Teresa Abelló

Interviewed January 10, 2018 for Catalunya Barcelona docuseries.

My name is Teresa Abelló, I’m a history professor at the University of Barcelona and I was born in a little village of Lleida called Vinaixa

Could you tell us what has been your job, your professional career?

Yes, my professional career is focused on the Universitat de Barcelona, actually, I studied history there, and I’ve done almost my whole career inside the university

Also, I’ve worked as a researcher at the International Institute of Social History of Amsterdam for two years


In 1907, Solidaridad Obrera was formed. What was it, and how did it lay the foundation for the CNT?

Solidaritat Obrera was an effort, or a project to reorganize, initially, Catalan labor societies from Barcelona, basically, after a really tough period of time for the labor societarism in the late XIXth Century

It had been practically broken up because of a dramatic period generally known as Montjuic’s Process, it affected the labor movement a lot, that broke it up

And in 1907, those different labor societies that had survived as they could, they created what we know as Solidaritat Catalana following the example of an other societal political model created a few months before, they motivated that Solidaritat Obrera movement that consisted in joining, reorganizing all labor societies in order to act together

In short, it is theCNT’s embryo just because most parts of laborer societies had a tendency towards anarco-sindincalism

Will you discuss Setmana Trágica and its role, if any, in inspiring the creation of the CNT?

The Tragic Week represents some emblematic events that ara considered a rite of passage, not just in the labor movement’s dynamic, but rather, I’d say, in the Spanish politics

Until the Tragic Week, which occurs in the last week of July 1909, and indicates, symbolizes the regenerationist politics’ failure of the Spanish government, actually, after the Tragic Week, the government will fall

And what does it mean for the laborer movement?

Around some very dramatic events as the Tragic Week, we have to think that the city of Barcelona was burning, practically, there was… if we take a map, we’ll see there were hundreds of buildings burning around the whole city

Working-class people from Barcelona participated in this movement, or this event, obviously

Now, it’s not a movement inspired by the labor movement from Barcelona

My reading is that it is an enormously negative event for the laborer movement from Barcelona because what it does is to postpone the repression that there’ll be after the Tragic Week, it stops the real process of reorganization of the labor movement

This will prevent the CNT from being established until a year later, it will all remain paralyzed

It is a violent explosion but not a revolution, as sometimes wants to be presented like it is

It is a rabid explosion, a helpless explosion but not a revolutionary social event

Then, the Tragic Week it’s not remarkable to the labor movement itself, because of the own labor movement’s history

It is important in the sense that it breaks up everything that was organized and then, it makes it go back but that event itself is not a part of the labor movement’s history

How was the CNT organized when it first formed in 1910?

The CNT was established in 1910 in Barcelona, and the next year, it was established in the state and it is organized following the classic labor movement tradition based on anarcho-syndicalism

It is organized in committees, initially, federations are organized into professions and those profession-based federations are organized at a local and a regional level

In short, a federal organization model and pyramid shaped too, obviously

Local committees are important, also regional committees…

Why did the CNT overtook the UGT as the more popular union in Barcelona?

Not just in Barcelona, the CNT is the most popular union in Barcelona although the UGT is very important, probably more important than what people want to admit sometimes

Why did it overtook it? Why do we always talk about the CNT’s big importance?

Still, we cannot forget that the UGT is established in Catalonia and it has its main headquarters there for many years

And it will never disappear, I want to let that clear too

Why is the CNT more important?

Well, it is hard to explain, different dynamics take part

Surely, the most logical explanation is that the Catalan society in general, fundamentally the Catalan working-class, that ends up encouraging the CNT, traditionally has felt outside the state

That is, it has not participated in the state, there hasn’t been a tradition of participate in the governability of the state and obviously, that is because many causes

The UGT had a state vocation and it is organized in a very centralized way

Somehow, that gets it away from that implicit tradition

Of couse, in the whole labor movement from Barcelona, the own labor movement of the CNT, although the CNT is anarchist, a republican-federal culture feeds it

The federal republicanism takes it to that central state participation distancing

Then, the own anarchism, or the own CNT’s organizative dynamics, much more decentralized, get into this implicit Catalan society’s personality

But the UGT is important, I want to be clear in this too

What was the Canadenca strike. Why, aside from its role in achieving the 8-hour workday, was it so important?

The Canadenca strike was the most important movement of the strike scene in the Spanish state until that moment, until 1919, that it is the moment when it occurs

It is a very important movement because it happens in a moment that… it occurs a few months after the CNT has taken a step forward with its organization, the CNT, that has just got out all those tumultuous years after the European war

That is, somehow, the CNT had expressed its organizative lack and in 1918, a few months before the Canadenca strike, it celebrates a remodelling-like congress and it imposes a new organitzative model, quite different than the one it has had traditionally

The CNT had been organized in professions, and in 1918, it experiments and, from that congress called Sants’ Congress on, it puts into practice a new organizative model based on the company

That is, all the workers of a company will be affiliated with the same branch and it will be the majority of the company

That means, for example, the typist will be member, if the majoritary branch of the company is metal, he will be member of the metal union

What’s the purpose of this? Its purpose is to reinforce company strikes in the moment that the company is on strike

That is, company solidarity rather than profession solidarity

In that context, the Canadenca, which was the company that provided electricity to Barcelona, it was a very important company with Canadian resources, that’s why we know ‘Barcelona Traction, Light and Power’ as La Canadenca, it had many subsidiaries and one of them was the company ‘Riegos y Fuerzas del Ebro’ which had its headquarters in Camarasa, a town in Pallars

