The Spanish Civil War

  • James Michael Yeoman


The Spanish Civil War is one of the most significant events in the history of anarchism. The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in July 1936 prompted a libertarian social revolution, which saw widespread collectivisation and worker self-management in Barcelona and urban Catalonia and the rural provinces of neighbouring Aragon. Empowered anarchist committees and groups also sought to overturn gender oppression, overhaul the education system, and enact radical public health programmes. This unprecedented revolution ended in May 1937, with the reassertion of Republican state control. After a week of violence in Barcelona, the anarcho-syndicalist Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) was removed from its dominant position in the north-east of the country, and most revolutionary measures were halted or reversed. This chapter will begin by outlining the development of the anarchist movement in Spain. It will then focus on the Spanish Revolution, highlighting the key anarchist individuals, groups, and ideas of the early months of the Civil War, before moving on to a discussion of the events and historiography of the ‘May Days’. Finally, the chapter will examine the decline of the movement in the remaining years of the Civil War, and the experience of defeat, repression, and exile during the Franco dictatorship.


Glossary of Political Groups


Amigos de Durruti (Friends of Durruti) Radical anarchist group, hostile to militarization and ‘encroachment’ on the revolution. Founded March 1937.


Comité Central de Milicias Antifascistas (Central Committee of Anti-fascist Militia) Anti-fascist co-ordinating body established in Catalonia during the early revolution.


Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (National Confederation of Labour) Spanish anarcho-syndicalist organisation. Founded 1910–1911.


Federación Anarquista Ibérica (Iberian Anarchist Federation) Purist anarchist organisation, aimed to direct the CNT. Founded 1927.


Federación Ibérica de Juventudes Libertarias (Iberian Federation of Libertarian Youth) National anarchist youth organisation.


Federación Regional de España (Regional Federation of Spain) Spanish section of the First International, dominated by Bakuninists. 1870–1874 Peak membership c.15,000.


Federación de Sociedades de Resistencia de la Región España (Federation of Societies of Resistance of the Spanish Region) Successor to the FRE and FTRE. 1900–1907. Peak membership c.70,000.


Federación de Trabajadores de la Región España (Federation of Workers of the Spanish Region) Anarcho-collectivist labour federation. 1880–1888. Peak membership c.50,000.


Juventudes Libertarias (Libertarian Youth) Catalan anarchist youth organisation.


Mujeres Libres (Free Women) Anarcho-feminist group. Founded May 1936. Membership c.20,000.


Partido Comunista de España (Communist Party of Spain) National Communist Party. Dramatically grew in support and influence during the Civil War.


Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (Party of Marxist Unification) Coalition of Trotskyist and other dissident communist groups, primarily active in Catalonia. Founded 1935.


Partido Socialista Obrero Español (Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party) Parliamentary party of the socialist movement.


Partit Socialista Unificat de Catalunya (Unified Socialist Party of Cataluña) Coalition of socialist and communist groups in Catalonia, federated with PCE. Founded July 1936.


Unión General de Trabajadores (General Workers’ Union) National union of the socialist movement.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • James Michael Yeoman
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of HistoryUniversity of SheffieldSheffieldUK

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