Solidaridad Obrera 1907-1939: Notes towards a history of CNT journalism

When he came to Barcelona back in November 1868, Giuseppe Fanelli could scarcely have dreamt how successful his mission was to prove. The fact of the matter is that Bakunin’s envoy, sent to bring the good news of the International found a Workers’ Movement that was already beginning to flourish: in fact, his arrival in the city coincided with significant advances in labour combination. Ferrán Aisa tells us that “The ‘Glorious’ revolution with its whiff of freedom made it feasible for workers’ societies to organise themselves. On 1 October 1868 the Barcelona workers’ associations federated with one another to form the General Directorate of Barcelona Workers’ Societies […] 13 December saw the holding of the Catalan Workers’ Congress.” [1]

By the time Fanelli showed up, the Ateneo Catalán de la Clase Obrera (Working Class’s Catalan Athenaeum) was already up and running; it was the embryo of what would become the Spanish Section of the International Working-Men’s Association, launched on 20 May 1869. Soon the trade union option would prevail over other avenues to combination such as workers’ cooperatives. At the same time, Bakunin’s views, rather than Marx’s, would inspire much of popular politics. Iberian anarchism’s prolific life was just starting.


The turn of the century brought the Federación Regional Española de Sociedades de Resistencia/ Spanish Regional Federation of Resistance Societies, a failed venture that survived fitfully until 1905. Those were five years of tough organizational crisis arising out of the failed general strike of 1902.

The debate surrounding the general strike tactic had recently been raging in France and there was also some question surrounding the chances of its spreading across Europe and around the globe; in 1902 one erupted in Barcelona, sponsored by anarchists but boycotted by socialists. After barely a week’s struggle, the numbers of workers killed (some sources speak of 100) and wounded (somewhere between 100 and 300) at the hands of the army, as well as around 500 tossed into jail [2], forced a return to work without a single one of the strikers’ demands conceded, even though Barcelona had been brought to a standstill. The 1902 failure came as a hard blow to the anarchists, for whom the general strike was the corner stone of their revolutionary practice; consequently, what with reprisals and loss of following, the collectivist anarchism which ruled the roost in those days was brought to a low ebb.

This set-back did not stop the spread into Catalonia of the revolutionary syndicalism emanating from France. Although little mention is made of it, some sources point out that Catalan anarchists had earlier had some influence on the French model: on this point, historian X. Cuadrat notes: “Anselmo Lorenzo said that, in the light of the crisis and organizational disarray in which the workers’ societies found themselves – in the wake of the 1902 strike – syndicalist thinking seeped into Spain, most especially into Catalonia, bringing not some brand new idea, but rather returning to us in a corrected, expanded and perfectly sleek form that which we Spanish anarchists had inspired in the French through Acracia and El Productor debating with La Révolte over whether some revolutionary vigour should be injected into the resistance societies”[3]

By 1904 the statutes of the Local Union of Workers’ Societies, operating in the Barcelona metropolitan area had been fixed; it was to be the embryo of a modern trade union central, Solidaridad Obrera (SO). The Union’s project took off and on 3 August 1907, just five years after the fiasco of 1902, it was transformed into a local confederation, Solidaridad Obrera. At a time when group identities were sharply defined, the choice of the title Solidaridad Obrera/ Workers’ Solidarity, a name that would shortly be adopted also by its press mouthpiece, might be regarded as a class response to the recently created Solidaritat Catalana/ Catalan Solidarity which was an umbrella for the bourgeoisie; be that as it may, the very notion of solidarity was by then and would remain a watchword and an organizational principle.

Into the SO flowed socialists, anarchists, syndicalists and republicans. So that they might all coexist with one another, the SO fought shy of any ideological label. That original vagueness, plus the presence of the socialists as a driving force behind the launching of SO, were to lead to misgivings and criticisms from the orthodox anarchists. As X. Cuadrat writes “tensions between the ‘pure’ or orthodox anarchists and the strictly syndicalist elements, would repeatedly be resolved in the favour of the former, especially following the March 1923 murder of Salvador Segui.” [4] Actually those tensions have always been bubbling under within the anarcho-syndicalist movement and have lain at the root of fall-out after fall-out and behind the splits that have occurred since 1979. Despite attacks from the libertarian orthodoxy, Anselmo Lorenzo and Francisco Ferrer i Guardia threw themselves into an enthusiastic campaign to encourage anarchists to get involved in SO, as indeed they would. On the other hand and thanks to some money from a substantial legacy, the educationist Ferrer had already funded the newspaper La Huelga General which started publishing in 1901, plus the Biblioteca de La Huelga General series of pamphlets. As regards SO, Ferrer would not restrict himself solely to funding the launch of Soli, but would also contribute towards the funding of a great workers’ centre, the SO premises in the Carrer Nova de Sant Francesc. In fact his support for the Catalan central was one of the pretexts upon which the indictment that ended with his being sentenced to death relied; and a number of Lerrouxist informers were actively implicated in securing that conviction and sentence.

A newspaper for the City of Bonfires

Work began immediately on equipping the newly created organisation with a mouthpiece. Adopting the press model of the earliest Spanish IWMA [5] chapters, and, it seems, thanks to funding from Ferrer i Guardia, the very first edition of Solidaridad Obrera was to appear on 19 October 1907. It was a weekly and boasted four pages: it carried the sub-title “organ of the workers’ societies” and cost 5 céntimos a copy. It is our belief that its very first director was Jaume Bisbe, a close associate of Ferrer i Guardia. In addition to strictly news items, there was evidence even at this early stage of articles dealing with matters tactical and organisational. This new paper soon came to be known popularly as simply Soli.

Low membership figures and the onerous burdens placed upon them led to the recently launched paper’s being shut down from 30 November 1907 to 13 February 1908. In September 1908, the move was made from the paper’s original editorial offices in the Calle Mendizábal (today the Carrer Junta del Comerç) to the organisation’s brand new premises at Carrer Nova de Sant Francesc, 7, 1°. That same year, the Workers’ Congress at which SO decided to upgrade to a regional organization was held on those same premises.

1908 was disfigured by a curious terrorist campaign which, although attributed to the anarchists, was most likely an instance of state terrorism; its aim was to justify a flurry of anti-labour legislation just months apart. In this context, the man who would soon become the director of Soli, the printing worker Tomas Herreros, played an ambiguous part. According to X. Cuadrat: “Romero Maura contends that from 1905 to 1909, Tomas Herreros directly or indirectly briefed the Barcelona authorities on Lerroux’s terrorism and revolutionary (?) plans […] In so doing, Herreros may well have had several purposes in mind: 1) clearing anarchists of the blame for the terrorist outrages being credited to them; 2) preventing government crackdowns – a significant factor in the dis-organisation of the Barcelona proletariat – from targeting the workers’ movement at a particularly delicate point in the reorganizing of the unions; and 3) focusing the government’s attention and directing possible reprisals at the Lerrouxists who were chiefly to blame for the crisis and confusion afflicting the proletariat in the capital of Catalonia … […] Then again, it looks as if it was Herreros who exposed [Joan] Rull’s nefarious intrigues and Rull’s double life as a terrorist and confidant of the governor, which actually placed Herreros in great danger. Herreros’s unblemished personal integrity has been acknowledged and proclaimed by all who knew him, ranging from Ossorio y Gallardo to Diego Abad de Santillán. Herreros’s role in exposing and pointing a finger at the real terrorists, thereby erasing and eradicating the suspicions that had been hanging over anarchists, accounts for his status as an ‘informant’, a label which proves to be wildly inaccurate as applied to him.”[6]

We ought to make it clear that Alejandro Lerroux’s mind was firmly made up to see SO dead and buried. Actually the Radical Party leader, a shady, rabble-rousing, corrupt figure, had turned the workers’ movement into his fishing ground for votes; anything that might encourage worker autonomy posed a threat to his catch of votes. Small wonder, then, that the war between SO and Lerroux and his goons was a long and bitter one.

