Las mujeres libres of spain

Voices of revolutionary feminism …

We share two articles, a first on women in the spanish revolution and a second on the spanish anarchist organisation Mujeres Libres. And we close with the spanish film, Libertarias (1996).

Liz Willis writes on the conditions and role of women in and around the Spanish Civil War and revolution of 1936-1939. (

Women in the Spanish revolution

Solidarity Pamphlet #48


In a way, it is clearly artificial to try to isolate the role of women in any series of historical events. There are reasons, however, – why the attempt should still be made from time to time; for one thing it can be assumed that when historians write about “people” or “workers” they mean women to anything like the same extent as men. It is only recently that the history of women has begun to be studied with the attention appropriate to women’s significance – constituting as we do approximately half of society at all levels. (1)

In their magnum opus The Revolution and the Civil War in Spain (Faber & Faber, 1972), Pierre Brow and Emile Témime state that the participation of women in the Spanish Revolution of 1936 was massive and general, and take this as an index of how deep the revolution went. Unfortunately, details of this aspect are scarce in their book elsewhere, but the sources do allow some kind of picture to be pieced together. In the process of examining how women struggled, what they achieved, and how their consciousness developed in a period of intensified social change, we can expect to touch on most facets of what was going on. Any conclusions that emerge should have relevance for libertarians in general as well as for the present-day women’s movement.


Conditions of life for Spanish women prior to 1936 were oppressive and repressive in the extreme. Work was hard, long and poorly paid (2), and when improvements did occur they were not always entirely beneficial to women. Figures from the Instituto de Reformas Sociales (quoted in S.G.Payne, The Spanish Revolution, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1970), show that in the decade 1913-22, men’s wages increased by 107.1% and women’s by only 67.9%, while prices rose by 93%. When the 1931 Republic established the eight-hour day for agricultural labourers, this meant, according to a peasant in Seville Prison who talked to Arthur Koestler, that the men could go to meetings and gossip, while their wives could return home at 5 p.m., prepare the meal, and see to the children’s clothes.

Minimal reforms including maternity compensation had, however, been introduced, and featured in the aims of most progressive groups. Politically, the Republican Constitution of 1931 brought-votes for both sexes at 23, a radical departure for the time and place. At first, it has been said (by Alvarez del Vayo in Freedom’s Battle), a woman’s vote merely doubled the power of her husband or confessor, But the situation was being modified. The Republic brought measures of education and secularisation, including provision for divorce if “just cause” were shown. Despite the weight of internalised inferiority under which they must have laboured, many women were starting to involve themselves actively in politics. (3)

On the libertarian side, the strong anarchist movement incorporated a certain awareness of the necessity to envisage changed relationships between people. For its adherents, the abolition of legal marriage at least was-on the agenda. It is more difficult to assess to what extent their personal lives embodied a transformation in attitudes, but it seems that the particular problems of women were not a priority concern.(4)

In fact they were not much of a priority with anyone. Margarita Nelkin, a Socialist who was to become a deputy in the Cortes, wrote about The Social Condition of Women in Spain (Barcelona, 1922) and Women in the Cortes (Madrid, 1931); there was a movement for women’s rights in the early twenties, but it had a reformist and careerist orientation, based on women in the professions. For anarchists, reformist, minimal or transitional programme was more or less out. The focus was on thoroughgoing social revolution. Unfortunately, any theoretical discussion of what such a revolution might involve was often out too, in favour of an assumption that things would work out spontaneously in the best possible way.


In the response to the military insurrection of July 18, 1936 against the Republic there was indeed a powerful element of spontaneity. Events overtook the parties and leaders, including the “leading militants” of the CNTFAI (syndicalist National Confederation of Labour, and the Spanish Anarchist Federation). One of the latter, Federica Montseny alluded later to “the revolution we all desired but did not expect so soon”. Women played a full part. In the view of Alvarez del Vayo, they were dominant in the response to the uprising and formed the backbone of resistance. Broué and Témime tell us they were present everywhere – on committees, in the militias, in the front line. In the early battles of the civil war, women fought alongside men as a matter of course. (5)

Women were necessarily and naturally involved in the developing socia1 revolution, in the collectives which established themselves in town and countryside, after the flight of many bosses and landlords. This fact implies certain changes, in their way of living, their degree of alienation in work and leisure (if they had any leisure), their state of mind, the attitudes of others to them. But the transformation in social relations, particularly in the status of women in the community, was a long way from being total, even in areas where libertarians had the greatest control over their own situation.

