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The Barcelona May Days, 1937

Barcelona and the events of May 1937

Both the Republican (government) and Nationalist (rebel) sides during the Spanish Civil War were formed by a coalition of different political groups. Republican forces included representatives of political parties which had formed the 1936 Popular Front government, including the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (the equivalent of the British Labour Party), the Communist Party and the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification (POUM), as well as the anarchist CNT-FAI and Basque and Catalan nationalists. The Nationalist faction included the fascist Falange, the Conservative Catholic CEDA and several monarchist parties. In April 1937, the Nationalist leader Francisco Franco tackled division within the rebel side and consolidated his own position as 'Caudillo' (leader) by establishing a new political party, the Falange Española Tradicionalista y de las Juntas de Ofensiva Nacional Sindicalista, and disbanding all other allied parties. In May 1937, tensions between different factions within the Republican side came to a violent head in Barcelona and resulted in the resignation of the Spanish Prime Minister Francisco Largo Caballero and the increasing influence of the Communist Party on the Republican administration.

The political administration of Catalonia was, at least in theory, the responsibility of the Generalitat, the Catalan government headed by Lluís Companys (a member of the social democratic Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya). This power was challenged by workers' militias who saw the opportunity to implement more radical revolutionary measures, including the collectivisation of land (both voluntarily and by force) - militias in Barcelona included those linked to the anarchist CNT-FAI and the revolutionary socialist POUM. The Communist Parties of Catalonia and Spain were also engaged in an increasingly vitriolic campaign against POUM, an extension of the Stalinist 'purging' of perceived supporters of Trotsky in the Soviet Union. Members of POUM (like Trotsky himself) were inaccurately accused of being Nazi-supporting fifth columnists who were intent on subverting a Communist revolution.

After months of preceding tension and skirmishes, the flashpoint for the May conflict was over who would have control of telecommunications in and out of the city - the government or the anarchists? Barcelona telephone exchange had been controlled since the start of the war by the anarchist CNT-FAI, which led the government to fear that their telephone conversations were being monitored and recorded. On 2 May, a phone conversation between the Presidents of Spain and Catalonia was cut by the operator and an attempt by the Minister of the Navy and Airforce to phone the Generalitat was blocked. The following day, government forces moved to take control of the telephone exchange, fighting followed and barricades controlled by different groups were set up across the city. The Republican government sent navy vessels and a military force of approximately 5,000 to Barcelona and the fighting finally ended on 8 May, when the troops entered the city.

Anarchist sources:

Barcelona Bulletin (second edition), 15 May 1937Link opens in a new window.

First-hand accounts of Barcelona during the events of May written by the anarchists Jane H. Patrick and Ethel MacDonald. They attack the role of the Communists.

The truth about Barcelona, May 1937Link opens in a new window

Pamphlet published by the anarchist Anti-Parliamentary Volunteers, containing information supplied by the CNT. It attacks what it describes as a "Stalinist sabotage of unity".

Spain and the World, vol.1, no.13, 4 June 1937Link opens in a new window

Anarchist newspaper, including reports on 'The "Rising" in Catalonia' and 'The Soviet political machine: Its designs on Spain', and extracts from CNT-FAI bulletin of 12 May 1937.

Spain and the World, vol.1, no.14, 11 June 1937Link opens in a new window

Anarchist newspaper, including report on 'Barcelona After The Rising' by "Our Correspondent In Barcelona", and tribute to the Italian anarchist Camillo Berneri, killed during the events of May.

The Tragic Week in May, 11 June 1937Link opens in a new window

Special four page supplement to Spain and the World, vol.1, no.14, describing the events of May, written by Augustin Souchy. It was later published as a pamphletLink opens in a new window by the CNT-FAI in Barcelona.

Communist or pro-Communist sources:

'Position in Catalonia' by Joan ComoreraLink opens in a new window, 1937

Text of a speech made by the General Secretary of the United Socialist Party of Catalonia on 1 June 1937, included in 'Spain organises for victory', a pamphlet published by Partido Comunista de España.

El Obrero Sanitario, year 2, no.7, 1 June 1937Link opens in a new window

Journal of the Sindicato de Empleados de Hospitales, Unión General de Trabajadores de España (in Spanish). It includes an editorial calling for the death of the "uncontrollables" in BarcelonaLink opens in a new window.

Trotskyism in the service of Franco: a documented record of treachery by the POUM in SpainLink opens in a new window, 1938

Pamphlet by Georges Soria, published by Lawrence & Wishart, a company associated with the Communist Party of Great Britain.

POUM and Trotskyist sources:

Internal bulletin of Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM), Comité local de Barcelona, 29 May 1937Link opens in a new window

The bulletin includes information about the events of May and POUM relations with CNT-FAI.

Short statement by Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM), 17 June 1937Link opens in a new window

The statement protests against the Communist Party's "suppression of the revolutionaries" as a result of the events of May.

The truth about the Barcelona events, 1937Link opens in a new window

Pamphlet by 'Lambda' published in the USA.

Other sources:

International Council Correspondence, vol.3, nos.5 & 6, June 1937Link opens in a new window

Journal published by the Groups of Council Communists of America. It includes an opinion piece on 'Civil war in Catalonia', attacking "the treacherous role of the Peoples Front".