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Why was it defeated?


[See "Should There Be Any Government At All?"]

[See "The Lost Images of Anarchist Barcelona"]

[Read how the anarchists during the Spanish Anti-capitalism Revolution implemented genuine democracy: "A LOCAL ASSEMBLY MEETING: SPAIN, AROUND 1937"]




The nineteenth century writers, Mikhail Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin, advocated a vision of society with no government and no class inequality; they called their vision anarchism. While numerous other writers have also called themselves anarchists and have advocated having no government, they did not all envision an end to class inequality and some envisioned capitalism minus government.


The Spanish Revolution of 1936-39 (often called the "Spanish Civil War") was inspired by the writings of Bakunin and Kropotkin. In the decades leading up to the revolution, workers and peasants in huge numbers were reading (or, since many were illiterate, having people read to them) books by these authors. The vision these authors wrote about was essentially the same as what we now call egalitarianism. In a part of Spain with approximately four million people, large numbers of workers and peasants described themselves as anarchists, and they made this part of Spain very close to egalitarian.


What, then, is the difference between egalitarianism and anarchism? To answer this question, let us first speak only of the anarchism that inspired the Spanish Revolution, and not the numerous other ideas that are advocated by people who have in the past, or do today, call themselves anarchists.


The difference between egalitarianism and Spanish-Revolution-Anarchism  is not about the vision but rather about the way to achieve it. The Spanish Revolution was defeated by the fascist General Franco (with overt help from Hitler, indirect help from other so-called "democratic" governments such as the United States, and sabotage of the anarchists by Stalin.) There was an important weakness in Spanish-Revolution-Anarchism theory that enabled its enemies to defeat it. This weakness concerns the Spanish-Revolution-Anarchist misunderstanding of governmental power.


To understand this anarchist misunderstanding of power it helps to be familiar with the Spanish Revolution, so here's a brief account of it. In early 1936 Spain was the Republic of Spain with an elected government of liberal pro-capitalist politicians. Capitalists and large land owners oppressed workers and peasants severely. Very large numbers of workers and peasants were anarchists and the largest labor union was anarchist. In 1936 the fascist General Franco launched a military attack on the government to overthrow it and ruthlessly repress the workers and peasants whose movement was growing increasingly revolutionary. The Republican government, fearing its own workers and peasants as much as it feared Franco, refused to give arms to the anarchists who wanted to defeat Franco. But in Barcelona the anarchists seized arms and defeated the Franco forces in that city. The anarchists then led a social revolution in a large part of Spain (with a population of about four million people) that, with variations in different regions and villages, essentially removed the capitalist and landlord class from power and allowed peasants and workers to begin creating an egalitarian society. This part of Spain was known as Republican Spain, as opposed to the part where Franco was in power.


Initially, right after the anarchists defeated the fascist forces in Barcelona, their power in that city and its entire province of Catalonia was unchallenged. The anarchists could easily have established a government that would have explicitly defended egalitarianism from the anti-egalitarian forces, and they could have done this in the larger region of Republican Spain. But they did not. The reason they didn't was because the anarchists had a theory that said that all governmental power was bad. This was a huge error in anarchist theory that resulted in the defeat of egalitarianism in Spain.


In the absence of an egalitarian government defending egalitarianism in the part of Spain where the anarchist-led social revolution was happening, the anti-egalitarian forces there were able to, and did indeed, set up an anti-egalitarian government (it was the "Spanish Republic") that attacked egalitarianism; in particular it tried to define the goal of the people in Republican Spain as merely to defend the old liberal rule of capitalists and big land owners against fascism. The anti-egalitarians were the capitalists and landlords and their politician allies, as well as Communists sent by Stalin to Spain, and some (but not all) Communist followers of Leon Trotsky. 


The anarchists were confused about what to do and in this confusion they ended up collaborating with the anti-egalitarian government (known now as The Republic). The defeat of egalitarianism in Spain was due largely to this huge mistake.


If the anarchists had created a government to defend egalitarianism, they would have had a much better chance of defeating the anti-egalitarian forces of General Franco and others. The reason is this. The anti-egalitarian government did everything it could to suppress and hide the egalitarian aims of the people fighting General Franco's fascist attack on egalitarians. The more the anti-egalitarian government succeeded in this effort, the harder it was for people in the parts of Spain controlled by Franco to see why they should support the anarchist revolutionaries, and the easier it was for General Franco to enlist them in his army to attack the anarchists.


General Franco relied heavily on recruits for his army from the Spanish Protectorate of Morocco. The Moroccans wanted independence from Spain. If Republican Spain had been Egalitarian Spain instead, then it would have told the Moroccans, "The fascists want to keep Morocco a protectorate of Spain, but we--the egalitarians--want no such thing because we are for voluntary federation. Join us in defeating the fascists." But the opposite happened. Republican Spain told the Moroccans, "We intend to keep Morocco a protectorate of Spain," which amounted to telling them, "So you have no particular reason for supporting us against General Franco." This is a major reason why General Franco was able to recruit soldiers and defeat the egalitarians.

A reader of this article (G.R.) recently made the good point that the anarchists were severely out-gunned by their enemies, not only General Franco but Hitler who used his air force to bomb the anarchist militias. The anarchists had no allies able and willing to provide them with anti-aircraft guns. In contrast, the North Vietnamese who were being bombed by the U.S. in the 1970s did have anti-aircraft guns provided to them by the Soviet Union, and this is one reason they prevailed despite not having their own air force.