A simple index of the continued inferiority of a woman’s position is provided by statistics on wages in the collectives. Women were often paid at a lower rate than men. (6) To give some examples:

a) In the retail trade in Puigcerda, men earned 50 pesetas a week, and women 35;

b) In the Segorbe agricultural collective, men earned 5 pesetas a day compared with 4 for a single woman and 2 for a wife;

c) In Muniesa, men received 1 peseta a day, women and girls 75 centimos and those under 10 years got 50 centimos. (7)

Many of the agricultural collectives agreed a “family wage”, varying with the numbers involved on the principle “To each according to his needs”. A household where man and wife both worked because they had no children might receive 5 pesetas per day, while one where only the man was seen as working for the collective, as his wife had to care for 2, 3 or 4 children, might receive 6, 7 or 8 pesetas. (8) According to Hugh Thomas (9) there was almost everywhere a separate scale of pay for working husbands and wives, with different bonuses for working sons, minors, and invalids, and separate rates for bachelors, widows and retired couples. Rates might vary from 4 to 12 pesetas a day. Sometimes certain categories of women did comparatively well. in Villaverde, widows were accorded the same as bachelors, plus child allowances – on the other hand, bachelors generally had free access to the communal restaurant, while others had to pay one peseta.

The idea of a scale of wages directly discriminating against women is not, then, accurate in every case. But there is clear evidence of a widespread assumption, based on the concept of the patriarchal family, that women did not require equal pay. Opinions of libertarian observers differed on the matter. Jose Peirats considered that the family wage was a way of meeting the desire for privacy and a more intimate way of life. H. E. Kaminski took a harder line, asserting that the family card put the most oppressed human beings in Spain – women – under the control of men. (10) He took this as proof that the anarchist communism of the village of Alcora had “taken its nature from the actual state of things”.

As a measure of reform, the new wages system had its positive aspect. At least the right of women to the means of subsistence, whatever their role in society, was generally recognised; so was that of children. Peirats tells us that on the land, housewives were not obliged to work outside the home except when absolutely necessary (extras could be “called up” by the town crier to work in the fields in case of need), and pregnant women were treated with special consideration. Daughters of peasant families were no longer forced to go into service in the cities or abroad. Covered by the family wage, young women sometimes donated their labour to make uniforms – a reminder that the size of the wage packet was not now of such vital concern to workers. The situation had a degree of flexibility allowing for more choices than before, despite the continued division of labour which assigned all household tasks to women.

Perhaps the principal factor lessening the alienation of wage-labour (for the anarchist ideal of a wageless, indeed money-free society was not found practical given the limited and fragmented nature of the revolution) was the chance to participate in collective decision-making. The policy and practice of each collective would be decided by its General Assembly, which usually elected a Committee of Administration. The extent to which women were involved directly in determining their own status is uncertain. Hugh Thomas reckoned: “It is not clear if every member of the collective was sometimes included, evern women (sic) and at any rate working children, or whether; as is more likely, only workers were expected to attend.” This would be a serious indictment of the collectives if taken literally, but Thomas groping toward an inkling of what makes libertarians tick is not the most reliable interpreter.

Gaston Leval in Collectives in the Spanish Revolution (translated by Vernon Richards, Freedom Press, 1975; pp. 207-213), reports the meeting of a village assembly attended by “about 600 people including some 100 women, girls and a few children”. Business included a proposal to “organise a workshop where the women could go and work instead of wasting their time gossiping in the street. The women laugh but the proposal is accepted.” There also arises “the nomination of a new hospital director (and we learn that the director is a woman, which is fairly unusual)”. He records the obvious interest and involvement in the discussions, to the extent that “no one left before the end… No women or child had gone to sleep”. Women might generally be present, then but not necessarily on an exactly equal footing with men.

Even so, Thomas has noted the “absence of the whole complicated apparatus of traditional Catholic living and of all the things that went with it (such as the subordination of women)” as a factor that sustained persistent exhilaration for the vast majority of workers. Assumptions about female functions and femininity were not, of course rejected overnight. Leval has written about women shopping for provisions, dress shops making fashionable clothes for women and girls, young girls being taught how to sew clothes for their future children, among other unquestioning reflections of “the actual state of things”. But the impression of significant changes in attitudes and in the general social atmosphere is conveyed by many first-hand observers.