The recovery by anarchist forces proceeded against this muddled and turbulent backdrop. June 1909 saw the opening in Barcelona of the Ateneo Sindicalista, signalling that anarchists were increasingly coming around to the trade union option. But those were troubled times and that very same month saw a revolt against the shipment of recruits to the war in Morocco. Seven days of fighting by the people, known as Tragic Week, would trigger a horrific repression. SO felt the impact of defeat and, according to José Prat, its membership plummeted from 15,000 to a mere 4,418.

Besides, Soli was suspended. Between then and when it was forced underground in 1939, suspensions, confiscations and censorship of articles would be a consistent feature in Solidaridad Obrera‘s history.

The organisation’s response to the silencing of its mouthpiece in 1909 was to bring out an Asturian edition of the paper. Some 32 editions of the Gijón-published edition of Soli appeared between 1909 and 1910. Later, other Solis would follow (in Gijón, Bilbao, Vigo, Seville and La Coruña) although these were prompted, not by the need to fill the gap left by the closure of the Catalan edition, but rather by the natural growth of the CNT’s regional confederations and their need to launch mouthpieces of their own, to which end they often turned to a name that had become emblematic in the history of the Spanish Labour Movement. Paradoxically, after 1936, when conditions in the republican zone looked as if they had never been better, the Catalan edition found itself the only publication carrying this name.

Be that as it may, the Gijón Soli experiment was reenacted on several occasions. Given the volume of disputes waged by the Catalan regional confederation of the CNT, some of them disputes of great political import, and given the news and organisational demands that these created, the Confederation was unable to cope without some propaganda organ of its own. Backed into a corner by a number of suspensions imposed upon Soli, especially the more prolonged suspensions, the CNT of Catalonia was obliged to resort to a variety of solutions. Whereas in 1909 it had had to relocate publication of the CNT’s paper to Gijón, it had to repeat the exercise between 1919 and 1923, but this time virtually the entire editorial team went with it and Valencia was the chosen site from which to continue publication; similarly, a sort of a “syndication” arrangement had to be worked out with the Madrid-based daily España Nueva whereby that republican newspaper made space for its articles. At other times short-lived titles such as Solidaridad, Acción or La Voz Confederal were cobbled together just to fill the vacuum left after Soli was banned. Even during the civil war, Catalunya performed this supplemental function.

After the traumatic dénouement of the 1909 revolt, publication did not resume in Barcelona until 12 February 1910. This second phase of publication opened under the sub-title ‘Trade union publication.’ Throughout this period, the paper moved from an address at Carrer Mercè, 19, principal (up until May 1911) to one in the Calle Ponent [these days the Calle Joaquim Costa], 24, 2°, very close to where it has its offices at present at No. 34. Andrés Cuadros was to be director of the publication and he was replaced by the socialist type-setter Joaquín Bueso who would hold that post up until October 1911.

Bueso is a good example of the ideological evolution triggered by the establishment of SO. Whilst Tomás Herreros moved from the anarchist camp across into the revolutionary syndicalist camp, Bueso turned his back on Lerrouxism (and on a friendship with Alejandro Lerroux) to back the strictly syndicalist, albeit not apolitical option: “Within the PSOE, Bueso would carry on championing direct action, boycott and sabotage and a notion of the general strike identical to that which he backed at the 1910 congress [in which he was of course an active participant] etc.,” [7] It could be argued without exaggeration that Bueso died in 1920, embittered by the attacks directed at him by his radical neighbours following his political and personal U-turn via à vis Alejandro Lerroux.

Bueso’s issue with the attitude of another of the directors, Manuel Andreu, is well known (and has been reprinted by both Paco Madrid and by Susana Tavera): I am reprinting it here as well because it perfectly illustrates the origins and ideological evolution of the workers’ society and its mouthpiece. Bear in mind, however, that by around 1909, in order to maintain its ideological neutrality, the paper had turned down articles from Anselmo Lorenzo, Jerónimo Farré and José Prat. Be that as it may, this is what Bueso (hiding behind his pen name Orberosa) stated in 1915:

Solidaridad Obrera was run by Tomás Herreros, anarchist, who was simultaneously also director of Tierra y Libertad, and Tomás Herreros did not turn Solidaridad Obrera into an anarchist bulletin board as is the case today. Solidaridad Obrera was [sic] later run by Andrés Cuadros, and that comrade too managed to avoid the anarchist flavour that is a feature of the paper today; later the direction of the aforementioned workers’ paper was taken up by the type-setter Joaquín Bueso, and, like the previous directors, he saw to it that the paper was non-sectarian; Cuadros returned as director and, even though, during this second term of his as director he was not as even-handed as he had been during the first, he did not allow Solidaridad Obrera to be a brazenly anarchist newspaper: but of late it has fallen into the hands of Manuel Andreu and since then has been in competition with Tierra y Libertad in terms of anarchist propaganda.” [8]

Along comes the Confederation

The organisation was soon grappling with the challenges of expansion and subsequent consolidation as it drew other agencies elsewhere around Spain into the fold. To this end, meticulous preparations were made for the 2nd congress of the regional Confederation which was to meet from 30 October and 1 November 1910, postponed because of the post-Tragic Week crackdown. It was held at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Barcelona. Contrary to what some historians and ill-informed dilettantes contend, this was to prove the foundation congress of a new organisational structure that was to burst forth upon the historical stage as the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (National Confederation of Labour).[9] In 1911, from 8 to 10 September, the first CNT congress would be held. Due, perhaps to the influence of Kropotkin’s communes, from which source it was to imbibe its libertarian municipalism, the CNT right from the outset was to stake all on Local Federations as the basis of its organizational structures.

Given the new circumstances, a fall-out with the socialists – who were unwilling to compete with the UGT, which was also organized across the state – became inevitable and they quit SO. In any event, the alliance between the republican parties and the socialist party was lending a belligerent edge to the Catalan union’s apolitical outlook. Despite the parting of the ways, though, the CNT initially decided not to confront the UGT head-on, even though there had been voices around for the previous decade calling for it to face down the socialist union’s compromising line.

As far as the evolution of Soli and its importance for the new organisation go, it is telling that even at the 1910 meeting reference was made to the need to turn the weekly publication into a daily, something that was only achieved almost half a decade later.

The history of the CNT as well as that of its mouthpiece would also be studded with closures and persecutions. In fact, as the first congress drew to an end, a secret meeting of delegates [10] took place at which a general strike (a state-wide one, according to X. Cuadrat) was decided in solidarity with the Vizcaya miners and in protest at the war in Morocco. In retaliation, a government ban was slapped on the CNT and publication of Soli was suspended.

Not until 1 May 1913 was another edition of Solidaridad Obrera to see the light of day. At which point, phase three of its existence began. The Catalonian Regional Confederation of Labour (CRT) rather than the CNT tried to revert to normal activity but by August that year the manufacturing sector went on strike and the regional confederation was suspended: the same fate befell Soli for two weeks. During 1914, the CRT took on the hard slog of reorganizing the still disbanded CNT in which it would not succeed until the following year, at considerable effort.

In 1915 Andreu Cuadros was replaced as head of publication by the electrician Manuel Andreu [11], a director with scarcely any editorial assistance and he in turn was to give the job up the following year in what was another recurrent feature of the paper; the directors’ mandate tended to be brief, indeed, ephemeral. In fact, external pressures and internal squabbling, exacerbated by endemic shortage of funds, made it impossible throughout the next 20 years to get any continuity in those elected to run the paper or in the many editorial teams or particular editors who were forever coming and going in the pages of Soli.

During 1915, the editorial staff ended up sharing premises with the Electricians’ Union, an apartment in the Calle Paloma. In one of life’s quirks, it later moved to a house at Calle Mercaders, 25, which, once the Vía Laietana opened up, would be replaced by the Fomento building and the Casa Cambó which were both collectivised in 1936 to accommodate the Casa CNT-FAI and the Catalan regional committee.

