Introduction to Anarchism in Action: The Spanish Civil War


Make a search of all the history books you can obtain. You will find little, if any, mention of Captain Jack White after 1914. It is as if the man who had proposed the formation of the Irish Citizen Army had literally disappeared from the face of the earth when the Dublin Lockout came to an end. In fact he lived on and remained active in the socialist movement until 1940. When James Connolly was sentenced to death it was White who rushed to South Wales and tried to bring the miners out on strike in protest. For that he served three months imprisonment. In England he worked for a time with Sylvia Pankhurst's Workers Socialist Federation, and during the General Strike of 1926 he wanted to organise a Citizen Army to protect the picket lines as he had done in Dublin.

The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War saw White enlist with the Irish International Brigadiers who went to fight fascism. A comrade of his from the 1930's, Albert Meltzer, described White's experience "He was thrilled with the collectivisation in Spain, and also with the volunteer militias. He learned with amazement that this was the work of the Anarchists. In addition to his work with the Irish brigade at the front, he showed Spanish volunteer militia how to use firearms, and also trained women in the villages on the way to Saragossa in the use of small arms for defence. What, however, he could not stomach was the fact that the Irish, like the rest of the International Brigade, were being increasingly manipulated by the Communist Party. He had never accepted the CP; he had just not seen an alternative. Now he saw an alternative".

White offered his services to the CNT, giving up his International Brigade membership. The CNT did not need foreign volunteers as they had enough support at that time but they did need arms. They needed people working for them outside Spain. He was asked to work for the CNT in London, to raise badly needed funds and solidarity. During his time in Spain he became a convinced Anarchist and shortly afterwards wrote a pamphlet simply entitled The Meaning of Anarchism.

That this is new information to the reader indicates how history can be falsified or even have whole episodes completely written out of the history books. Much has been written to mark the 50th anniversary to the Spanish Civil War but the contribution of the Anarchists has been either totally ignored or reduced to a few footnotes which were often composed of blatant lies or generalised slander referring to 'wreckers'. To set the record straight this pamphlet was produced. It is not a history of the Civil War, that would require many hundreds of pages to do justice to the subject. It is an uncovering of the "hidden history" of the Anarchist participation in Spain's anti-fascist struggle.

It has not been written because of some academic interest but because Anarchism is still as relevant now as it was fifty years ago. We have seen the results of social democracy and it's Labour Parties, we have seen what the Stalinists have done in Russia, China, Albania and their satellites, we have seen how their left critics in the Trotskyist movement have been unable to come to grips with the real problem. And that real problem is the authoritarian idea that the world can be changed over the heads of the workers. It can, but it won't be much better.

Only Anarchism with its concept 'of socialism based on individual freedom and the power of workers' councils stands apart from all this. That is why, despite four decades of repression, the CNT reappeared as a real union after the death of Franco. That is why a group of Irish workers seeking a genuine socialism formed the Workers Solidarity Movement in 1984. We believe that Anarchism is not just another choice for those who want a better world, the history of all other `left' movements shows that Anarchism is a necessity.