As early as August 1936, Franz Borkenau (11) noted the self- assurance of women in Barcelona, hitherto unusual for Spanish women in public. Militia girls invariably wore trousers, which had been unthinkable before; but even when armed, Spanish women were still chaperoned, unlike the female volunteers of other nationalities. In Madrid, too, he found the changed position of women conspicuous; young working-class girls were to be seen in hundreds, perhaps thousands, collecting for International Red Help. He describes their obvious enjoyment of what was for many a first appearance in public – collecting in couples, going up and down streets and into elegant cafes, talking uninhibitedly to foreigners and militia-men.

All the same, and in spite of other commentators’ occasional mutterings about “promiscuity”, he considered there was a general absence of any deep upheaval in sex life, less than in the Great War. But there was at least a tendency to dispense with or simplify the legal formalities. In place of marriage, anarchists favoured a Free Union based on mutual trust and shared responsibility; the bond between lovers was in many situations regarded as equivalent to the marriage tie. In collectives, according to Leval, the legal marriage ceremony persisted because people enjoyed it as a festive occasion – comrades would go through the procedures, then destroy the documentary proof.

The collectives embodied their own pressures to conformity, not only in the matter of work, which was expected to be taken seriously, but also in sexual matters. People who got married were often awarded gifts, extras and help with housing; on the other hand, the collective had the power to withhold privileges, such as the means to travel to town, if the purpose was considered unsuitable. Kamenski saw the village committee of Alcora in the role of pater families; he quotes a member of the collective as saying, “There is no money for vice”. Survivals of traditional attitudes included the curious assumption in some collectives that separate dining rooms were necessary for men and women, as required by human dignity. Segregation was also practiced in the home for destitute children in Madrid, where boys were lodged, fed and taught, by a staff of women teachers, in the Palace Hotel, and girls in another building.

With all its limitations, the Spanish Revolution in its first phase brought new possibilities for women, in the zones not taken over by the Nationalists, and an element of personal liberation for some. One group which attempted to get a libertarian perspective on the situation was Mujeres Libres (Free Women). By the end of September 1936 it had seven Labour Sections – Transport, Public Services, Nursing, Clothing, Mobile Brigades for non-specialists, and brigades able to substitute for men needed in the war.(12) The federation grew, organising for women to make the maximum contribution to whatever practical work had to be done. Its members saw themselves as having an important educational function, working to emancipate women from the traditional passivity, ignorance and exploitation that enslaved them, and towards a teal understanding between men and women, who would work together without excluding each other. They saw a need to awaken women to vital consciousness of their movement, and convince them that isolated and purely feminine activity was now impossible. They saw themselves as based on comprehensive human aspirations for emancipation, realisable only in social revolution, which would liberate women from the stagnation of mediocrity.

Politically, the slogans of Mujeres Libres described the situation simply as a struggle between two classes and two ideologies: labour against privilege; liberty against dictatorship. It was to prove rather more complicated. The characteristic anarchist mixture of high-flown rhetoric, sketchy theory and intensive practical activity did not match up to the exigencies of grim political reality, despite the real achievements of the group under difficult conditions.

Defence of Madrid 

Of course, the Nationalist threat was forcibly present, providing at first a stimulus as well as menace to revolutionary action, as people took the fight against it in their own hands. The stand made for Madrid against the Nationalist army in early November 1936 renewed the spirit of the immediate response to the military rising, and again women played as great a part as in the first days of the war. A women’s battalion fought before Segovia Bridge. At Gestafe, in the centre of the northern front, women were under fire all morning and were among the last to leave. In the retreat to Madrid, occasional militia women were to be seen – some more soldierly in appearance than the men, others neat, groomed and made-up, a male observer noted. (13) With the Italians of the International Column in Madrid was a sixteen-year-old girl from Ciudad Real, who had joined up after her father and brother were killed. She had the same duties as men, shared their way of life, and was said to be a crack shot,

Inside the city, women organised mass demonstrations, devised propaganda and slogans including the famous “No Paseran” (“They Shall Not Pass”, accredited to La Pasionara), and built barricades, often with ‘the help of children and sometimes under fire. Committees were set up based on districts, houses and blocks, for the provision of food, ammunition and communications. Women contributed actively to the defence, including anti-aircraft observation, and surveillance of fifth- column suspects. Their committees organised collective meals and laundry; the creches and maternity homes set up between July and October carried on as best they could. Broué and Témime have described the spread of House and Neighbourhood Committees as amounting to a second Madrid Revolution, the basis of a genuine Commune.

