Republican Spain

In the early days of the rising Madrid had the air of a revolutionary city. Militiamen of the UGT and CNT could be seen everywhere checking identities. Their usual dress consisted of dark blue monos (like boiler suits) and badges or coloured scarves to denote their political affiliation, black and red for anarchists, red for socialists and communists.

A notable phenomenon of the war was the spontaneous growth of a women's movement after the 1936 elections. It was born, not of literature or theory from abroad, but an instinctive sense that if the class system was to be overthrown, the patriarchal system should be as well. Several thousand women were under arms in rear areas, perhaps a thousand were under arms at the front, and a womens battalion took part in the defence of Madrid.

The outward signs of working class power were everywhere. Party banners hung from public buildings. In Barcelona, stronghold of the anarchists, the anarchists took it over completely and ran the city along anarchic lines. Factories were taken over by the workers, banknotes were burned in the streets as a symbol of capitalist greed. It was a world of instant friendship, with the formal expression of address no longer used. Foreigners were welcome and the antifascist cause explained repeatedly. There was a naive faith that, if only everything was made clear, the democracies could not fail to help them against Franco, Hitler and Mussolini. All around a feeling of heady optimism prevailed. Foreigners who gave a tip had it returned to them with a polite explanation of why the practice corrupted both giver and receiver. The greatest contrast between the anarchist areas and the rest of Republican Spain was in the use of hotels. In Madrid Gaylords hotel was taken over as a luxurious pad for communist functionaries and Russian advisers. In Barcelona, the Ritz was used by the CNT and UGT as Gastonomic Unit Number 1 - a public canteen for all i need.

The extraordinary mass movement of worker self management still provokes controversy today. The liberal government and the Communist Party regarded it as a major obstacle to attempts to organise the war effort. But the anarchists bitterly resented the government meddling in their affairs when they had failed to arm them in July. This fundamental clash of values undermined the Republican alliance. The advocates of a centralized state were to win in 1937, but the morale of the population was to be mortally stricken by the Communist Party's bid for power in the process.

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