Andalusian Anarchism

In May 1998, José Luis Gutiérrez Molina, a researcher at the University of Seville, gave a talk on anarchism in Andalusia down through the years. After his talk there was a discussion on the topic from which some interesting information emerges.

J.L Gutiérrez Molina argues that, contrary to what many people might prefer, the history of Andalusia cannot be written without appropriate reference to the enduring anarchist presence in the region. He notes that when a film-maker, Martín Patino, tried to capture the essence of Andalusia in a 6-part series, two out of the six were given over to matters relating to anarchism in Andalusia. He points out that the description ‘Andalusia’ covers a huge region with widely varying geography and styles of work, from the open plains around Córdoba, Seville and Cádiz, the high country around Ronda and the estuary of the Guadalquivir river. An anarchist presence in the triangle formed by the Guadalquivir estuary, Córdoba and Málaga can be traced right back to the launching of the Spanish branch of the IWMA back in 1870 in Barcelona.

It is still commonly claimed that the Andalusian anarchist is representative of an under-developed, brutalised society.” This he repudiates as the product of an overly-schematic marxist historiography and a willingness to ride roughshod over awkward facts. Andalusian anarchism was as likely to be encountered among the industrial workforce of Málaga as among the farm labourers of Córdoba. Industrialisation in Málaga goes back to the middle of the 19th century and Andalusia boasted important centres of food production, metalworking and mining and ship-building, etc.

Gutiérrez Molina also contends that another salient aspect of anarchism in Andalusia has been its persistence. This was not due to “anarchist militants having read the works of the likes of Bakunin, and regurgitating what they said, but fed off the issues raised by society and the anarchist world around them.” Andalusian anarchism was a dynamic, growing movement. “Andalusia led the way in the switch from the anarcho-collectivist school to the anarcho-communist school between 1880 and 1890 and the turn of the century. In Andalusia champions of collectivism coexisted alongside those who went with ideas closer to Kropotkin’s outlook: anarcho-communism. ” It is pointed out that these changes arose separately in Catalonia and in Andalusia and marxist historians have had problems explaining away their emergence from such contrasting societies.

Gutiérrez Molina points out that in times of repression, when carefully constructed trade unions were smashed and militants executed or jailed, Andalusian anarchism survived thanks to the sindicato de oficios varios (general trades unions) which acted as a rallying point for workers of all trades and none until such time as their own trades union could bounce back. He further states that we need to remember that an acute social and class war was being fought out in Andalusia and reminds us that the Andalusian landlords were behind the first plot against the Second Republic in Spain and were also behind the bloody repression in the wake of July 1936. Andalusian anarchism had to contend with repression from monarchist and republican governments alike and the patterns of repression have been recurrent since the Mano Negra show trial through to the crack-down following the Scala case in 1977. Anarchism in Andalusia has survived them all, from the police crackdowns and frame-ups to the more insidious repression in the workplace.

Following his talk, there was a discussion, with participation from the audience:

Manolo González (a veteran of the Málaga local federation, active in the CNT ever since the 1930s as well as in the FAI) - “In Málaga there was a significant group of the libertarian persuasion even prior to the foundation of the First International; it had a presence among the transport workers and portworkers (Málaga was an outlet for exports to Cuba and the Philippines then). There was something like 30 or 40,000 workers employed in the industrial sector in Málaga. And there was a sizeable general strike in Málaga towards the end of the 19th century.

Of the 6 or 8 thousand railway workers, about half were CNT members, the rest belonging to the UGT. Rail was the only form of transport in Andalusia and most of the linesmen belonged to the CNT whilst the farm labourers belonged to the UGT. There was an enormous expansion in personnel, newspapers and other libertarian publications such as Solidaridad Obrera or CNT. Vicente Ballester was secretary of the CNT and went on to become director of CNT, the newspaper, in Madrid.

The Andalusian movement was every bit as important in Málaga (or more so) as in Seville or Córdoba. There was a very powerful anarchist movement in La Linea and Algeciras, held together by the so-called matuteros (smuggling was so commonplace that virtually everyone carried a knapsack around with them), most of them anarchists. The bull-fighters - not so much the stars turns as the lesser players like the banderilleros and others - were CNT members, as were many others in Seville. This was true of the soccer team in 1945 and 1950 when the CNT was quite a presence (30,000 dues-paying members in Madrid). Manolin Padre the elder was a soccer player and belonged to the CNT and used to transport all of the press produced in Andalusia. In 1945 50,000 copies of CNT were produced in Andalusia and distributed, although not directly, not even to the militants in Málaga. They were shipped to Seville or Cádiz and then back to Málaga to throw the police off the scent of the presses here in Málaga.

The CNT was very strong in Seville but there were not too many anarchist groups. The groups were more plentiful in Málaga and there were others in Granada, Córdoba, Bujalance, Castro and Ronda. There were groups galore right along the coast from Málaga up as far as Alicante. They were in touch with others in Algeciras and La Linea and some of them had certain ties to freemasonry (they say that Fermín Salvochea was a mason, or Ballester himself and an attempt was made to put Ballester out of the movement).

My grandfather was chairman of the First International in Málaga and lived in this district (where the CNT has its local). In this district there were lots of coopers as there was a wine and an olive oil industry. The olive oil exports were in the hands of Italians. There was a big workforce and most belonged to the CNT. Many others were members of anarchist groups.