Simultaneously, women often had to bear the brunt of hardship, risking violation of the curfew regulations which barred them from the streets before 6 a.m., in order to get a good place in queues for food (the first place the next day went to those not served). Wives were told that they must be ready to take the men’s lunches not to the factories but to the trenches. (14) Working-class women carried hot meals to the barricades. More middle-class women ran soup kitchens for refugees and first-aid stations for victims of fifth-column sniping.

Not everything done by women, however, can be seen in the same positive light. Accounts of recruiting processions of women, marching through the streets and calling idlers out of cafes, can be unpleasantly reminiscent of the erstwhile Suffragettes’ white-feather chauvinism during the First World War. This impression is enhanced by a consideration of the attitudes evinced by Dolores Ibarruri, who became prominent as La Pasionaria about this time, her voice incessantly on loudspeakers in the streets and on Radio Madrid, urging women to fight with knives and boiling oil against the invader. The struggle against the Nationalists began to be posed in neo-nationalist terms, as the true patriotism – a recurring historical motif – instead of in class terms against reaction By now the pressure to unite and fight against the fascists was beginning to threaten the gains of the revolution itself.

Retrenching, Legalisation, Thermidor 

As the initial revolutionary impetus slowed, and the forces on the Republican side geared themselves to the task of winning the war, the contribution made by women did not diminish, but became more supportive in character. By November, according to Gilbert Cox, there were some militia-women still in the front rank, but their numbers were now few; they were more usually to be found as orderlies, cooking and washing behind the lines. George Orwell corroborates that by late December, there were still women serving in the militias, although not many. He adds that attitudes to them had changed. In the early days, many women had gone to the front as soon as they could get hold of a mechanic’s overall (15), the sight of armed women won applause and admiration where it was not taken as a matter of course. Whereas then, no-one would have seen anything comic in a woman handling a gun, militiamen now had to be kept out of the way when women were drilling because they tended to laugh at the women and put them off. One POUM (Partida Obrera de Unificacion Marxista – Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification) position on Orwell’s section of the front was an object of fascination because of three militia-women who did the cooking, and was put out of bounds to men of other companies.

The difference from the atmosphere of a few months earlier might be manifested in changes of dress – reappearance of garments that might be considered “bourgeois”, girls in Barcelona in January ’37 no longer hesitating to wear their prettiest clothes (16) – or manners, with “comrade” no longer the only acceptable form of address (17), but it had a political context. “Dual Power”, when the collectives co-existed with a largely ineffectual government, had given way to the Popular Front government’s consolidation and extension of control. The informal leadership of the CNT-FAI had decided to enter the government. (18) With more-or less heart-searching and rationalisation, they participated in the legalising, take-over and eventual suppression of the revolutionary gains, and paved the way for the Communist Party.

Federica Monseny, after some hesitation, accepted the appointment of Minister of Health. Coming from an anarchist family background, she had become prominent in the FAI and was regarded as one of the best orators of the movement. Later, she was to win the reputation of being the only government Minister prepared to discuss the participation frankly and critically (19), even if not unequivocally. Her utterances include claims that the CNT were quite ingenuous in politics; that direct intervention in the Central Government was considered as the most far- reaching revolution made in the political and economic field; and that the state had been conceded a little credit and confidence in order to achieve a revolution from above,

At best, some reforms were achieved: legalisation of abortion, under controlled conditions, and the setting up of refuges open to all women, including prostitutes. Federica Montseny opposed the idea of dealing with prostitution by law, believing that it “presents a problem of moral, economic and social character, which cannot be resolved juridically” (20). A law of the Republic in June 1935 had banned prostitution, in such a way as to penalise the women concerned, during the revolution emphasis was more on educating out of prostitution, but it was not eliminated. (21) The extent to which the Minister of Health was herself committed to farther-reaching sexual revolution is doubtful, in the light of an interview with Kaminski. (22) Here she appeared as permissive towards birth control, but did not think that Spanish women would wish to use it (though there was probably an element of realism in this), did not believe in easy divorce, and considered that women would always enjoy “compliments” (i.e. sexist comments), incredulous at the suggestion that these might be thought insulting, Apparently she did, however, support the dissemination of birth-control information, as did Mujeres Libres.

