BOOK REVIEW | Spanish Revolution Remembered: Peirats’ “The CNT in the Spanish Revolution”

Reviewed by Jakes Factoria

book coverAlmost 80 years ago the peasantry and working class of Spain, inspired by anarchism and syndicalism, rose up to change the world. The Spanish Revolution of 1936-1939 involved millions creating, from below, a new society of freedom based upon equality and participatory democracy. Had the revolution succeeded and spread, the world would have changed forever. Rather than being trapped in decades of oppression and crisis and futility, humanity could have invested the last three generations into a universal human community of libertarian communism and scientific advance.

Remarkably, the Spanish Revolution has received very little attention. The republication in English of volume 1 of José Peirats’ masterwork The CNT in the Spanish Revolution by Merlin Press and PM Press should go some way to addressing the problem. The book originally appeared in 1951 in Spanish, finally appeared in English in 2001 but soon went out of print, and is now, finally, readily available (see contact details at end). (A much-abridged version appeared in one volume in English in 1990, called the Anarchists in the Spanish Revolution) [1].

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Building a mass anarchist movement: the example of Spain’s CNT

Thabang Sefalala* and Lucien van der Walt (ZACF)

CNT-1936The ideas of anarchism have often been misunderstood, or sidelined. A proliferation of studies, such as Knowles’ Political Economy from Below, Peirats’ Anarchists in the Spanish Revolution, and others, have aimed to address this problem – and also to show that anarchism can never be limited to an ideology merely to keep professors and students busy in debating societies. 

Anarchists have been labeled “utopians” or regarded as catalysts of chaos and violence, as at the protests in Seattle, 1999, against the World Trade Organization. However, anarchism has a constructive core and an important history as a mass movement – including in its syndicalist (trade union) form. It rejects the authoritarianism and totalitarianism often associated with Marxist regimes, and seeks to present a living alternative to classical Marxism, social democracy and the current neo-liberal hegemonic order. It rejects both the versions of Marxism that have justified massive repression, and the more cautious versions, like that of Desai in his book Marx’s Revenge, which claim that a prolonged capitalist stage – with all its horrors – remains essential before socialism can be attempted. It rejects the ideas that exploitation and oppression are “historical necessities” for historical progress.

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