El anarcosindicalismo español. Una historia en imagenes Colectivo Solidario Confederacion Sindical Solidaridad Obrera, Madrid 2007 367 pages, ISBN 978-84-611-7337-2; 12 available from http://www.nodo50.org/sobrera/
Marking the centenary of Solidaridad Obrera ('Workers' Solidarity'), Spain's most important anarcho-syndicalist newspaper, this extensive graphic history of the Spanish libertarian tradition is one of the most recent books published by the Confederacion Sindical Solidaridad Obrera. In keeping with their previous publications, this volume is reasonably priced; as a pictorial history, it is lavishly illustrated, consisting of some 1,200 images, essentially photos, engravings, paintings, drawings, trade union stamps, magazine covers, newspaper headings, through which over 150 years of working-class struggle are narrated. It concludes with an appraisal of the anarcho-syndicalist movement in Spain today. Inevitably, the text generally plays a secondary role, largely introducing and contextualizing images; further context is provided by a useful introductory chronology preceding each chapter and section.
The story begins with the struggle to organise in Spain in 1835 and the intense repression that followed. The unrelenting readiness of the state and its lackeys to use all possible means to repress any challenge from below whether real, potential or imagined - is a constant feature of this history. It is striking that the garrotte vil, the agonisingly protracted method of strangulation first used to execute a trade unionist in 1856, was still being used in the mid-1970s, when the young Catalan anarchist Salvador Puig Antich was executed. Equal attention is given to repeated attempts at criminalizing the libertarian movement, from the Mano Negra frame-up, which resulted in 300 jailings and 8 executions in the 1880s, up to the Scala Affair of the late 1970s, when a police agent provocateur organised a petrol bombing - which tragically resulted in the deaths of 4 CNT activists - in an attempt to discredit the anarchist movement. The sight of troops on the streets during strikes is a recurring one, a reminder of how the army was frequently deployed as a tool of internal repression within a militarised system of industrial relations.
Yet official attempts to raise the cost of protest proved futile, essentially due to the sacrifices of thousands of anonymous, largely unknown activists who sustained the movement through their sacrifices, often giving up their freedom, even their lives; inevitably, only a fraction of these militants are seen here. From the images that provide a glimpse of social and working conditions, it is easy to see how the CNT became so deeply rooted within Spanish working-class society and resistant to state repression. Even before anarchist culture flourished in Spain, we see evidence here of popular traditions of direct action street protest and armed uprisings, rebellious acts that provided fertile ground for anti-state, anti-authoritarian ideology. The CNT's resistance dovetailed with these traditions, and while driven underground soon after its birth, it surfaced during World War One on a wave of militancy, becoming the lodestar of the dispossessed, with a membership of over 700,000. By the 1930s, the union had come to organise over a million workers.
Inevitably, the approach here is essentially chronological, covering all the key moments and periods, while giving special attention to the second Republic and the revolution, which saw the highest and lowest points in the history of the CNT and anarcho-syndicalism, the legendary short summer of liberation, the crisis opened up by wartime governmental collaboration, and then the long winter of Francoism. …