 that the rearguard terror in the Barcelona under anarchist control were deeds of frenzied, uncontrollable mob.[25] An uncontrollable mob completely blinded in their judgment by fury does not carefully pick out selected artworks according to the criteria set by ‘bourgeois’ art historians for transferal to a public museum before proceeding to sack the rest and killing the priests as frequently observed during that fateful summer in Barcelona. In 1936, more than two hundred churches across the city were set on fire as did in 1909, but less than twenty were demolished, and the vast majority were converted into community warehouses, schools, theaters, hospitals, and bomb-shelters after the ‘insides’ were ‘cleared out’. In a way more sinister, certainly more profound than the retaliatory frenzy, the revolutionary violence in Barcelona amidst the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War was in fact an ideological component just as integral to its anarcho-syndicalist character as the collectivization of the workplaces or establishment of community schools. All these acts in their own ways constituted the enactment of the proletarian social vision based on the egalitarian, urban political culture of the barrios serving as the organizing unit around which industries were collectivized, neighborhood patrols were set up, schools and daycares were provided, and militia columns were levied. Convoluted as it may seem, the metaphorical explosion of self-organized workers’ schools based on the Ferrerian pedagogy, and the literal one of the Catholic church that severely harmed the international support as well as ethical integrity of the revolution came to symbolize respectively the spontaneous democratic creativity, and self-harming terroristic violence of the Barcelona 1936 mythos for the reasons that were causally connected through the political universe of the urban barrios.[26]

In contrast to the dynamism of the libertarian social revolution, the nationalist ERC as a participant in the Popular Front coalition at the war’s outbreak was formally in charge of the Catalan autonomous government, the Generalitat, but did not have any mass organization with mobilizational power comparable to the anarcho-syndicalists whose claim to the ‘streets’ being ‘theirs’ was more truthful than exaggerated. In consequence, during the early phase of the civil war, the Catalan nationalists found themselves sidelined by the proletarian militia under joint anarcho-syndicalist and socialist coordination that had saved Barcelona and Madrid from falling into the golpista hands instead of loyalist remainder of the regular army or the police. The looming question of the revolution versus wartime victory eventually led to the suppression of libertarian workers’ communes in the May of 1937 and return of state control, but the winners of this internal struggle were the Stalinist members of the wartime national government, not the Catalanists of the Generalitat. Without them having ever wielded the political initiatives in the capital which national interest they claimed to represent, the advancing Francoist army eventually made the contest for hegemony altogether meaningless as they proceeded to crush the anarchists, socialists, communists, republicans, secularists, and regional nationalist alike.[27]

The extent of violent discontinuity the Francoism unleashed into the Spanish sociopolitical landscape before and after the civil war makes it a tempting, and in many ways a justified point of departure for the narratives of socialist and regional nationalist movements in Catalonia. It is worth bearing in mind, however, that despite the immense oppressions it had brought, the Francoist rule failed in permanently eradicating any of its sworn enemies be it the anarchists or the regional separatists. The survivors of the Second World War among the ‘Red Spaniards’ eventually emerged with relatively secure bases in exile communities they had gained through the participation of various resistance movements in Axis-occupied Europe. Since the regime could hardly touch the dissidents outside once those within its grasp were all either in prison or in the graves, the ideologies that sparked the revolutionary fervor of 1936 gradually floated back in as the domestic repression machinery rusted over the decades. Because Barcelona was more deeply integrated into the wider world of European modernism that gave the region its centrality within the progressive politics of Spain, it was rendered as the “the red city, the seat of anarchism and separatism” in Francoist eyes that represented everything sinful about the secularism and pluralism of the Second Republic.[28] Yet again in an ironic turn of events, such international connectivity of Barcelona-bound radicals also provided them with avenues for political reconstruction from the exile that would eventually play critical influence in reasserting municipal self-governance and regional national identities as one of the most defining constitutional questions during Spain’s later retransition into democracy.[29]

