Lessons of the Spanish Revolution
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164 pages

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Lessons of the Spanish Revolution examines the many ways in which Spain’s revolutionary movement contributed to its own defeat. Was it too weak to carry through the revolution? To what extent was the purchase of arms and raw materials from outside sources dependent upon the appearance of a constitutional government inside Republican Spain? What chances had an improvised army of guerrillas against a trained fighting force? These were some of the practical problems facing the revolutionary movement and its leaders.

But in seeking to solve these problems, the anarchists and revolutionary syndicalists were also confronted with other fundamental questions. Could they collaborate with political parties and reformist unions? Given the circumstances, was one form of government to be supported against another? Should the revolutionary impetus of the first days of resistance be halted in the interests of the armed struggle against Franco or be allowed to develop as far as the workers were prepared to take it? Was the situation such that the social revolution could triumph and, if not, what was to be the role of the revolutionary workers?

Originally written as a series of weekly articles in the 1950s and expanded, republished, and translated into many languages over the years, Vernon Richards’s analysis remains essential reading for all those interested in revolutionary praxis.



Publié par
Date de parution 01 septembre 2019
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781629636641
Langue English

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Lessons of the Spanish Revolution: 1936-1939
Vernon Richards
This edition 2019 PM Press
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be transmitted by any means without permission in writing from the publisher.
ISBN: 978-1-62963-647-4
Library of Congress Control Number: 2018949093
Cover by John Yates / www.stealworks.com
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
PM Press
PO Box 23912
Oakland, CA 94623
Printed in the USA
Publisher s Note
This book began as a series of twenty-three weekly articles for the anarchist journal Freedom (July-December 1952). They were reprinted in volume form with an introduction (July 1953). A Japanese translation appeared the following year.
For an Italian edition in 1957 the author produced a considerably expanded version. Part I remained unchanged apart from minor corrections and some additions. Part II was all new material except for chapter 18 and the first part of the conclusions. A Spanish edition was published in Paris (Bellibaste, 1971).
For the second Freedom Press edition (1972) a bibliographical postscript was added to the Italian edition. This version has since been published in French (Paris: Editions 10/18, 1975), Italian (Pistoia: Edizioni V. Vallera, 1974) and Spanish (Madrid: Campo Abierto Ediciones, 1977 [reprinted 1978]).
For the third Freedom Press edition (1983) the author added footnotes to a bibliographical postscript and also reprinted from Freedom (January 1978) a review of the third edition of Hugh Thomas s The Spanish Civil War.
This, the 2019 PM Press edition of Vernon Richards s classic analysis of the Spanish Civil War, is largely a reprint of the Freedom Press 1983 edition, with certain modernizations to spelling, hyphenation, capitalization, and punctuation. One brief section of approximately ten pages in the previous edition was removed-an overly arcane and largely redundant critique of the second edition of Hugh Thomas s The Spanish Civil War , a book already critically addressed at length elsewhere in the text.
The Elections of February 1936
The Militarists Uprising of July 1936
The Revolution at the Crossroads
Anarchist Dictatorship or Collaboration and Democracy
The CNT and the UGT
The CNT Joins the Catalan and Central Governments
The CNT and Political Action
The Corruption of Power
The Agricultural Collectives
The Collectivised Industries
The Communists: Spearhead of the Counter-Revolution
The May Days in Barcelona
The Revolutionary Significance of the May Days
The CNT and the Caballero Government Crisis
The FAI and the Political Struggle
From the Militias to Militarization
The Extended National Economic Plenum of January 1938
The UGT-CNT Pact
The Cult of the Organisation and of Personalities
The Rank and File s Responsibility
Some Conclusions
Anarchism and Syndicalism
Anarchism and Violence
Means and Ends
Lessons of the Spanish Revolution originated as twenty-three weekly articles published in Freedom between July and December 1952. In July 1953, these were reprinted as a book. A considerably expanded version was prepared for an Italian edition of 1957; and it was this text that was published as the second Freedom Press edition in 1972. A third Freedom Press edition appeared in 1983. In its various forms it has been one of Freedom Press s most influential and bestselling publications.