In Time of War

The years of the First World War coincided with a resurgence of class warfare on the streets of Barcelona. Spain’s neutrality in the conflict laid the groundwork for an economic boom that was absolutely not reflected in any betterment in the workers’ socio-economic conditions. The trade union response to this provoked retaliation in the shape of government repression and of hired guns in the pay of the employers’ federation.

As might be supposed, all of this had an impact on the life of the paper. However, during those turbulent years which would also witness the emergence of mass journalism, the Solidaridad Obrera project was consolidated in terms both of journalistic model and of perodicity, when it finally became a daily. [12]

Thus, during 1916 and 1917 “the characteristic profile that was to mark this labour newspaper for ever more, with a lot of circumstantial tinkering, came into being: lots of trade union news (in sections named ‘Trade Union Action’, ‘National Agitation’ and ‘Trade Union Guide’), the political news mentioned earlier [Tavera refers to “Spanish and international current political events”] and a sort of miscellany (the whole gamut of entertainment and cultural news). Not forgetting the space devoted to all manner of theoretical and doctrinal contributions, often signed by writers of renown in anarchist quarters within and outside of Spain, and a range of pamphleteering (in those days these tended to relate to the tactics of labour struggles rather than literary creation). Solidaridad Obrera paid especial attention to letters and articles from unsolicited contributors, as these poured into the editors by the dozen, creating an ongoing headache for those who, before they could be published, had to correct them until they more or less conformed to journalistic practice.” [13] The model was therefore more or less the same as the mass newspapers, but there was no loss of character in terms of its serving as a tool for cohesion, organisation and partnership, which the ordinary press did not.

In May 1916, Manuel Andreu handed over the top job to José Borobio, an enigmatic individual of whom it was said that, among other things, he had worked as a nightclub hypnotist. Borobio in turn was to hand over to José Negre (an activist since SO days) at the beginning of November that year and Negre held office only until mid-1917.

Together with Segui, Negre favoured the trade union line, a view that he often transplanted on to pages of Soli over the years, in which it was challenged by a variety of libertarian circles. So the tensions that would erupt so virulently in 1932 when they would trigger a split, were still around inside the organization.

On 18 December 1916, the CNT and the UGT launched a joint, nationwide appeal for support for what was to become known as the General Subsistence Strike. Within days of the start of that strike, several prominent CNT members were under arrest, together with the entire editorial staff of the paper.

Those were times of straitened financial circumstances for the paper which found itself forced to make space in its pages for hitherto unimaginable advertisements, including some from cabarets and other unlikely insertions such as those advertising first communion outfits. [14] And to make matters worse, the price of paper was soaring. Soli was to find itself reduced to a single, two-sided page and its print run fell to 3,000 copies. Impossible as this might seem, things got even worse in June 1917 when the Dato government banned press reporting of trade union news – Soli‘s very raison d’être.

Come August and with the prices of basic necessities soaring ever higher, a general strike was declared that in Barcelona acquired all the features of an insurrection. The army stepped in to snuff out the revolt and Soli was suspended up until the last fortnight in October.

In mid-1917, by which time Soli had reached its fourth phase of publication, José Borobio returned as director, only to figure, in November the same year, in the most sensational scandal in the paper’s entire history, the “German Embassy Affair”.

With the First World War at its height, Borobio abided by the majority sentiment within the CNT vis à vis the squabble between supporters of the Allies and supporters of the Germans: the proletariat should refrain from getting drawn into conflicts that were not class affairs (remember here that a minority within the CNT backed Kropotkin in his support for the Allies, which would bring him savage criticism from every libertarian quarter and to an extent he was ostracised up until his death in 1921). Borobio, a supporter of a general strike, if Spain were to plump for one side (the Allied side, if the left had its way) or the other. Things were not easy: any call for neutrality in the conflict was seized upon by republicans and socialists (especially the latter) as an excuse to hurl charges of pro-German sentiments. This was also the fate that befell Soli‘s director. Now, as will shortly be demonstrated, in this instance and to the Confederation’s surprise, the charges were not without foundation. Under pressure from the lack of funding for the paper, José Borobio (and, if Pestaña is to be believed, its then administrator, whom we have not been able to identify) had accepted bribes from the German Embassy; in return, articles had been carried by the CNT’s newspaper that were more or less subtly critical of certain stances by the allied nations, such as the treatment doled out to immigrant labour in France. At the same time, Borobio’s own opposition to the allies was hardening. As one might imagine, this was a major scandal and it seriously affected the CNT’s reputation among broad swathes of Spanish trade unionists and leftists.

After the scandal broke, the editorial team resigned and a commission took charge of the running of the paper until a new director was appointed in late November 1917. This was Ángel Pestaña who had to overhaul the line-up when it was found that he could expect no support from the outgoing team.

Historian Susanna Tavera has given us a detailed description of the complex task undertaken by Pestaña as the man in charge at Soli: he had to set the parameters for the CNT’s daily publication, and liaise with the readers who were to be the essential (and of course, mass) social base when it came to establishing and consolidating the CNT in organisational terms.

As an opponent of armed struggle, the close-mouthed but highly intelligent Pestaña opted instead for other ways of bringing pressures to bear. Knowing the capacity of the new press to mobilise, he managed to demonstrate the efficacy of his option with the campaign waged against Bravo Portillo.

Comisario Manuel Bravo Portillo was notorious as one of the visible heads of the anti-labour repression during the years when the employers deployed their hired gunmen. With the Sants labour congress in the offing, Bravo Portillo had to be neutralised: otherwise he would assuredly do his damnedest to prevent it from going ahead. On this occasion, the weapon chosen to eliminate Bravo Portillo was to be what we today would describe as “investigative journalism”.

Although the authenticity of the evidence adduced is not entirely clear, on 9 June 1918 Soli hit the streets with a spectacular lead story on Bravo Portillo’s contacts with German espionage. Apparently, the comisario was passing information to the Germans regarding shipping leaving from the port of Barcelona and some of that shipping was later torpedoed by German U-boats. Over the ensuing days, this report was built upon and Portillo eventually wound up in prison. However, Bravo was a free man again by the following year and back working for the employers’ hired guns at the direction of Catalonia’s Captain-General, Milans del Bosch. This time, though, Bravo was out of luck and the mercenary was gunned down in revenge for the murder of the CNT’s Pablo Sabater.

Thanks to the “Bravo Portillo Affair” Solidaridad Obrera not only managed to score a significant success as a newspaper, selling thousands of copies and raising its profile in society, but, given the nature of the episode, the CNT also recovered from the damaging fall-out from the “German Embassy Affair”.

With the road ahead now cleared, the Sants labour congress was able to proceed as planned. To be sure, Soli proved vital in the efforts leading up to the event and to newspaper coverage of it and returned to its 4-page format for the occasion. The congress was to prove enormously significant, in that it was to lay the groundwork for the trade union model that would carry the CNT into its heyday. This was the sindicato único, based on unionization on an industrial rather than a craft basis. In fact, the organisation swelled from a membership of 345,000 in 1918 to 715,000 in 1919: Barcelona accounted for some 250,000 of those members. [15] The boom in membership also brought a spectacular upsurge in the print-run of Soli which swelled to 100,000 copies.

Apropos of the new confederal model and its implications for life in the city, historian Chris Ealham has pointed out that “The Confederation’s strategists, aware of the spatial impact of the swelling barrios as the basis of organised resistance to capitalism and the state, decided to establish district committees for the rank and file in the new trade union branches of the main working class districts. As one militant had it, these local committees were ‘the union’s eyes and ears in each barrio’, the intersection between the barrios and the Barcelona Local Federation […] Besides, the Barcelona CNT’s newspaper Solidaridad Obrera played a crucial auxiliary role by announcing trade union meetings, talks and social activities mounted right across the city.”[16]

The busy newspaper would be much talked about at the Congress. On the basis of groundwork done by a commission of the regional committee, the conclusion was that, if the newspaper was to carry on publishing as a daily, its director, administrator and staffers should be exclusively committed to newspaper business and be paid an “agreed” wage, to borrow a contemporary phrase. At the same time, the Organisation laid down the mechanisms for ideological and political control over the paper. As for funding, it was determined that Soli would receive two céntimos a month per member, though this was no obstacle to its economic straits persisting into 1936.

