Barcelona May Days
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|Barcelona May Days|
|Part of the Spanish Civil War & the Spanish Revolution|
|Spanish Republic|| CNT/FAI
Friends of Durruti Group
|Commanders and leaders|
| Manuel Azaña
Eusebio Rodríguez Salas
|Casualties and losses|
|500 - 1,000 dead
|Part of the Politics series on|
Barcelona May Days (Els Fets de Maig in Catalan, Los Hechos de Mayo in Spanish. In both languages, the more literal translation is "May Events" or "May Incidents") were a period of civil violence in Catalonia, between May 3 and May 8, 1937, when factions on the Republican side of the Spanish Civil War engaged each other in street battles in the city of Barcelona.
Clashes began when units of the Assault Guard (Guardia de Asalto) – under the control of police chief Eusebio Rodríguez Salas and under the influence of the USSR-backed Communist Party of Spain and its local wing, the Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia (PSUC)1 – attempted to take over an anarchist-run telephone building in Barcelona. This was part of a series of similar appropriations by the Catalan government of worker-controlled industries at the behest of the USSR to crush anti-Stalinist labor forces2
In this case, the workers fought back: holding the telephone exchange was not only a matter of prestige for the anarchists, but also a strong-point in any struggle for power in the city. A call to arms was issued, and conflict spread throughout Barcelona. Five days of street fighting ensued with workers of various labor designations, many of whom were sympathetic to the anti-Stalinist POUM, built barricades against and exchanged fire with the guardias de asalto, stormtroopers and PSUC.
Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) workers were eventually persuaded into a compromise by Juan García Oliver, amongst others. The Republican government, heavily influenced by its main international benefactor, the USSR,3 sent 10,000 Assault Guard troops to Barcelona to take control of the city.4
British author George Orwell describes these events, in which he took part, in Chapter 10 of his book Homage to Catalonia. Other first hand accounts include German anarchist Augustin Souchy who wrote of the May Days in his book The Tragic Week in May and the Swedish socialists Ture Nerman and August Spångberg who were also present in Barcelona and wrote about their experiences in their autobiographies. The events were also illustrated in the award-winning film Land and Freedom.
The PCE was the most powerful faction in the crumbling Republican government and was a bitter enemy of the anarchists. Their perspective is expressed in the memoirs of leading Communist Party figure Dolores Ibárruri (more commonly known as La Pasionaria).
Ibárruri ascribed the events to an "anarchotrotskyist" attempt at shutting down the Republican government on orders from General Francisco Franco, acting in tandem with Adolf Hitler. According to her, the violence was the culmination of an anarchist plot which included plans to stop the movement of trains and cut all telegraph and telephone lines; she cites an "order [from the Catalan government to its forces to control the telephone building and disarm all people whom they encounter in the streets without proper authorization" as the aim of the anarchist plan.5 She did not provide any evidence to support these claims, which were widely held by fellow Party members at the time but have since been discredited.
The Communist Party alleged the anarchist "putsch" to be motivated by their resentment of the centralized military command sought by the Communists and their allies the Catalan government under Lluis Companys, and desire to seize political power.
George Orwell in his book Homage to Catalonia sees the May Days as a suppression of the revolution by parties backed by Stalin's USSR such as the PSUC. He argued that the USSR did not want genuine socialist revolution in Spain. He describes Barcelona in 1936 as a city under the control of the workers - police replaced by workers' patrols, workplaces collectivised - and the egalitarian nature of the militias in Barcelona (such as the POUM militia in which he served). He contrasts this with the oppressive police state that developed after May and the subsequent suppression of the POUM.
Orwell wrote: "It will never be possible to get a completely accurate and unbiased account of the Barcelona fighting, because the necessary records do not exist. Future historians will have nothing to go upon except a mass of accusations and party propaganda".7
In the second appendix of his book, he explains that the spark of the friction among Republican forces was the government order to surrender all private weapons in order to build up a non-political police force, from which trade union members would be excluded.
The ultimate result of the battle was the further erosion of worker control of the city and the beginnings of widespread Counter-Revolution. The POUM was dispersed, its publications banned, and its leaders arrested.8 The Republic conducted mass arrests of the Catalan workers and dissolved the agricultural collectives in Aragon by force of arms.9 Mandatory conscription in the Republic's Popular Front army was enacted, in which the volunteer militias were absorbed or otherwise its members declared deserters.10
Ironically, though the Anti-Stalinists among the workers were silenced in the Counter-Revolution,11 the USSR's Fascist Enemies defeated the Republic in 1939. As Stéphane Courtois writes, “[Stalin] played his game boldly against the independence of the Spanish People, but feebly against Franco. He succeeded in murderous intrigue, but failed in waging war.” 12
- Emma Goldman, Augustin Souchy, Jose Peirats, Burnett Bolloten (all Contributors; 1987): The May Days Barcelona 1937, Freedom Press, London.
- Augustin, Souchy. "The Tragic Week in May: the May Days Barcelona 1937". Retrieved 13 December 2012.
- Courtois, Stéphane (2000). The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression. Harvard UP. p. 344.
- Orwell, George. Homage to Catalonia. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1952. Print. Pg 53
- Orwell, George. Homage to Catalonia. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1952. Print. Pg. 142.
- Memorias de Dolores Ibárruri, p. 383
- Homage to Catalonia, Appendix 2
- Courtois, Stéphane, and Mark Kramer. The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2000. Print. Pg. 340
- Courtois, Stéphane, and Mark Kramer. The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2000. Print. Pg. 344
- Orwell, George. Homage to Catalonia. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1952. Print. Pg. 27
- Courtois, Stéphane (2000). The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression. Harvard UP. p. 340.
- Courtois, Stéphane, and Mark Kramer. The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2000. Print. Pg. 369
- Barricades in Barcelona by Hugo Oehler
- The Tragic Week in May by Augustin Souchy
- Documents on the Barcelona May Days from "Trabajadores: The Spanish Civil War through the eyes of organised labour", a digitised collection of more than 13,000 pages of documents from the archives of the British Trades Union Congress held in the Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick