History of anarchism in Barcelona


    Salvador Segui

    Buenaventura Durruti

    Notes on anarchism in Barcelona adapted from Wikipedia

    • Anarchism gained a much larger following in Barcelona, already a bastion of proletarian rebellion, Luddism, and trade unionism. The already militant working class was, as in Madrid, introduced to the philosophy of anarchism in the late 1860s. In 1869, a section of the International was formed in Barcelona.
    • An important event in these years was the Congress of 1870 in Barcelona, where delegates from 150 workers’ associations met, along with thousands of common workers observing (“occupying every seat, filling the hallways, and spilling out beyond the entrance,” according to Murray Bookchin). The Spanish section of the International was here renamed the Spanish Regional Federation
    • Anarchists were met with the severest repression; a famous example is the mass arrest and resulting torture of anarchist prisoners at the castle of Montjuich in Barcelona in 1892. As many as 400 people were brought to the dungeons following a bombing (the guilty party was never found). International outrage followed reports that the prisoners were brutally tortured: men hanged from ceilings, genitals twisted and burned, fingernails ripped out. Several died before being brought to trial, and five were eventually executed.
    • Two events in 1909 bolstered support for another general strike in Barcelona. A textile factory was shut down, with 800 workers fired. Across the industry, wages were being cut. Workers, even outside the textile industry, began to plan for a general strike. At around the same time, the government announced that military reserves would be called up to fight in Morocco, where tribesmen were skirmishing with Spanish troops. The reservists, mostly working men, were not keen to risk their lives or kill others to protect what they characterised as the interests of Spanish capitalists (the fighting was blocking routes to mines and slowing business).[citation needed] Anti-war rallies sprang up across the country, and talk of a general strike could be heard.
    • The strike began in Barcelona on July 26, a few weeks after the call for reserves was made. It quickly developed into a widespread uprising. Anselmo Lorenzo wrote in a letter: “A social revolution has broken out in Barcelona and it has been started by the people. No one has led it. Neither the Liberals nor Catalan Nationalists, nor Republicans, nor Socialists, nor Anarchists.” Police stations were attacked. Railroad lines leading into Barcelona were destroyed. Barricades sprang up in the streets. Eighty churches and monasteries were destroyed by members of the Radical Party (who, it should be noted, were generally much less “radical” than anarchists or socialists), and six individuals were killed during the disturbances. After the revolt, about 1,700 individuals were indicted on various charges. Most were let go, but 450 were sentenced. Twelve were given life imprisonment and five were executed, including Francisco Ferrer, who was not even in Barcelona at the time of the insurrection.
    • Following this “Tragic Week,” the government began repressing dissidents on a larger scale. Unions were suppressed, newspapers were shut down, and libertarian schools were closed. Catalonia was put under martial law until November. Rather than giving up, the Spanish working class became emboldened and more revolutionary than before, as workers adopted syndicalism as a revolutionary strategy.
    • There was a general consensus amongst anarchists in the early 20th century that a new, national labor organization was needed to bring coherency and strength to their movement. This organization, named the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) was formed in October 1910 in Barcelona during a congress of Solidaridad Obrera. During this congress, a resolution was passed declaring that the purpose of the CNT would be to “hasten the integral economic emancipation of the entire working class through the revolutionary expropriation of the bourgeoisie….” The CNT started off fairly small, with about 30,000 members across various unions and confederations.
    • A general strike broke out in 1917, mostly organized by socialists but with notable anarchist activity, particularly in Barcelona. There barricades were built, and strikers tried to stop trolleys from running. The government responded by filling the streets with machine guns. Fighting left seventy people dead. In spite of the violence, the strike’s demands were moderate, typical of a socialist strike of the time.
    • In 1919, employers at a Barcelona hydroelectric plant, known locally as La Canadiense, cut wages, triggering a 44 day long and hugely successful general strike with over 100,000 participants. Employers immediately attempted to respond militantly, but the strike had spread much too rapidly. Employees at another plant staged a sit-in in support of their fellow workers. About a week later, all textile employees walked out. Soon after, almost all electrical workers went on strike as well.
    • Barcelona was placed under martial law, yet the strike continued in full force. The union of newspaper printers warned the newspaper owners in Barcelona that they would not print anything critical of the strikers. The Government in Madrid tried to destroy the strike by calling up all workers for military service, but this call was not heeded, as it was not even printed in the paper. When the call got to Barcelona by word of mouth, the response was yet another strike by all railway and trolley workers.
    • The Government in Barcelona finally managed to settle the strike, which had effectively crippled the Catalan economy. All of the striking workers demanded an eight hour day, union recognition, and the rehiring of fired workers. All demands were granted. It was also demanded that all political prisoners be released. The government agreed, but refused to release those currently on trial. Workers responded with shouts of “Free everybody!” and warned that the strike would continue in three days if this demand was not met. Sure enough, this is what occurred. However, members of the Strike Committee and many others were immediately arrested and police effectively stopped the second strike from reaching great proportions.
    • The Government tried to appease the workers, who were clearly on the verge of insurrection. Tens of thousands of unemployed workers were returned to their jobs. The eight hour day was declared for all workers. Thus, Spain became the first country in the world to pass a national eight hour day law, as a result of 1919’s general strike.
    • After the 1919 general strike, increasing violence against CNT organizers, combined with the rise of the Primo de Rivera dictatorship (which banned all anarchist organizations and publications), created a lull in anarchist activity. Many anarchists responded to police violence by becoming pistoleros themselves. This was a period of mutual violence, in which anarchist groups including Los Solidarios assassinated political opponents. Many anarchists were killed by gunmen of the other side.

