By Bryan Caplan
In the spirit of F.A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom , I dedicate this essay to anarcho-socialists of all factions.
In “Looking Back on the Spanish War,” George Orwell writes, “I have little direct evidence about the atrocities in the Spanish civil war. I know that some were committed by the Republicans, and far more (they are still continuing) by the Fascists. But what impressed me then, and has impressed me ever since, is that atrocities are believed in or disbelieved in solely on grounds of political predilection. Everyone believes in the atrocities of the enemy and disbelieves in those of his own side, without ever bothering to examine the evidence.” The same remark applies with equal force to much of the recent debate about the behavior of the Spanish Anarchists during the Spanish Civil War. Seeing that it was very difficult to unravel the truth behind the conflicting accounts and citations, I decided to look at the evidence for myself. The following essay is the product of my investigations. Quotations may sometimes seem overlong, because I avoided cutting them whenever possible to eliminate any suspicion of creative editing. –Bryan Caplan
“Suffer no man and no cause to escape the undying penalty which history has the power to inflict on wrong.”
--Lord Acton, "The Study of History"
The Spanish fascists used barbaric methods throughout the Spanish Civil War in order to establish a brutal dictatorship. The Spanish Communists used similar wartime measures in their failed effort to give birth to an even more totalitarian regime. But many discussions of the Spanish Civil War overlook, minimize, or apologize for the atrocious behavior and tyrannical aspirations of perhaps the most powerful faction of the Spanish Republicans: the Anarchist movement.
The present essay aims to redress the balance. It first summarizes the historical details of the Anarchists’ behavior during the Spanish Civil War, scrutinizing both the behavior of the upper echelons of the Anarchist movement as well as the rank-and-file militants. The essay then examines the economics of Anarchist-controlled Spain, focusing on both the policies adopted, their aims, and the results. I conclude with a philosophical dissection of the Spanish Anarchist movement, showing that their horrific behavior was largely the result of their incoherent view of human freedom, their unsuccessful attempt to synthesize socialism and liberty, and their uncritical and emotional way of thinking.