The lesson from this is that the success of egalitarian revolutionaries in one country depends greatly on having the support of strong egalitarian revolutionary movements in other countries. For example, if there had been a strong egalitarian revolutionary movement in the United States, even though it was not in power, it could have so militantly protested the refusal of the U.S. government to send arms to the Madrid government (which would have been perfectly in keeping with international law, since the Madrid government was the duly elected government of Spain) that the U.S. government would have been forced to send arms, including anti-aircraft guns, to Madrid. In this case the anarchists might have prevailed. 


A group of Spanish anarchists came to understand this error of Spanish-Revolutionary-Anarchism and tried to correct it, but it was too late to succeed. This group of Spanish anarchists called themselves the "Friends of Durruti Group" after Buenaventura Durruti who was a much beloved, inspiring and courageous anarchist leader who had been killed in November of 1936, shortly after the revolution broke out.


Egalitarianism today, learning from this mistake of Spanish-Revolution-Anarchism, advocates a government (based on voluntary federation of local assemblies of egalitarians) to defend egalitarianism from anti-egalitarianism. Click here for more about this key point.


What about anarchism today? Today in the United States there are people who call themselves anarchists and who may even agree with the vision of egalitarianism, but who disagree with egalitarians about how to achieve it.  Some of these people have a very wrong, negative view of ordinary people; they simply fail to appreciate that most ordinary people would love to live in an egalitarian society. Due to this failure, these anarchists think of themselves as being very different from (better than!) most people--different in the sense of having different values from most people and in having aspirations for an egalitarian society that are not shared by people who don't call themselves anarchists. Some of these anarchists even glorify this supposed difference between them and non-anarchists by calling themselves "a minority within a minority within a minority" or "Satanists" or other such things that are intended to shout out to the public, "We're not like you!" For an example of self-described "anarchists" referring to themselves as "Satanist" and as "a minority within a minority within a minority" click here to read the article on page 4 by "Dark Desyre Zine Network, which begins: 


"We are a radical anarchist collective of GLBTQ individuals who also self-

identify as Satanist, Lucifarian, Setian, Gothic Witch, Dark Pagan. We

are heterodox and thus eclectic with various antimonion and left hand

path strains. We are anti-racist, anti-fascist and severely opposed to these and all other forms of cultural intolerance. As a minority within a minority within a minority we know the human-primate craves social intercourse and seek, via a zine network, to buffer the pain of isolation, provide a forum for expression and free exchange of ideas, through aiding in both individual and collective augmentation and evaluation."


Anarchists who think this way have contempt for ordinary people and therefore, despite their wanting an egalitarian society, are as likely to help bring about an egalitarian society as Bill Gates or Dick Cheney. The contrast between anarchists who declare themselves to be "a minority within a minority within a minority" and the Spanish Revolutionary anarchists is revealed by the fact that when the Spanish Revolutionary anarchist leader, Buenaventura Durruti, died, "over a half million people filled the streets to accompany the cortege during its route to the Montjuïc cemetery" in Barcelona when the total population of Barcelona at this time was only 1.1 million!


Some of these modern-day "minority within a minority within a minority" anarchists believe that the way to get non-anarchists to become anarchists is by supporting people (non-anarchists) in their struggles (e.g., organizing strike support for workers where one is not personally employed, or helping to lead a strike or union drive or related action where one is employed) and, while doing so, telling the workers, "I am an anarchist" so they will see that anarchists are good people. Such anarchists fail to do what is most important, however, which is talking to people in struggles about how egalitarian revolution is the shaping of society on a large scale by the very same values of equality and mutual aid that motivate these people to engage in their struggles in the first place. This failure, again, stems from a failure to understand that most people already share and try to act upon the values that define egalitarianism.


This weakness of modern anarchism seems to reflect the influence of Marxism's negative view of ordinary people on anarchists, which is ironic because anarchists vehemently reject the anti-democratic practice of Marxists.


In conclusion, egalitarianism is very similar to Spanish Revolutionary Anarchism as modified by the Spanish anarchists in the Friends of Durruti Group. But the word "anarchism" refers to so many other ideas about how society should be and how to make it that way that there is little to be gained by using that word, which is why we in PDRBoston call ourselves egalitarians.


What is the difference between "democratic revolution" and egalitarian revolution? There is no difference at all. We in PDRBoston used the phrase "democratic revolution" before we realized that egalitarianism was the best name for what we believed and egalitarian revolution was a better phrase for what we were aiming to make happen.


Murray Bookchin, The Spanish Anarchists: The Heroic Years 1868-1936, AK Press, 1998

Murray Bookchin, To Remember Spain: The Anarchist and Syndicalist Revolution of 1936 (You can find this online by searching for the author and title.)

Sam Dolgoff, ed., The Anarchist Collectives (You can find this online by searching for the author and title.)

Agustin Guillamon, The Friends of Durutti Group: 1937-1939 (You can find this online by searching for the author and title.)

Peter Kropotkin, The Conquest of Bread (You can find this online by searching for the author and title.)

Jerome R. Mintz, The Anarchists of Casas Viejas, Indiana University Press, 1982

George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia (You can find this online by searching for the author and title.)

Abel Paz, DURUTTI, a wonderful biography of Buenoventura Durutti who was one of the great leaders of the anarchist movement in Spain








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