    Other anarchists

    • Ethel MacDonald (Scottish anarchist in Barcelona during the war)
    • Obituary of Joaquín Pérez Navarro, the last surving member the Los Amigos de Durruti (the Friends of Durruti), a group of anarchists pledged to fight militarisation and the betrayals of the Communist party (The Guardian)

    in 1936 Joaquín took part in the initial fighting in Barcelona against the Francoists and was then on the Aragon front in an anarchist militia. The following year he joined Los Amigos and fought with them during the 1937 “May Days” in Barcelona. These events – when street battles broke out between anarchists and independent socialists on one side, and, with the backing of the Stalinist Communist party, the republican Guardia Civil and army on the other – feature in George Orwell’s book Homage to Catalonia and are depicted at the end of Ken Loach’s 1995 film, Land and Freedom. Later he fought with the Iron Column, an anarchist militia that had initially been constituted from prisoners released from the jails of the republic.

    In late 1938 Joaquín was tortured and condemned to death by the Stalinists, who put him in Montjuic prison. But he escaped to France with the fall of Barcelona to the Francoists. There he was imprisoned in camps at Argeles and Barcares, and joined a work gang building docks at Brest. With the fall of France in 1940, he escaped to England.


    Red Barcelona: social protest and labour mobilization in the twentieth century Barcelona is now one of the most glamorous cities in Europe, renowned for itsmodernistaart and new post Olympic-games architecture. For much of the twentieth century, however, it was better known as the ‘Catalan Manchester’, the ‘city of the bombs’ and ‘rose of fire’. This reflected both its importance as the leading industrial center of the Mediterranean and its revolutionary traditions, particularly the importance of anarchism within its labor movement. Interest has often focused on the barricades and revolts of ‘Picasso’s Barcelona’ at the turn of the century and the great social revolution unleashed by the Civil War and chronicled by George Orwell. This book explores this ‘red’ or ‘red and black’ heritage, and how it has been transformed as the century has progressed. As one of Europe’s great industrial and revolutionary centers Barcelona has been in need of a detailed social and cultural history, yet there is actually a paucity of detailed research. This book redresses the balance.Focusing on the entire twentieth century, it allows for the emergence of long-term trends, and deals with both classic and newer themes of labor history, such as: * Transformations within the labor process * The development of and splits within the organized labor movement * Gender and labor * The relationship between ‘popular’ and working-class protest, and labor and nationalism This novel and authoritative work will interest not only to those working on Spain, but all scholars and students of comparative history.

    Red City, Blue Period: Social Movements in Picasso’s Barcelona by Temma Kaplan In Red City, Blue Period, Kaplan combines the methods of anthropology and the new cultural history to examine the civic culture of Barcelona between 1888 and 1939. She analyzes the peculiar sense of solidarity the citizens forged and explains why shared experiences of civic culture and pageantry sometimes galvanized resistance to authoritarian national governments but could not always overcome local class and gender struggles. She sheds light on the process by which principles of regional freedom and economic equity developed and changed in a city long known for its commitment to human dignity and artistic achievement.

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