Lessons is a brutal, unrelenting and entirely unforgiving critique of the CNT-FAI s decision to enter the Popular Front government in October 1936, impressive in its documentation and irrefutable in its logic. On September 3, a clear-sighted editorial in Solidaridad Obrera , the CNT s daily newspaper, had argued: The coordination of the forces of the Popular Front, of the organization of the supply of foodstuffs with an extensive collectivization of undertakings is of vital interest in achieving our objectives . It has been achieved up to now in a non-governmental, decentralized, demilitarized manner. In contrast, it foresaw:
A coalition government with its base political struggles between majorities and minorities, its bureaucratization, based on chosen elites, and the fratricidal struggles in which the opposing political factions are engaged, [would] make it impossible for such a government to benefit our work of liberation in Spain. It would lead to the rapid destruction of our capacity of action, of our will to unity and the beginning of an imminent debacle before a still fairly strong enemy.
Federica Montseny, who became one of the four anarchist ministers in the Madrid government, consulted her father, the veteran anarchist intellectual Federico Urales, before reaching her decision, and he had warned:
You know what this means. In fact, it is the liquidation of anarchism of the CNT. Once in power you will not rid yourselves of Power.
Richards argues that the libertarian leadership made two fundamental errors, inexcusable since they were not errors of judgment but a deliberate abandonment of their principles. First was their belief that the war against authority could be waged more successfully within the framework of the state and by subordinating all else, including economic and social transformation, to winning the war. Second was their naive conviction that it was essential, and possible, to collaborate with political parties-that is with politicians-honestly and sincerely, and this at a time when real power belonged to the CNT-FAI and the socialist UGT. As Montseny was to confess: in politics we were quite ingenuous. From the outset the professional politicians ran rings around the libertarians, who were outwitted and outmanoeuvred on every issue. And whereas contact with the libertarians had no ideological impact on the politicians, some leading members of the CNT were converted to the principles of government and centralized authority, not just temporarily but permanently.
For Richards, the May Days of 1937 in Barcelona equate with Kronstadt in Russia in 1921, marking the suppression of the popular movement as it attempted to resuscitate the revolution. He concludes: With the defeat of the revolution in May 1937 by the central authority the leaders of the CNT-FAI no longer represented a force to be reckoned with by the government, which proceeded to take over the militias, abolish the workers patrols in the rearguard, and smash the collectives, thus pulling the teeth of the revolution; and it was left to the leaders of the CNT to break its heart.
Richards further considers that libertarians were misguided in voting for the Popular Front parties in the general election of February 1936. In 1933, the left had been routed in the first election under the new constitution of the Second Spanish Republic, largely on account of anarchist abstention. In consequence the Bieno Negro (Two Black Years) of reactionary rule followed, amassing thirty-three thousand political prisoners. The second No Votar! (Do Not Vote!) campaign was therefore half-hearted, and the Popular Front was able to form a government. Yet its victory was a disaster, Richards argues, since an effective military uprising now became inevitable. In contrast, had the right won, military conspiracy would have petered out. He insists, very salutarily given the customary loose language employed about fascism, that there is no real evidence to show that there was any significant development of a fascist movement in Spain along the lines of the regimes in Italy and Germany.
Richards also believes the CNT was remiss in making no attempt to seize the Spanish gold reserve, the second largest in the world. In the summer of 1936, the immediate need was for raw materials and arms. Catalonia was Spain s principal industrial and military centre, yet it was starved of funds by the Madrid government. For Catalan workers to produce arms it was necessary to re-equip and retool factories: the requisite machinery had to be bought abroad. Aircraft, motorized transport, rifles, guns, and ammunition also needed to be acquired outside of Spain-and for gold anything was available and from whatever source. Madrid s objection was that the war industry in Catalonia was controlled by its workers; and the CNT s response was pusillanimous.

Vernon Richards was born in London in 1915 as Vero Benvenuto Costantino Recchioni (and throughout his life was customarily called Vero ). His sister was named Vera. Their mother was Costanza (n e Benericetti): on a couple of occasions he described her to me as lovely, and my guess is that she spoiled him greatly. Their father, Emidio Recchioni (1864-1934), had been a railway worker and anarchist militant in Italy, becoming an admiring comrade of Malatesta. He was released in 1899 from the prison island of Pantelleria and emigrated to London, where in Old Compton Street he opened a grocer s shop that was to become known as King Bomba. It was there that Richards grew up, but he was impervious to Colin Ward s repeated urgin

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