Academic journal article Anarchist Studies

The 'Herodotus of the CNT': José Peirats and la CNT En la Revolución Española

Academic journal article Anarchist Studies

The 'Herodotus of the CNT': José Peirats and la CNT En la Revolución Española

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This article examines the background to the acclaimed history of the Spanish revolution, La CNT en la revolución española (The CNT in the Spanish Revolution) that was written by José Peirats. The origins of this book can be traced back to the Spanish anarchist movement in exile in France during the immediate aftermath of World War Two. It is the study of an activist-historian, for whom historical writing constituted part of an open-ended intellectual project, a guide to action, an attempt to convince, influence and raise questions in the minds of others, all of which were integral elements of his lifelong struggle in pursuit of freedom and liberty. Peirats, one-time secretary-general of the CNT, was a former brick maker, a working class autodidact, and a product of the movement to which he devoted his life.

Key words José Peirats, The CNT in the Spanish Revolution, Confederación Nacional del Trabajo, Spanish civil war

I am a modest writer who emerged from the fired clay of an oven.

José Peirats

José Peirats's Z¿z CNT en la revolución española (The CNT in the Spanish Revolution) is the history of one of the most original and audacious, and arguably also the most far-reaching, of all the twentieth-century revolutions. It is the history of the giddy years of political change and hope in the 1930s, when the so-called 'Generation of '36', Peirats's own generation, the generation of workers and landless labourers who found it impossible to live under the old order, who yearned for a better Spain, rebelled against the inequitable and repressive structures of 'old Spain'. It is also the history of a revolution that failed, and which was followed by years of despair, defeat and Diaspora, as Franco's dictatorship set about cleansing society of the 'Generation of '36'. During the long winter of Franco's obscurantist reaction, the insurgent 'Generation of '36' paid the price for daring to challenge the traditionalist and elitist verities of the agrarian and industrial oligarchies in front of firing squads, in mass, unmarked graves, in German concentration camps, in Franco's prisons or in exile.

This book emerged from the huge population movement provoked by Franco's attempt to rid Spanish society of revolutionaries and silence' the 'Generation of '36'. 1 The origins of this book are to be found in France, at the second congress of the Movimiento Libertario Español- Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (MLECNT), which was held in Toulouse, in October 1947, some eight years after the conclusion of the civil war.2 In one of the less publicised moments of the congress, Benito Milla and his friend, Peirats, a 39 year-old anarchist exile and secretarygeneral elect of the MLE-CNT, proposed the publication of a historical study of the revolution. Not only was this project firmly in keeping with the traditional concern of the anarchist movement for history and culture,3 but many exiled anarchists were acutely aware of the need to offer an alternative to the one-sided, distorting and selfjustifying official history being produced by the academic apologists of the dictatorship, whose incessant propaganda offensive denied the place of the anarchists and the entire left in Spain's history.4 In this context, to write a history connoted a readiness to stake a claim to the past, the present and the future of Spain. Initially, it seemed, the proposal made by Milla and Peirats went unheeded. This is best explained by the exigencies of exile, for, while many of those at the congress undoubtedly grasped the desirability of producing such a history, this project was pushed onto a secondary plane by the burden of everyday life: the imperatives of organising the fight against Franco, and the daily struggle for survival in exile in a country then undergoing post-war reconstruction.

Yet, such was the enduring cultural and educational commitment of those who had developed intellectually within libertarian circles, Milla and Peirats had already sown the seeds of what would, in just a few years, germinate into the most comprehensive survey of the CNTs revolutionary activities during the 1930s. …

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