Aragon had highly subdivided land. Historian Graham Kelsey points out that according to one writer, in 1920, "the region possessed only 150 estates larger than one hundred hectares out of a total of 1,614,800" which goes to show that Aragon was predominantly an area of small-holder agriculture. In certain districts such as Huesca, Boltana, and Benabarre, there was a complete absence of large landowners.
Another important feature of Aragon is its uncultivated agricultural area. According to Kelsey, 38 percent of land in Aragon is farmed and 23.5 per cent of that which remained is uncultivable. Kelsey states that "one half of the Aragonese land surface...lay idle." The large tracts of land which weren't able to be cultivated may have led to the vast inequalities that Aragon exhibited. Even though land was for the most part equally subdivided, inequalities were everywhere present. Kelsey quotes a correspondent of the anarcho-syndicalist weekly Campo Libre saying "Although this village is one in which property is considerably subdivided with almost all of us small landowners, the immense majority of us find ourselves obliged to live and work in a manner so completely circumscribed that our wretched condition as exploited workers is soon again evident." The land that many small landowners owned was insufficient to cater to their needs, which caused many to find secondary sources of income. In Binefar, for instance, only 100 out of 800 families could live solely off their own land.
The poor living conditions may have been due to infertile soils. Kelsey explains how areas with more fertile soils, there was greater variation in the amount of land people owned, with a few families owning considerably larger amounts of land than others. By the turn of the century, Aragon was mostly agricultural. Even Zaragoza, the industrial capital, displayed few signs of genuine industrial expansion. Kelsey references a student of the city's industrial future who concludes that the city's "future would undoubtedly be agriculturally based, given the 'insurmountable obstacles' to industrial expansion in the city." However, in the next twenty-five years the capital would evolve to be the fifth most important industrial center in Spain.
In the early 20th century, socialism and anarchism grew throughout Spain. There was widespread discontent in Catalonia, which was heavily industrialized and was a stronghold of the anarcho-syndicalist trade unions. A series of strikes due to wage cuts and in response to military conscription for the Rif War in Morocco culminated in the Setmana Tràgica (Tragic week, July 25 – August 2, 1909), in which workers rose up in revolt and were suppressed by the army. The anarcho-syndicalist CNT was formed in October 1910 and immediately called for a general strike, which was suppressed by the military. The Great Depression worsened conditions. Further strikes followed in 1917 and 1919 amidst growing violence between the police and trade unions. With the CNT outlawed, the Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI) was formed in 1927 as a clandestine alliance of affinity groups during the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera. Its radical members, who were also part of the CNT, exerted considerable influence on the other members of the trade union. During the Second Republic, anarchists continued to lead uprisings such as the Casas Viejas revolt in 1933 and the 1934 Asturias Rebellion which was brutally put down by Francisco Franco with the aid of Moorish troops.
There were several variants of anarchism in Spain: expropriative anarchism in the period leading up to the conflict, the peasant anarchism in the countryside of Andalusia; urban anarcho-syndicalism in Catalonia, particularly its capital Barcelona; and what is sometimes called "pure" anarchism in other cities such as Zaragoza. However, these were complementary trajectories, and shared a great deal of ideological similarities.
Early on, the success of the anarchist movement was sporadic. Anarchists would organize a strike and ranks would swell. Usually, repression by police reduced the numbers again, but at the same time further radicalized many strikers. This cycle helped lead to an era of mutual violence at the beginning of the 20th century, in which armed anarchists and pistoleros, armed men paid by company owners, were both responsible for political assassinations.
In the 20th century, this violence began to fade, and the movement gained speed with the rise of anarcho-syndicalism and the creation of the huge libertarian trade union, the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT). General strikes became common, and large portions of the Spanish working class adopted anarchist ideas. There also emerged a small individualist anarchist movement based on publications such as Iniciales and La Revista Blanca. The Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI, Iberian Anarchist Federation) was created as a purely anarchist association, with the intention of keeping the CNT focused on the principles of anarchism.
Terrorism by extremists became less common around the start of the 20th century. Anarchists saw the obvious need for a form of direct action capable of overthrowing the State and capitalism. The idea of syndicalism became popular (or anarcho-syndicalism to differentiate from the reformist syndicalism in other parts of Europe). Purist "Anarchist Communists" were unwilling to adopt syndicalist ideas and became marginalized, although the two groups soon became indistinguishable.
A new organization, the Federation of Workers' Societies of the Spanish Region, was formed in 1900. The organization adopted syndicalism on libertarian principles. Its success was immediate: general strikes swept across Spain within a year. Many of these strikes had no visible leadership but were initiated purely by the working class. As opposed to reformist strikes, many of these strikers made no clear demands (or intentionally absurd demands; for example, the demand to be given seven and a half rest hours in an eight-hour day); in some cases workers demanded no less than the end of capitalism. The Spanish government responded harshly to these developments, and the Federation of Workers' Societies was suppressed. But the decentralized nature of anarcho-syndicalism made it impossible to completely destroy and attempts to do so only emboldened the spirit of resistance.
Two events in 1909 bolstered support for another general strike in Barcelona. A textile factory was shut down, with 800 workers fired. Across the industry, wages were being cut. Workers, even outside the textile industry, began to plan for a general strike. At around the same time, the government announced that military reserves would be called up to fight in Morocco, where tribesmen were skirmishing with Spanish troops. The reservists, mostly working men, were not keen to risk their lives or kill others to protect what they characterised as the interests of Spanish capitalists (the fighting was blocking routes to mines and slowing business). Anti-war rallies sprang up across the country, and talk of a general strike could be heard.
The strike began in Barcelona on July 26, a few weeks after the call for reserves was made. It quickly developed into a widespread uprising. Anselmo Lorenzo wrote in a letter: "A social revolution has broken out in Barcelona and it has been started by the people. No one has led it. Neither the Liberals nor Catalan Nationalists, nor Republicans, nor Socialists, nor Anarchists." Police stations were attacked. Railroad lines leading into Barcelona were destroyed. Barricades sprang up in the streets. Eighty churches and monasteries were destroyed by members of the Radical Party (who, it should be noted, were generally much less "radical" than anarchists or socialists), and six individuals were killed during the disturbances. After the revolt, about 1,700 individuals were indicted on various charges. Most were let go, but 450 were sentenced. Twelve were given life imprisonment and five were executed, including Francisco Ferrer, who was not even in Barcelona at the time of the insurrection.
Following this "Tragic Week", the government began repressing dissidents on a larger scale. Unions were suppressed, newspapers were shut down, and libertarian schools were closed. Catalonia was put under martial law until November. Rather than giving up, the Spanish working class became emboldened and more revolutionary than before, as workers adopted syndicalism as a revolutionary strategy.