The government also took steps to regulate marriage customs. Marriages had been celebrated at militia headquarters with the minimum of bother; those dating from July 18 or after were recognised as legal. (23) In April 1937 “marriage by usage” was instituted, whereby co-habitation for ten months, or less if pregnancy occurred, was considered as marriage. This decree was reversed due to the ensuing prevalence of bigamy.

As well as attending to details of social life, the government was preoccupied with the organisation of the war effort. A more “normal” wartime situation was setting in, with women coming to the fore to make up lacks in manpower. Another wartime feature was the inevitability of shortages. In the absence of rationing, women had to form queues for bread from 4 a.m. (although on Sundays the queue might be of women and men in equal numbers.) Food queues were controlled and harassed by Civil Guards on horseback (24), and in two serious bread riots in Barcelona early in 1937, crowds of mostly women were dispersed by rifle butts. Between July ’36 and March ’37 the cost of living doubled while wages rose by only 15%. In April ’37 women in Barcelona held a demonstration on the issue of food prices.

To the external-causes of hardship were added the developing conflicts within the anti-fascist camp. The Communist Party, an insignificant group in Spanish politics at the start of the civil war, was extending its sphere of activity and tightening its hold on the Republican forces, backed by Russian military and political intervention. Women were a priority target, along with youth and cultural circles, when it came to making converts. Front organisations included the Union of Girls, Anti-Fascist Women, and the Union of Young Mothers. In July ’37 JSU (Union of Socialist Youth) cells included 29,021 among women. (25)

A physical clash came in the Barcelona May Days, 1937, when an attack on the Telephone Exchange by government forces intent on “disarming the rearguard” provoked fierce resistance. Once again the value of libertarian-participation in government – for the government – was demonstrated. At a time when, after three days fighting, it has been estimated that libertarian comrades and the POUM controlled four-fifths of Barcelona (26), the CNT-FAI leaders were called in to cool the situation. Appeals from Mariano Vasquez, Secretary of the National Committee of the CNT, and Garcia Oliver, an anarchist Minister of Justice, failed to pacify the workers. Federica Montseny was then sent on behalf of the Valencia Government (it had moved from Madrid with the Nationalist advance) after troops had been withdrawn from the front to send to Barcelona if necessary. She had obtained the government’s agreement that “these forces were not to be sent until such time as the Minister of Health should judge it necessary to do so,” thus envisaging the possibility that an anarchist Minister might give the O.K. for troops to be used against the working class. The net result was confusion, demoralisation, and concessions from the CNT side.

The “leading militants” seem to have taken the view that it was playing the enemy’s game to give the Communist Party an excuse for attacking its opponents. Whether or not it needed an excuse, the fizzling out of the May Days’ brief explosion enabled the CP to strengthen its position, forcing the anarchist Ministers into opposition and proscribing the POUM. Women were among its victims – those arrested included hospital nurses and wives of POUM members. Emma Goldman visited six female “politicals” in the women’s prison, including Katia Landau, who urged anti-fascist prisoners to hunger strike and was herself released after two hunger strikes.

International Dimension 

Internationally, the appeal of the Spanish Civil War was compounded of romantic exhortations and invocations of legality, which soon obscured the revolutionary aspects of the struggle in “anti-fascist” rhetoric. This was the deliberate policy of the Popular Front/CP elements (29), and to recognise it is not to disparage the motives of those who answered the call. The first English volunteer to be killed was Felicia Browne, a CP painter shot in Aragon in August. Other women among the early volunteers were Renee Lafont, a French socialist journalist who died after being wounded in an ambush and captured, and Simone Weil, who was with the Durutti Column in Catalonia from August to October ’36.

In Britain, a hodge-podge of supportive organisations were set up under various auspices, with women heavily involved. The Defendants’ Aid Committee, for the welfare of British volunteers’ families, was founded by Mrs Charlotte Haldane of the CP and counted among its supporters the Duchess of Atholl, Ellen Wilkinson and Sybil Thorndike. Another CP woman, Isobel Brown, was behind the British Committee for the Relief of Victims of Fascism, which inspired the creation of the British Medical Aid Committee and Medical Aid Unit. Mrs Leah Manning, a British Socialist ex-MP, was in the last civil plane to reach Madrid when it was threatened, and offered her services as a propagandist in Britain for the saving of the city.

