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New Left Review 77, September-October 2012

bryan palmer


For the classic historians of the anarchist movement, the culminating act of the drama lay in Spain. [1] Steven Hirsch and Lucien van der Walt, eds, Anarchism and Syndicalism in the Colonial and Post-Colonial World, 1870–1940, Brill: Leiden & Boston 2010, €155, hardback 431 pp, 978 90 04 18849 5 Both George Woodcock’s Anarchism (1962) and James Joll’s The Anarchists (1964), after bows to Godwin and Proudhon, began by describing the tireless work of Bakunin and his disciples, Fanelli, Malatesta and the rest, building sections of the First International—Marx’s International Working Men’s Association—in Italy, Switzerland and Spain. Proudhon’s notion of production and exchange organized by free associations of workers was expanded by Kropotkin and Reclus. After the crushing of the Paris Commune, clandestine anarchist groups took to the ‘propaganda of the deed’ and scored an impressive number of hits on ruling monarchs and heads of state. But as Kropotkin himself wrote in La Révolte in 1891, however inspiring individual acts of heroism might be, ‘revolution is above all a popular movement’. Early trade unions had been largely reformist in scope, but the mass syndicalist movements that exploded onto the scene in the early 1900s—the cgt in France, the iww in the us, the militantly anarchist cnt in Spain—mobilized hundreds of thousands of proletarians around revolutionary aims. The cnt had half a million members when the Spanish republic was declared in 1931. In the popular uprising against Franco in 1936, cnt workers in Barcelona seized control of the factories and streets. For Woodcock and Joll, the tragic epic of Catalonia in 1936–37 remained the central experience of the anarchist revolution; the curtain fell as Franco’s fascism drowned the black-and-red flag in blood.

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Bryan Palmer, ‘The Black and the Red’, NLR 77: £3

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