In that particular headquarters there’s a strike because some workers are fired, and that organizative model starts

The model is a complete success because the conflict that had happened in one subsidiary with few workers is the one that makes the whole company of the Canadenca to be on strike

Of course, the Canadenca provides electricity to Barcelona, then, Barcelona is out of light and that makes that all the companies that used electricity as driving energy stop

From that moment on, an other solidarity has originated, which is the solidarity among the labor world, trams are on strike because they cannot work, etc, etc

And getting to the solidarity with the printers, with the workers of a company

Of course, it is an immense company, the workers are strong because the organizative model is reliable

It is the big test what comes into the union and the employers management

This strike’s magnitude made clear that the union was very powerful and obviously, firstly, it had to give licences to the government, it wins the eight hours [of work], wage licences need to be done, but it also has the business association’s organization

That is, this will inspire a new period of relationships between business associations and unions, which will be characterized as a really tough conflict

What was the CNT’s role in bringing education to the working class families?

The CNT is a very complex scheme, let’s not forget that sometimes… the CNT is an anarcho-syndicalism union, but a union, after all

And sometimes we talk about the anarchism’s and the CNT’s strength in Barcelona, and they both are a part of the same scheme but it’s not exactly the same

The CNT is not exactly the same as anarchism

The CNT is a part of anarchism

I’d ask the question ‘what is the role of anarchism in Barcelona?’, because not all the anarchism movements are syndicalist

And in this point, anarchism and labor societies do have a basic role in education

I mean, this organized and aware labor movement, that new name, the first thing they did was to raise awareness of its lacks

And which was the main lack? Education

Of course, we’re in a system in the Spanish state, in which somehow and because of organizing the own regime in 1876, the government has forgotten its duties towards education in the sense that it has let it in the Church’s hands, but well, this would be an other subject

This labor world knows perfectly that education is basic and that somehow, if it wants to move forward and improve its conditions, it has to be done from education

Then, in all the union’s programs, education’s role is basic, also in other socialist unions

How is this done? Creating two things… inside the own anarchist area there will be very important pedagogical models which will create schools, let’s say, they will function in a normal way

Surely, the most famous school but not the only one here in Barcelona is the modern school, the most famous but not the only one, as I said

There’s an other aspect that is that labor societies will create meeting areas because this anarchist world created a sociocultural net of very wide relations

And in these areas that, sometimes, we can sum up as ‘what was a meeting area? A cafe’, but the cafe was as important the place where the bar top was, the place where people drank the coffee and the grape marc as the area behind that, what we’d call back shop if it was a shop, we don’t have a name for that in a cafe

What was that? It was a meeting area where, informally, they would teach classes in a regulated way, they would teach how to read and write, stage plays were organized, and who did that? Well, people that knew how to do it

That is, sometimes they were teachers with a specific education,and sometimes, it was just people with a particular formation

But there was a real fixation for education and related to all this, they created areas to teach classes, schools’ offices, also specific areas regarding newspapers are created, and in union magazines to teach people

This world is very important as a pedagogical tool, the caricature is enormously educational, stage plays… everything is a very important area

And then, specific shools around all this athenaeum-like world are created, which is very important in Catalonia

It is a meeting area half leisure, half cultural and surely, the most important one is the Encyclopedic Popular Athenaeum, which ends up being a university almost, not an official one, but with a very important level of education

Will you talk about the grassroots comites de barricada organized by the CNT, and located in sucursales?

I’d call them neighborhood committees, I’d say that’s the right word…

The neighborhood committees were a part of the organizative model of the CNT

That is, the CNT is a union with a long tradition, it goes through many stages, it is created in 1910 until… I don’t know which year would be the end, maybe 1936 or later, it goes through many stages

A very important element in the CNT’s history is the constant defeat, obviously, it has successful moments but they are followed by tough repression moments

And so, it is to confront why neighborhood committees are created

That is, what is these committees’ function? That the union works

That is, somehow, they’re defense committees pertaining to the own union, they’re formed by a reduced nucleus of people and its purpose is that the CNT works with the needs it has in that moment

Therefore, it’ll have a more tranquil action in certain moments, and it’ll have a more aggressive action in others

As women were frequently underrepresented in union membership, and unions were essentially masculine spaces, how did women play an active role in CNT activities?

Inside the CNT, I’d say that women played exactly the same role than the rest of society

There’s a mystification sometimes when talking about women inside the CNT but the reality is that their role was exactly the same as the rest’s

The CNT is a reflection of society, in that sense

Like in everything else, there’re stages

If we analyze the own history of the CNT, of the union, we’d see that, as a theory, there’s a lot about feminine freeing

But well, in practice, for example, in the moment in which different strikes were happening, the main working women’s enemy were their own union partners

Normally, they were accused of being strike-breakers in a very usual and lightly way

The reality is that women went to work but the reality is also they had to bring food home to their children

That is, and here, he can surely see… we should analyze psychologically too a more masculine attitude and a more feminine attitude towards family

The reality is that women had it as difficult inside the union than outside it

One thing was the discourse and an other was the reality

It is true that after the ’30s and in the moment when the revolution begins, and also after that people wanted to keep it, there’s a discourse that talks a lot about feminine freeing, on paper, there was a lot written on free love, about free women, but this was in little nucleus, actually, it’s the society portrait

There were spaces in which there was really a much more important feminine freeing than others, but in the same extent that we also found it inside what we’d call the bourgeois society, reduced areas where that happened, and in most of them, the rules were exactly the same

Will you talk about some of the cultural activities spearheaded by the CNT?