Libertarians were more aware of the social struggle. They were kept informed by the anarchist newspaper Spain and the World, which even included references to women from time to time; a report from Mujeres Libres; mention of the importance of mothers as educators, and the necessity of freeing them from religion; the caption to a picture – “Spanish Women, too, enjoy Freedom: The Church will dictate no more” (2- 7-37). Emma Goldman, official delegate of the CNT-FAI in Britain, estimated in an interview (6-1-37) that women had not yet been given the chance to contribute much, and were insufficiently awakened and advanced; she judged that they had changed since 1929 however, becoming more alert and interested in social struggle. An article in the issue of 24-11-37 described the “Transformation of Spanish women” in terms of former backwardness due to Arabian influence and the domination of the Catholic Church, maintained by masculine authority and female resignation, now giving way to a “magnificent and painful awakening”.

But even Emma Goldman and other writers in Spain and the World, despite their awareness of what was going on (e.g. 19-7-37′ “Counterrevolution at Work), tended to place increasing emphasis on “antifascism” first and foremost. The militarisation of the militias, attacks on elements, and suppression of the collectives left less and less that libertarians-could point to as positive. At the same time, a paradoxical determination was engendered to foster the idea of a vital struggle against fascism, so that everything that had been gone through would not appear useless. Of course it was possible to take the position that anything was better than fascism, but the “anything” one thereby helped to bring about was not the social revolution.

Under Fascism 

In the event, the question of exactly what order of disaster would have resulted from a Republican victory and the impossibility of reviving a revolution that had been killed off, remained academic. Instead, Spain was overtaken by the alternative disaster of a fascist victory. While left politics might not have brought about women’s liberation, a right-wing regime meant its antithesis.

But there were women on the fascist side, not all of them duped or submissive auxiliaries. The Falange included women’s movements, both Carlists and Falange had women’s unions, and the Nazi Women’s Organisation was active in Spain. Pillar Primo de Rivera was prominent in one of the factions opposed to Franco among the ideological assortment in the Nationalist camp, and ran the Auxilio Social founded by the widow of a Falangist leader in 1936. This organisation mobilised women for social work with means provided by Falangist women Later, formal social service was instituted for women aged 17 to 35. In theory voluntary, a minimum of six months’ continuous service or six successive periods of at least one month became a pre-requisite for taking exams and getting administrative jobs. Married women, widows with one child or more, and the disabled were exempt, in accordance with reactionary assumptions about the “sacred warmth of the family” and the position of women in the home.

Women provided the Nationalist army with the usual nursing, cooking and laundry services, and a few may have served in the army as such (30), but their participation was less noticeable on the right than on the left. The contrast was remarked. In Vigo, occupied by the Nationalists, scarcely a woman was to be seen out in the streets. (31) The Nationalists too were aware of a difference: a memo found on one of their officers recommended that since large numbers of women were fighting on the enemy side, there was to be no distinction of sex in repression. Some did make a distinction, reserving special vituperation for the women who opposed them – most notorious was General Queipo de Llano, who raved against them and threatened the “wives of anarchists and communists” (significantly not assumed to be anarchists and communists in their own right) in his radio broadcasts from Seville, in terms that have been characterised as “sexual psycho-pathology”.

Less hysterical forms of counter-liberatory action were practised and preached from the start, from suppression of the Republic’s secular measures, including divorce, to a purity campaign on matters of dress, and the banning of bare legs. Spanish women were to be conditioned to accept a traditional submissive role. School was seen as an institution where young girls could learn their “lofty duties” in family and home.

This emphasis has continued, although economic pressures have led to more women working outside the home. To bring the story more up to date, a general book on Spain published in 1969 (32) gives some facts and figures:

a) the percentage of Spanish labour made up by women rose from 7% to 17% between 1950 and 1965 – this compares with 25% in Italy, 31% in the UK;

b) three-quarters of women employed were in the most menial, mechanical, low-paid work, although there was no legal disability as such;

c) only between a quarter and a third of university students were women, although equal numbers of boys and girls went to first schools;

d) there were three women professors, three women in the Cortes;

e) A husband’s formal permission was required before his wife could take a job, and might be withheld because the marriage allowance, payable after a second child, was forfeited if the wife worked.

