Barcelona May Days
Part of the Politics series on Anarchism Anarchism Portal
Barcelona May Days (Els Fets de Maig in Catalan, Los Hechos de Mayo or "May Events" in Spanish) 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 Stalinist Communist Party of Spain and its local wing, the Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia (PSUC) – attempted to take over an anarchist-run telephone building in Barcelona. The telephone workers fought back, sparking a city-wide conflict. Five days of street fighting ensued, with anarchist workers and their allies (Friends of Durruti Group), supporters of the non-Stalinist Workers' Party of Marxist Unification (POUM), building barricades and exchanging 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 sent 10,000 Assault Guard troops to Barcelona to take control of the city. The ultimate result of the battle was the further erosion of worker control of the city and the consolidation of government power over the major labor organizations in Catalonia, the CNT and its sister group, the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (known collectively as the CNT-FAI).
British author George Orwell describes these events, in which he took part, in 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 Stalinists were the most powerful faction in the crumbling Republican government and were bitter enemies 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. 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.
However, Orwell states: "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".
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.
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