The CNT carried out and inspired many activities

This would be a part of the own anarchist Catalan structure

Culturally, the anarchist world is very rich, of course, it is a world that because of its own idiosyncrasy and its own inclination of not to accept [things], of not obey rules, it argues everything

Intellectually, this gives it an enormous wealth

Of course, culturally… when we mean ‘what does it contributes, culturally?’, of course, we also need to talk about many aspects

In general, the most part of memberships were poor, they had always have a limited education access

They had to make an enormous effort to learn how to read and write, there was a very important autodidactic dose

Of course, generally, there is a limited culture, it is obvious that inside this own world, partly because the effort of many leaders, I insist, with the effort of self-teaching, they end up being important theorists of the own union movement

In the cultural field, obviously, inside the wide setting of the anarchistic world is where the cosmopolitan intellectuality is more confortable

But this would be apart from the own union, inside the anarchistic world

This interaction between these two areas, we could say between these two social levels, provokes that the own anarchist world has a lot of interest in creating areas that mix education, culture and leisure, obviously

Then, in creating theatrical places, in creating many types of areas beyond schools

What was the CNT’s view of the clergy?

The relationship between the CNT and the clergy was, in the best-case scenario, nonexistent, and normally, bad

Obviously, let’s say, the CNT is anticlerical, according to its definition

And this anticlericalism is not just of the CNT, but is a inherited anticlericalism from the republican base

Republicanism was also very anticlerical

It was a much more church authorities-directed anticlericalism, in general, than to the own neighborhoods areas; the relationship was often different but due to the own country’s history, where the role of the church was a very important role for decades and it was mixed with the state’s role, then, the relationship had to be bad, obviously

We have to talk about a clear anticlericalism, that sometimes meant just omitting the church and many times, attacks against the church

At the CNT National Plenum in April 1931, comites de defensa confederal was formed at the urging of Nostotros. What were they?

The federal defense committees were created in 1931, that is, just after the republic was declared, in a moment when the CNT is going through a bad time

This complexity is because the fact that the CNT had been throught a tough secrecy period during [Miguel] Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship and that had been just after, let’s say, the CNT’s successful period

The CNT survives Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship in secrecy and during that period, there’s a very important division inside the CNT

This division is because the fact that anarchist groups affiliated with the CNT create a own organisation that we know as the FAI, as the Iberian Anarchist Federation

In 1931, when the republic is declared, we find a complex situation for labor societies

In the Spanish state, the majority of labor societies, CNT and UGT, were very radical societies socially

What is the republic? They confront the dilemma of deciding whether they had to support the republic or not

Obviously, socially and politically, politics are a very important step forward regarding the monarchy governments and obviously, the dictatorship’s governments

Now, of couse, it is not a revolutionary government, it is a reformist government, very reformist but reformist after all

Then, supporting those governments or not is an important dilemma for the CNT

There’s an area of the CNT that, since the beginning, decided to wait and see what happened and an other one that will be against the republic from the start

In short, these committees are a part of this environment that is against the republic

What do they want? They want to support the position opposite to the CNT, sometimes, against the own CNT

The Federacion Anarquista Iberica formed in Valencia in 1927. Will you provide some background? How did it form? What was its purpose, and connection to the CNT?

The Federacion Anarquista Ibérica was formed in Valencia in ’27, let’s say, secondly in ’28, is the response to an organisation formed by anarchist groups of all around the Iberian Peninsula, Portugal included

Anarchist groups were very important, they were little in number but they had a very important strength

In general, these worker groups were affiliated with the CNT but disagreed with the CNT’s politics

What was happening to the CNT? The CNT was a anarcosyndicalist-based union, obviously, it was forced to imposing a pragmatism politics many times

That is, the revolution was the purpose but the day-to-day was the union pragmatism

These groups disagreed with this position and the truth is that they did constant attacks, constant critiques talking against this union pragmatism and presenting themselves as anarchistic-purity defenders

These groups get organised and they create this Federación Anarquista Ibérica

The Federation is not inside the CNT, but it is an independent element, but at the same time its members are CNT’s members

Then, it is a divergent element, somehow, we see the anarchist purity

And it is inspired by many groups, one of them is the group Nosotros, but the own groups change their names, Nosotros, Los Solidarios… There’re many group’s names

Who was Juan Manuel Molina Mateo?

Juan Manuel Molina Mateo is one of the many important CNT-FAI leaders in the ’30s, and I put the pairing here

It is normally known by his nickname Juanel

He starts to be active in the FAI and is a member of the FAI groups

During both the republic and the war, he ‘s a member of the coarse committee, then, he plays a very important role in the food distribution

And he’s one of the characters that, in the so complex politics of the CNT and, after the Civil War, the FAI, he will also have many confrontations inside the own anarchism because of the positioning in favor or against the collaboration with the republican governments

General Dámaso Berenguer, whose mission was to prepare the political conditions for new elections in a revived constitutional monarchy, legalized the CNT in 1930, only to clamp down on them once again in 1931. Why did this happen?

General Berenguer accedes to the government presidency, or as a new dictator, in a moment in which the purpose is to finish the dictatorship

There’s the, obviously, false unviable goal of going back to the situation previous to the dictatorship, as always, it is very hard to go back in time and General Berenguer…. Obviously, it wasn’t possible

But anyway, in order to prepare any going back situation with a democratic legality, or with a parliamentary regime, it went through legalizing parties and labor societies

And so, the CNT couldn’t stay on the sidelines of this legalization

And why does it close its door again after ’31?

