RECENTLY, the city of Barcelona has received mention in the news, for being the headquarters of the infamous Scytl Corporation, which has been exposed for its role in stealing elections, in the U.S. and elsewhere. Barcelona is commonly described as a city of Spain, but it is more appropriately a city of Catalonia, which is a non-Spanish part of Spain. In fact, Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia, a region that has been populated by a distinct people, with a distinct language, since Antiquity: the Catalans. But Barcelona has a more recent distinction, not commonly known in America: it was a center for one of the first experiments in Anarchist governance.
During the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939, the country of Spain split into two major, warring blocks: Nationalist Spain and Republican Spain. The Nationalist portion of Civil War Spain was more or less homogeneous, being made up of patriotic Spaniards, but Republican Spain was not uniform: not to be associated with the American Republican Party, it was a conglomeration of Basque nationalist, Socialist, Communist, and Anarchist factions, who controlled different cities and territories. The Anarchists had most of their strength in Catalonia.
Although their communist rivals periodically scoff at them in historical narratives, the Anarchists made effective military contributions to the Republican, or Popular Front cause, in the first days of the Spanish Civil War: they defeated the Nationalist uprising in Barcelona and secured Catalonia, invaded Aragon, and sent fighting columns to other parts of Spain. Led by the influential Anarchist, Buenaventura Durruti, one column helped to thwart the immediate Nationalist takeover of Spain, during the Battle of Madrid. Cipriano Mera, another prominent Anarchist, commanded the 14th Division at Guadalajara in March 1937, helping defeat the Italian Volunteer Corps, which was trying to cut off Madrid. He led the 14th Division again at the Battle of Brunete, in July 1937.
The principle political body of the Anarchists was the CNT, or Confederacion Nacional del Trabajo, or National Confederation of Workers. It was allied with the FAI, Federacion Anarquista Iberica, or Federation of Iberian Anarchists. With control of most of Barcelona and the countryside, the Anarchists tried to create an Anarchist State – if such terms could go together – through collectivization of land, businesses and industries that the wealthy had abandoned in the first days of the Civil War. But the dreams of the Anarchist boards and committees required a spirit of voluntary cooperation to be realized – if they were at all realizable. The one thing that had united the Anarchists and their fellow-travellers, was their opposition to the very rich – once they had departed, the spirit of cooperation necessary to make Anarchist Catalonia work, gradually dissipated. To make Anarchist military columns stay in the war after they wearied of battle, it was necessary to impose iron discipline from above. But this could not be done with all of the Anarchist militias, particularly those close to home. Discipline was instinctively unappealing to the Anarchist, but it may have been more acceptable to combat veterans, than it was to civilians. They could not be so easily forced to cooperate.
Eventually, Catalonia was divided between the Anarchist and anti-Stalinist POUM (Partido Obrero de Unificacion Marxista, or Workers Party of Marxist Unification) factions on the one hand, and the Communist and Catalan autonomist factions, on the other. The Communists, who could unite and work toward one goal, won out over the Anarchists, who tended to pull in different directions. And just as there was bloody repression against Spanish Nationalists, Catholics, and patriots before and during the Spanish Civil War, so were there bloody repressions of Communists and Anarchists against each other.
The Communists lost the Spanish Civil War to the Nationalists, under General Franco. However, with his passing in 1975, the Far Left returned to power in Spain. And in Barcelona, that former seat of Anarchy, Scytl is creating chaos with elections and referendums around the world. Maybe Scytl is controlled by the grandchildren of anarchists. Maybe it is controlled by the grandchildren of communists. Maybe it is controlled by both. Whatever the case may be, Catalonians are much more savvy about spreading revolution in 2020, than they were in 1936.
Patrick Cloutier is the author of Mussolini’s War in Spain 1936-1939. Italian Intervention in the Spanish Civil War.