The Fight for History: a Manifesto

The amnesia arranged between the trade unions and political parties of the democratic opposition and the last managers of the Francoist State upon the dictator's death, was yet another facet of the Transition that had important consequences for the historical remembrance of the Francoist Dictatorship and the Civil War. The amnesty represented a clean slate and a clean break with the past. It necessitated a deliberate and 'necessary' forgetting of all history prior to 1978. A new official history needed to be written, since the Francoist and the anti-Francoist versions were no longer of service to the new established order with its eyes fixed upon rising above the strife that had triggered the Spanish Civil War. At present, now that all hint of strife or anything that might suggest that the civil war was also a class war, has been abolished from the collective memory, the task of recuperating it as an episode in bourgeois history is underway. The mandarins of Official History, having played down or ignored the civil war's proletarian and revolutionary character, are bent upon recuperating the past as the story of the formation and historical consolidation of the democratic bourgeoisie, or, in the historical home rule area, as the basis for their nationhood. The working class has had its historic protagonism wrested from it for the benefit of the new democratic and nationalist myths of the bourgeois now exercising economic and political power.

The bourgeois institutions of the State's cultural apparatus will always attempt to control and exploit the historical record for their own benefit, covering up, ignoring or misrepresenting facts that place a question over or cast doubts upon the class rule which academics and professional historians, with but a few rare and honourable exceptions, accept with alacrity. The publication of Elorza and Bizcarrondo's Queridos Camaradas, the chapters by Casanova, Solé i Sabaté and Villarroya in the book Victimas de la Guerra Civil, compiled by Santos Juli… (himself the author of an introductory anthology), or the ineffable course of the civil war offered last March-May by the slavish Museo de Historia de Cataluña, are the most recent examples of the Official History mentioned in this manifesto.

Objectivity as a Platonic ideal actually does not exist in a society split up into social classes. In the specific instance of the history of the civil war, the Official History is characterised by its EXTRAORDINARY incompetence and its no less EXTRAVAGANT stance. That INCOMPETENCE resides in its absolute inability to attain, or indeed to strive for, minimal scientific objectivity. Its STANCE may be gauged by its deliberate IGNORING or NEGATION of the existence of a very powerful revolutionary movement, mostly libertarian, which, like it or not, shaped every aspect of the civil war. These bourgeois functionaries in the field of history lapse into a number of intellectual aberrations (aberrant even from a bourgeois viewpoint): THEY PRAISE and EULOGISE the methodology and repressive efficacy of the S.I.M.[Republican secret police, controlled by the CP] Maybe they are none too aware that they are singing the praises of torture, and it may even be the case that, personally, they support Pinochet's being brought to trial. But this is a feature that, like other, betrays the influence of the class perspective and interests in historical endeavour, because such praise for the efficacy of the S.I.M. against revolutionaries, runs parallel to a display a horror at the class violence unleashed by uncontrollables in July 1936 against the bourgeoisie. They may well be specialists in the matter of violence, efficient registrars of violent deaths, yet they display utter partisanship when they describe as anarchist terror or police efficacy what is nothing other than the violence deployed by one class against the other. Except that as far as they are concerned, worker violence amounts to terror, whereas the violence of the S.I.M. is efficiency, class outlook being their only criterion. Violence cuts both ways, in accordance with the giving and receiving of whoever wields or suffers it. They DENY, although they would prefer to IGNORE (that being more convenient, effective and elegant) the decisive strength within the republican zone of a revolutionary and chiefly anarchist movement. They DENY, or so play down as to misrepresent the documented facts, the enormous repressive, reactionary and complicit role of the Catholic Church in the military coup d'état, and its active involvement in the preparation, unleashing and benediction of the subsequent fascist repression. They BEMOAN the fact that Orwell should have written an accursed book that should never have been read, and that Loach should have filmed a ghastly movie that ought never to have been screened.

We wish to raise the ALARM against a swelling tide of revisionist historians of the Spanish Civil War who deny or ignore the eruption in 1936 or a sweeping revolutionary workers' movement which, like it or not, impacted upon every aspect of the war and subsequent developments. ALARM at the determined and blatant misrepresentation of historical facts, regardless of the available documentary evidence. The very facts are driven underground and documentation is ignored or misconstrued. Historiography of the civil war has turned from militant history written by the protagonists and eye-witnesses of the civil war, with all of the dangers that this implies, but all of the irreplaceable passion of someone who is not given to playing with words because earlier he gambled with his life, into a doltish academic history characterised by nonsense, incomprehension and indeed contempt for the militants and organisations of the workers' movement. ALARM at the increasingly banalisation of Official History and the methodical side-lining of research, no matter how rigorous, that highlights the crucial role of the workers' movement.

In actual fact, there is on the part of the bourgeois historians an utter inability not just to understand but even to accept the historical existence of a mass revolutionary movement in 1936 Spain. We find ourselves faced with a history that denies the revolutionary upheaval that took place during the civil war.

Official History posits the civil war as a dichotomy between fascism and antifascism which smoothes the way for consensus between academic historians from left and right, the Catalanists/nationalists and the post-Stalinists who, together, are agreed upon heaping the blame for the republican defeat upon the radicalism of the anarchists, POUMists and revolutionary masses, who thereby become their common scapegoat.