No… In ’31 it’s not illegalized

Why did ERC founders like Lluís Company enjoy prestige with CNT leaders?

Republican leaders had a peculiar relationship with the CNT in general

The own CNT’s basis came from republicanism

That is, the relationship is complex

The CNT, the anarcosyndicalist movement adopted a formula in all its congresses, a formula that defined it, which was the union apolitical nature

That is, the union defined itself as apolitical

Now, this union apoliticism did not imply an apoliticism among the CNT’s members necessarily, if not, the numbers weren’t right

What do I mean by that? I mean that many republican parties or group’s members and sympathizers were active in the CNT

It is a strange and complex relationship that, obviously, was followed… for example, we were talking about the FAI before, the FAI criticized… it was against this situation

Now, what happens to the CNT’s leaders and members? Well, the CNT’s members had judicial problems constantly

Where do union or, as we would say now, labor attorneys came from? These labor attorneys are republican, normally, or they come from republican ranks

Then, a mutual understanding, a good relation is established among the republican leaders of different republican parties and the CNT members themselves, and somehow, they all are part of the opposition

When it comes to Catalonia, this relationship between republican politics is a relation that has a long tradition and republican politics of the ’20s, as [Francesc] Lairet, for example, or [Lluis] Companys, that are both members of the same political place, they were labor attorneys

Then, they were union attorneys when the union members needed them

This doesn’t mean that Companys was a CNT member, not at all, he never was

I’d say that other politicians as [Francesc] Macià had a much more free-flowing relationship with the CNT than the one that Companys had

But they were their attorneys, then, there was an intense relationship

Companys had a hugh relationship with the Lessors Union, which is not an anarcosyndicalist union but it is the field union

And obviously, this inspired loyalty

As well, will you discuss their opinion of Macià?

We need to frame the relationship between the CNT and Macià inside the toughness of the governmental repression context

The governmental repression in the Spanish state lasted many years, we’re talking about Macià from the ’20s to the republic, it is a very tough repression against everything that’s out the regime

In the moment in which… we’ve talked about the Tragic Week before, or about the Canadenca [strike], in the moment in which the state starts repressing, it represses everything that ended with -ism: republicanism, laicism, anarchism, syndicalism, everything that does not belong to the official area


And this, obviously, creates a very intense relationships

Francesc Macià, specifically, he rebelled since the moment he started in politics, he was an enormously active personality, he was republican, a leftist, non-marxist, non-anarchist republican, obviously, but a leftist

Then, an important reforming program was implicit and his electoral area were working-class people

This definition of working-class people is very broad, it is very difficult to say where it starts and where it ends

Then, his electoral space is… Macià was also a person that apart from being very active politically, he came from the Catalan fields

He came from a middle point between the middle city, which was Vilanova, and the rural world of Les Garrigues, of Les Borges Blanques

He understood those needs perfectly, both the industrial worker and the field worker, that’s why the Macià myth was forged

And his relationships with this CNT area were, well, they weren’t easy because the political project was obviously different but they were relationships with union leaders, above all, not that much with anarchist leaders

What in ERC’s platform was attractive to CNT’s leadership, and what dissuades them from pushing for an electoral boycott?

The relationships between ERC and the CNT were volatile

In the moment when the first elections are set out, the first municipal elections are the ones that lead to the proclamation of the republic, the area that working-class people have to vote is a very simple space, at the end

Either voting the marxist left, and the CNT is antimarxist, by definition, or voting a non marxist left

In this quandary, let’s say, who won inside the CNT was obviously ERC

Esquerra Republicana ends up being a wide platform that would gather many spaces, and they were many areas in contact

And what did this CNT have in common? This ‘belonging’ to popular areas, popular Catalan areas

The relationship wasn’t easy and the 1914 elections, taking the numbers into account… obviously, the vote is secret and it is very hard to guess who’s voting what, but the results tend to draw a conclusion, in the 1914’s elections, it was obvious that the CNT voted and voted ERC

Now, in the legislative elections in June ’31, this vote diminishes a little bit because the state was voting, and there’s an other element here

In the ’33’s elections is when the boycott happens

The CNT doesn’t vote and the left loses, don’t forget this

And in the Popular Front’s elections that are set out differently, ‘all against fascism’, the CNT votes again and ERC wins again

That is, politics is volatile

Why did CNT’s support for the governing powers of the republic wane rather quickly?

When the republic is declared, the CNT faces a dilemma, the CNT of the ’31 is very complex because it has this soul, it is a union and then, it is anarcosyndicalist, but a part of the members is a part of these anarchist groups that have created their own organisation, the FAI, without talking about a union’s cession at all

One thing the FAI suggessts is the union’s control, that is, controlling those places of the union’s managing

This part of the FAI is radically against supporting the republican governments at all because it consideres they are bourgeois republican governments

Then, this relationship will become… it will be a complex relationship that will affect the CNT to the extent that as the time passes, between ’31 and ’33, the FAI’s presence inside the CNT will grow to the extent that it will provoke a rescission in the CNT

And this will provoke that the highest anarcosyndicalist leaders are expelled from the CNT, like Angel Pestaña or Joan Peiró

Who were the Brigada Policial Especializada en Anarquismo y Sindicalismo?