Sam Dolgoff estimated that about eight million people participated directly or at least indirectly in the Spanish Revolution, which included Aragon. He claimed the Spanish Revolution "came closer to realizing the ideal of the free stateless society on a vast scale than any other revolution in history." Dolgoff quotes the French anarchist historian Gaston Leval (who was an active participant) to summarize the anarchist conception of the social revolution:
In Spain during almost three years, despite a civil war that took a million lives, despite the opposition of the political parties (republicans, left and right Catalan separatists, socialists, Communists, Basque and Valencian regionalists, petty bourgeoisie, etc.), this idea of libertarian communism was put into effect. Very quickly more than 60% of the land was collectively cultivated by the peasants themselves, without landlords, without bosses, and without instituting capitalist competition to spur production. In almost all the industries, factories, mills, workshops, transportation services, public services, and utilities, the rank and file workers, their revolutionary committees, and their syndicates reorganized and administered production, distribution, and public services without capitalists, high salaried managers, or the authority of the state.
Even more: the various agrarian and industrial collectives immediately instituted economic equality in accordance with the essential principle of communism, 'From each according to his ability and to each according to his needs.' They coordinated their efforts through free association in whole regions, created new wealth, increased production (especially in agriculture), built more schools, and bettered public services. They instituted not bourgeois formal democracy but genuine grass roots functional libertarian democracy, where each individual participated directly in the revolutionary reorganization of social life. They replaced the war between men, 'survival of the fittest,' by the universal practice of mutual aid, and replaced rivalry by the principle of solidarity....
This experience, in which about eight million people directly or indirectly participated, opened a new way of life to those who sought an alternative to anti-social capitalism on the one hand, and totalitarian state bogus socialism on the other.
The collectivization effort was primarily orchestrated by the rank-and-file members of the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT; English: National Confederation of Labor) and the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI; English: Iberian Anarchist Federation), with the two often abbreviated as CNT-FAI due to the affinity between the two organizations and the major role of the latter within the former in maintaining anarchist "purity." The non-anarchist socialist Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT; English: General Union of Workers) also participated in the implementation of collectivization, albeit to a far lesser degree.
The anarchist movement lacked a stable national organization in its early years. Anarchist Juan Gómez Casas discusses the evolution of anarchist organization before the creation of the CNT: "After a period of dispersion, the Workers Federation of the Spanish Region disappeared, to be replaced by the Anarchist Organization of the Spanish Region.... This organization then changed, in 1890, into the Solidarity and Assistance Pact, which was itself dissolved in 1896 because of repressive legislation against anarchism and broke into many nuclei and autonomous workers' societies.... The scattered remains of the FRE gave rise to Solidaridad Obrera in 1907, the immediate antecedent of the [CNT]."
There was a consensus amongst anarchists in the early 20th century that a new, national labor organization was needed to bring coherency and strength to their movement. This organization, named the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) was formed in October 1910 during a congress of Solidaridad Obrera. During this congress, a resolution was passed declaring that the purpose of the CNT would be to "hasten the integral economic emancipation of the entire working class through the revolutionary expropriation of the bourgeoisie...." The CNT started off fairly small, with about 30,000 members across various unions and confederations. However, by the beginning of the Second Republic, the CNT had around 800,0000 members.
Historians have debated the reasons for anarchism's appeal to Spanish society. Historian Frank Mintz sees two reasons for anarchism's prominence in Spain. "Direct action trade unionism was a tactic that met the worker's requirements. And the brand of trade unionism came first in Spain and left little opening for other movements to develop." He cites Republican and Marxist witnesses as sources to argue these points. One of them, Joaquin Martin in Revolucion y contrarrevolucion en Espana (1935) gives thirteen reasons for the anarchist stronghold.
1) They encouraged peasants to join from the start rather than only industrial workers, unlike the socialists. 2) The Anarchists established their main base in Barcelona, the industrial heart of the country, whereas socialists were centered in Madrid. 3) They were effective propagandists 4) They encouraged intellectuals to join rather than shunned them. 5) The anarchists were more 'up for the fight' than the socialists 6) They realized the importance of educating the young, so they set up rationalist schools (many of the schools were religious at the time). 7) They resorted to terrorism as a political weapon 8) They weren't as worried as socialists were with not infringing on the law. 9) They had an antagonistic relationship with Madrid which is where the political and aristocratic elite would reside. The antagonism appealed to workers who also didn't have a good relation with politicians. 10) They were a closer fit to the psychological profile of the Spanish people. 11) The first world war induced rapid industrialization in Catalonia where anarcho-syndicalists had a stronghold. 12) They were effective at combining unions. The Syndicato Unico, the all-embracing union demonstrated this. 13) Anarchists demonstrated the imagination lacking in the socialists
Salvador Segui explains how the tactics that trade unions use in encouraging effective direct-action syndicalism involves encouraging certain behaviors: "Don't go thinking that we prefer quantity over quality. At the outset what we were after was ten competent workers, worthwhile and alive to their duties and rights, rather than ten thousand workers who might not be able to stand up to the harassment, the abuse, the hunger, imprisonment and the entire litany of dirty tricks deployed in efforts to intimidate us."
Mintz cites "a talk on 'Anarchism and Trade Unionism'" to reveal the interconnected relationship between anarchism and syndicalism: "It is suicide for Anarchists to hold aloof from trade organisations. Everything should and can be done with unions."
The national confederation was split into smaller regional ones, which were again broken down into smaller trade unions. Despite this many-tiered structure, bureaucracy was consciously avoided. Initiatives for decisions came largely from the individual unions. There were no paid officials; all positions were staffed by common workers. Decisions made by the national delegations did not have to be followed. The CNT was in these respects much different from the comparatively rigid socialist unions.
A general strike was called a mere five days after its founding by triumphant, and perhaps overzealous, workers. It spread across several cities throughout Spain; in one city, workers took over the community and killed the mayor. Troops moved into all major cities and the strike was quickly crushed. The CNT was declared an illegal organization, and thus went underground only a week after its founding. A few years later it continued with overt strike actions, as in the general strike organized in tandem with the Socialist-dominated UGT (a rare occurrence, as the two groups were usually at odds) to protest the rising cost of living.
A general strike broke out in 1917, mostly organized by socialists but with notable anarchist activity, particularly in Barcelona. There barricades were built, and strikers tried to stop trolleys from running. The government responded by filling the streets with machine guns. Fighting left seventy people dead. In spite of the violence, the strike's demands were moderate, typical of a socialist strike of the time.
