“To Revisit Spain,” by Eleanor Finley




ISE board member Eleanor Finley is spending several months in northern Spain as part of her graduate research in Anthropology at UMass.  Here’s her first dispatch:

“The silence that gathers around Spain, like a bad conscience, attests to the fact that the events are very much alive.” – Murray Bookchin, To Remember Spain.

In the late 1960’s, social ecologist Murray Bookchin traveled throughout Spain and Catalonia collecting the history of Spanish anarchism. Though the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War was highly-publicized throughout the “democratic” west, few accounts ever dealt seriously with the social revolution that took place within in. Furthermore, no definitive history existed of the Spanish anarchism that fueled these events, a political movement dating back to the mid-19th century.  Murray set out to write this history and, in the process, shed light on the development of revolutionary Left theory and practice.

Four decades later, I read Murray’s historical writings on Spain as a young social ecologist coming out of Occupy Wall Street (OWS). I’d quit my job, left my apartment, and made the pilgrimage to New York City. During OWS, I had the wonderful fortune to spend time with a group of indignados activists from Valencia, Spain.  First hand, I began to see the hazy outlines of a new worldwide conversation was forming around the real meanings of democracy and prosperity.

Several months later, when the bold and chaotic period of OWS cooled off, a friend and mentor, Chaia Heller, lent me her old copy of The Spanish Anarchists: The Heroic Years 1868-1936. Though already familiar with the basic features of Spanish anarchism, I gained from this book a much clearer sense of the rich sociopolitical and cultural soil that nourished large, complex anarchist organizations like the CNT-FAI. As for Murray, Spain began to occupy a special place in my revolutionary imagination.

Last week, my journey that began with The Spanish Anarchists brought me to the city of Barcelona, where I plan to spend the next several months researching environmental politics and climate activism.  As it happens, these short months offer the privilege of experiencing firsthand the living history of Spanish libertarianism.

Podemos is the new far-left party positioning itself to control the national government next year. Grown out of the 15-M (May 15th) Movement and ¡Democracia Real Ya!, Podemos enroll direct civic participation through neighborhood assemblies, working groups, and councils. A skeptical eye points rightly to the inherent contradictions of party politics. Yet Podemos is distinguished from social democrats and other “progressives” in their commitment to create direct paths of civic power. So far, they adamantly maintain that they’re not running individual representatives, but rather a method of governance. Other political offshoots of 15-M are more radical. Here in Barcelona, Guanyem is calling not just for direct civic participation, but for revolutionary anti-capitalist, municipalized governance.

Just one year ago, a deep silence shrouded over the 15-M Movement – not unlike the one which continues to surround OWS in America. Today, politicos around the world are hailing 2015 as possibly the most important moment in Spanish politics since 1978, or even 1936. Spain is not alone in its turn toward left-libertarian and municipal politics. The Greek national elections were just swept by SYRIZA, the Coalition of the Radical Left. After the victory of SYRIZA, hopes for Podemos are rallying even higher.

In other words, it’s not quite the revolution right now in Spain, but it’s also not that far off.

A few nights ago, I stood in an occupied bank building as a Catalan activist explained the Kurdish Revolution in Rojava. As I listened, I wondered if anyone here knew the extent to which Barcelona informed Bookchin, who in turn developed many of the ideas that became Democratic Confederalism. I then realized one of the many lessons Spain now has to teach.  History braids over itself. Though the past may seem to disappear, it is woven into our memories, ideals and aspirations. Quite often, our greatest hope for the future lies in the past, be it in 2011 or 1936. The threads are waiting. All we have to do is pick them up and weave.