The Brigada Policial Especializada en Anarquismo are groups that are created inside the police, it was not a concrete creation, each moment, the police has anarchism repression specialized groups

It is inside this dynamic of social violence that the state considers delinquency, but of course, it is a very specific delinquency in the state parameter

And inside the police, special groups to fight against anarchism are created

Macià, after declaring the Generalitat, hoped to meet working class demands by bringing the CNT into a government of national unity. What happened?

When Macià declares the Catalan Republic inside the Federación de Pueblos Ibéricos and after that, the Generalitat, he has a very inclusive project in mind about Catalan working-class people

This inclusive project also includes the CNT

The CNT’s reaction, as we’ve said before, it is a diverse reaction, firstly, the CNT cannot participate in a government

Then, the CNT’s response to Macià’s offer is saying no

Now, this ‘no’, does not imply a confrontation politics necessarily

And here we’ll find the dilemma that we’ve mentioned before, there’ll be a part of the CNT that although it is saying no to Macià’s offer of participating in the government, it is willing to create a waiting politics, to see what happens and to give the new governing a vote of confidence

Whereas there’s an other CNT’s sector that, since the beginning, is setting out a confrontation politics

Will you talk about the general strike of May 1933, and the conditions that caused this mobilization to be defeated?

During all the republican period, politics or the socio-labor confrontation is very intense

Think that we’re in a period of time in which freedom has been introduced and in the Spanish state there’s a need and a demand of very important remodeling

Now, this remodeling’s demand, which is in many cases historical demands, obviously, are done radically and they’re asked for now, there’s no time, there’s no waiting

This, really brings a tough politics

Obviously, remodelling needs its time, the republican government itself has in its hands the remodeling of practically all the State in all its areas

But obviously, it needs to follow its time, unions doesn’t give the government much time and obviously, there are areas that want a direct confrontation

Then, the wave of strikes is constant

Here in Catalonia, the most important wave of strikes will be in ’32

In ’33, there’s a general strike declaration but it is much more important in Andalucia and other places in the state than in Catalonia

There are conflicts here but it is not the most troublesome moment in which the Catalan CNT takes part

Whereas it is a year before when they do all these insurrectionary rebellions in the whole area from the Llobregat to the Baix Llobregat, fundamentally

In August of 1931, there were 41 strikes in Barcelona alone, including stoppage of 40,000 metalworkers, who stayed out for the entire month. What caused this upsurge in militancy?

The strike scene during the republic is always important, I’ve said that already

The one in charge of the labor politics of the republic is obviously the work secretary and we’re talking about Francisco Largo Caballero

Francesco Largo Caballero is the highest leader of the UGT, a very committed union member, I’d say he’s union member before he’s a politician

Now, the fact that Largo Caballero is the responsible of this politics creates a confrontation inside the CNT

Here’s a union fight here, a fight between two very powerful unions but… they’re two confronted unions that have a different view of the social organization model in mind

And obviously, this strike movement that is created since the beginning is to show the union’s strenght, the different unions

How did Francisco Largo Caballero, and his Jurados Mixtos, effectively inspire the rupture between CNT members and the Republic?

Los jurados mixtos that Largo Caballero tries to impose want to be a conflic resolution model

Here, theoretically, there had to participate businessmen, workers and administration representatives in these ‘mixed juries’, this administration representatives are the ones that the CNT does not accept

The CNT defends that the conflic resolution has to be between owners and workers with the administration’s abstention

And this is a very important fictional element between the UGT and the CNT, the UGT is a union with a state vocation, but the CNT is not

The First of May against Unemployment, Inflation and for a Reduction in Rents in 1931 was the largest mass gathering since the forming of the republic, and it ultimately turned violent, one could argue, as a result of Macia’s alarm at the size of the crowd. Will you discuss the importance of this day?

The First of May is an important date, very important among the labor world from the moment it starts being celebrated in 1890

That is, from that moment, the First of May is always a very important labor recognition and labor fight date

Obviously, in the moments in which, politically, the unions have been legalized, the protests of the First of May have been much more larger

What happened on the 1st of May ’31? We need to contextualize it in the republican dinamic

The First of May ’31 the republic is proclamed, which has been proclamed a few weeks before, and now, the own constitution of the state organization chart

What do I mean? I mean, on 14th April 1931 the republic has been proclamed but this republic has no legal framework

The legal framework has to be created throught constituent elections and they have to create a constitution

Then, the big labor protest on the 1st of May 1931 is obviously very important and very activist because the labor world wants to show its strenght to the new state

They’re just pressure areas

What is added to this protest? Well, obviously, all the problems there are

And the particular subject of the rents, it was an endemic problem in Barcelona

Barcelona had the matter of rent prices as one of the biggest local problems since forever

There were a few, but this was one of them

What was unique about the Telefonica Strike?

The Telefonica Strike of 1931 was a very important strike because, obviously, in all the breakup processes, communication is basic

Obviously, in the 30s, telephonic communication is a basic element

The telephone company, those years, was runned by a north-American company and obviously, the most revolutionary areas supported the need of either socializing or nationalizing the telephone company, depending on the approach

The telephone company has tens of thousands workers and it is the strenght demonstration of unions, their capacity of paralyzing in the same way that it had happened with the Canadenca, to paralyze the country

How were the actions of Governor Anguera de Sojo key to the radicalization of the CNT?