Spain's economy suffered upon the decline of the wartime economy. Factories closed, unemployment soared and wages declined. Expecting class conflict, especially in light of the then recent Russian Revolution, much of the capitalist class began a bitter war against unions, particularly the CNT. Lockouts became more frequent. Known militants were blacklisted. Pistoleros, or assassins, were hired to kill union leaders. Scores, perhaps hundreds, of anarchists were murdered during this time period. Anarchists responded in turn with a number of assassinations, the most famous of which is the murder of Prime Minister Eduardo Dato Iradier.
The CNT, by this time, had as many as a million members. It retained its focus on direct action and syndicalism; this meant that revolutionary currents in Spain were no longer on the fringe, but very much in the mainstream. While it would be false to say that the CNT was entirely anarchist, the prevailing sentiment undoubtedly leaned in that direction. Every member elected to the "National Committee" was an overt anarchist. Most rank and file members espoused anarchist ideas. Indeed, much of Spain seemed to be radiant with revolutionary fervor; along with waves of general strikes (as well as mostly successful strikes with specific demands), it was not uncommon to see anarchist literature floating around ordinary places or common workers discussing revolutionary ideas. One powerful opponent from the upper classes (Diaz del Moral) claims that "the total working population" was overcome with the spirit of revolt, that "all were agitators."
Whereas anarchism in Spain was previously disjointed and ephemeral, even the smallest of towns now had organizations and took part in the movement. Different parts of the CNT (unions, regions, etc.) were autonomous and yet inextricably linked. A strike by workers in one field would often lead to solidarity strikes by workers in an entire city. This way, general strikes often were not "called", they simply happened organically.
In 1919, employers at a Barcelona hydroelectric plant, known locally as La Canadiense, cut wages, triggering a 44-day-long and hugely successful general strike with over 100,000 participants. Employers immediately attempted to respond militantly, but the strike had spread much too rapidly. Employees at another plant staged a sit-in supporting their fellow workers. About a week later, all textile employees walked out. Soon after, almost all electrical workers went on strike as well.
Barcelona was placed under martial law, yet the strike continued in full force. The union of newspaper printers warned the newspaper owners in Barcelona that they would not print anything critical of the strikers. The government in Madrid tried to destroy the strike by calling up all workers for military service, but this call was not heeded, as it was not even printed in the paper. When the call got to Barcelona by word of mouth, the response was yet another strike by all railway and trolley workers.
The government in Barcelona finally managed to settle the strike, which had effectively crippled the Catalan economy. All of the striking workers demanded an eight-hour day, union recognition, and the rehiring of fired workers. All demands were granted. It was also demanded that all political prisoners be released. The government agreed, but refused to release those currently on trial. Workers responded with shouts of "Free everybody!" and warned that the strike would continue in three days if this demand was not met. Sure enough, this is what occurred. However, members of the Strike Committee and many others were immediately arrested and police effectively stopped the second strike from reaching great proportions.
The government tried to appease the workers, who were clearly on the verge of insurrection. Tens of thousands of unemployed workers were returned to their jobs. The eight-hour day was declared for all workers. Thus, Spain became the first country in the world to pass a national eight-hour day law, as a result of 1919's general strike.
After the 1919 general strike, increasing violence against CNT organizers, combined with the rise of the Primo de Rivera dictatorship (which banned all anarchist organizations and publications), created a lull in anarchist activity. Many anarchists responded to police violence by becoming pistoleros themselves. This was a period of mutual violence, in which anarchist groups including Los Solidarios assassinated political opponents. Many anarchists were killed by gunmen of the other side.
During the Primo de Rivera years, much of the CNT leadership began to espouse a "moderate" revolutionary syndicalism, ostensibly holding an anarchist outlook but holding that the fulfilment of anarchist hopes would not come immediately, and insisting on the need for a more disciplined and organised trade-union movement in order to work towards libertarian communism. The Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI) was formed in 1927 to combat this tendency.
Its organization was based on autonomous affinity groups. The FAI remained a very secretive organization, even after acknowledging its existence two years after its formation. Its surreptitious nature makes it difficult to judge the extent of its membership. Estimates of FAI membership at the time immediately preceding the revolution range from 5,000 to 30,000. Membership dramatically increased during the first few months of the Civil War.
The FAI was not ideally libertarian, being dominated by very aggressive militants such as Juan García Oliver and Buenaventura Durruti. However, it was not authoritarian in its actual methods; it allowed freedom of dissent to its members. In fact the overall organization of the FAI was very loose, unlike Bakunin's "Alliance" which was, however, an important precedent in creating an organization for pushing forward anarchist ideology.
The FAI was militantly revolutionary, with actions including bank robberies to acquire funds, and the organization of general strikes, but at times became more opportunist. It supported moderate efforts against the Rivera dictatorship, and in 1936, contributed to establishment of the Popular Front. By the time the anarchist organizations began cooperating with the Republican government, the FAI essentially became a de facto political party and the affinity group model was dropped, not uncontroversially.
The CNT initially welcomed the Republic as a preferable alternative to dictatorship, while still holding on to the principle that all states are inherently deleterious, if perhaps to varying degrees of severity.
This relationship did not last long, though. A strike by telephone workers led to street fighting between CNT and government forces; the army used machine guns against the workers. A similar strike broke out a few weeks later in Seville; twenty anarchists were killed and one hundred were wounded after the army besieged a CNT meeting place and destroyed it with artillery. An insurrection occurred in Alto Llobregat, where miners took over the town and raised red and black flags in town halls. These actions provoked harsh government repression and achieved little tangible success. Some of the most active anarchists, including Buenaventura Durruti and Francisco Ascaso, were deported to Spanish territory in Africa. This provoked protest and an insurrection in Terrassa, where, like in Alto Llobregat, workers stormed town halls and raised their flags. Another failed insurrection took place in 1933, when anarchist groups attacked military barracks with the hope that those inside would support them. The government had already learned of these plans, however, and quickly suppressed the revolt.
None of these actions had any success. They resulted in thousands of jailed anarchists and a wounded movement. At the same time, infighting between the syndicalist Treintismo and the insurrectionalist FAI hurt the unity of the anarchist struggle.
The national focus on Republic and reform led the anarchists to cry "Before the ballot boxes, social revolution!" In their view, liberal electoral reforms were futile and undesirable, and impeded the total liberation of the working classes.
An uprising took place in December 1933. Aside from a prison break in Barcelona, no gains were made by revolutionaries before the police quelled the revolt in Catalonia and most of the rest of the country. Zaragoza saw ephemeral insurrection in the form of street fighting and the occupation of certain buildings.