Women have continued to resist. When the Republic was defeated, many joined the stream of refugees, opting for exile. At the French frontier, women and children were separated from men, to be housed in barns and empty buildings, women were given 8 francs a day, enough to buy food when pooled, and communal kitchens were set up. Later, women were interned at Argeles-sur-Mer, where there was a high rate of infant mortality. Such an existence was nevertheless preferred to life under fascism; incidents were recorded of women committing suicide with their children from a train returning refugees to Spain from occupied France. (33) Isabel de Palencia, who had been Minister Plenipotentiary for Republican Spain to Sweden and Finland from 1936 to 1939 and lived in exile in Mexico, wrote in 1945 that there were still eight jails for women political prisoners in Madrid. She cited a Falange newspaper report of a baptism ceremony in 1940 for 280 infants born in jail

More than twenty years later, Miguel Garcia described how wives of political prisoners had occupied churches in support of a hunger strike, and had to be dislodged by the forces of public order. (34) Lists of recent arrestees in recent years have included women, eg. Front Libertaire des Luttes de Classes, February ’75, gives the names of three women among “Twenty Revolutionary Militants who could face the death penalty”. The odds against them may be judged from the following: “In Spain it is still part of the Civil Code that “for reasons of matrimonial harmony, the husband is the decision maker as his natural, religious and historical right”… a Spanish married woman needs her husband’s written permission to transfer property, appear as a witness in court, apply for a passport, sign a contract, or start her own bank account.

No statement in Spain may be spoken or written in favour of divorce, abortion or the use of contraceptives. The penalties for taking part in feminist action are so severe as to be incredible. Simply participating in a discussion of women’s problems can result in several years in jail.

“Recently, a Spanish woman was sentenced to two years and four months in prison after police discovered feminist literature in her flat. Her husband, who was apolitical, was given the same sentence. According to Spanish legal theory a woman cannot act on her own, her husband must therefore be responsible for her actions,” — Freedom, 4.11.72, based on a report in Ramparts.


Until comparatively recently, it was almost necessary to justify the term “Revolution” in connection with the Spanish events of 1936 and after, so thoroughly had the social aspects of the struggle been obscured, (35) It might still have to be defended against purists who disparage the collectivisation as “self-managed capitalism”. Even if this description were strictly accurate from a narrowly economistic viewpoint, to deny any other significance to what happened would be to adopt blinkers. Neither can the failure to abolish “legitimate” government negate the value of the experience – “dual power” is a feature of revolutions. In spite of – and because of – its limitations, the Spanish Revolution requires and repays critical study.

In times of intensified social change, especially war and revolution, women are generally seen to be fulfilling new roles, acquiring a new view of themselves, and forcing changes in society’s view of them. This can be taken as an index of the extent to which they are suppressed and restricted in “normal” times, and the consequent waste of potential. Reversion to normality often brings women back to their former position, or near it. The demonstration of what women can achieve is effectively forgotten – which is one reason for documenting and analysing such periods. The history of women, however, has to be rescued not only from obscurity, but from two contrasting strands of attention it receives from time to time: the patronising line about women doing a grand job, being one hundred per cent behind the men (where else?); and the countertendency, which occasionally comes over in women’s liberation writings, to regard everything done by women as good and beautiful by definition.

In Spain, then, women were involved on all sides – no surprise, but perhaps worth making explicit in view of current slogans about “supporting our sisters in struggle” and the assumption that difference of sex is somehow fundamental. Did women in the Spanish Revolution have less – fundamentally – in common with men who shared their class situation and political commitment than they had with their notional “sisters” on the fascist side? All those women might have suffered in some degree from male domination, but there was no perspective for their uniting on that basis to achieve liberation.

On the other hand, liberation was not achieved by the spontaneous working out of social contradictions, even with the resistance of a strong libertarian movement. It may even be correct to judge, as Temma Kaplan did (36), that “There is no reason to believe that the condition of Spanish women would have been fundamentally changed if the anarchists had won the war”. But it is difficult to project the precise implications- of such a victory, and in my view she tends to exaggerate the reluctance of libertarians to envisage changes in sex roles and values. Nevertheless, her article raises important points, indicating the factors which prevented the transformation of the lives of Spanish working class women.