In conclusion, the tales of two mutually influential, yet antagonistic movements studied here demonstrates turn-of-the-century Catalonia’s peculiarity that contained multiple layers of spatial and conceptual boundaries with the rest of Spain and Europe. For the ‘national Spain’ as a geographic unit, Catalonia was of course Spain’s northeastern borderland with France. For the bourgeois Catalan nationalists, however, Catalonia was conceived other way around through a historicist formulation of a national past located at the southwestern boundaries of ‘Europeanness’ bordering the ‘African’ backwardness of the rest of Spain. Yet, beyond the spatial boundaries drawn along the ethno-nationalist imaginative lines, the pressures of industrialization met through radical, libertarian syndicalist communalism could produce another type of conceptual frontier. Viewing the outside world through the lens of the neighborhood as the basis to act upon “revolutionary urbanism”, the CNT cast the insurgent working-class barrios of Barcelona as the frontier of a new, alternative society of proletarian, libertarian social order instead of the corruptions of the bourgeois society. Considering these characteristics of Barcelona as a society set apart by conceptual boundaries of regional nationalist and class-based particularities from the rest of Spain then renders the brutality and vindictiveness that the Francoist triumph had brought somewhat slightly more intelligible. After all, if the comparison of the discourses reveal one opinion that all of the Catalan nationalists, anarcho-syndicalists, and the rightwing army seems to have shared, it was that ‘Spain’ was generally defined through the familiar tropes of Castilian cultural centrality, Catholic imperialism, and agrarian social structure, and Barcelona definitely did not belong to the same kind of world.

 

 

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Solís, Fernando León, Negotiating Spain and Catalonia: Competing Narratives of National Identity, (Bristol: Intellect, 2003),

Stein, Louis, Beyond Death and Exile: The Spanish Republicans in France, 1939-1955, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979)

Ucelay-Da Cal, Enric, “Catalan populism in the Spanish civil war”, ed. Ealham, Chris, Richards, Michael, The Splintering of Spain: Cultural History and the Spanish Civil War, 1936 –1939, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2005), 93-111

 

[1] Eaude, Michael, Catalonia: A Cultural History, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 133-149. The title of my study obviously refers to the red-gold strips of the Catalan Senyera, and red-black colors of anarcho-communists worldwide.

[2] One political scientist in fact made a direct comparison of Francoism to the Eastern European communist regimes, “This communist past now allows and favours the blossom of nationalist parties, but prevents it in Spain and Portugal.” González Enriquez, Carmen, “The Spanish Exception: Unemployment, inequality and immigration, but no right-wing populist parties”, Working Papers 3/2017 (Elcano Royal Institute / Fundación Real Instituto Elcano, 2017), 35.

[3] Aguilar, Paloma, Humlebaek, Carsten, “Collective Memory and National Identity in the Spanish Democracy: The Legacies of Francoism and the Civil War”, History and Memory, volume 14, issues ½, (Fall, 2002), 144-146.

[4] Apart from George Orwell’s first-hand account now-immortalized in modern literature, some of the influential first-hand studies of the anarchist movement in Catalonia, and the social revolution that took place during the civil war are Bookchin, Murray, The Spanish Anarchists: The Heroic Years, 1868-1936, (New York: Harper Colophon, 1977), Peirats, José, The CNT in the Spanish Revolution, ed. Ealham, Chris, in three volumes, (Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2011). While the history of anarchist jargons is as esoteric as those of any other leftist ideological movements, in practice of political organization, ‘anarcho-syndicalism/communism’ and ‘libertarian socialism/communism’ have been used interchangeably as does the present study.

[5] Some of the studies of Catalan nationalism, historical or present that otherwise are highly insightful and informative, yet tend to mention the relationship with the anarchists in such a passing manner are Balcells, Albert, Catalan Nationalism: Past and Present, trans. Hall, Jacqueline, (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996), 114-122, Solís, Fernando León, Negotiating Spain and Catalonia: Competing Narratives of National Identity, (Bristol: Intellect, 2003), Guibernau, Montserrat, Catalan Nationalism: Francoism, transition, and democracy, (New York, Routledge: 2004).