In Casas Viejas, militants quickly surrendered when they were outnumbered by police forces. However, one old anarchist called "Six fingers" barricaded himself in his home with his family and vowed to resist arrest. His house was burned down, his family was killed, and the anarchists who previously surrendered peacefully were shot. This massacre provoked torrents of condemnation, even from conservative Republicans.
An important strike took place in April 1934 in Zaragoza where the CNT and the UGT declared a forty-eight-hour general strike in support of the transport workers. The strike was immediately declared illegal. The Civil Governor announced that the striking workers would be substituted.
With what historian Graham Kelsey calls "little official trade-union prompting" the workers, themselves, organized the strike. On April 10, the Civil Governor threatened "workers with the 'direst consequences' if they did not return to work immediately." The Civil Governor demanded that the Tram Company advertise for new staff. Eventually he accepted the fact that the workers wouldn't be dissuaded, but he decided to wait until they get tired.
According to Kelsey, the strike "continued to show no signs of breaking. On 13 April women, who for several days had been demonstrating against the intransigence of the Civil Governor and demanded the distribution of bread, broke into a large food store near the centre of the city." The Civil Governor responded by issuing orders warning that no group larger than three will be allowed on the streets of the capital. Military detachments were sent to patrol the area. However, at this point, many foodshops had been emptied by crowds of women and children.
On April 19, El Sol calculated Zarazoga's loss due to the striking workers to be near 30,000,000 pesetas and daily losses near 3,000,000 pesetas. A scene that "had become characteristic of the strikebound capital" was "the sight of many hundreds of men lining the banks of the river Erbo fishing with long sticks and lengths of string." By the start of May, 30,000 families hadn't made "a centimo in a month."
Perhaps the clearest prequel to revolution (and civil war) came in 1934, in the mining districts of Asturias. The strike here was a cooperative effort of communists and anarchists, with the former having more representation, but with events mirroring more closely an anarchist mindset. Communists had some influence, but their numbers were small; the Communist Party had perhaps 1,000 members in 1934 compared with the UGT's 1.44 million and the CNT's 1.58 million.
The miners' strike began with attacks on barracks of the Civil Guard. In the town of Mieres, police barracks and the town hall were taken over. Strikers moved on, continuing to occupy towns, even the capital of Asturias in Oviedo. Workers had control over most of Asturias, under chants of "Unity, Proletarian brothers!" The ports of Gijón and Avilés remained open. Anarchist militants defending against the imminent arrival of government troops were denied sufficient arms by suspicious communists. So fell the uprising, with great violence upon the rebels, but also with great unity and revolutionary fervor amongst the working classes.
The crushing of the revolt was led by General Francisco Franco, who would later lead a rebellion against the republic and become dictator of Spain. The use of the Foreign Legion and the Moorish Regulares to kill Spaniards caused public outrage. Captured miners faced torture, rape, mutilation, and execution. This foreshadowed the same brutality seen two years later in the Spanish Civil War.
With the growth of right-wing political parties (Gil Robles' conservative Spanish Confederation of the Autonomous Right, for example), leftist parties felt the need to join together in a "Popular Front." This included Republicans, Socialists, Communists, and other left parties; Anarchists were not willing to support it but refused to attack it, either, thus helping it get into power.
The more radical elements of the CNT-FAI were not satisfied with electoral politics. In the months after the Popular Front's rise to power, strikes, demonstrations, and rebellions broke out throughout Spain. Throughout the countryside, almost 5 km2 of land were taken over by squatters. The Popular Front parties began to lose control. Anarchists would continue to strike even when prudent socialists called it off, taking food from stores when strike funds ran out.
The CNT's national congress in May 1936 had an overtly revolutionary tone. Among the topics discussed were sexual freedom, plans for agrarian communes, and the elimination of social hierarchy.
On July 17, 1936, the military coup began. On July 18, while participants in the military coup continued their uprising, a power vacuum was produced by the collapse of the Republican state (four governments came and went in a single day) which led to the coercive structures of the state dissolving or stagnating in areas where the putschists did not hold power. By then, the CNT had approximately 1,577,000 militants, and the UGT had 1,447,000 militants. On July 19 the uprising reached Catalonia, where workers took up arms, storming barracks, erecting barricades and curbing the insurgents.In Aragon, historian Graham Kelsey describes how the anarcho-syndicalist stronghold was powerful enough that "with the assistance of local anarcho-syndicalists" the CNT helped organize the first volunteer column to liberate the districts of the Tierra-baja right away as soon as the fascist-military coup took place. This allowed the traditional forms of industrial and agricultural work organization to be reshaped into collective ones quickly, especially considering the coup would be a surprise to most. Historian Frank Mintz remarks how the CNT "had months earlier, anticipated the course that events were going to take." However, he also accepts that the leader of the syndicalist party, Pestana, saw no reason to fear the right. As far as Pestana was concerned "they have missed the boat...the period of instability...is over." These observations are in line with Graham Kelsey's description of Francisco Munoz and how "he could hardly have known that within three weeks the truth of his remarks would be fully borne out, as the Republican regime crumbled before the onslaught of a military revolt owing much to European fascism."
The CNT and UGT unions called a general strike from July 19 to 23 in response to both the military uprising and the apparent apathy of the state towards it. Despite isolated instances already existing of distribution of weapons among civilian groups in earlier days, it is during the General Strike when groups of union members linked to union organizers and smaller groups attacked many of the weapon stores of the security forces, regardless of whether they were rebels against the government or not. Already in those first weeks, two nuances are established among the revolutionary anarcho-syndicalist sectors: the radical group, fundamentally bound to the FAI and through it to the CNT, although other lesser organizations also participate, that understand the phenomenon that it takes part like a revolution in the traditional style; and the chance group, formed also by members of the other sector of the CNT (and other more moderate revolutionary groups), that expresses the advisability of participation in a broader front, subsequently called the Popular Anti-fascist Front (PAF), resulting in the addition of the unions to the Popular Front electoral coalition. In a parallel manner, the formation of administrative structures arises at the margins of the State, the majority of which will have a local or regional character, overstepping these limits when necessary; some of the most important will be:Central Committee of Antifascist Militias of Catalonia
People's Executive Committee of Valencia
Regional Defence Council of Aragon
Public Health Committee of Málaga
War Committee of Gijón
People's Committee of Sama de Langreo
Council of Cerdanya
Antifacist Committee of Ibiza
In all of these structures, the previously mentioned distinction between the two revolutionary sensibilities remains reflected. The Committees of War and Defense will remain in the hands of the revolutionaries, but with a progressively smaller importance, while the rest will be in the hands of the optimists. In a few days, the fronts of the civil war were drawn, of those one of the principle in the context of the revolution is that of Aragon. On July 24, 1936 the first voluntary militia left Barcelona towards Aragon. In the Durruti Column, about 3,000 persons, in its majority coordinated workers by Buenaventura Durruti, that is going to introduce liberating communism to the municipalities through which is going to pass. In addition it formed other of these military structures of popular character like the Iron Column and The Red and Black Column that also participated in Aragon. All these movements will lead to an extraordinary concentration of anarchists in that part not taking because of the arrogant military leaders. It arrived, in part. of the thousands of military anarchists of Catalonia and Valencia and the existence, for other, of a great popular rural Argonese base affiliated with anarcho-unionists permitted the progressive development of the greater collectivist experience of the revolution. During the first phase the major part of the Spanish economy was placed under control of the workers organized by the unions; mainly in the anarchistic areas like Catalonia, this phenomenon reached 75% of the industrial total, but in the areas of socialist influence the rate was much lower. The factories were organized by the committees of workers, the agricultural areas were collectivized and functioned as libertarian communities. Even places like hotels, hairdressing salons, means of transportation and restaurants were collectivized and handled by their own workers.
