The Anarchists of Casas Viejas.
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Subject:||Books (Book reviews)|
|Author:||Conover, Rachel Patrick|
|Publication:||Name: Cultural Analysis Publisher: Cultural Analysis Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2006 Cultural Analysis ISSN: 1537-7873|
|Issue:||Date: Annual, 2006 Source Volume: 5|
|Topic:||NamedWork: The Anarchists of Casas Viejas (Book)|
|Persons:||Reviewee: Mintz, Jerome R.; Fernandez, James W.|
The Anarchists of Casas Viejas. By Jerome R. Mintz. (Bloomington
and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2004. Pp. ix + 336, foreword
by James W. Fernandez, introduction, notes, illustrations, bibliography,
First published in 1982, this classic work by anthropologist Jerome R. Mintz has been reprinted with a new foreword discussing its significance to both its specific subject matter and the field of anthropology in general. It is an enduring example of in-depth ethnographic research, as well as a historical study of complex political and social relations. Mintz examines the small but significant anarchist uprising that took place in the Spanish town of Casas Viejas in 1933, just a few years prior to the Spanish Civil War. He investigates events leading up to the revolt and its aftermath, through official accounts, press releases, and interviews with those who were present. Through these multi-faceted perspectives, Mintz presents a clear picture of the uprising and its place in the larger political history of Spain, and in the process refutes some previously published accounts of events and makes a valuable contribution to historical understanding.
In order to gather his detailed knowledge, Mintz spent years conducting fieldwork in Spain in the 1960s and 70s, gaining the trust of those involved in the uprising, their descendants, friends, and neighbors. Since his research involved an event that took place decades earlier, he had to track down sources who had moved, a task made all the more difficult because Spain was still under Franco's rule at the time of his research, and anarchism was not a safe topic of investigation. After years of oppression, his informants were often wary of talking to anyone, and the government often questioned those who did. Despite these difficulties, Mintz was able to speak to a great many of the surviving participants of the uprising. These interviews, combined with painstaking descriptions of Spanish society and the political climate that engendered the anarchist movement, paint a detailed picture of not only that famous day's events, but also of the social inequality and unrest that led up to them and of the repression that followed.
The anarchist uprising in Casas Viejas took place on January 11, 1933. It claimed the lives of two civil guards, while the brutal government reaction the next day killed 20 villagers, including both anarchists and unarmed townspeople. Although this battle was small in comparison with many armed conflicts, the events at Casas Viejas had a lasting effect on Spanish government and society. It was already a tumultuous time, since the Spanish government had just transitioned from a monarchy to a still unstable republic. Social unrest was rampant among the poor, including a sizable anarchist following. The old monarchical system had allowed the growth of vast social inequality, and a few noblemen or others of the wealthy upper class owned the majority of land. Many of these landowners spent the majority of their time in urban centers, leaving their land to be rented out or worked by day laborers. Especially in southern Andalusia, most of the people were extremely poor landless agricultural workers, while the land and wealth were controlled by a very few. These landowners often left land fallow in order to increase the prices of crops, or charged exorbitant rent if they did allow others to plant on it. Laborers' wages were very low for long days of backbreaking labor, and their families still went hungry.
This extreme inequality sparked great social unrest and, influenced by global movements, ideas of socialism and anarchism became popular among workers. Due to Spain's rural population, the need for communal labor to work the land, and isolation from major governing centers, the philosophy of Russian anarchist Michael Bakunin, emphasizing cooperation and local control, won greater popular support than the state communism advocated by Marx. Anarchism developed into a major movement in Spain, and even small towns, such as Casas Viejas, often had their own anarchist sindicato, where members met to educate themselves and discuss political ideas and revolutionary plans. These sindicatos were nationally linked by newspapers and representative meetings, and they cooperated to declare general strikes that displayed their solidarity and maximized their impact on land and business owners by adding leverage to the workers' demands. One such strike was planned to involve railroad workers, and the more militant members of the anarchist movement decided to take advantage of the lack of access to transportation by government troops in order to begin the revolution in earnest.
All sindicatos were set to revolt on the signal from leaders in Barcelona, but due to government infiltration their plans were discovered, the planned rail workers' strike was called off, and the anarchists were quickly defeated. However, word of this defeat did not reach smaller towns quickly enough, and Casas Viejas, believing itself to be part of a national movement, declared their town under anarchist control and laid siege to the civil guard barracks, in the process of which two guards were killed. Government retribution for this was swift and brutal. More guards were sent in, and although most of the anarchists had already fled the town, those who remained, along with their friends and family, were attacked. They were under fire throughout the night, and those who still lived were burned to death when guards set fire to their hut in the morning. Not satisfied with this, the guards went through town and chose twelve other men and executed them in front of the hut. The government then combed the countryside for those who fled, and they were sent to prison. A public outcry was raised over the brutality, especially when it eventually became known that many of those killed had been unarmed and not involved in the uprising. The Republican government was widely criticized, which further destabilized the country, ironically leading to a rightwing rebellion, a bloody civil war, and the fascist regime of Francisco Franco. What reforms the Republic had managed to enact were undone, and the anarchists faced decades of further persecution, to the point that some who were interviewed for this book did not want to be named even years later.
The rebellion caught the attention not only of the people and government in Spain, but also of the international community. It was written about by anarchists and scholars, and used to further various causes, but never, until Mintz, was it directly investigated. Although others, including various political inquiry committees and scholars such as Primitive Rebels author Eric Hobsbawm, went to the town, none of them recorded the views of the townspeople, preferring instead to form events to fit their preconceived theories. Because of this, factual errors were made, and then repeated through scholarly research based on these misinformed sources. As an example, Hobsbawm reported Seisdedos, a 70-year old man uninvolved in the anarchist movement, to be the "charismatic leader" required to fit his theory of social movements (274). Seisdedos was in fact killed in the fighting, but only because his anarchist sons were hidden in his hut, and not because of any actions of his own. While villagers did blame him for much of the rebellion, this was only because he was dead and therefore a safe target at which to direct the wrath of authorities. Through his in-depth research, Mintz was able to discover truths such as these behind the often-confused accounts of events. He refutes many previous examinations of events, thus providing a valuable contribution to Spanish political history and an excellent example for the merits of ethnographic study.
The book is detailed to a fault, occasionally losing its direction due to extensive notes on background events, but this is a minor concern and only serves to highlight the well-grounded research of the author. This important work is a classic anthropological study, used to teach subjects ranging from political history to public memory, and definitely deserves to be reprinted. Although left-wing politics are no longer taboo in Spain since the demise of Franco's government, the basic inequality Mintz deals with remains an important topic worldwide.
Rachel Patrick Conover
University of California, Los Angeles,
|Gale Copyright:||Copyright 2006 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.|