This history is, as Paul Preston says "A landmark in the historiography of the Spanish revolution" and covers the development of the CNT as well as the revolution itself. It is a history written from one side of the barricades, and comes with an intelligent justification of 'committed history' and a fascinating account of its genesis and publishing history.
For those whose field of study is modern Spain, this is indeed an obligatory purchase. Given that this edition has been indexed and footnoted it may prove more useful to scholars than the original Spanish-language editions. Chris Ealham is vigilant in disputing points of interpretation where necessary, and in referring readers works of analysis and research that have only recently appeared.
Those interested in revolutionary theory will be able to trace the development of a series of important practical debates: to what extent does a syndicalist policy open the door to reformist degeneration? Does a policy of insurrection produce a vanguardist outlook? How can 'proletarian unity' be forged with organisations not committed to a revolutionary outlook (the question that bedeviled relations between the CNT and UGT through the early '30s)?
The strength of this work, a strength which should recommend it to all potential readers, is that it provides the raw material for an assessment of both the CNT and the Spanish revolution. Of course, we are treated to some lyrical prose, but in exchange we get the authentic voices of history in quoted documents and eyewitness accounts. These cover tactical debates and congresses, the battles with the boss's gunmen in the years of pistolerismo, dissension on the wartime collaboration of parts of the anarchist movement and the choking of revolutionary spirit with militarisation and the revival of statism. To quote Juan Peiró (speaking in defence of the collaborationst policy!) "Either the government is surplus to requirements, or the [popular] committees are." Unfortunately authoritarianism hiding in revolutionary guise was able to demolish the gains won by the revolution - reintroducing the state under the watchwords of 'discipline', 'unity' or 'military necessity'.
However, the constructive achievements of the collectives are recorded in the final chapter of this volume. The enthusiasm for mechanisation and fertiliser might surprise some who imagine rural anarchism to be based on some Arcadian dream; but the question raised here is still relevant: should those who produce the food starve? Is the earth a common treasury or private asset? Anyone looking to changing the system we live under would do well to consider the efforts and mistakes of the past. Roll on volumes two and three!
Price £15.95 plus postage, Special offer price for KSL subscribers £12 plus postage (only available on orders that come through KSL, obviously!)
Postage £2.50 UK, US airmail £5
The CNT in the Spanish Revolution, Volume 1
by José Peirats Valls
ISBN 1-901172-05-8 Paperback
Edited by Chris Ealham
Translated by Paul Sharkey and Chris Ealham
First English edition published, May 2001 by
The Meltzer Press, PO Box 35
Hastings, East Sussex, TN34 2UX
In KSL: Bulletin of the Kate Sharpley Library No. 27, July 2001