they develop new organizations that shape the economic and social base that counters what they had seen emerge in the municipal debates and that they tie to this phase of the Civil War the character of Social Revolution, up until the events of May, 1937 in Barcelona.
George Orwell describes a scene from Aragon during this period, which he participated as part of the Lenin Division of the POUM, in his celebrated book Homage to Catalonia:
I was fitting in, more or less by chance, the only community in western Europe where the revolutionary consciousness and the rejection of the capitalism were more normal than the opposite. In Aragon, there used to be among tens of thousands of people of proletarian origin in the majority, all of them lived and worked on equal terms. In theory, there was perfect equality, and in practice, they were not very far from being it. In some aspects, it produced a foretaste of socialism, from which I understand the prevailing mental attitude was naturally socialist. Many of the motivational currents of civilized life, (ostentation, profiteering, fear of landlords, etc.) simply had stopped existing. The division of classes disappeared to a point that almost resulted inconceivably into the commercial atmosphere of England; where there only were peasants and us, and nobody was loving one another.
The communes were used in accordance with the basic principle of "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs". In some places, money was completely eliminated, to be replaced by vouchers. In this system, the cost of goods were frequently a little more than one-fourth the cost as before. The rural areas expropriated during the revolution are 70% in Catalonia, nearly 70% in Aragon were reconquered, 91% of the Extremadura remained in the Republic, 58% in Castilla-La Mancha, 53% in Andalucia were not subjected to military insurrections, 25% from Madrid, 24% from Murcia and 13% in the current Valenciana Community. With so much collectivization of these expropriated territories, the total supposes a 54% expropriated surface area of the Spanish republic, according to data from the IRA. However, given that the Ministry of Agriculture, an by extension the IRA, were under the control of the Communist Party, hostile to collectivization, the information could be older. The provinces where the rural collectivities acquired the most importance were those of Ciudad Real, where 98.9% of the cultivated superficy was collectivized in 1935; and Jaén, with 685 000 has and 76.3%, far above the rest of the republican provinces. Many communities would hold back until the end of the war.
In Aragón where libertarian communism was proclaimed on the pillars of libertarian militias, they formed approximately 450 rural collectives, which practically totally in the hands of the CNT, with a number of around 20 controlled by the UGT.
In the area of Valencia they will represent 353 collectives, 264 managed by the CNT, 69 by the UGT and 20 by the CNT-UGT. One of its main developments will be the "Consejo Levantino Unificado de Exportación de Agrios" (also known by its initials CLUEA) and the complete collectivisation of the industry and city services of Alcoy.
In the Catalan industry the working-class unions of the CNT made numerous textile fabrics, organized the trains and the busses of Barcelona, introduced venture collectives in fishing, in the footwear industry and even spread the small shops by younger and the public sights. In a few days 70% of the industrial and commercial businesses had passed to be a property of the workers, in which Catalonia alone concentrated two thirds of the Spanish industry.
Despite the criticisms that were crying out for maximum efficiency, the anarchists communes were producing more than before being collectivized. The recently liberated zones worked over the libertarian principles: the decision were taken through the councils of the citizen communes without any type of bureaucracy (it fits to mention that the leadership of the CNT-FAI in that period was not as radical as the members responsible for these drastic changes).
Added up to the economic revolution, a spirit of cultural revolution and moral existed: the libertarian arts and sciences associated converted places of meeting and authentic cultural centers of ideological formation, in those places were organized: iteracy classes, chats about health, camping trips, public access libraries, performance theaters, political gatherings, or sewing workshops. They founded numerous rationalist schools that expanded the already existing supply of arts and sciences associations and labor unions that carried out the educational principles of Ferrer and Guardia, Mella, Tolstoi and Montessori. Likewise, in the social terrain, some traditions were considered to be types of oppression, like the bourgeois morality that was seen as dehumanizing and individualistic. The anarchist principles defended the conscious freedom of the individual and natural duty of solidarity between the human beings as the innate tools of society's progress. During this revolution for example, the women were allowed abortions in Catalan. the idea of free love reached a consensus and became popular and was the peak of naturalism. In some ways, the liberation was similar to the movements of the New Left of the 1960s (footnote required) with the difference that this morality was hegemonic. The following maxim could indicate life in this period: "The libertarian utopia became a reality".
The public order also varies substantially, bringing along with it the dispensation of the classic forces of public order (Police, Civil Guards, Courts and Army) and supplanting these with controlling patrols formed by volunteers, the popular militias and neighborhood assemblies in which they expected to resolve the problems that could arise. The doors of numerous prisons were opened, freeing prisoners, among whom many where political, but also common delinquents, some prisons were demolished.
In spite of the de facto break down of state power, on August 2, the government took the first measures to recover control of the revolution, the creation of the Volunteer Battalion, the embryo of the Popular Army of the Republic. Some decrees were also enacted, more symbolic than real, overwhelmed by the revolutionary phenomenon.Decree of the Government of the Republic of July 18 declaring soldiers that participate in the coup fired.
Decree of July 25 declaring government employees that sympathize with the rebels fired.
Decree of July 25 of the government intervention in industry.
Decree of August 3 of the government seizure of railroads.
Decree of August 3 of government intervention in the sales prices of food and clothing.
Decree for the confiscation of farms by the Government on August 8.
Decree for the closure of the Government's religious institutions on August 13.
Decree for the socialization and unionization of the economy by the Catalan autonomous government on August 19.
Decree for the creation of Popular Tribunals of the Government on August 23.