As I have said, the anarchist movement in Málaga was important and I have experience of the size f the movement in Córdoba, whilst the CNT was strong also in Seville and took a revolutionary line under the influence of activists. Proof of this is the fact that there were revolutionary uprisings in Seville prior to the war.

Gutiérrez Molina: From everything that you have said, it is apparent that the history of the anarchist movement in Málaga needs to be written and I would urge the comrades in Málaga to get to it.

It is also apparent from your evidence that Andalusian anarchism was not an agrarian thing but evolved in an industrialised urban setting.

In the 1930s, a series of internal wrangles broke out in Seville and the opening of the unions to all and sundry led to a quieting down..

From 1933 on, there was an anarchist group in Seville - the Hermanos Unidos (United Brothers), I think. It sent a letter to the FAI regional committee objecting to the issuing of a statement claiming responsibility for the uprising in January 1933 and stating that the CNT, having promoted that rising, ought to be claiming authorship of it.

This is indicative of disagreements relating to the trade union organisation which, being made up of workers who were not required to subscribe to a common ideology before they could take out membership, sometimes gave more weight to trade union business than to matters of ideology.

In that respect, the protest had further consequences in 1935 when the Andalusian regional FAI committee sent a letter to the FAI peninsular committee, asking that FAI militants be pulled out of the CNT. This can be verified with the FAI archives in Amsterdam.

Abad de Santillan wrote the reply, stating that FAI were not about to walk away from the CNT, because the time was not right for that.

Tiempos Nuevos even raised an objection with the peninsular plenum asking that FAI members holding dual FAI-CNT membership should quit the CNT.

Manolo González: In Málaga, unlike in Seville, the driving force behind the CNT was the specifically anarchist movement you just mentioned (the FAI).

Gutiérrez Molina: I mentioned one telling case: Ballester. He was an FAI militant from 1928 to 1931 and along with him there were Pegales, José Lozano, Pino Alvarado, José Bonat, Elías García and others. While he was in Cádiz they set about organising CNT unions in Cádiz and gradually he eased up on his strictly FAI activities until by the time 1936 came he held a rally alongside Largo Caballero in Cádiz, on the very day that the accords of the Zaragoza CNT Congress were being announced in Seville. He was summoned before a plenum of the Cádiz anarchist groups to explain his presence at a rally on that day and announced that his presence was at the request of the unions from the Cádiz Local CNT Federation.

Question from the floor: What can you tell us about the episode of the Gorbacho brothers?

Gutiérrez Molina: Well, in theory they were executed for membership of the Mano Negra. Three court cases were brought: all in all, according to the newspapers or the Civil Guard at the time, the Mano Negra was an organisation set up by anarchists for the purpose of murdering bosses and powerful people, including members who might occasionally try to quit or betray the organisation. In fact it was huge frame-up cooked up by the Civil Guard in 1882. The archives of the Royal Household contain the original of the Mano Negra constitution which was “uncovered by accident by a Civil Guard who stubbed his toe against a rock in a field”.

This concoction was designed to furnish the pretext for stamping out the worker and peasant agitation in Andalusia at the time in the Jerez, Seville, Córdoba or Málaga districts.

The intention was to put paid to this agitation and as the year’s harvest was approaching, a start was made to devising the repression. Three ordinary crimes were seized upon for this purpose: one of them took place in a farmhouse in Arcos de la Frontera, another on the road out of Jerez and a third in Benaojan. The three cases arising out of these offences were used to implicate the accused as part of the obscure Mano Negra organisation.

After that there was a press campaign that started to talk about a bloodthirsty criminal organisation and upwards of 25 sets of statutes were produced for it.

The important point was that the press labelled the anarchists as criminals committed to all manner of crimes against the haves.

From the floor: That idea still lingers..

Gutiérrez Molina: Not only does it linger but some people who describe themselves as anarchists have swallowed the State’s lies and repeat them. Recently graffiti turned up on the walls in Cádiz after certain incidents claiming them on behalf of the Mano Negra.

The State’s lies should not be believed. especially not by those on the receiving end, sometimes because of lack of education..

From the floor: The CNT itself had to disavow and disassociate itself in the press from the incidents you just mentioned.

Manolo González: Why is it argued that the Córdoba Congress was the very first anarchist congress?

Gutiérrez Molina: Following the parting of the ways between Marx’s followers and the Bakuninist or libertarian tendency, it was the first congress to be held that brought the sector together that was anarchist in outlook.

The First International in Spain was a hotchpotch of workers’ associations and mutual aid societies of every hue. Both Marx and Bakunin sent envoys to Spain to recruit the organised workers to one camp or the other. The fact is that the majority in Spain went with the Bakuninist camp, except for a number of groups or branches.

One such group was the Madrid socialist federation that included Iglesias and Mora and they set up a socialist federation in Andalusia and whenever they turned up as a federation at the International controlled by Marx in London, they were recognised as the labour representatives from Spain even though they were only a tiny breakaway from Madrid and there were also groupings from Seville, Cádiz or Málaga.

A congress was called in Zaragoza but its accords proved ineffective. The following year (1871) in Valencia there was a follow-up conference at which it proved impossible to reach an accommodation between the anarchist socialists and the marxist socialists. At which point Iglesias, Mora and others quit the International and a third congress was convened in Córdoba at which the marxist elements were not represented. Which is why Córdoba is considered as the first anarchist congress ever held in Spain.

From: Adapted and condensed from articles in CNT (Granada) July and August 1998. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.