A Planned Parenthood

Of the various facets that flag up the maturity of Iberian anarchism as a social movement, and leaving to one side its trade union manifestation, a concern with health matters stands out. Here allow us to differentiate between two separate aspects: the championing of birth control methods and sexual liberation, and the social-health structures that began to take shape under the aegis of the revolution.

Mary Nash says of birth control and neo-Malthusianism: “The stance adopted by Spanish libertarian circles vis a vis Malthus’s contentions and the spread of neo-Malthusianism passed through three different stages. The first, corresponding to the 19th and early 20th centuries, is typified by its rejection of Malthusian principles; the second, up until the 1920s, is linked to the trajectory of the review Salud y Fuerza and the person of Luis Bulffi; and the third, associated with the reviews Generacion Consciente and Estudios […] [1] especially in the years of the Republic. It should be pointed out that if the suggestion of birth control was initially rejected by anarchists this was due to the influence of Kropotkin and his belief that nature’s resources were boundless. Timid efforts to acknowledge birth control methods began with Salud y Fuerza but no connection was made between them and revolutionary theories. By the 1930s, the campaign for birth control had been fully embraced by anarchism and waged among the proletariat, both as a means of avoiding large families doomed to poverty and exploitation and as a way of enjoying a full sex life with no limits other than those set by the free choice of the couple; the mother’s health would also be a telling factor in such considerations. Finally, in gauging the extent of such efforts, suffice to say that sexuality was debated during the proceedings of the CNT congress in Zaragoza in 1936.

Solidaridad Obrera too was to play its modest part in this trend. Articles on various eugenics-related topics were carried in its columns. By way of example, Nash cites this formula for a spermicide:

[…] we find a range of home-made chemical formulas, many of them based on cocoa butter and glycerine. One formula cited by a ‘Dr Fantasma’ and carried by Solidaridad Obrera recommended as follows: 100 grammes of cocoa butter, 3 grammes of chlorohydrate of quinine, 1 gramme of timo, 5 grammes of eau de cologne and 10 grammes of glycerine.” [2]

Other writers less ethereal that ‘Dr Fantasma’ (Dr Ghost) tackled such themes in the columns of the CNT’s mouthpiece and broadly speaking these were names of some import within the libertarian movement. Take Isaac Puente, author of the renowned pamphlet Libertarian Communism. Puente was prominent not merely as an anarchist theorist but also as a propagandist on behalf of birth control, sex education and naturism. The Aragonese doctor Augusto Moisés Alcrudo Solórzano is another instance of such versatility; he attended the third CNT congress in Madrid in 1931 as delegate from the Zaragoza Cleansing and Health Union and was a sporadic contributor to Soli up until he was shot in Zaragoza days after the civil war began. Another great populariser of such matters in labour and libertarian circles was Félix Martí Ibáñez who served as under-secretary at the Health & Social Affairs ministry in 1937.

Actually, in respect of advances in social health provision driven by the anarchists in 1936, Martí Ibáñez had a higher profile than the Health minister of the time, Federica Montseny. (Although she made no attempt to obstruct the legalization of abortion, Montseny was always reticent about its implementation and – like her father, Federico Urales aka Juan Montseny – advocated a rather more ‘traditional’ sexual conduct).

Of the roles played by Martí Ibáñez and by Soli, it has been written:

[…] in the context of the 1936 revolution and over the months when the anarchists served in the republican government, they launched a health policy that amounted to implementation of ideas they had long been championing. Abortion was to be made legal in Catalonia in December 1936 at the instigation of Félix Martí Ibáñez, the then director-general of Health & Social Assistance at the Generalidad. The Artificial Termination of Pregnancy order defended in the anarcho-syndicalist press as one of the revolution’s triumphs [see F Martí Ibáñez “Apropos of the eugenic abortion reform” in Solidaridad Obrera of 12 January 1937, page 10] carried a clear emancipatory message given that it accepted the wishes of the woman and her control of her own body as sufficient grounds upon which abortion might be performed.” [3]

Thanks to the Mujeres Libres organization, to which names like Lucia Sanchez Saornil or Amparo Poch were linked, a further chapter was written in this deep-seated revolution in the history of mental attitudes. [4] It will forever be a matter of regret that the experiment proved so short-lived and that it was cut short by bloodshed, fire and holy water after 1939.


[1] Mary Nash: “Anarchist neo-Malthusianism and popular knowledge of birth control in Spain” (in Spanish) in Presencia y protagonismo. Aspectos de la historia de la mujer (Ediciones del Serbal, Barcelona 1984), p. 316

[2] Nash, op.cit., p. 334

[3] We have not been able to establish the name of the male or female author of the article in question, “Mujeres Libres (1936-1939). Una lectura feminist” which seems to be the text of a paper from a tribute the University of Zaragoza paid to Amparo Poch in 2002. The text is available at http://wzar.unizar.es/sien/articulos/Premios/MujeresLibres.pdf

(4) For further reading in these matters, see Xavier Diez, Utopia sexual a la premsa anarquista a Catalunya (Pagès Editors, Lérida 2001); Antonina Rodrigo, Amparo Poch y Gascón. Textos de una médica libertarin (Alcaravan, Zaragoza 2002) and Una mujer libre; Amparo Poch y Gascón, médica anarquista (Flor del Viento, Barcelona 2002); and Marti Bosca with José Vicente “Revolution and health in Spain 1931-1939” (in Spanish) in La rosa il.lustrada. Trobada sobre cultura anarquista I lliure pensament (University of Alicante, Alicante 2005)

From: special monograph edition of Solidaridad Obrera, Barcelona, marking 100 years of 'Soli'. Available at at www.soliobrera.org. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.