Anarchism, Revolution and Reaction

Review: Rubí on Smith

Angel Smith, Anarchism, Revolution and Reaction. Catalan Labor and the Crisis of the Spanish State, 1898-1923. International Studies in Social History 8. New York, Berghahn Books, 2007. ISBN: 1-84545-176-7 405 S.; $ 89.95

Reviewed by Gemma Rubí, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain
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Published by H-Soz-u-Kult

Continuing with the same academic interest in the history of 20th-Century Catalonia shown by the researchers of the school created by Paul Preston at the London School of Economics, this book is a great step forward, insofar it offers a new reading of one of the major mysteries posed and still unresolved by Catalan and Spanish historiography: that of the rise and extraordinary vitality of anarchism in Catalonia during that period. In the beginning of the twentieth century, Barcelona accounted for thirty per cent of Catalonia’s population and around half of its industrial labour force. It was also one of the most industrialized centres of the Mediterranean area and Western Europe and probably one of the cities with a highest cost of living. Compared to other European regions, Catalan industry was small-scale and technologically backward in some aspects. It was in this context that anarchist-syndicalism was taken up as a syndical and political strategy by Catalan labour. The author goes into the causes that may account for the methods of direct revolutionary action adopted by the Catalan labour movement to achieve its goals in contrast to the chiefly reformist or socialist policy adopted by European trade unions. This study also sheds new light on the difficult crossroads at which the Spanish state was standing after the loss of its colonial market in 1898. That is modern Catalonia as opposed to declining Spain. From the summer of 1917, the moral and political decline of the Bourbon Restoration was plunged into the open crisis of liberal parliamentarianism. It was the success of reaction and authoritarianism, supported by Catalonia’s economic and social elites, which backed the coup d’état carried out by general Primo de Rivera in 1923.