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Makhno191816 May 2019 11:00 a.m. PST

Thought this would be of interest to some!

(full text here):

The Other Volunteers
American Anarchists and the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939
by Kenyon Zimmer

"In 1933, observing Spain's rapid transition away from monarchy and dictatorship, Spanish American anarchist Maximiliano Olay wrote that Spain's anarchist movement "has not yet reached its peak, and… when it does, the present republican form of government will go the way of its predecessors." In its place, he predicted that "we may soon hear the news that Spain is no longer a capitalist country, that modern, constructive anarchism--anarchist communism--has won a chance to put its philosophy to the test, and… is privileged at last to prove its virtues to an unbelieving world." [1] Olay had reason for optimism. By the mid-1930s, there were over a million members enrolled in Spain's anarcho-syndicalist Confederacion Nacional del Trabajo (National Confederation of Labor, or CNT), the country's largest labor organization, which in turn followed the direction of the smaller Federacion Anarquista Iberica (Iberian Anarchist Federation, or FAI). [2] When the "Nationalists"--a right-wing alliance of Catholics, monarchists, and fascists within the Spanish military--rose up against Spain's Popular Front government on 17 through 18 July 1936, they were defeated in nearly every major city by a combination of police and armed workers. The CNT's preexisting defense committees led the resistance in the industrial center of Barcelona, and "with no transition at all, the defense cadres became People's Militias," the improvised new armed forces of the Popular Front. [3] With the virtual collapse of Republican government authority, the CNT found itself in effective control of much of Catalonia and Aragon. Though the anarchists refused to seize power (as doing so would violate their anti-authoritarian principles), they swiftly instituted workers' control in most of Spain's industrial enterprises and collectivized more than half the agricultural land outside of Nationalist hands. [4] Olay's prediction was becoming a reality, and beleaguered anarchists in the United States found new hope in what they called the Spanish Revolution. They mobilized the meager resources at their disposal to aid the CNT, and some left for Spain to fight alongside their Spanish comrades.

The voluminous literature on foreign volunteers in the Spanish Civil War, however, takes almost no notice of these anarchists or of the CNT's accomplishments on and off the battlefield. Instead, historians have focused almost entirely on the Communist-organized International Brigades and continue to debate whether their members were heroic "premature antifascists" defending Spanish democracy or naive victims of Stalinist machinations. [5] This scholarship, still defined by the dichotomies of the Cold War, lacks analytical space to accommodate the anarchists and the revolution they supported. As Noam Chomsky observed more than half a century ago, for liberal historians sympathetic to the Republican cause, "the revolution itself was merely a kind of irrelevant nuisance, a minor irritant diverting energy from the struggle to save the bourgeois government." [6] This remains true of most chroniclers of the American section of the International Brigades, the famed Abraham Lincoln Battalion, who conclude that American volunteers "were not revolutionaries but men committed to stopping the growth of fascism," who "went to Spain… not to accelerate social revolution but to stabilize it." [7]

Although foreign anarchists fought alongside, and in some cases within the same units as, the Communists and fellow travelers who constituted the bulk of International Brigades volunteers, they were engaged in an entirely different struggle--one to protect and expand the revolution headed by the CNT against both fascism and any attempt by the Republican government to constrain its progress. Refocusing the story of Americans in the Spanish Civil War on the anarchists highlights several forgotten dimensions of the conflict: the international impact of, and support for, Spain's unfolding anarchist revolution; the important military role of the CNT's militias, including the foreign fighters within them; and the overwhelming importance that the war came to hold for the American anarchist movement. These, in turn, emphasize the complex and multipolar nature of "the good fight" and push analyses of its international dimensions beyond the tired disputes of the Cold War era. They help us see, in other words, a very different group of volunteers engaged in a very different fight--one that proved to be the last great campaign of American anarchism."

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