Ángel Pestaña was re-elected as director. If the rumours reported by the official history of the CNT are accurate, the re-election of Pestaña was a slap in the face for Salvador Seguí who had his eye on the job. Those same rumours insist that there was a quiet competition between the two men. In any event, as far as Soli goes, Seguí’s aspirations (and cautionary words) were unrelated to his fear of a complete, irreversible Castilianisation of the paper, although this is a matter to which we shall return anon.

Agitation remained the keynote of Spanish political life. In response to a number of overtures, especially from Catalanist quarters, the Conde de Romanones suspended constitutional guarantees throughout the land. Lots of CNT personnel were arrested (Pestaña, although he managed to escape, was to be captured in the spring). For no particular reason, publication of Soli was suspended in January 1919. The beginning of the La Canadiense strike in February that year required publication of several clandestine issues. Under pressure from the need for propaganda at such a dramatic juncture, and with publication of the paper on any sort of a regular basis impossible, the Organisation decided to relocate publication to Valencia. The first edition of this Valencian run, which was also frequently harassed, appeared on 25 February 1919. [17] It would appear daily until October 1922, at which point and for financial reasons it became bi-weekly. Even so, between 1919 and 1923 (in which year it resurfaced in Catalonia) some 335 issues would see publication.

We know that Salvador Quemades was Solidaridad Obrera‘s director in November and December 1919, although it is unclear if this related to the fitfully published clandestine version or the Valencian edition. Susanna Tavera mentions Felipe Alaiz as director of the Valencian Soli, with Viadiu and Liberto Callejas as editors, but places its publication in 1922.

Given that the news needs of CNT life were not being met in Catalonia or elsewhere in Spain, the CNT was forced to come to a curious accommodation with the Madrid newspaper España Nueva, run by the republican Mariano García Cortés. To this day, this remains a controversial issue. Apparently, it was Adolfo Bueso – brother of ex-Soli director Joaquín – who started the following story: The CNT had ‘hired’ page 4 of España Nueva for its use [18]; as Paco Madrid tells us, that page was given over entirely to advertisements. According to Madrid, it was García Cortés who, in view of España Nueva‘s financial straits, offered its columns to the CNT by way of a replacement for missing CNT mouthpieces, in the knowledge that the situation would bring about a boost in his sale figures, as indeed it did (the publication eventually came to publish three editions a day). The presence of anarcho-syndicalist bylines (belonging to Pestaña, Carbó, Alaíz, Buenacasa) and the coverage of CNT life – which had in fact started back in 1917 at the initiative of España Nueva – increased over 1919 as España Nueva became the semi-official mouthpiece of the CNT.

In spite of all these problems, the Confederation soldiered on. In June 1922, a National Confederence of Trade Unions held in Zaragoza decided to pull out of the Third International in order to participate in the efforts to refloat the IWA (AIT); the AIT initials were thereafter a standard feature of the anarcho-syndicalist title. Meanwhile, the employers use of hired guns was still on the increase and a particular target was the CNT sector described later as “syndicalist”. In 1922, Pestaña, who had survived one attempt on his life in Tarragona in 1920 was shot at in Manresa and left seriously wounded. On 10 March 1923, Salvador Seguí was gunned down by Sindicato Libre gunmen.

Tit for Tat

On 6 March 1923, nearly four years after its last regular edition had appeared, Solidaridad Obrera‘s haphazard publication resumed. And phase 5 of its publication history began. The editorial offices were at 58, Calle Conde del Asalto (today’s Calle Nou de la Rambla), sharing the premises with the Foodworkers’ Union. Those were definitely the offices visited by Albert Einstein [19] on a visit to the city on 27 February 1923, after he had mentioned the possibility in a number of CNT locals. It was at around this point that Ramon Acin started working with Soli: his ‘Florecicas’ column which stretch from March to September that year, began with a piece devoted to the death of Salvador Segui. [20]

For a time, Pestaña returned as director. On account of his ideological evolution, an evolution that was to prompt him in 1932 to launch the Syndicalist Party, this native of León tried to ensure that Solidaridad Obrera became an openly syndicalist publication rather than exclusively anarcho-syndicalist. As might have been expected, the CNT was not disposed to see character of its most symbolic mouthpiece tampered with and Pestaña was replaced by Liberto Callejas.

To this day we do not know the real name of the man who hid behind the alias Liberto Callejas: Alexandre Callejas, say some sources, whereas others plump for Alejandro Perelló Sintes; the enigma has yet to be resolved. What we do know is that Callejas was a bit of a bohemian, something he had in common with other Soli directors, of course. In 1934 he was to be appointed director of CNT.

Primo de Rivera’s coup d’état on 13 September 1923 prevented the normalisation of the CNT’s existence. On 5 October, the [Barcelona] Local Federation wound itself up, though not without considerable internal frictions. On 13 October Soli was suspended, not reappearing until 24 November. By which point its print run had shrunk to some 6,000 copies.

In February 1924 Hermoso Plaja was appointed director, holding that post until May when the unions were shut down in retaliation for the attempt on the life of Barcelona’s hangman. The paper was suspended yet again and, except for the odd clandestine edition, would not reappear until 1930. From 18 October 1924 until May 1925, Solidaridad Proletaria (published, up until edition No. 3, in Mataró before relocating to Barcelona) was published. After that scarcely anything saw publication. Over six dark years, it would be the ateneos and workers’ cooperatives that saw to it that the libertarian foothold in society was somehow sustained.

But seven years of dictatorship failed to put paid to the CNT. Ready to overhaul its structures yet again, the organisation held a National Plenum in 1930 with one clear cut aim: to relaunch the sindicatos únicos.

Pending the re-launch of Soli, the regional confederation was to publish a new weekly called Acción. But Solidaridad Obrera reappeared on 31 August whereupon phase 6 of its publication history began after an intense advertising campaign (some 50,000 leaflets announcing the imminent reappearance of the paper were printed). We reckon that the masthead design still in use today was created during this sixth phase; it is symbolic of the revolution in graphics at the time, and was for many years employed in the press and in advertising, but, be that as it may, we do not know who designed it. Soli‘s director by this time was Joan Peiró [21] a man who had walked in the shadow of Salvador Seguí and one remembered still for his quintessential honesty; the editorial offices were at 3, Calle Nova de Sant Francesc up until they were relocated to the premises in the Calle Conde del Asalto. The resurrected Soli comprised of 4 pages, carried advertising and had a print run of rather less than 20,000 copies.

It was at this time that the anarcho-syndicalists saw off the Communists in the fight for control of the CNT. As ever, the newspaper would be one of the theatres of conflict. Soli started to carry articles by Ramón J. Sender [22] who, between 1930 and 1932, wrote nearly two hundred pieces for the Catalan daily. His ‘Political Postcards’, given over to contemporary Spanish political developments, were very famous.

Soon the difficulties confronting the newspaper threatened its very existence. In an attempt to earn popularity and present a certain picture of openness, on 12 September 1930, the government did away with prior censorship in Spain, with two locations excepted – Barcelona and Bilbao. Needless to say Solidaridad Obrera was to be singled out for this special treatment by the government. After the rounding up of some of its editorial staff during the Construction Union disputes, the possibility of relocating to Madrid was looked at, although in the end it did not prove necessary.

In October, Peiró stepped down as director of the paper. Eusebio Carbó filled the gap. Although he had no clear cut profession, it is usually stated that Carbó was a journalist. Although he was not the first director of Soli with knowledge of the trade (Borobio and Quemades were not new to it either), Carbó’s arrival as director of the paper signalled the start of a new phase of relative professionalisation leading up to Jacinto Toryho who, as we shall se, would be one of the first ‘qualified’ Spanish journalists. (Prior to that, as a general rule, the directors of Soli had been men of working class backgrounds with a large degree of self-education: to cite but one example – Peiró, a glassworker and future government minister, was illiterate up to the age of 22).