Between the strategy of the CNT (and the gathering of the Anarchist Movement) and the policies of the Communist Party and its branch in Catalonia, the PSUC, the first tensions emerged and on August 6, the members of the PSUC left the Catalan government under pressure from the anarcho-syndicalists.
Both at this stage and in the previous one, State structures were limited to legislate a revolutionary policy by fait accompli. However, due to the escalating war against the military rebels, unions begin to circumstantially cede control of the factions to the Madrid State Defense in October and November. This was directed by a semi-independent body, which was represented by all parties in the Popular Front in addition to: the anarchists, and the Defense Committee of Madrid, which was later called Board Deputy Defense Madrid. The beginning of the progressively greater rapprochement between the Popular Front parties and unions is reflected in the formation of the first Government of the Victory (September 4) of Largo Caballero.
Among the measures to absorb, or try to legislate revolutionary activity, include the following:The decree for the confiscation of the estates of people condemned by the Popular Courts of the Government on September 17.
The decree for the creation of government emergency juries on October 10.
The decree for the collectivization and worker-control of the Catalan autonomous government on October, 22nd.
Despite the revolutionaries apparent consent, they did not actively intervene in the development of the revolution. In fact, their primary object would be to enhance and strengthen the Army as the State's solid foundation. This was done in various ways, in addition to other notable methods, and apart from the repeated attempts to dissolve the Defense Committees and the War Committees. The most radical of which were:The Constitution of the Rearguard Vigilance Militia (September 16) with which the government controlled the militias of rearguard, which were independent up to this point.
The order for the voluntary transfers for the leaders and officers of the popular army militias (September 28).
The order for the application of the Code of Military Justice for the popular militias (September 29)
When the war starts to extend, the spirit of the first day of revolution loosens and the friction between the various members of the Popular Front starts, partly owed to the policies of the Spanish Communist Party (PCE), which were established from the foreign ministry of the Stalinist Soviet Union, the greatest help source from outside of the republic.
On November 2 the Executive Popular Committee of Valencia approved a new program of action that was subordinate to the policy of the Government of the Republic ( Caballero's second cabinet of November 4), which consisted of the ministers Juan García Oliver, Juan López Sánchez, Federica Montseny and Juan Peiró, prominent members of the CNT. During this month, the Column of Iron decided to briefly take Valencia, in protest of the shortage of supplies which the popular executive committee, in the hands of two chances, producing later clashes on the streets of the city between libertarian militias and communist groups, with the cost of more than thirty deaths.
On November 14, the Durruti Column arrives in Madrid, after transferring before the pressure of the possibilites, that demand collaboration with the State. On November 20 Buenaventura Durruti dies in strange circumstances fighting in the battle of Madrid, where he had arrived with more than a thousand militiamen from the Aragon Front. On December 17, the Soviet newspaper Pravda in Moscow published an editorial where it read: "The purge of Trotskyists and anarcho-syndicalists has already begun in Catalonia; it has been carried out with the same energy as in the Soviet Union". The liquidation by the communists loyal to Stalin of many antifascists and of collectivations and other structures that had arisen spontaneously below in line with the revolution that were not subject to the directives of Moscow that had already begun.
On its side, another one of the radical structures, the War Committee of Gijón, undergoes a change by decree of December 23 in the Interprovincial Council of Asturias and León, controlled by the governmental authorities of the Republic and more moderate in its policies, recognizing officially the formation of the National Defense Committee. On January 8, 1937 the Popular Executive Committee of Valencia was dissolved. During this period the Government starts once and for all to control the anarchist popular militias, dissolving them so that they compulsorily join the Popular Army, structured and organized into a hierarchy under the command of professional officers. The revolution will not survive as an independent power after the second government of Largo Caballero.
On January 27, 1937, the government prohibited the newspaper of the FAI, Nosotros (thus initiating the period during which most of the publications criticizing the government were censored), the next day it did forbid the police to belong to political partis or unions, a measure adopted by the Catalan autonomous government on March 2. On the 12th of the same month, the majority approved an order demanding the handing in of all long weapons and explosive materiels from the non-militarized groups. More conflicts among the sectors of the FPA start and on the 27th day the anarchist counselors of the Catalonian autonomous government resign. During the month of March the militarization of the militias will be completed, transferred to a regular Army and subject to its discipline and hierarchy regimes, against which many anarchist voices will rise.
On April 17, the day after the CNT ministers returned to the Generalidad, a police force in Puigcerdá asks the patrols working for CNT to deliver them the control of the border customs with France; at the same time the Civil and Assault Guard is sent to Figueras and other locations throughout the whole province of Gerona to take away the police control of the working organizations, dissolving the Council of Cerdaña, one of the most autonomous. Simultaneously in Barcelona The Assault Guard proceeds to disarm the workers in front of the public, on the streets.
During May, the clashes intensified between the supporters and opposition of the revolution. On the 13th of that month in 1937, after the successes of the Barcelona May Conference, the two communist ministers, Jesús Hernández and Vicente Uribe, they proposed that the government punish the National Work Confederation (CNT) and the Marxist Working-Class Unification Party (POUM), initiating in practice the repression against this last party. On 16 May, Largo Caballero resigns, following the formation of the government of socialist Juan Negrín (apparently a man of Prieto) but without support from the anarchists nor the revolutionaries. The FAI is declared illegal.
An unprecedented area of land was collectivised during the anarchist period of Aragon's history. According to estimates, as many as 5 to 7 million people either directly or indirectly facilitated this land collectivisation. During the height of collectivisation, there were 400 collectives in Aragon, 700 in the Levant and 300 in Castile.Frank Mintz estimates that there were 450 collectives in Aragon and 503 agricultural collectives in Levant. The 450 Aragonese collectives involved 300,000 collectivists, while the agricultural collectives in Levant only involved 130,000 people. Especially contrasted with the considerable peasant resistance during the collectivisation of farms in the Soviet Union, the voluntary collectivisation of land on such a mass scale by both the landless and the land-owners would seem somewhat odd. The Spanish Communist Party, one of the opponents of the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo, accused the columns of the anarcho-syndicalist CNT union of enforcing collectivisation at gunpoint, a viewpoint which is sometimes repeated by some historians of the Spanish Civil War.