[José Oriol] Anguera de Sojo is a very important politician in the Barcelona of the 30s

I don’t think Anguera de Sojo had special relevance in the CNT’s radicalization

That is, the CNT is radicalized because other things

What we can do say is that Anguera de Sojo is a politician that comes from the republican world, he had a long tradition of republican militancy and he was a part of the republican world, this republicanism, let’s say, close to the left, but that when it comes to the relations with the CNT, it has a tough politics

That is, we’ve talked before about the CNT’s and different politicians’ mutual understandings that will last forever, but still, there’ll be a republicanism that will be very tough with the CNT’s politics

Above all, with a CNT that, let’s not forget, during the 30s it is radicalizing towards the FAI sector

Anguera de Sojo will have a tough attitude against the CNT during his presidence in the Audiència and after that

But not more than other politicians, that is, it is not an essential element to go towards radicalization

Why did the Catalan CNT encourage local members to stand down and go back to work while, in Asturias, in October 1934, the Alianza Obrera, a coalition of anarchists, communists (dissident and orthodox) and socialists, launched the largest workers’ insurrection in Europe, dubbed ‘Red October,’ since the 1871 Paris Commune?

The uprisings of October ’34 are a basic moment in the republic in which two different movements converge

The fact that they converge chronologically the same days makes us to confuse them sometimes

What happens in Asturias is an insurrectionary unrising inside the mining zone

In Catalonia, what broke out was a political conflict

A political conflict between the Catalan Parliament and the Spanish government

Both conflicts broke out in parallel and so, they coincide with a failed general strike call of the UGT in the whole state

We’re talking about three different conflicts

In Asturias, the conflict is mainly laborer, in Catalonia, the conflict is basically politic

What does the CNT do with this? The CNT is interested in joining the political conflict in Catalonia, that is, in joining the conflict

Now, the president Companys is sure that it is a political conflict and the doesn’t want the CNT attracting attention in it because for Macià, it is not going to te revolution like in Asturias, but it is a political competence conflict

And in that moment, Macià denies the CNT’s collaboration, he denies to supply the CNT with arms as they were asking for them, Macià denies it radically

Sorry, Companys, I was saying the wrong name

What was behind the CNT-FAI’s tacit support of the Popular Front?

When the Front Popular is suggested in February ’36, we’re in a new historical moment

The elections of February ’36 are called by the republican government, a right-wing government, in a political moment in which there’s been repression internally after the Events of 6 October in Asturias, repression has been very tough

In Catalonia, the Generalitat is busy, practically

Then, internationally, we’re in the moment in which the comunist parties have spread the Popular Front’s discourse which we could call ‘all against fascism’

This discourse of the populist front, the coalition of all against fascism has been successful in France, the French president takes part of the Popular Front in France

And so, this discourse moves to the Spanish state and the elections of February ’36 are suggested with this philosophy, all against fascism

Then, in this ‘all against fascism’, the CNT has to take part in it because it is not set out as a partisan element but as a political-social action

After the Popular Front victory, what actions did the Popular Front take to satisfy the CNT-FAI?

The most important measure that is taken after the elections of the Popular Front is the amnesty to all political prisoners

That is, in February ’36, there were no political prisoners in prisons of the Spanish state, there’re just common prisoners… political or social prisoners, we can call them as we’d like

There’s a broad amnesty for all these prisoners, and so, the CNT prisoners are amnestied

Will you talk about the renaissance for revolutionary action that began after the events of July 19th, and endured nearly a year?

18th of July, the moment in which the coup d’etat happens, this coup d’etat is stopped in Catalonia

There’s been a lot of mystification about the stoppage of the coup d’estat

It is evident that the CNT… The coup is basically stopped by the governmental forces, the Generalitat hardly has enough forces to stop it

It is obvious that the CNT joins [the stoppage] and helps and collaborates stopping the coup

This CNT of July ’36, here in Catalonia, it is a very different CNT than the one of October ’34 when it comes to organization

We’ve talked before about the positioning of the CNT of October ’34 and about the fact that the president Companys denies to supply the CNT with arms to collaborate in the protest action

Well, in that moment, Macia denies it, but well, between October ’34 and July ’36, the CNT has been arming itself

How? To the maximum possible extent, but in fact, it has been accumulating arms and has been preparing internally so what happened to it in October ’34 doesn’t happen again

Then, when the coup happens in July ’36 and it is stopped, the CNT goes to collaborate in the coup but it goes enormously well organized and with a clear objective of the revolution

And also, the CNT will play a key role at specific places, for example, specific places with confinement to barracks, for example, the CNT is key in the occupation of Sant Andreu’s headquarters

Of course, what does the occupation of Sant Andreu’s headquarters imply? It will imply that it is the CNT the one that enters in the headquarters and it will arm itself completely

That is, from that moment, they won’t be short of weapons

Under these conditions, well organized and armed, it is when the CNT says ‘now I’m doing the revolution’

And the CNT imposes the revolution, somehow

Of course, it is in a condition of a lot of strength and obviously, the governmental situation is way more weaker

In that point, there will be a cut and thrust between authorities and the CNT armed groups that are doing the revolution

And the fact they are armed groups is a very important element, obviously, the government of the Generalitat is left with little dilemmas facing armed groups obviously, either they do an inner civil war or they try to adapt themselves and to control de situation

Of course, this attempt to control the situation will be a long one that will last for months, actually, the hardest part will be between July and September, but at the end of September, the Generalitat will take the reins of the situation somehow, but making enormous concessions to the CNT

What concessions will it make? Basically, saving the collectivizations, which was the most emblematic element of the revolution the Generalitat assumed creating a collectivization decree, that is, creating a law that legalized the process of collectivizations that had been carried out

What are some examples of spaces in the city that were transformed from bourgeoisie enclaves to communal, working class centers?

