Two new pamphlets from the Kate Sharpley Library [Review]

Everett, Martyn “War and Revolution: The Hungarian Anarchist Movement in World War I and the Budapest Commune (1919)“. Kate Sharpley Library, London and Berkeley, CA. 2006. A5 pamphlet, 28pp, illus. Bibliography. £2.00 to subscribers / movement bookshops. £3.00 book trade. ISBN-10: 1-873605-382 ; ISBN 13: 978-873605-38-7

Manzanera, Elias “The Iron Column: Testament of a Revolutionary“. Kate Sharpley Library, London and Berkeley, CA. 2006. A5 pamphlet, ii, 30pp. £2.00 to subscribers / movement bookshops. £3.00 book trade. ISBN-13: 9781873605196; ISBN-10: 1873605196

The role of anarchists in the Hungarian Revolution has been probably little known outside a small circle of East European specialists until recently, but thanks to some diligent research (details in the short but highly informative bibliography), Martyn Everett has managed to put together a brief overview of the main characters and events. Two of the most influential figures in Hungarian anarchism in the pre-war period, Jeno Henrik Schmitt and Ervin Szabo were both librarians which may explain Martyn’s interest. Szabo continued his revolutionary work throughout the war in anti-war agitation, but died in October 1918, in the Spanish ‘flu epidemic that killed so many others in this period, just before the Hungarian government collapsed and the First World War ended. Ended everywhere except Hungary it appears, as the Entente (not very cordial) continued the war against the new governments which succeeded the collapse of the old Habsburg Empire, eventually succeeding on bringing about the failure of the revolutionary project with the installation of the reactionary regime under Admiral Horthy in July 1919. Many anarchists had associated themselves with Bella Kun’s socialist / communist regime or the attempted Budapest Commune, but unlike Kun and his closest followers they were not given safe passage out of the country and suffered considerably in the ensuing repression. A short but highly informative pamphlet – do check out the titles in the bibliography for writings by Ervin Szabo and the libertarian socialists in Hungary in this period.

Unlike Martyn’s historial pamphlet the second KSL title is very much a personal tale from a former activist with the Iron Column, a volunteer militia unit formed in August 1936 in response to the attempted fascist coup led by General Franco and others. The Iron Column was, from the outset a unit with a predominantly anarchist character, which fought with great heroism, albeit deprived of essential materials, for many months on the Teruel front. The Iron Column wasn’t just a military unit however, it also propagandised for the institution of libertarian communism wherever it was and Manzanera gives details of how this actually worked in practice in one village. The Iron Column, as such was disbanded due to the Republican governments enforced militarisation of the volunteer forces fighting fascism and many re-enlisted in the newly formed 83rd Brigade despite issuing a manifesto denouncing the militarisation. The choice had been iniquitous – either cease fighting against the fascists or become part of the “regular” armed forces complete with their forms of organisation. The men and women of the former Iron Column carried on their struggle against fascism despite the constant backstabbing from the Communists until the war was lost in 1939. Of those who stayed in the area where they had lived and fought many were rounded and shot by the Franco-ist forces in the years after the war had officially ended. Others, including Manzanera himself, managed to escape to France. The material about the Iron Column is sandwiched between an account of the author’s return from exile in 1979, in which he shows his disgust with what has happened to the youth of the country, and generally the style in which the pamphlet is written is not one that many English authors would employ, for example way too theatrical in places for my liking and the text is rather disorganised. That said it is an authentic, warts and all, account of one person’s experience of fighting in the Iron Column, and is valuable for that.


Richard Alexander