While Frank Mintz accepts the reality of the militias exercising some form of authority by punishing transgressors, he also stresses the fact that much of it was due to the civil war going on. Mintz quotes a critical Marxist observer in Fraga: "From [some peasants] I learned the details of what had happened. The executions were not the handiwork of those villagers themselves but of the Durruti Column. They rounded up all who were suspected of engaging in reactionary activities and these were taken away in lorries and shot ... What became of possessions of those executed? The homes, of course, had been commandeered by the committee and stores of foodstuffs used to feed the militia ... It was obvious that in this village the agrarian revolution had not arrived as the result of impassioned struggle by the peasants but rather as an almost automatic by-product of the executions. These were just another incident in the civil war." Mintz also mentions "In Sarinena (population of 3,600) the same witness reported that the church had been torched, that executions had been carried out and notarial deed burned." One example that Mintz provides of the militia carrying on punishment is "in Gelsa, with its 2,500 residents, the peasants suggested that the wheat be harvested without delay, and 'in order for the village to answer this call en masse, a proclamation was posted stressing that anyone failing to hand over all manner of foodstuffs and clothing items but hoarding these with an eye to profiteering, or against the eventuality of shortages, will be chastened by the ultimate punishment.'" Mintz makes sure to emphasize how much of the militia activity was uncoordinated and differed from village to village. "In Utrillas (population of 2,500)," for example "there was no militia presence but a public gathering made the decision to launch a collective. It is important to note the difference of attitude toward opponents here; some were shot as a result of a decision made at the gathering, whereas others were left unmolested. Some fled to fascist lines, as a result of which 150 suspects were rounded up. Many were released after a vote, but thirty-two were remanded into custody."
Mintz mentions how many villagers were opposed to the harsh methods that militiamen wanted to use to establish order and after the village made its position clear, the militiamen decided against doing what they were previously going to do. Furthermore, because the civil war was a surprise to most, dissenting voices weren't voiced from the very start, but later on they were. Critical Anarchists in the regional plenum in September 20, 1936 in Alcaniz declared "that some villagers are in disagreement with the way they are being mismanaged, and that some of the comrades holding positions on committees ought to disassociate themselves from the situation created and should not be authoritarian since, by being so, they are not anarchists." Mintz therefore concluded "on the basis of that evidence, my conclusion is that collectivisation was imposed by force in only a few instances and imposed by outsider CNT personnel."
Graham Kelsey, on the other hand, provides a completely different picture. He claims that many of Mintz examples weren't from collectives that resulted from the villagers themselves. For example, according to Kelsey, Mintz quotes one example of Allepuz in Teruel "which was run solely by members of the UGT." Salas Bajas, Fonz, and Estadilla in the Babastro district, examples that Mintz also refers, were run by communists. To Kelsey, those example are discredited. Kelsey provides examples such as Albalate de Cinca where "the rights of the 'individualistas'" were respected. The only sanction to what they normally would be allowed to do was that they weren't allowed to "utilise the labor of another." Kelsey states that the only collectives that may have intervened in ways that, comparatively speaking, were forceful were those visited by CNT representatives. For example, in Alloza in Teruel, Kelsey quotes Angel Navarro, the former leader of the village defense committee saying "'they came and told us that other villages were collectivised and they wanted everyone to be equal.'" Even in these examples, however, "the CNT party had also stressed that no-one was to be maltreated." Kelsey concludes that "certainly the decision on whether to join or not was left entirely in the hands of the villagers themselves though committee members apparently did not feel that they enjoyed the same option."
Historian Jose Peirats documented several agricultural collectives in Aragon. In Monzón he stated that 'individualistas' continued to work but had a hard time procuring supplies from the council. He says "they were treated with indulgence." In Penalba there were no problems concerning 'individualistas.' They even regarded the distribution of land between the collectivists and themselves as a fair one. In Calanda, he goes as fas as to say "[they] lived in perfect harmony."
Marxist historian Albert Prago criticizes Graham Kelsey for using anarchist newspapers as his principal source of information on collectives when newspapers were all openly partisan at the time. Frank Mintz accuses Peirats of being "bereft of critical capacity." Burnett Bolloten, however, has been praised by both Frank Mintz and Noam Chomsky for objective scholarship in his book The Spanish Civil War: Revolution and Counter Revolution.
According to Bolloten, "although CNT-FAI publications cited numerous cases of peasant proprietors and tenant farmers who had adhered voluntarily to the collective system, there can be no doubt that an incomparably larger number doggedly opposed it or accepted it only under extreme distress." Bolloten emphasizes that although many of the collectives were in fact voluntary, the reason why 70 percent of the population under left wing control were part of collective also had to do with the militia presence (almost all of whom were from Catalonia). He mentions that 'individualistas' were not only forbidden from employing hired labor and disposing freely of their crops, they were also, often, denied benefits available to members of the collective. Many times the village committee would also require individual landowners to continue paying the rent that would have been paid to the landlord but this time to the village committee instead. All these factors would pressure small landowners to relinquish their property. However, Bolloten quotes Souchy to emphasize that although people rarely give up their property for idealistic reasons, they also rarely gave it up for fear of seizure by force. Bolloten concludes that "nearly always the reasons were economic."
However, contrary to the assertion that most collectives were enforced at gunpoint, there is little evidence to know if this was the case and to what extent. It seems that if such was the case, it must have been the exception to the rule. Most likely there was no coercion as evident by the significant number of "individualists" who were intent on individual ownership of their land. In the Anarchist FAQ, Fraser is quoted explaining how in many regions of Spain, there wasn't even a militia, yet there was still collectivization. In Aragon, where there was a militia, yet 30% of residents still owned their own land. The Anarchist FAQ quotes historian Antony Beevor saying "the very fact that every village was a mixture of collectivists and individualists shows that peasants had not been forced into communal farming at the point of a gun."
In Aragon, it has been estimated that of Anarchist Aragon's 430,000 inhabitants, 69.5% participated in the formation of collectives, and up to 400 collectives were established as a result. When Gaston Leval came to Aragon in February 1937, there were "275 collective villages with 141,430 families organised into 24 cantonal federations holding their first conference in Caspe". Of these federation, Leval visited the main collectives of them and noted that in most of them collectivisation had happened similarly: with the main landowners absconding from their properties, and a local assembly of the members of the community were held, and the seizure of all land and machinery for common ownership was decided. For the different jobs in the area, groups were created, "each electing recallable delegates to a village assembly".
The Regional Defence Council of Aragon (RDCA), sometimes also referred to as the Council of Aragon, was an administrative entity created within the Second Spanish Republic in the context of the Spanish Revolution of 1936 which took place at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. Its control extended over the eastern half of Aragon and was under majority influence of the anarchists of the CNT, although the government was involved with representatives of other movements and parties. Although it came to have great influence and established its own state within the republican state, its life was short-lived because the Council's activities lasted less than a year, being dissolved in August 1937. The origins of the RDCA lie in the revolutionary situation that developed in Aragon, as well as military influence by columns from Catalonia and Valencia. This occupation of Aragon is widely believed to have entered into the revolutionary process that was taking place in Catalonia, where the workers' militia had seized power and were implementing a social revolution that destroyed the Republican State but filled the power vacuum Franco's military rebellion had caused. The truth is that the central government and the Catalan government had little control in regard to the area of Aragón.