Before 1930 was out, a strike had begun that would be etched on the city’s memory. The famous tenant’s strike was remembered in Barcelona as a milestone in CNT history; it mobilised thousands and flagged up the CNT’s deep foothold in society even outside the confines of work. In fact, way back in 1918 the CNT had set up a Tenants’ Union that had promoted a variety of strikes throughout its history. The 1930 dispute was able to carry on, thanks once more to backing from the Confederation whose Construction Union this time set up an Economic Defence Commission. That commission, modelled on the Confederal Defence Committees, proved crucial to the strike, bringing organisation to a movement of rather scattered and by nature spontaneous origins. Solidaridad Obrera played a significant role during the dispute: its columns were habitually used for communicating watchwords and summoning open assemblies; as well as publishing the names and details of landlords who were harassing the strikers. But suspension orders continued to hamper the newspaper’s life. The uprising by Fermín and Galán in December 1930 resulted in the imposition of army censorship. Soli, having but recently resurfaced after one close-down, was silenced yet again.

1931: Expectations

Its reappearance in January 1931 came amid all the political excitement over the imminence of the municipal elections that were to lead on to the proclamation of the Second Republic. Susanna Tavera says of this period: “The 15,700 copies printed on 13 March 1931 grew to 31,920 on 14 April. Over the days that followed, the print-runs just grew and grew. From May 1931 on, the monthly print run stabilised at around 40,000 copies.” [23]

The Republic arrived amid huge expectations and with a certain vote of confidence from the CNT. In Catalonia, Macià offered Pestaña the post of minister of Labour, which was declined.

Sebastià Clarà, director of Solidaridad Obrera over the past few months, stepped down in June 1931: Peiró took over again. Once again, Peiró’s occupancy of the director’s position was to be brief. On 30 August 1931 L’Opinió carried the celebrated ‘Manifesto of the Thirty‘, so-called because of the number of signatories, whose numbers included Pestaña, Clarà, Peiró and a goodly number of Soli editorial staff. The Manifesto set the seal upon the ‘syndicalist’ approach as against the ‘faísta‘ insurrectionism within the CNT’s ranks. On 22 September, at the height of the sniping between the ‘syndicalists’ and the ‘faístas‘ and following a fierce campaign waged by the latter against Peiró’s stewardship, Peiró, fed up with the misrepresentation and harassment, resigned, as did a goodly number of his editorial staff. The CNT was on the verge of a serious split that had been simmering since 1907 and yet again its newspaper was one of the arenas where the two factions fought it out.

On 11 October 1931, Felipe Alaiz was appointed director. To give some idea of the turn taken by Soli, suffice to say that among the new editorial staff were Juan García Oliver [a member, with Durruti and Ascaso, of the legendary Solidarios (later Nosotros) group] and Federica Montseny. The latter, a future minister, had been a real thorn in the side of the syndicalists over the preceding years from the newspapers run by her father Juan Montseny (better known as Federico Urales). The remainder of the editorial team was made up of Liberto Callejas, Evelio Fontaura, Medina González, E. Labrador and José Alberola.

Felipe Alaiz, an individualist anarchist (and, ipso facto, ill disposed towards the purely syndicalist case) was another fellow of uncertain profession and another bohemian, although his contributions and instincts as a journalist cannot be denied. According to Tavera, Alaiz had been in charge of Soli once before, during its relocation to Valencia in 1922. He was a regular contributor to publications from the Urales family’s stable, notably La Revista Blanca. In 1923, with Liberto Callejas, he took over Crisol, a free publication that might be looked upon as the mouthpiece of Los Solidarios. In 1933, his pamphlet Cómo se hace un diario (How To Run a Newspaper), a rarity in the journalism of the day and especially in libertarian circles, was published. In that essay, Alaiz lobbied for a mass journalism offering news, training and raised awareness, in short, a vehicle for social cohesion the modern expression of a clear cut class-based, popular voice.

The new team at Soli was soon grappling with their first suspension orders which came fast and thick throughout the years of the republic: one of the worst being on 2 November 1931 when, as a result of the intense street fighting, all anarcho-syndicalist publications were suspended for a month. Not until 4 December did the paper reappear.

In January 1932, Solidaridad Obrera sustained an ever graver blow when Alaiz was jailed until that November for some opinion pieces that were not even his. [24] José Robusté stepped in as acting director: Robusté was a treintista who would later defect to Pestaña’s Syndicalist Party. The appointment of Robusté outraged Alaiz who went so far as to blame him for his arrest. In April 1932, Alaiz recovered his directorial position from prison only to resign once and for all that September in protest at Soli‘s publication of several articles by Peiró. Liberto Callejas was to be appointed as the paper’s new director.

Even as Soli was experiencing this musical chairs game in terms of its directors, a split erupted within the CNT itself. Between April and September 1932, Communists and treintistas dropped out of the organisation, giving rise to the formation of the so-called Opposition Unions. The CNT experienced a real haemorrhaging of militants: whereas around August 1931 it had had some 400,000 members in Catalonia, this figure was to slip to 222,000 by April 1932 and to 186,152 by May 1836. As for Barcelona, membership slumped from 168,428 in June 1931 to 87,860 by May 1936. [25] Soli‘s print run declined accordingly: from its peak in August 1931 of 46,855 copies to 24,812 by December the same year. [26]

In the end the CNT fell under the sway of the faístas who thereafter dictated the course of the CNT’s life. An era of naively thought out insurrections that served only to accelerate the decline in membership and, as a result, organisational ability, was ushered in. Bringing brutal repression down on the heads of the CNT’s ranks. ‘Expropriations’ carried out against banks and companies soared during this time.


The first big uprising came in the Upper Llobregat in January 1932. In retaliation, Soli was suspended from 21 January until 2 March. Throughout that year, the CNT newspaper was to suffer 32 suspension orders and confiscations, making the paper’s finances critical again.

It was precisely during these years of internal fragmentation and persecution that the CNT was to mount a tremendous financial drive to keep the paper afloat. For the first time, Solidaridad Obrera was to have its own workshops: these would be at 241 Calle Consell de Cent, to where the editorial staff also relocated. Even before the ribbon was cut on these new premises in August 1932 the organisation had purchased presses for the paper.

Another move in the propaganda drive was the emergence in November 1932 of the daily CNT in Madrid. The life of that CNT mouthpiece, like that of its Catalan counterpart, was prey to repeated suspension orders. Elsewhere in Spain, the same routine persecution affected all anarcho-syndicalist platforms.

The cycle of insurrections struck elsewhere around Spain. April saw the Casas Viejas incidents, a qualitative leap in the escalating crackdown by the republic. Soli was to devote one of its special editions to these incidents. The success of the rightwing parties in the November 1933 elections helped radicalize the situation. The Bienio Negro (Two Black Years) were ushered in by the uprising that December and it too led to a further suspension of the paper.

As we have stated, under faísta control, Soli was to become the mouthpiece for anarchist insurrectionism. Its columns announced that 1933 would be the “year of social insurrection”. [27] In keeping with this editorial line, other struggles would be embraced as its own. This was the case with the struggle of the unemployed. It should be pointed out here that the Republic, from the moment it was proclaimed, adopted a two-pronged approach to matters economic: it sought to placate the capitalists by promising stability and order and it tackled the unemployment issue as a public order issue, rather than as one of social justice. For its part, the CNT covered up for certain unlawful practices such as street hawking or the unemployed campaigns referred to above. In 1933, articles about the latter, viewed through the prism of ‘revolutionary gymnastics’ grew more common, boosting the impression that Revolution was imminent. At the same time, Solidaridad Obrera set about exposing the prejudices of the penal system, pointing to republicans’ failure to honour their promises about enforcing the law against every class in society. [28]

The strategy of the CNT and FAI was also to be challenged by the bourgeois republican press. Symptomatic of this was a series of articles by Josep María Planes that appeared from April 1934 onwards in La Publicitat under the telling headline “The Gangsters of Barcelona”. Actually, Planes would be at loggerheads with the anarchists on a number of occasions and featured prominently in an anecdote much aired in recent years: after Miguel Badia, former Generalitat police chief, and his brother Josep were executed on 28 April 1936, Planes rushed to denounce the CNT and FAI from the pages of La Publicitat as the guilty parties. The answer from Soli was: “We know who Jose Planes is. We recall how a series on reports about anarchists were carried by the same newspaper. The description offered of anarchist activities and anarchist centres were what might be expected of a crackpot.” In July, Planes and the eccentric, Tisner, named names relative to the Badia deaths; the CNT mouthpiece accused them of lying and threatened to ‘make them shut up.’ [29] Josep Maria Planes’s bullet-riddled corpse was discovered on the road from La Rabassada on 25 August 1936.

