Archive for the ‘Spain’ Category

Anniversary of the Spanish Civil War: ¡No Pasarán

July 21, 2010

 The 17th July marked the 74th anniversary of the Spanish Civil war, a war enshrined in memory as one of the defining moments of the 20th century. The three year conflict witnessed the working class of Spain, joined in arms by Socialists, Anarchists and Communists from around the world, fighting ferociously against the Fascist armies of Franco, sponsored by Hitler and Mussolini.

While classically portrayed as a ‘civil’ war, in the reality the years of 1936-1939 were years of revolution and counter revolution, they were years when the ideas of the popular front were born and were proven false, they were years when the true nature of fascism was becoming apparent and years when Stalinism truly began to extend its cold hands to strangle genuine socialist movements.

While the genuine workers’ revolution was defeated, as much in the smoke filled rooms of the Kremlin, Whitehall and the Reich’s chancellery as on the battle fields of Madrid, the war remains iconic for the heroism of the its fighters, and crucial for the lessons it holds aloft for us today. It teaches us of the importance of a clear class based perspective and strategy, about the dangers of sectarianism, the limitations of anarchism, the treachery of Stalinism and the first true lesson into fascism. Yet more importantly, the first years of the revolution reminds us of the power that a working class set free can wield.

Among those who fought for the revolution was English journalist and democratic-socialist George Orwell, who joined the POUM militia in Barcelona. I can think of no more fitting a way to mark the anniversary of the Spanish Revolution then to post this extract from Orwell’s account Homage to Catalonia where he describes his first impressions of entering revolutionary Barcelona. May it serve to remind us what we are fighting for:

“I had come to Spain with some notion of writing newspaper articles, but I had joined the militia almost immediately, because at that time and in that atmosphere it seemed the only conceivable thing to do. The Anarchists were still in virtual control of Catalonia and the revolution was still in full swing.

To anyone who had been there since the beginning it probably seemed even in December or January that the revolutionary period was ending; but when one came straight from England the aspect of Barcelona was something startling and overwhelming. It was the first time that I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle.

Practically every building of any size had been seized by the workers and was draped with red flags or with the red and black flag of the Anarchists; every wall was scrawled with the hammer and sickle and with the initials of the revolutionary parties; almost every church had been gutted and its images burnt. Churches here and there were being systematically demolished by gangs of workmen. Every shop and cafe had an inscription saying that it had been collectivized; even the bootblacks had been collectivized and their boxes painted red and black. Waiters and shop-walkers looked you in the face and treated you as an equal. Servile and even ceremonial forms of speech had temporarily disappeared.

Nobody said ‘Señor’ or ‘Don’ or even ‘Usted’; everyone called everyone else ‘Comrade’ and ‘Thou’, and said ‘Salud!’ instead of ‘Buenos dias’. Tipping was forbidden by law; almost my first experience was receiving a lecture from a hotel manager for trying to tip a lift-boy. There were no private motor-cars, they had all been commandeered, and all the trams and taxis and much of the other transport were painted red and black.

The revolutionary posters were everywhere, flaming from the walls in clean reds and blues that made the few remaining advertisements look like daubs of mud. Down the Ramblas, the wide central artery of the town where crowds of people streamed constantly to and fro, the loudspeakers were bellowing revolutionary songs all day and far into the night. And it was the aspect of the crowds that was the queerest thing of all.

In outward appearance it was a town in which the wealthy classes had practically ceased to exist. Except for a small number of women and foreigners there were no ‘well-dressed’ people at all. Practically everyone wore rough working-class clothes, or blue overalls, or some variant of the militia uniform. All this was queer and moving. There was much in it that I did not understand, in some ways I did not even like it, but I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for. Also I believed that things were as they appeared, that this was really a workers’ State and that the entire bourgeoisie had either fled, been killed, or voluntarily come over to the workers’ side; I did not realize that great numbers of well-to-do bourgeois were simply lying low and disguising themselves as proletarians for the time being.

 Together with all this there was something of the evil atmosphere of war. The town had a gaunt untidy look, roads and buildings were in poor repair, the streets at night were dimly lit for fear of air—raids, the shops were mostly shabby and half-empty. Meat was scarce and milk practically unobtainable, there was a shortage of coal, sugar, and petrol, and a really serious shortage of bread. Even at this period the bread-queues were often hundreds of yards long.

Yet so far as one could judge the people were contented and hopeful. There was no unemployment, and the price of living was still extremely low; you saw very few conspicuously destitute people, and no beggars except the gipsies. Above all, there was a belief in the revolution and the future, a feeling of having suddenly emerged into an era of equality and freedom. Human beings were trying to behave as human beings and not as cogs in the capitalist machine.”

George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia, Secker and Warburg (London) on 25 April 1938

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