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Anarchism and Political Change in Spain

Schism, Polarisation and Reconstruction of the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo, 1939–1979

Maggie Torres is an Independent Scholar, who previously lectured in Spanish and Latin American History at Goldsmiths College, University of London. The main focus of her research has been Spanish Anarchism and the labour movement in Spain, particularly the period from 1939 to 1979. She has published many articles on Spanish Anarchist history from 1939, the reconstruction of the CNT from 1976 to 1979 and the political transition to democracy, 1976–1982.

This history of the anarcho-syndicalist trade union, the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo, analyses a period much neglected in historical research: from the end of the civil war in 1939 to the period of democratic change from 1976 to 1979, when the organisation was reconstructed after Franco’s death. The Franco years were characterised by extraordinary division within the CNT and by the bureaucratisation and ossification of the organisation now part in exile in France. The decimation of the Spanish CNT in 1947 by draconian repression enhanced the role of the exiled CNT, which was now the sole representative of the historic Anarchist movement in Spain.

The moribund notion of Anarchism held by the exiled organisation could not attract recruits, and thus new forces drawn to Anarchism in 1960s Spain came through different routes, related, in large part, to the crisis within Marxism. Some of these local activists became convinced of the possibility for a reconstructed CNT, but only if the organisation were ‘renewed’. However, the exiled CNT opposed such ideas and used all possible means to undermine the movement for a ‘new CNT’. Although the reconstruction of the CNT from 1976 was characterised by the struggle between these two principal forces, the Spanish CNT captured the feelings and enthusiasm of Spanish youth, after the long dark night of Francoism. The ‘libertarian boom’ was short-lived however, and by 1978 the CNT was in deep crisis, calling for the dissolution of the exiled organisation. The latter, and its allies in Spain, could not allow such a development and ‘organised’ the Congress of 1979 to prevent this happening. The subsequent irrevocable division of the CNT sheds lights on the political, social and economic fractures that Spain still experiences today.

Published in association with the Cañada Blanch Centre for Contemporary Spanish Studies

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-936-4
Hardback Price: £85.00 / $109.95
Release Date: January 2019
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-78976-027-9
Paperback Price: £40.00 / $55.00
Release Date: September 2019
Page Extent / Format: 420 pp. 234 x 156 mm
Illustrated: No



Introduction: The CNT, 1910–1939

Chapter 1:  The CNT, 1939–1951: Clandestine organising in Spain and the exiled organisation in France

Chapter 2:   Developments within the Spanish labour movement and the CNT, 1951–1965

Chapter 3:   Anarchist orthodoxy versus Neo-Anarchism: The re-birth of Anarchism in Spain, 1960–1970

Chapter 4:   The expansion of the autonomous movement in the early 1970s

Chapter 5:  Towards Anarchism and the reconstruction of the CNT, 1970–1975

Chapter 6:  The process of democratic change: From the death of the dictator, November 1975 to March 1976

Chapter 7:  The reconstruction of the CNT: November 1975 to July 1976

Chapter 8:  Developments within the CNT: July 1976 to September 1977

Chapter 9:  From ‘boom’ to decline: The CNT, September 1977 to December 1979





The end of the Spanish civil war represented a traumatic defeat for the county’s anarchist movement and its principal organisational expression, the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT). How Spanish anarchists attempted to regroup in the decades that followed is the subject of Maggie Torres’ fascinating study. Her account is especially valuable for its extensive use of oral history: the work is partially based on participant testimony extracted from dozens of interviews carried out in the later years of the Spanish Transition. This allows the author to shed light on the more obscure aspects of this story, where documentary traces are scarce or inexistent.
Reviewed by Danny Evans, Liverpool Hope University, in Redaktion sehepunkte, at

Torres’ account is particularly strong in recreating the frustrations of this period and in identifying the underlying political issues, while her analysis is enhanced by personal recollections of the tensions that spilled over into violence during the internal debates at that time. The extensive use of interviews means that hitherto neglected areas of the historiography, such as the role of the assembly movement, heterodox Marxist influences and autonomous groups in the reconstruction of the CNT, are here treated with enlightening nuance and empathy, while the chapters on broader political developments in Spain provide crucial context. The work’s focus on and evocation of the radical politics and possibilities of the time make it a moving as well as important contribution to understanding the vicissitudes of Spanish anarchism as it struggled to emerge from the long shadows cast by its defeat.
Reviewed by Danny Evan in the Bulletin of Spanish Studies, XCVI, No.10 (2019)

Maggie Torres’s welcome and rigorous study analysing the CNT’s trajectory during its thirty-five years of clandestinity and exile, describes, convincingly and in satisfying detail, the internal and external vicissitudes and complexities that led, in December 1979, to the steady eclipse of anarcho-syndicalist influence following the CNT's first Congress in Spain since Zaragoza in 1936: the carrot and stick of thirty-five years of vicious and murderous repression and co-option of militants into the Francoist vertical unions; thirty years of the baleful and corrupting influence of the Gestapo-compromised Federica Montseny (1905–1994) and Germinal Esgleas (1903–1981) controlling an oligarchic mutual aid society in exile, and seeking to control — and betray! — the clandestine union organisation inside Spain; the changing nature of Spain’s labour movement in the 1950s and 1960s; the impact of the guerrilla action groups and Defensa Interior’s direct actions targetting Spanish tourism and its attempts to kill Franco; ‘cincopuntismo’ and the CNT's relations with the vertical union; the ideological evolution of Spanish anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism in the 1960s and 1970s; the Scala-type machinations of the ‘Bunker’ to ensure a seamless, Dr Who-like transition to power and retain control in the brave new world of post-Francoist democracy.
From the Guest Series Editor's Preface by Stuart Christie

Reviewed by Sharon Wolfovich, Tel Aviv University, in the Mediterranean Historical Review
To cite this article: Sharon Wolfovich (2020) Anarchism and political change in Spain: schism, polarisation and reconstruction of the Confederación Nacional Del Trabajo, 1939–1979, Mediterranean Historical Review, 35:2, 236-239, DOI: 10.1080/09518967.2020.1823698 

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