Harking back to 1934, the CNT started to feel the draining effects of several years of internal squabbles and open confrontation of the state.

When it proved impossible to keep publishing Solidaridad Obrera on a regular basis, the organisation decided that its place should be taken by another title, Solidaridad, in February 1934. The editorial staff and workshops of Solidaridad were the same as for Solidaridad Obrera. This situation was repeated the following year, with La Voz Confederal this time being the title chosen by the Barcelona Local Federation for the stand-in, of which nine issues were to see publication.

In April 1934 a refloating of the normal title became feasible again. Its director (appointed in December the year before) would be Manuel Villar and the editorial staff would be made up of Felipe Alaiz, Federica Montseny, Jacinto Toryho, José Bonet and Luis Semprún. The appointment of Villar in such circumstances was indicative of a change of strategy imminent in the CNT’s history. Soli‘s new director was part of the Nervio affinity group around Sinesio Garcia Delgado aka Diego Abad de Santillán. From within the faísta camp, Nervio would be one of the main driving forces behind the jettisoning of the insurrectionist policy in favour of a process of rebuilding the trade union structures organisationally. This process would be helped by the appointments of Villar at Soli and of Abad de Santillán (a lobbyist for tight control over the entire libertarian press) as director of Tierra y Libertad and as FAI general secretary in 1935.

The revolution of October 1934 in Asturias, which never got beyond a revolt elsewhere, interrupted the plans for reorientation within the libertarian camp.

As early as 6 October, the escamots, paramilitary youth gangs from the Esquerra Republicana de Cataluña (Republican Left of Catalonia) under the control of Josep Dencàs, Interior minister with the Generalidad government, stormed the editorial offices and workshops of Solidaridad Obrera which was to be suspended out of hand. However, Soli abstained from involvement in the October events in Catalonia; unfortunately, its editors provoked a shut-down with a campaign opposing the death penalty. A further round of closures and suspensions followed up until April 1935, at which point the CNT itself decided to cease publication of its mouthpiece; the falling membership, prior censorship and the organisation’s lousy image as a non-participant in the fighting the previous year lay behind this voluntary silence.

This time the paper would not be seen on the streets again until 1 August 1935, when a new, eight page edition of Soli, boasting the by-lines of leading libertarian figures such as Rudolf Rocker appeared. Serialisations also made a return to the pages (eg. Steinberg’s Life of Maria Spiridonova and B. Traven’s The Death Ship) and additional space was found for international politics. The series of articles The Female Question in Our Ranks by Lucía Sánchez Saornil [30] , denouncing discrimination against women inside the libertarian ranks and urging the need for a targeted campaign in that area dates from this time. These articles from Sánchez Saornil drew a reply in the very pages of Soli from Mariano R. Vazquez aka Marianet, the then general secretary of the CNT: he blamed women themselves and their submissive attitudes for their marginalization. Lola Iturbe butted into the controversy with a piece in Tierra y Libertad (15 October 1935) entitled “An old subject: woman’s social education.” She wrote: “Luckily there is one truthful woman [meaning Lucia Sánchez Saornil] who does not plead but issues here ‘J’accuse’ against the male ethos that has rarely troubled itself about female emancipation in matters other than sexual (…) The male comrades so radical in the cafes, inside the unions and even inside their groups, are wont to cast off their raiment as lovers of female emancipation on reaching their front doors.” [31] For all that there was no shortage of instances where organized anarchism’s cold-shouldering of feminist arguments was made plain; take, say, when Soli itself “forgot” to publish advertisements for the Mujeres Libres review in April 1936 even though those advertisements had been bought and paid for.

Late 1935 and early 1936 were especially hectic with dramatic urgency: the February 1936 elections were approaching and ousting the pro-fascist right from power was of the essence. In keeping with the CNT’s policy, Soli involved itself after a fashion in the Popular Front campaign, merely by not encouraging abstention.

The Popular Front’s victory failed to calm the stormy waters of Spanish politics. There was a feeling in the air that a military coup was in the offing and the CNT made ready to stop the army in its tracks, in spite of the disparity in resources and in spite of the unspoken hostility shown by the incoming government which refused to hand out weapons. Soli was obliged to display large ominously white patches on its pages as reports about military intentions were systematically censored lest servicemen construe them as some sort of provocation sponsored by the authorities.

Knowing the gravity of the situation, both factions of the CNT reunited at the Zaragoza congress of May 1936. The Opposition Unions rejoined the fold at just the right moment: barely two months after the congress, the feared army coup attempt was mounted.

Sirens …

When the signal came, the ship and factory sirens of Barcelona wailed through the early morning hours of 19 July 1936. The rebel military mutinied in Barcelona and were routed off the city streets by the CNT.

On 20 July, an edition of Soli cobbled together by Jaime Balius (who would become famous during the May Events of 1937 at the head of the Friends of Durruti) and Alejandro G. Gilbert saw publication. Once things were more settled, a new director of Soli was appointed in the shape of Liberto Callejas; the new editorial team would be made up of Balius, Gilabert, Fernando Pintado and Ezequiel Endériz. Solidaridad Obrera was now sub-titled ‘Newspaper of the Revolution’ and published a 12 page edition. Right after 19 July its print run soared to 70,000, rising further to 150,000 by the following month. From premises in the Ronda de Sant Antoni, the editors moved to fresh premises in the Ronda de Sant Pere. Its workshops were set up in a confiscated building located at what is now No. 202, Calle del Consell de Cent, the same building that the Falangists were to commandeer in February 1939 for their newspaper, Solidaridad Nacional.

Susanna Tavera has this to say about the ‘Newspaper of the Revolution’:

During the summer of 1936, Solidaridad Obrera underwent a visible transformation. Alongside the usual Spanish, Catalan and world political news reports, the paper also featured equally run-of-the-mill notices of trade union gatherings and meetings. Alongside news of how the war was progressing on the front or, later, the intense diplomatic activity in which foreign powers were engaged vis à vis the Spanish war. As a regular feature and in screaming headlines, it launched a section of reportage – called ‘Solidaridad Obrera Reports’ – focusing on the institutional and political changes made in Catalan society and especially on the primacy achieved by the confederal labour organisation in the wake of the rebel uprising. Thus Soli highlighted the anarchists’ part in the Antifascist Militias Committee and, following its dissolution in November 1936, it highlighted the government responsibilities assumed by the Generalidad Council. At different times, these news contents of these reports concentrated on the most pressing social issues in the rearguard. Thus the issue of supplies, the lack of hygiene in working class areas, especially in the Barrio Chino, the defencelessness of the wounded and elderly and finally the internal organisation of the hospitals which were in the midst of an overhaul were monitored on a daily basis.” [32]

Indeed, fresh features such as ‘The Revolution in the Countryside’ or ‘The Militian’s Post-Bag’ showed the paper adapting to the opportunities and requirements of the day. Cánovas Cervantes’s ‘Historical Notes on Solidaridad Obrera‘ proved very popular and were published in book form shortly after serialisation ended; the same was true of Jacinto Toryho’s versatile columns. As one editorial from the time stated – not unreasonably – Soli had become Catalonia’s number one newspaper and its print run had soared to heights never before achieved by any Catalan newspaper. [33]

But it was not long before the problems started to emerge. As expected, the CNT-FAI’s collaborationist policy, flying in the face of basic anarchist principles, provoked misgivings and criticism from the CNT ranks. Frictions between Liberto Callejas and the regional CNT committee were recurrent until he was replaced in November 1936 by León native Jacinto Toryho, a staunch defender of the new political line, a man ready to turn Soli into a platform for that, as events were to prove. In December 1936, a similar fate befell Tierra y Libertad, with Alaiz losing the directorship and J. Maguid being appointed in his place.

