TODAY IN HISTORY- THE SPANISH REVOLUTION BEGINS:
It was not a dark and stormy night, but the atmosphere in the streets of Barcelona was just as electric. On July 14, 1936 General Mola had summoned military commanders to his headquarters in northern Spain to finalize the details of a military coup against the Popular Front government. On July 17 General Franco flew to Morocco where the military uprising had already begun. The Spanish government dithered and proclaimed the situation "under control". The government censored a notice in the CNT's paper Solidaridad Obrera warning the workers of the impending coup, but the anarchists considered it important enough to reprint and distribute by hand. The local government of Catalonia refused to turn over arms to the CNT's Defence Committees, and anarchist longshoremen stormed ships carrying arms on the night of the 17th and turned them over the the CNT. The government tried to recover the arms but failed. Throughout the 18th the workers in Barcelona obtained what arms they could while the government issued paper decrees in the absence of any real authority.
At 4:45 am on the 19th members of the Assault Guards of Barcelona began to turn their weapons over to crowds of workers who were demanding arms. Factory sirens sounded throughout the city. The Spanish Revolution had begun. Through the course of the day a back and forth struggle raged in the streets of Barcelona, and at the end of the day the Army was defeated. The workers were in control.
Over the course of the next three years Spain witnessed the most profound and inspiring revolution of modern times. Steeled and educated by decades of anarchist propaganda, agitation and organization the Spanish people knew instinctively what to do. Throughout half the country the military was beaten back and enterprises and land were socialized under real local control. The pace of the Revolution far outstripped what the leaders in the anarchist organizations could comprehend, let alone direct, but the instinctive methods of the Spanish revolutionaries- a people in arms- were based on a long period of instruction in organization.
At its height most of the economy of Republican Spain ran on collective lines, either workers' control via the syndicates (unions) or the free communes of the rural areas. This revolution certainly had its failings, not the least of which was the desire to make common cause with the Communists who eventually destroyed the revolutionary institutions that the Spanish people had built. In the end the fascists ,under Franco, received far more aid -for free or for vague promises- than the Republicans did in exchange for sending Spain's gold reserves into Stalin's sweaty hands. The Spanish anarchists were well skilled in organization, but their internal disputes had marginalized the very people who could have negotiated a more successful path through the maze of compromise.
All that being said the Spanish Revolution is a standing example of an obvious fact. Yes...anarchism can work. It worked very well in much of the Republican Zone for years, despite the pressures of both war and Communist treachery. Anarchism is not an utopian dream. It has happened and can happen again.
The historiography of the Spanish Revolution is vast, and each side of the dispute has its own axe to grind. Classical fascism is pretty well a thing of the past nowadays, but the historical record contains a wealth of apologetics for the actions of the coalition that formed around Franco, more clerical conservative than fascist. Today one has to search the byways of the 'Catholic Right' to find echoes of the lies that were commonplace amongst conservatives of the mid-30s. Speaking of dead horses and lies...the Communist press spread probably more of these than the fascists did at the time, and they continued to distort the historical record up to the demise of the Soviet Empire. The Trotskyists had their own point of view, often more a matter of absurd "recommendations" and exaggerations of the importance of the POUM (not Trotskyist-more left communist than anything else) and their own infinitesimal group of Spanish supporters. To say the least one can take little from Trotskyist sites other than the fact that they slot all events into the category of "things that would go better if they were in control".
The unbiased academic studies such as that of Hugh Thomas "generally" support the anarchist view in most important points. They confirm both the efficiency of the collectives that the Spanish people formed and the role of Communist treachery in the defeat of the Revolution. They may point out the anarchist atrocities in the early stages of the Revolution (which anarchist sources generally gloss over) which were soon ended by the actions of the anarchist organizations themselves. They may be doubtful (this is often an understatement) of the military efficiency of the anarchist "militia" idea of waging war. But in the important points, as I said, they confirm the anarchist version.
Here's a little collection of anarchist sources on the Spanish Revolution. It is hardly complete, and there is a wealth of anarchist writing on what is the "high noon" of anarchism in the 20th century. Molly suggests that the reader look at these things at the same time as they read a general academic history such as that of Thomas.
Libertarias (en español)-A story of women in the Spanish Revolution
For further information consult the LibCom site under their history section and also the Anarchist Archives. What may be most valuable for the unbiased reader are the writings of George Orwell on the Spanish Revolution and Civil War. His works are available at George Orwell.Org. Orwell was not an anarchist(though he was a leftist who was disgusted by the left,just as Molly is), and it is instructive to see his take on the treachery of the Communists as well as his unbiased description of the anarchist polity he met when he fought during the Spanish Civil War.