In an emblematic way, I cannot say any, really

There were many on a small scale but the truth is that from July ’36, the city comes into a war period

Therefore, what will we see? We’ll see, for example, emblematic places like Torres in the high zone of Barcelona will be transformed, basically, into places to shelter children, like a kind of a school, a children’s residence, and above all, as orphan kids start arriving there from other places, they will be transformed into that kind of place

In the city center, the transformation will be thrilling in the sense that if we take images of anytime after the 18th of july, for example, in ’36, ’37 or ’38, of the center of Barcelona, what do we see? We see that most emblematic places, for example, big hotels of Plaça Catalunya or in the Rambles have changed into left political parties’ headquarters

And we’ll also see something curious, that as the time goes by, the importance of buildings that are occupied by a specific political formation, it is also necessary to see the importance of the political formation in that moment

But in short, they will be occupied by comunist or anarchist groups

And an other element that needs to be highlighted as well is, in this revolutionary moment, different areas from the city end up being transformed into a kind of pseudo-prisons, sadly, into the well-known ‘txeques’, we cannot forget that

Surely, one of the most famous one here in Barcelona, negatively speaking, is the txeca of Sant Elíes’ convent, at Sant Elíes street in the high zone of Barcelona

Do you have any anecdote or story about some company that was collectivized or socialized?

About collectivizations… I don’t have any anecdote, really

But well, it is a subject… surely, the collectivization ends up being the most highlighted phenomenon of all this revolutionary process

A lot has been said about collectivizations, it has been mystified a lot and there’s no doubt the cinema industry has collaborated a lot in this mystification these last years, above all, Ken Loach’s movies and others like those

The reality is that the collectivization is a very complex phenomenon

In the urban world, in general, collectivizations worked fine, in general, the factories were occupied, many times, factories were managed by the same leaders there were before, they kept managing them

In general, there weren’t many problems

The was a vital need of making the product and that it was good, and it was

The field is a different element

Well, in the field it was true that any compliment to the agrarian collectivizations was a real fallacy

Agrarian collectivizations, in general, they were a real mess

Bear in mind that the collectivization takes place during the summer, and then, the barn was full, and while it was, it worked just fine, but when it was empty, the collectivization was an authentic failure

Among other things, because we’re talking about a country, Catalonia, where there are no enormous properties, but in general, we’re talking about big and middle and little properties

Most of peasant farmers didn’t even believe them, and so, as they thought that wouldn’t last, their interest about collectivizations was very relative

In those places where they were imposed by force, there was violence, in those places where the collectivization was voluntary, well, they passed unnoticed and without many problems

Will you talk about the freeing of prisoners from Model Prison in February 1936?

In February ’36, the Model’s doors were opened

This opening… obviously, implied that all the prisoners were free

Possibly, it’s one of the most subtle elements of this revolutionary process

Because in that moment, those who were left in the Model were common prisoners

It is obvious that some sectors of the CNT created a controversy or confussion between common and social prisoners

Among many things, because the CNT didn’t want to assume the word ‘political prisoners’, and sometimes, they’d rather be in the common prisoner’s galleries

But the reality is that in the month of February, after the Popular Front’s elections, all the socio-political prisoners had gone out of prison

And in that moment, there were only common prisoners

Then, they freed criminals, as hard as it is to say that

Of course, what did these criminals do in that moment? These free prisoners, what did they do in that moment? Well, they went with the groups that had freed them, and so, that implied a lot of problems for the responsible areas of the CNT

Will you talk about the ‘civil war within the civil war’ that erupted on May 3, 1937?

The May Events, what we know as the May ’37 Events are one of these parts that bring to light the enormous inner confrontations that had been from the first moment of the republic

In May ’37, we find a very simple situation

In Catalonia, the Generalitat, after the revolutionary process of the month of July, with this attempt that it does of trying to take the reins again, and this control, as I said, implies assuming some of these revolutionary conquests, collectivizations mainly, and it also implied that in September ’36, the CNT finally starts being a part of the Generalitat

What it didn’t want to do in ’31, now it does in ’36

Then, we run across a Generalitat in which there are republicans, anarchists and comunist groups, they all are a part of the same government

The own war dynamic indicates the inner balance and in ’37, in this international panorama of non-intervention, obviously, the only country that supplies the republic is the Soviet Union

Then, the comunist parties with its different names, which were minor in July ’36, they start gaining a very important strength from that moment on

These anarchist groups have a lot of confrontation points with anarchists, obviously; anarchists against comunists

So, what breaks out in that moment is a very rough confrontation between the institutions and non-governmental groups

In this confrontation, alliances end up being very simple, the institution, the Generalitat or the state, in that moment, with that political group that would support it militarily, in that moment, those are the PSUC or the Comunist Party in Catalonia

On the other bloc, who will be confronted? Anarchists, in their historical non-governmental positions and the comunist anti-Soviet groups, the POUM, in this case

What breaks out is, in short, an inner war between the republican group to control the power, in this inner war, obviously, those who lose are the anarchists and the POUM

In 1939, under the Law of Political Responsibilities, the CNT was outlawed, and its assets expropriated. At the time, there were 1 million members. There are rumours of hundreds of thousands of assassinations by the Franco government. Will you discuss this?

