Lessons of the Spanish Revolution

(A Brief talk by G. Purchase delivered at a conference on the Spanish Revolution, Sydney May 1996)

Lesson 1: The Need for Bio-regional Revolution

Before the revolution of 1936 the demarcation between villages, districts and provinces was imposed by the Madrid Government in a way that did not correspond to the natural boundaries of either the cultural or environmental region. This policy, along with many others, was designed to hinder demands for regional autonomy and centralise power in Madrid. It was all to easy for both the fascists and communists to characterise the Anarchist Revolution in Catatonia, and elsewhere, as a petit-nationalist struggle similar to recent regionalist-nationalist struggles in Chetchenya and the former Yugoslavia. Although, people in many regions of Spain did, and indeed, still hope, for greater cultural autonomy from Castile, in actual fact the anarchist revolution in the countryside was also a bio-regional revolution. The experiments of rural anarchist collectives with ecological agriculture coincided with a wish to make regional borders sensitive to the realities of environmental and cultural difference.

In ex-colonial countries/continents such as Africa, Australia, Nth America etc, the boundaries both within and between states and countries have been artificially imposed by government. In Australia this has led to the absurd situation where the border between the NT and WA cuts right through the middle of the Tanami Desert region. The demarcation of SA, VIC & NSW by means of the Murray River artificially divides people, rather than uniting them all as inhabitants of the Riverina basin. It has become increasingly obvious that in order to preserve the environment it is necessary to change peoples sense of space and place so that they come to identify, preserve and care for bio-region which they inhabit. The maps handed out this evening give us some idea about how Australia might be perceived by its inhabitants after the success of the green-anarchist revolution.

lesson 2: The Urban Community

During the Revolution the barricades were constructed and defended by (1)worker's militas organised by the workers syndicates in the factories and (2) by the people of those suburbs themselves. Although we must not under-estimate the role of syndicalist militas, the success of revolutions since the time of the French has depended upon radicalised city districts or suburbs. Here the 60 autonomous, though federated districts of Paris played a pivotal role in over-throwing the monarchy and prior to the reaction the city districts composed of the people, took the revolution along the path of communal federation rather than authoritarian centrism. Radicalised city-suburbs in Barcelona, for example, also played a vital supplementary/support role to the efforts of organised militias.

Given that the majority of people will soon live in cities the importance of developing a city-scape consisting of a federation of environmentally sustainable urban communities sharing a common cultural centre cannot be underestimated. By eliminating individually owned laundries, car-ports, swimming pools, back-yards etc., and replacing them with communally owned ones, acres of suburban land can be liberated. This land can be used for food production by means of intensive/permacultural methods and provide space for communal installations that exploit local energy sources and recycling & composting technologies. Nature tells us that eco-systems succeed through utilising locally available resources and wastes in a sustainable and ongoing basis. This principle must be carried into the city as well. Paralleling this need to create viable urban eco-communities the provision of communally owned and controlled, day care, nappy-cleaning services, play areas, workshops, storage areas etc., will create a more socially equitable and supportive society.

lesson 3: The Rural or Village Collective

In rural anarchist Spain many villages and small towns, having driven the landlords out, formed collectives. The land was worked communally and produce/profit was shared out equally or upon the basis of need. Many collectives had their own local currencies based upon a variety of principles. The currently popular idea of LETS as a means of strengthening rural and urban economies is certainly nothing new, and there is much to learn in the practical problems encountered by Spanish comrades in the implementation of a wide variety of local money systems. The practical experiments of the rural collectives with organic permaculture-like systems, where a wide variety of useful products can be obtained from the same land, has only recently become popular again. More generally, the individualistic or homestead lifestyle, typical of rural Australia means that the individual farmer is pitifully puny figure when confronting the big banks, multi-national food companies and the irrationality of market capitalism. There are also compelling environmental arguments in favour of rural land collectivisation. The need to care for the land and create a more bio-regionally orientated society requires total regional and watershed management. Once the land is collectivised. only those areas that are best suited to agriculture would be exploited. Rather than trying to squeeze out the last grain from a fixed portion of land the process of rural food production could be conducted in a way that better preserved the environmental integrity of all the available land. Those areas less suitable to agricultural production can still yield substantial income through enriched land polyculture. Here, native fruits, berries and game are encouraged in a wilderness setting.

lesson 4: The Industrial Syndicate

Non-bureaucratic, worker-controlled revolutionary industrial unionism (ie. Syndicalism) played a vital role in the success, consolidation and advancement of the revolution in anarchist Spain. Firstly an unofficial army (worker's militas) was organised through the factory committees which allowed the anarchists to swiftly overthrow the state-capitalist order. Secondly, because the workers were organised in advance of the revolutionary moment there was a smooth transition from the state-capitalist, to the worker's control of industry. The trains and the busses ran on time and new tram-cars were even constructed. Despite the importance of the (bio) region and the urban & rural collective, it is not practical to organise modern society from the individual community. A continent or city wide railway or road system requires the co-operation of many, many communities. In the absence of capitalist/state bosses only worker controlled industrial syndicates are able to provide these vitally necessary inter-communal services. Moreover, by means of the General Strike, the transition form state-capitalism to social anarchism can be a peaceful and orderly process. The anti-worker, anti-union offensive that has been observed in recent years shows us the need to create a new and vital worker-controlled union movement that is able to confront global capitalism.


The Spanish revolution, in my opinion, shows us the direction that a future revolution must take if we are to achieve an egalitarian society in harmony with the Earth: A bio-regionally orientated society consisting of cities composed of federated urban eco-communities and rural land collectives that would be serviced by worker's syndicates, local Co-operatives and communal and other mutual-aid associations.