The lead editor of the Toryho line-up was Abelardo Iglesias and the rest of the line-up included Ezequiel Endériz, ‘Fontaura’, Fernando Pintado, Galipienzo, A. Fernández Escobés, Leandro Blanco, Lorenzo Otín and José Alabajes, with Fernando Ruiz Morales as illustrator. The writer Eduardo Zamacois would be Soli’s front-line correspondent.

Jacinto Toryho’s arrival as director of Solidaridad Obrera created high expectations. At a time when journalism was still an occupation without academic credentials, Toryho was a member of the first class to graduate from El Debate‘s Journalism School in Madrid, a first for Spain. As a trained and experienced professional, Toryho, like Alaiz, was keen to turn Solidaridad Obrera into a modern newspaper, but one that would still remain a political instrument.

In professional terms, Toryho did not disappoint the hopes placed in him; the memory he bequeathed as a man who was impossible is quite another matter. Intransigent and short-tempered, he clashed repeatedly with his editors, the staff on the shop floor, the regional committee and other unions. The CNT’s general secretary, Mariano Rodríguez aka Marianet, certainly had his work cut out trying to prevent Toryho’s dismissal.

A clash between Toryho as the strong man of the official propaganda line and those who espoused the ‘go for broke’ line (to borrow García Oliver’s expression) was inevitable. Anti-collaborationist positions hardly got a look-in in the pages of Solidaridad Obrera; by contrast, other titles and indeed the CNT’s own Journalists’ Union embraced them, giving rise to a sort of a media war which at times was reminiscent of the journalistic sniping that had accompanied the split back in 1932. Acracia (in Lérida), under Alaiz, Peirats and Vicente Rodríguez, and Ideas (CNT-Bajo Llobregat) controlled by Balius, Peirats (again) and Liberto Callejas were but two of the publications which flew the revolutionary colours. In light of which, in March 1937, Toryho called for the imposition of war-time censorship. In his eagerness to homogenise the CNT’s press and propaganda, Solidaridad Obrera‘s director summoned the National Conference of Confederal and Anarchist Newspapers which met on 28 March 1937. Despite the characterisation ‘national’, virtually all of the papers attending the conference were from Catalonia, except for two from Madrid and one from Valencia. The matters in hand were ‘Consistency in Doctrinal and Propaganda Policy’ and news and propaganda requirements; the creation of a press service and a ‘Wireless news Agency’. But the conference saw the official line routed as it failed to silence the dissenting voices. Not, of course, that the Toryho camp gave up. Even after the May Events and the ensuing tide of counter-revolution, it was to publish an ‘Internal CNT Orientation Bulletin‘. As might be expected, the guidance offered by the Bulletin was pretty much ignored.

… And Siren Songs …

The May Events of 1937 preasaged the loss of political office by the CNT. Amid the collapse of the handiwork of revolution, anarchist collaborationism proved pointless and it all began to fritter away.

Despite the turnaround in the situation, Soli was still publishing three editions a day. True, it was afflicted more than ever by problems such as paper shortage – a problem that did not seem to afflict counter-revolutionary organs – and machinery adequate to meeting the needs of the newspaper. The censorship for which Toryho had so lately been lobbying was starting to hit Solidaridad Obrera which was even suspended on two separate occasions.

In March 1938, with Soli‘s print run down to just 100,000 copies, it was none other than Jacinto Toryho who threatened to throw in his lot with the anti-collaborationist camp, seemingly disenchanted with involvement in the institutions. However, after a few of his long-standing demands were met, he drifted back into the official camp, just when the CNT was flirting with the government again, a courtship initiated by Negrín (to be sure, the intervention of Germinal Esgleas, the then chief of Press and Propaganda for the recently established Spanish Libertarian Movement (MLE) must have had something to do with Toryho’s change of mind. We know that Toryho as well as Juan Ferrer, the then director of Catalunya, abided strictly by the guidelines laid down by Esgleas from his post.)

Not that the new lilac times of the CNT-FAI (now MLE) with the government was any obstacle to the censor’s cracking down on Solidaridad Obrera. Toryho spoke out to complain about how the CNT’s national committee had, he claimed, left it defenceless. On 30 April 1938, in an effort at a dramatic move that might draw some response from the Organisation, Toryho sent the censored Solidaridad Obrera galley proofs directly to the unions. There was a reaction, but not the one that Toryho had been looking for; he was to be dismissed on 7 May along with his editor-in-chief, Iglesias. The editorial team resigned out of solidarity with the pair of them.

The last director of Soli prior to the defeat would be José Viadiu, a close friend of Salavador Seguí and a member of the team during the period of exile in Valencia in 1919-1923. The editor-in-chief at this point was Jacobo Prince and the editors Vidal Rueda, José Guirao, Enrique López Alarcón, Abelardo Cansinos, Emilio Vivas, Lorenzo Otín and Armando Vuelta (Liberto Callejas returned as editor of ‘Trade Union Affairs’).

Viadiu ran the paper right up until the Francoist army entered Barcelona: historians and the curious can at the Ateneu Enciclopèdic consult the edition published on 25 January 1939, very likely the final edition to appear before things fell apart.

Soli and Barcelona were overrun together. With ghastly, emergency and unsure times ahead, they both survived on the hard tack of watchwords and perseverance until tank-tracks crushed a world that may have been defeated, but which never surrendered.


[1] Ferrán Aisa, Camins Utòpics. Barcelona 1868-1886 (Edicions de 1984, Barcelona 2004, p. 31). This and the other quotations from Ferrán Aisa and Susanna Tavera have been translated from the Catalan.

[2] Figures taken from Xavier Cuadrat Socialismo y anarquismo en Cataluña. Los orígenes de la CNT (Ediciones de la Revista del Trabajo, Madrid 1976) p. 82

[3] Cuadrat, op. cit. p. 106

[4] Cuadrat, op.cit., p. 177

[5] We should mention as one possible fore-runner La Solidaridad (Madrid 1870-1871), driven by Anselmo Lorenzo.

[6] Cuadrat, op.cit. pp. 169-171

[7] Cuadrat, op.cit., p. 516

[8] Cuadrat, op.cit., p. 589

[9] Actually, during the first few months of its existence, the organisation was indiscriminately referred to as the Confederación Nacional or Confederación General del Trabajo, with the former eventually becoming standard.

[10] Cuadrat queries the secret nature of that session, given the mass attendance at it. Susana Tavera, in line with Manuel Buenacasa and other sources, raises no such query.

[11] Prior to 1930, most of the directors of Solidaridad Obrera were manual workers and self-educated. Several of them were printing workers or engaged in other print-related trades. Remember that printing workers played a very prominent part in the spread of anarchism and had from the outset, given their peculiarity as literate workers at a time when hardly any working man could read and write. It is worth noting that, following their terms as director of the newspaper, a fair number of Soli directors stuck with their recently acquired journalistic trade. Over the years, they were joined in the pages of the anarchist press by more or less professional journalists. As Susana Tavera points out, a collective was thereby taking shape, a team of CNT reporters, who often performed like an affinity group. And whilst their editorial meetings had the air of a friendly get-together (tertulia) about them, drawing in the culturally most inquisitive militants (the tertulia being a model of conviviality and grounding since the 19th century), it should not be forgotten that on many occasions these editorial meetings were nurseries for a number of libertarian plots and internal intrigues.