[6] Balaguer, Victor, Historia de Cataluña y de la Corona de Aragón, vl.2, (Barcelona: Librería de Salvador Manero, 1901), 738.

[7] Ibid, 743-750.

[8] Ibid, vl.1, 353

[9] Ibid, 208-212.

[10] Ibid., 170-174, 181-207. Balcells, 1996, 12-17.

[11] Citations of Stendhal and Chateaubriand are burrowed from Altschul, Nadia R., Geographies of Philological Knowledge: Postcoloniality and the Transatlantic National Epic, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012), 11. Solís, 2003, 2. The historical and cultural studies relating to the famous phrase attributed to Alexandre Dumas, “Africa starts in the Pyrenees” have a whole body of scholarship unto itself, but a meaningful case relevant to the turn of the century Catalan nationalism is, Hoyos, Francisco Martínez, “El discurso de la hispanofobia: racismo y xenofobia en el nacionalismo catalán”, Aportes: Revista de historia contemporánea, nº84, año 29, (2014), 183-192.

[12] Solís, 2003, 18-19.

[13] By late 1920s, around 35 percent of Barcelona’s population were non-Catalans with the largest numbers coming from Andalusia. Ealham, Chris, Class, Culture and Conflict in Barcelona 1898–1937, (London: Routledge, 2005), 2-10.

[14] Eaude, 2008, 227.

[15] Bookchin, 1977, 138-146.

[16] García Oliver, Juan, El eco de los pasos: el anarcosindicalismo en las calles, en Comité de Milicias, en el gobierno, en el exilio, (Barcelona: Ruedo ibérico, 1978), 25-30.

[17] Ealham, 2005, 40-50, Bookchin, 1977, 128-136.

[18] García Oliver, 1978, 54.

[19] Ucelay-Da Cal, Enric, “Catalan populism in the Spanish civil war”, ed. Ealham, Chris, Richards, Michael, The Splintering of Spain: Cultural History and the Spanish Civil War, 1936 –1939, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2005), 93-100.

[20] El Comité de la Confederación Regional del Trabajo de Cataluña, “Como el pleito de la autonomía es un pleito burgués, no estamos con el gobierno de Madrid ni con el fomento del trabajo nacional”, Solidaridad Obrera, December 15, 1918.

[21] “Independencia y autonomía”, Solidaridad Obrera, November 19, 1918.

[22] “Ni con uno ni con otros”, Solidaridad Obrera, December 16, 1918.

[23] Ucelay-Da Cal, 2005, 100-102, Guibernau, 2004, 30-32, Eaude, 2008, 35-50.

[24] Ealham, Chris, “The myth of the maddened crowd: class, culture and space in the revolutionary urbanist project in Barcelona, 1936–1937”, Ealham & Richards, 2005, 128-130.

[25] A significant volume of literature exists regarding the nature and character of both the Republican and Francoist rearguard terrors during the civil war. Some of the meaningful works related to the discussed theme are, Ruiz, Julius, The ‘Red Terror’ and the Spanish Civil War: Revolutionary Violence in Madrid, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Preston, Paul, The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth-Century Spain, (London: Harper Collins, 2012), Ealham, 2005, 111-116.

[26] Ibid, 117-130.

[27] Ucelay-Da Cal, 2005, 104-110, Casanova, Julián, The Spanish Republic and Civil War, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 320-335.

[28] Albéniz, Víctor Ruiz, “El dolor purifica”, Heraldo de Aragón, February 4, 1939.

[29] Notwithstanding an abundance of resistance literature considering both physical, guerrilla struggles within Spain, and political resistance from abroad, they are mostly segmented into regional or politically sectarian lines, and few works have yet treated the history of the Second Spanish Republic after its annihilation in the form of postwar resistance in holistic manner. Few notable examples include, Heine, Hartmut, La oposición política al franquismo: de 1939 a 1952, (Barcelona: Editorial Crítica, 1983), Stein, Louis, Beyond Death and Exile: The Spanish Republicans in France, 1939-1955, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979).

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