Abel Paz, The Story of the Iron Column: Militant Anarchism in the Spanish Civil War.

Author:Pinta, Saku
Position:Book review

Abel Paz, The Story of the Iron Column: Militant Anarchism in the Spanish Civil War

London, Berkeley: Kate Sharpley Library and Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2011, 225pp; translated by Paul Sharkey; ISBN-13: 978-1-849350-64-8.

Abel Paz (pen name of Diego Camacho, 1921-2009) was an anarchist militant and historian, best known for his biography of Buenaventura Durruti. (1) Paz lived through the events that he chronicled in his numerous works on the Spanish Civil War and Revolution and spent a lifetime working and fighting for libertarian communism. In his obituary, historian Agustin Guillamon explained that Paz 'wrote down the history of the 1936 revolution because that was his way of campaigning for the next one'. (2) It is in this spirit that The Story of the Iron Column was written.

The book skilfully details and contextualises the neglected history of the Iron Column--an anarchist militia formed in Valencia in 1936 and active on the Teruel front--utilising oral testimony, articles from the CNT (National Confederation of Labour) press, and other sources. The Iron Column was one of the most controversial militias in the war. Their notoriety was derived, in part, from the hundreds of liberated prisoners in its ranks: the destruction of the San Miguel de los Reyes prison was one of their first acts. Yet as Paz makes clear, the column's steadfast adherence to anarchist principles and defence of the social revolution did much more to garner them the reputation as 'uncontrollables'. They represented the radical left-wing of Spanish anarchism and, as one militia fighter put it, saw 'no point in winning the war and losing the revolution and not much point in winning the revolution unless we won the war too: the two were one and the same'. (p 35)

One of the central topics in the book is the militarisation of the militias. The government policy of restructuring the militias--hastily formed by unions and political parties--into a conventional army was vigorously resisted by the Iron Column, although they too were ultimately incorporated into the Republican military as the 83rd...

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