[12] Regarding the historical question of Soli‘s being published as a daily, Susana Tavera, in Solidaridad Obrera. El fer-se I desfer-se d’un diari anarcosindicalista (1915-1939) [Col.legi de Periodistes de Catalunya i Diputació de Barcelona, Barcelona, 1992) offers the best summary of the sources. She states: “There is no consensus on the date on which Soli embarked upon life as a daily newspaper. In 1932 the official version was that it resurfaced on 1 May 1913, capitalizing upon a “barely perceptible let-up” and then did not become a daily newspaper until 5 January 1916. On the other hand, the anarchist Manuel Buenacasa insists that daily publication can be dated to May 1915. Ángel Pestaña remembers the date as early in 1916 and, finally, the historian Antonio Bar establishes the date as March 1916. The doubts remain, due to the incompleteness of the collections which have survived. Be that as it may, there is a chance that there was a half-way house, as mentioned by Buenacasa, in the shape of a daily supplement that the CNT decided to produce in 1915 as a briefing on the strikes by the metalworkers, bricklayers, bakers and seamen. Later, this supplement supposedly became a daily newspaper, albeit that after that Buenacasa’s memory lets him down.” (p. 22) Tavera estimates the number of copies of those supplements sold at 6,000–7,000.

[13] Tavera, op.cit. p. 23

[14] Tavera, op.cit., p. 26

[15] Chris Ealham, La lucha por Barcelona. Clase, Cultura y conflicto 1898-1937 (Alianza Editorial, Madrid 2005) p. 85

[16] Ealham, op.cit., p. 86

[17] Paco Madrid ‘Solidaridad Obrera, símbolo y mito de un periódico legendario’ in 80 Aniversario: Solidaridad Obrera 1907-1987 (Ateneu Enciclopèdic Popular and Centre de Documentació Històrico-Social, Barcelona 1987, p. 18)

[18] Paco Madrid, quoting Adolfo Bueso (A. Bueso, Recuerdos de un cenetista, Barcelona 1976, Vol. 1, p. 117). “[…] around that point (early 1919) the Confederation had ‘bought’ a page of the daily España Nueva, a Madrid-published newspaper belonging to the republican Rodrigo Soriano, a man of very questionable morals. Page four of España Nueva was given over each day to the National Confederation of Labour [CNT] which paid good money for the access.”

[19] Abel Rebollo in his article ‘M. Bakunin (1814-1876) y A. Einstein (1879-1955)’ y el Hotel Quatre Nacions’ in La Barcelona rebelde. Guía de una ciudad silenciada (Octaedro, Barcelona 2003, p. 214) offers us this description of the visit:

On 27 February 1927, [Einstein] paid a visit to the local of the Sindicato único as well as to the editorial offices of Solidaridad Obrera at 58, Calle Conde del Asalto, the Calle Nou de la Rambla today, and spoke with the then director Ángel Pestaña at some length. Einstein was interested in the workers’ situation and problems, their struggles and demands. During the conversation, he declared: ‘You are street revolutionaries and I am a science revolutionary.’”

[20] Sonya Torres Planells, Ramón Acín. Una estética anarquista y de vanguardia (Virus, Barcelona 1998, p. 222). and ‘Las pajaritas de Ramón Acín (1886-1936)’ in La Barcelona Rebelde, Guía de una ciudad silenciada (Octaedro, Barcelona 2003, p. 130)

[21] Having matured in the shadow of Salvador Seguí, Joan Peiró Belis is remembered to this day for his impeccable honesty and utter commitment to the labour cause. He was sentenced to death by a council of war in Valencia on 21 July 1942; it is a known fact that the Francoists offered Peiró an amnesty if he would agree to become the figure-head of the new regime’s vertical syndicates; such was his reputation. But Joan Peiró declined the offer to engage with a ploy that was simply designed to lend legitimacy to nationalist-catholic corporatism and despite numerous witnesses who spoke up on his behalf, he was eventually executed. As in the cases of Granados and Delgado, José Pellicer or Salvador Puig Antich, among others, a re-examination of the case against Peiró remains stymied: on 5 December 2006, the Military division of the Supreme Court rejected the Peiró family’s appeal for a review of his death sentence.

[22] For Sender’s articles, see Jesús Ruiz Gallego-Largo, ” R J Sender’s articles in the newspaper Solidaridad Obrera” (in Spanish) available at:

[23] Tavera, op.cit., p. 47

[24] Felipe Alaiz, like Jacinto Toryho after him, was to prove a very dogged foe of one of the things that has thus far blighted the life of the CNT’s newspaper: opinion articles. In Alaiz’s day, as we have seen, certain comment could result in swingeing repression with no upside other than flattery of the author’s ego; in their less dangerous forms, articles of this sort robbed the newspaper of whole periods of time. Tavera writes: “To some extent, the war and Toryho managed to block the back page article which Toryho described as a “collection of nonsense and claptrap” better suited to some ‘terminal patient than to a modern newspaper.” (Tavera, op.cit. p. 104)

As for more recent times and by way of an oddity, see the startling graphics that accompanied the article “A thwarted experience in confederal press: Solidaridad Obrera (1978-1979)” by Pedro Bergés and José García and carried in the supplement to the Cuadernos de Ruedo Ibérico: CNT: ser o no ser. La crisis de 1976-1979 (Editions Ruedo Ibérico, Paris 1979: Spanish edition by Ibérica de Ediciones y Publicaciones) p. 229-230; those graphics record the upsurge in opinion articles to the detriment of straight reportage after the Ramón Barnils editorial team was ousted.

[25] Ealham, op.cit., pp. 216 and 266.

[26] Tavera, op.cit., p. 57

[27] Ealham, op.cit., p. 216

[28] Ealham, op.cit., p. 251

[29] Jordi Finestres “Set trets al periodisme català” in Sapiens, No. 58

{30] To this day, the figure of Lucía Sánchez Saornil remains mysterious and captivating. A founder of the Mujeres Libres in 1936 with Amparo Poch and Rosa Comaposada, she was a regular contributor to Tierra y Libertad, La Revista Blanca, CNT and Soli, as well as to the review Mujeres Libres. Sánchez Saornil was also a poet of merit, albeit one that had scarcely any recognition: in fact, she was the only woman in the ranks of the early ultraísta avant-garde, although the homoerotic character of some of her verse forced her to conceal her identity behind the pen name Luciano de San-Saor. Her poetry is available today in the anthology by Rosa María Martín, Poesía conocida (Pre-Textos, Valencia). When Sánchez Saornil first began to contribute to the columns of Soli we cannot say with precision. But what is beyond question is that hers was one of the few female by-lines in Soli along with that of Federica Montseny whose feminist sensibilities were never exactly outstanding (what is more, Montseny and other leading anarchists were critical – savagely critical – of Sánchez Saornil’s stance on more than one occasion.)

[31] Cited by Antonina Fontanillas and Sonya Torres in Lola Iturbe. Vida y ideal de una luchadora anarquista (Virus Editorial, Barcelona 2006) p. 48

[32] Tavera, op.cit., p. 91

[33] Ferrán Aisa, La cultura anarquista a Catalunya (Edicions de 1984, Barcelona 2006) p. 315.


Even though the reader may by now have realized this already, I would not want to conclude these notes without a word of caution. The essay above is not a work of discovery but rather of popularization. It must be obvious that the major source for it has been Susana Tavera’s oeuvre, Solidaridad Obrera … from which much of the data and analysis have been lifted. Secondly, let me mention Xavier Cuadrat’s book, Socialismo y anarquismo en Cataluña. Los orígenes de la CNT, from which I have quoted freely. Not forgetting Paco Madrid’s article “Solidaridad Obrera, symbol and myth of a legendary newspaper” which opens up the pamphlet 80 Aniversario: Solidaridad Obrera 1907-1987, published by the Ateneu Enciclopèdic Popular and Centre de Documentació Histórico-social in 1987. It should be made clear that Paco Madrid is currently working on an expanded and updated version of this text. In addition to his article, I am indebted to Madrid also for his advice and the clarifications he offered me during the drafting of these notes which I hope may be of some use to those eager to get some grounding in the turbulent, intoxicating history of Solidaridad Obrera.

From: Translated by: Paul Sharkey.