By ignoring, omitting or playing down the proletarian and revolutionary connotations that characterised the republican period and the civil war, Official History manages to stand the world on its head, so that its chief priests set themselves the task of rewriting it all OVER AGAIN, thereby completing the theft of historical memory as yet another instalment in the general expropriation of the working class. Because, when all is said and done, it is historiography that makes History. If, alongside the demise of the generation that lived the war, the books and handbooks turned out by Official History ignore the existence of a magnificent anarchist revolutionary movement, within ten years they will be emboldened enough to contend that that movement NEVER EXISTED. The mandarins firmly believe that anything that THEY do not write about EVER existed: if the history calls the present into question, they deny it.

There is a blatant contradiction between the calling of recuperating historical memory and the profession of servants to Official History which needs to forget and block out the past existence and thus future potential for a frightening revolutionary mass workers' movement. This contradiction between trade and profession is resolved by ignoring that which they know or ought to know; and this makes them fools. For which very reason Official History is characterised by an absolute incapacity for rigour, objectivity and comprehensiveness. It is, of necessity, partisan and incapable of espousing any perspective but the bourgeoisie's class perspective. It is, of necessity, exclusive and excludes the working class from the past, future and present.

Official Sociology is hell bent upon persuading us that there is no working class and no class struggle any more; it falls to Official History to persuade us that they never did. A perpetual, complacent, a-critical present renders the past banal and destroys historical awareness.

The bourgeoisie's historians have to rewrite the past, the way that Big Brother did time and again. They need to disguise the fact that the civil war was a class war. Whoever controls the present, controls the past and whoever controls the past decides the future. Official History is the bourgeoisie's history and its mission today is to wreath nationalism, liberal democracy and the market economy in myth so as to have us believe that these are eternal, immutable and immovable.

Signatories to this manifesto declare their belligerent status in this FIGHT FOR HISTORY.
Barcelona June 1999

Manuel Aisa (president of the Ateneu Enciclopédic Popular)
Jose Borrás (author of several books on the Civil War)
Jerónimo Bouza (historian)
Bernat Castany (secretary of the Barcelonian Ateneu)
Adolf Castaños (vice-president of the Ateneu Popular Enciclopédic)
Antonio Castells (author of several books on the collectivizations)
Xavier Díez (historian)
Andy Durgan (historical advisor on the movie 'Land and Liberty')
Chris Ealham (historian, University of Cardiff)
Ramón Gabarrós (secretary of the Ateneu Enciclopédic Popular)
Juan José Gallardo (Group of HÅ Berruezo. Ortiz Biography)
Carlos García Velasco (co-author of an anthology of councilist texts)
Loren Goldner (author, North America)
Agustín Guillamón (Balance, labour history monograph series)
José Luis Gutiérrez Molina (historian)
Miquel Izard (professor of history, Universidad de Barcelona)
Charles Jacquier (historian)
Antoni Jutglar (historian)
Ramsey Kanaan (AK Press, San Francisco)
Spyros Kotrotsios (periodista)
Mary Low (author in 1937 of "Red Spanish Notebook")
Rafael Maestre (Fundación Salvador Seguí de Valencia)
Dolores Marín (historian)
José Manuel Márquez (Grupos de HÅ Berruezo. Biografía de Ortiz)
Jesús Martínez (member of the editorial board of "Polémica")
Frank Mintz (author of works on self-management, May 37 and the 'Amigos de Durruti')
Pilar Molina (Fundación Salvador Seguí de Valencia)
Ramón Molina (historian)
Xavier Oller (maestro)
Vincenzo Paglione (translator)
Baltasar Palicio (historian)
Barry Pateman (Kate Sharpley Library)
Abel Paz (CNT, anarchist historian, author of a life of Durruti)
Eduard Pons Prades (historian)
José Quesada (Trostskist militant in the war. Tarbes)
Paco Ríos (realizador de televisión)
Antonina Rodrigo (historian)
María Angels Rodriguez (Fundación Salvador Seguí de Barcelona)
Teresa Roigé (historian)
Rafael Roldán (médico)
Juanjo Romero (historian)
Sergi Rosés (co-author of an anthology of councillist texts)
Carles Sanz (historian)
Ignasi Sendra (degree in Contemporary History)
Paul Sharkey (historian and translator)
Silvia Solans (periodista)
Reiner Tosstorff (historian)
Claudio Venza (historian)
Assumpta Verdaguer (Centre Documentació Histórico-Social - AEP)
Joan Zambrana (Centre Documentació Antiautoritari Llibertari)

56a Infoshop and Anarchist Archive (London).
AK Press (San Francisco).
Por el "Centre d'Estudis Josep Ester Borr…s: Josep Cara, Emili Díaz, Eduard Gutiérrez, Marc Pons, Josep Quevedo.
Círculo de crítica social MALDEOJO.
Grupo de Historia José Berruezo.
Por el "Grupo surrealista de Madrid": Conchi Benito, Eugenio Castro, Oscar Delgado, Javier Gálvez, Jesús García Rodríguez, Lurdes Martínez, José Manuel Rojo.
Gruppo operaio autoorganizzato Magneti Marelli.
Kate Sharpley Library.
Rete Operaia Precari Nati.

Agora. Revista de historia local de Sta. Coloma de Gramenet.
Anthropos. Revista de documentación científica de la cultura.
Balance. Cuadernos de historia del movimiento obrero.
Collegamenti Wobbly. Per l'organmizzazione diretta di classe.
Polemica. Revista de Información, Crítica y Pensamiento.
Rivista Storica dell'Anarchismo.
Dirección postal:
Balance - Apartado 22.010
08080 Barcelona

Translated by: Paul Sharkey.