In ’39, after Franco’s victory, the Law of Political Responsibilities was imposed and this law affected absolutely everyone, everybody

The CNT, for its part… we’ve talked about the legendary number of a milion CNT members, which is a legendary number, but we shouldn’t forget that if they reached a milion members, it was after July ’36, in a moment in which the obligatory syndication was decreed to everybody

Then, we simply have to contextualize this number

The Law of Political Responsibilities affected everybody, the CNT and the republican parties, all those who had collaborated

In Catalonia specifically, after ’39, the number of executions or death penalties are relatively reduced, and I say this ‘relatively’ in quotations

The number provided is tens of thousands deaths in Andalucia and Extremadura in the first moments in which the Francoist army enters

Actually, we say the war ends in April ’39 but actually, the Francosim is implanted in diverse moments in the territory, in the moment in which the troops enter, the Francoism is implanted and in Andalucia and Extremadura, which are the first places where it is implanted, actually, are the places where most of murders happen

In Catalonia, the Francoism is implanted from ’39, that is, what is imposed is the Francoist legality, but it is a legality, even if that’s aberrant

But there are some judicial processes already

Then, there are tens of thousands of imprisonments, but they have to go through court-martials and the passing of weeks, obviously, softens the situation

Then, we’re talking about full prisons but the number of executions in Catalonia is very contrasted, it doesn’t get to four thousand

Exiled to Spain, CNT survived. What were some of its actions during the Franco regime?

During the Francoist regime, the CNT action is very complex

Obviously, the CNT is illegalized in the Spanish state, as every dictatorship, it illegalizes everything but we shouldn’t forget that the CNT ends the war being very weak

Actually, the CNT loses in ’37

That is, after these confrontations in ’37 that we’ve talked about, the CNT loses and it enters a phase of a serious weakening, a very important one

It loses members, sympathizers, and it enters a phase of inner confrontation

While the war is on, this inner conflict remains muted but, obviously, from ’39 on, the CNT has to confront the exile in secrecy and the most rough repression in the inside

How will the CNT survive this? With a lot of problems

Problems will come from different places

It will be an organization that has lost membership, that politically, its project would’ve lost but that, on top of that, his action during the war will be reproached

A part from this conflict, there will be reproaches that will last for decades, also, there’ll be two CNTs from that moment, one CNT in the exile, that is, leaders of the history of the CNT will be in the exile but the movement comes back again, although it comes with the hardest secrecy

And the relationship between the exile and the inside [of the CNT] are always very complex because they’re living two different realities

Then, there’ll be many levels of disagreement

What will the CNT do during these years? What it’ll do, during the first phase, it will be to stimulate the armed fight, stimulating the Maquis’ movement above all

At a given time, the management of the CNT that is the exile’s management will end this armed fight and the groups of the inside won’t accept that, they will keep in the armed fight and in the end, we’ll find there is a fighting Maquis’ model until they end up being eliminated during the last years, the most emblematic ones will be Quico Sabaté’s

But they will keep acting on their own

Other groups of the CNT will try little sabotage acts inspired by individuals in the exile that enter in secrecy and they look for support in the inner cells

This will provoke constant falls of the leading inner CNT groups

This will all be a very important weakening politics, also, this deficiency… as I said before, the inner disagreements will be joined by the fact that ‘do we support the republican politicians that are in the exile too or not?’

There’ll be many disagreements

The reality is that the CNT will be getting more weaker every time and when the, let’s say, labor movement gets organized in secrecy again in the Spanish state, the CNT will be there but with a minor presence, it had changed the labor model, it had changed the working world and many other forces that will lead this labor organization will rise up

What was the El Caso Scala, and how did it impact the CNT?

El Caso Scala happened during the last years of the Francoism, in that period

In those years, the CNT, the anarchism movement tries to get reorganized, I’d like to say the anarchism movement rather than the CNT, it tries to be reorganized

The Caso Scala is one of these dark cases

There were many researches done around the Caso Scala but it is in this mist where anarchistic groups are participating but spies as well, there is an espionage presence, of undercover agents and it is inside this mist

Anyway, it is one of these violent actions that don’t help the CNT stabilization at all, the CNT understood as a labor union

A different thing is the strenght that the stimulation of anarchist groups might have but not towards the CNT, not understood as a union

Will you talk about the mass meeting on Montjuic in 1977?

In ’77, it is the moment in which all the organizations, obviously, go out again and try a historical bond

In this context, two symbolic moments happen for the anarchist world: the Montjuic’s conferences and the well-known libertarian parties, that basically, are held in the Parc Güell and in the Diana Salon

The difference between these two is that one of them, the Montjuic’s conferences are, let’s say, the big assembly, the big moment of reencounter of the CNT world, the CNT exiled members with their good will of reviving the moment

They appear in this Montjuic Conferences, it is the moment in which Federica Montseny comes back, there are appearing the old leaders

That is, it is a moment in which they want to forget about the inner conflicts and start talking about the present of the CNT now

It will be impossible, the conferences themselves will be very successful but immediately, the next year, the problems inside the CNT will start, a weak CNT, because actually, it’s not the same union it used to be

Now, the unions, the Workers’ Commissions, there’s no doubt here

And it the own breakup will happen between the CNT and the youngest areas that will recover the original name of CGT

And the other aspect, the aspect of the Libertarian Conferences, well, it is the big anarchistic party

It is the world in which… it is the moment when not only all the non-anarcosyndicalist tendencies but all those of the anarchistic world celebrate a big libertarian party in which there are some intriguing moments, moments of great debauchery, it is framed in this moment of the ending of the dictatorship and in this area where all kinds of freedom are possible

From this point of view it is stimulating but apart from that… that’s mainly it…