- Living Anarchism: José Peirats and the Spanish Anarcho-Syndicalist Movement by Chris Ealham
This book by Chris Ealham is a biography of the anarchist José Peirats which details the long militant career of this important figure of the Spanish libertarian movement. Chris Ealham (Saint Louis University in Madrid) is a specialist in the history of anarchism and the Spanish anarcho-syndicalism. He has published research works on this issue, particularly on anarchism in the city of Barcelona. [End Page 201]
José Peirats is particularly known for his book The CNT in the Spanish Revolution and for his activism in exile, but his commitment was continuous since the 1920s until his death in 1989. He came into contact with anarchism through the influences of some of his mother’s family and the union mobilization atmosphere of the early twentieth Barcelona century. Peirats was born in 1908 in La Vall d’Uixó (Castellón) and three years later he left his hometown and moved with his family to Barcelona. They lived in suburban Barcelona, in the district of La Torrasa, L’Hospitalet de Llobregat. It was a neighborhood that had a large population of workers and a significant presence of the “Confederación Nacional del Trabajo” (CNT), the major anarcho-syndicalist union in working class Barcelona.
Like most children of that time, Peirats began working at the age of nine and at fourteen he joined the CNT union in which his uncle Nelo Vicente and his cousin were already activists. The family’s inheritance was first the libertarian influence on Peirats to be followed by his attendance at the “Ateneo” rationalist Sants and interactions with workers in his neighborhood. Peirats’ ideological and militant training took place in the Barcelona of the 1910s and 1920s, i.e, in the Barcelona of “pistolerismo,” a city where working mobilization and class struggle were especially tense and violent. This strong social conflict marked, without any doubt, the spirit of the young Peirats. But he had to wait until 1930 to become an anarcho-syndicalist militant activist. As from 1931, his activity within the FAI (“Federación Ibérica Anarquista”) and the “Ateneo” rationalist in his neighborhood of La Torrasa was very intense. His commitment was quickly recognized and he soon took on the responsibilities of the Secretary of the Barcelona Federation, the FAI and was invited to collaborate in the libertarian press (Solidaridad Obrera, Tierra y Libertad, La Revista Blanca, etc.).
During the Civil War (1936–1939), Peirats fought at the front against Franco and participated in the revolution at the back of the Republican Guard. After the failure of the war, he left for a long exile that took him to several Latin American countries before he settled in France in 1947. His libertarian activism continued within the strong Spanish anarchist community in exile. In France, he was elected on two occasions as secretary general of the CNT. During his terms, he tried to fight against bureaucracy and against the illegal financing system of the Spanish libertarian movement. That was extremely difficult, if not impossible, and clashes with the “apparatchiks” Spanish anarchists, especially Federica Montseny and Germinal Esgleas, were especially hard. These tensions were so strong that José Peirats suffered from the purges of Montseny and Esgleas. He was thus expelled from the CNT in 1965. This did not end Peirats’ anarchist activism. Until the end of his days, he continued to write and collaborate in various projects to spread his libertarian ideal.
The work of Chris Ealham is comprehensive, detailed and informative. There are two aspects of this biography which are particularly interesting and original. First is the fact of realizing the course of an important figure of the libertarian movement, a matter which comes not only from his long militancy on the field, but also of his writings on the history of anarchism and in particular his unavoidable history of the CNT a story of the Spanish revolution written by an anarchist militant worker, which was a novelty in a historiography dominated by official speeches...