Anarchism and the City: Revolution and Counter-Revolution: in Barcelona, 1898-1937, By Chris Ealham, 284 pgs. By Ollie Mikse

Sep 25, 2014

The anarchist uprising in Barcelona is the holy grail for anarchists. They love talking about it and just how well they were able to manage things for those couple months until just about everyone else brought holy hell upon them.

What Chris Ealham tries to do in Anarchism and the City is take us through life and the events in Barcelona all the way through the anarchist revolution. In fact, only thirty pages of this book are dedicated to the anarchist uprising. Everything else is the chaos that led up to it. And chaos is a good word here, because life in Barcelona was relatively complex between 1898-1937. Apparently well researched (there are about a hundred and thirty references just twenty pages into the book), Ealham shows that the attempt to make Barcelona such a cultural and industrial Mecca led to a large influx of workers which the city was not prepared to handle economically or in its infrastructure. With so little to go around, the poor were left to fend for themselves and organize things at a local level and through solidarity with others in a similar position. And so, politically, Barcelona became a very leftist city, which is one of the reasons labor/union/socialist/Marxist/anarchist ideas became so prevalent. Also, the largest union in Barcelona (the CNT)—and to some extent the leading anarchist organization (the FAI) and their role in the political and economic life of Barcelonans—is also frequently addressed in this book.

However, my problem with this book—aside from the horrible design of tiny font and crowded pages—is that it covers a lot in a very haphazard way. Ealham has made a very academic study in this book (which also makes Anarchism and the City read more like a long thesis than a book for the lay reader) and introduces a lot of verbiage and insists on using the original Catalan spelling which is distracting; and, instead of sticking with events in a certain time period, he constantly runs back and forth between different points in history and different organizations’ perspective, which creates a very confusing read. I kept forgetting whose perspective in what time period we were dealing with. In addition to that, Ealham focuses entirely on events on Barcelona and does not address what outside forces influenced decision making or affected events. As such, the reader gets no perspective on what is driving events outside of Barcelona. Barcelona from 1898-1937 was very chaotic. Add to that Ealham’s non-linear approach to telling the story and the result is an even more chaotic book.

Anarchism and the City needs to be reread over and over again to be truly appreciated, but honestly, there has to be a more effective way to tell this story. –Ollie Mikse (AK Press, 674-A 23rdSt., Oakland, CA 94612,

Thankful Bits is supported and made possible, in part, by grants from the following organizations.
Any findings, opinions, or conclusions contained herein are not necessarily those of our grantors.