Bolloten quotes Isaac Puente who, speaking of libertarian communism, says that "the nuclei around which our future economic life will revolve are already present in our society: the labor union and the free commune—the labor union, in which the workers of the factories and collectives gather around spontaneously, and the free commune, an assembly with an ancient tradition." A few Individualist anarchists, however, criticized the dominant regime and stressed that anarchism "must be made of an infinite variety of systems and of individuals free from all fetters. It must be like an experimental field...for all types of human temperament." Bolloten, although claiming the organizational process exhibited no "hard and fast rules," also accepts that "the procedure was more or less the same everywhere. A CNT-FAI committee was set up in each locality where the new regime was instituted."
Bolloten's description of the organization is slightly different from Graham Kelsey's description. While Kelsey accepts that the CNT-FAI had a strong foothold in the process in the end, he describes the commune's concoction as an organic one. He writes "libertarian communism and agrarian collectivism were not economic terms or social principles enforced upon a hostile population by a special team of anarcho-syndicalists, but a pattern of existence and a means of rural organization adapted from agricultural experience by rural anarchists and adopted by local communes as the single most sensible alternative to the part-feudal, part-capitalist mode of organization that had just collapsed."
Gaston Leval and Alardo Prats describe the collectivization in Huesca by describing the forty-three villages that comprise it as villages that are hesitant to accept large-scale collectivization. They claim that "only one, Secstiglia, is fully collectivized....Ten others are only half socialized." They study the biggest village, Graus, which they claim is more like a city than a village. 40% of the working population is engaged in commerce. The family wage was instituted to ensure equal wages for all. At first pesetas were used, but then coupons were instead. Many smaller distribution centers consolidated and were given a new up-to-date building. Cooperative communal markets replaced privately owned retail shops. A larger clothing center replaced 23 out of 25 small shops. 30 privately owned retail food shops were consolidated into one food market. Four bakeries and bread depots were consolidated into one. There was no forced collectivization. Membership was entirely voluntary. Once the government required a municipal council, there were four councilmen form the CNT and four from the UGT. The mayor's post was mostly ceremonial. 90% of all production including exchange and distribution was collectively owned. Each workplace would elect a delegate that would maintain relations with the Labor secretariat.
Bolloten mentions that collective life "enables members to read newspapers, magazines, and books," thereby spurring their intellect.
Augustin Souchy describes a typical day in Calanda as one where barbershops give free haircuts and free shaves twice weekly. The relationship between collectivists and individualists are cordial. Vouchers have replaced money. Food, meat, and other provisions are distributed in large amounts (equitably) and rationed when in short supply. The collective allows collectivists to have five liters of wine per week. Medical care and medicines are free. Housing and utilities are supplied to both collectivists and individualists. There is no scarcity of clothing. The youth have built public baths, a library, and have conducted cultural events. Cinema is collectivized, and except for the small shops that chose to remain independent, most shops have been collectivized as well. In Muniesa, bread, meat, oil, and wine are distributed freely. When Souchy asked if they weren't afraid "that unlimited quantities of free wine will lead to excessive drinking," a local responded "By no means. No one gets drunk here. We have been living under this system for a year, and everyone is satisfied." In Albalate de Cinca, Souchy remarks that villagers knew little about politics or socialist theories. The villagers organized their collective on their own. Because things were arranged hastily, mistakes were made. One villager remembers when the village "was on the brink of starvation" but says that "now we have plenty to eat and other things gratis." One problem that the collective has to deal with is people who arbitrarily decide to go to the city because it costs nothing. When its a medical issue, priority is given, but at the doctor's discretion.
The Aragon Offensive was a key moment in the Nationalist campaign during the Spanish Civil War, which began after the Battle of Teruel. The offensive, which ran from March 7, 1938 to April 19, 1938, destroyed Republican forces, overran Aragon, and conquered parts of Catalonia and the Levante. The Battle of Teruel exhausted the material resources of the Republican Army, and wore out the veteran Republican troops. A slowdown of supplies from the Soviet Union exacerbated the difficulties of the Republican government, whose armament industry in Catalonia was already beleaguered. At the same time, however, Francisco Franco had concentrated the bulk of the Nationalist forces in the east and was preparing to drive through Aragon and into Catalonia and the Levante. The Nationalists were able to concentrate 100,000 men between Zaragoza and Teruel with the best troops in the lead. Even though the Nationalist army was numerically inferior to the Republican forces, the Nationalists were better equipped and had almost 950 airplanes, 200 tanks and thousands of trucks. In addition to his foreign aid from Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, Franco by this stage had the advantage of controlling the efficiently-run industries in the Basque Country.
The campaign was decided by air power. The plains of Aragon provided easy landing fields allowing rapid air support from close behind the front. Nationalist aircraft continually drove back the Republicans, forcing them to abandon position after position and attacked the retreating columns. Both Germans and Soviets learned valuable lessons in this conflict about the use of aircraft in support of infantry. On the ground, Lleida and Gandesa fell on April. One hundred and forty American and British soldiers from the XV International Brigade became prisoners of the Nationalists. Also on this day, Aranda's troops saw the sea for the first time. In the north, the Nationalist advance continued and by April 8, Barcelona's hydro-electric plants in the Pyrenees fell to the surging Nationalists. Barcelona's industries suffered a severe decline, and the old steam plants were restarted. The Nationalists could easily have taken Catalonia and Barcelona, but Franco made a decision to advance to the coast. This decision turned out to be a strategic mistake, but his intelligence reports suggested that to extend the conflict further into Catalonia might draw French intervention. He directed that the attack continue towards the sea. By April 15 the Nationalists had reached the Mediterranean sea at Vinaroz and by April 19, the Nationalists held forty miles of the Mediterranean coastline. This series of victories that started with Teruel inspired great confidence in the Nationalists that the war was almost won. In the meantime, the French had reopened the border, and military aid that had been purchased and was piling up in France because of the embargo, streamed into Spain and to the Republican forces. This slowed the Nationalists as the Republican defense stiffened. The disaster was contained for the time being, and although the Nationalists pursued other attacks in the north toward the Segre River and in the Valencia area, the Aragon Offensive was for all intents and purposes concluded by April 19. The Nationalist attack was spent and the resistance on the coast was much more formidable.