The inhibiting factors were rooted in the pre-revolutionary situation. Libertarians were aware of how capitalist society exploited women, but, to quote Temma Kaplan, “They did not develop a programme to prevent similar exploitation in revolutionary society.” The liberation of women had not been thought in theoretical and practical terms. It is not clear whether the moves towards more liberated sexuality were due to much more than a refusal of church and state forms (marriage). The willful lack of clarity which bedevils libertarian movements, and was to prove fatal in confrontation with the hard politics of the CP, had consequences here too. And if libertarians failed to confront their internalised repression, for the majority of the population the weight of inherited tradition must have been practically overwhelming.

In Temma Kaplan’s view, women revolutionaries subordinated their specific demands in the interests of winning the war; she implies a contrast between this policy and that of the anarchists as a whole. In fact, anarchists in general did go along with the Popular Front to a great extent. Eventually, they voiced their differences with the CP and made the conflict for a time explicit – but their libertarian programme was subordinated and submerged. Their revolution was lost a considerable time before the war was lost. Glossing over real differences for fear of dividing the movement means that the tougher, dominant ideology triumphs by default: authoritarianism wins over libertarian socialism, male domination over women’s liberation. This lesson is particularly relevant to movements orientated against what appears as an obvious “greater evil”.

The fate of women in revolution is closely connected with the fate of the revolution as a whole, In Spain, there were initial gains, even if partial, limited and fragmented (it could be argued that the lives of Spanish men were not totally transformed either); stabilisation set in with the wartime situation, to be followed by reverses; defeat brought reaction. But the fate of women must not be left as a neglected, subordinate factor, or the social revolution, as well as the women’s cause, will be diminished and damaged.

How relevant for us than the question of what might have happened if… , is the question of what happens now. There are some grounds for calculated optimism: society is that much more advanced, the crisis of authority that much more acute, Recent years have brought the development of the women’s liberation movement, raising issues of inescapable significance for all revolutionaries, and furthering discussion of them. At least there are some things our male comrades could not now get away with, and, it is to be hoped, would not wish to impose. And – again hopefully – we have the beginnings of a libertarian movement which can expect to have credibility and to develop towards a new vision of society only if the liberation of women is an integral part of its perspectives

Thanks are due to all those who lent books and other material, also to comrades at Freedom Press for the chance to peruse their files of Spain and the World, and to a correspondent in Mujeres Libres in Exile.


1. Good examples of what can be done in this field are: Edith Thomas The Women Incendiaries (New York I966, London. 1967 – about the Paris Commune) and Sheila Rowbotham’s work, e.g. Women. Resistance and Revolution.
2. Arthur Koestler gives the average daily wage of an agricultural labourer as 3 pesetas, equal to about 1 pound at the time (Spanish Testament, Gollanz, 1937), and a women’s wage as half that, ie. 6d for working from sunrise to sunset. Burnett Bolloten (The Grand Camouflage, New York, 1961) cites the instance of a Seville village where women gathering chick-peas from 3 a.m. till 12 noon earned one peseta.
3. One of the many “incidents” of the early 30’s was the shooting of Juanita Rico, a Young Socialist, by Pila Primo de Rivera (daughter of the former Dictator and sister of the Falangist leader) 70,000 attended the funeral. In June 1936 Dolores Ibarruri was one of the 17 CP delegates in the Cortes; her autobiography (They Shall Not Pass, New York, 1966) gives details of political activity by Spanish women “Against War and Fascism”, ie. in CP orientated organizations.
4. An impression of anarcho-syndicalists’ attitudes to women is conveyed in the novel Seven Red Sundays by Ramon J. Sender, (Penguin, 1938).
5. George Orwell, Homage to Catolonia (Gollanou, 1938); p 11 in Penguin edition.
6. Gaston Leval estimated that women were getting equal wages in about half the collectives – extract fron Espagne Libertaire in Sam Dolgoff, ed., The Anarchist Collectives: Self-Management in the Spanish Revolution, 1936-9, Free Life Ediions, New York, 1974) – a very useful collection of material on the subject.
7. Figures in Broué and Témime, The Revolution and Civil War in Spain.
8. Ibid., quoting Leval.
9. “Anarchist Agrarian Collectives in the Spanish Civil War”, in Raymond Carr, ed., The Republic and the Civil War in Spain (London; 1971).
10. Both writers are among those represented in Dolgoff’s Anarchist Collectives.
11. Borkenau, The Sranish Cockpit (Faber 193?),
12. Report from the Madrid Group of Mujeres Libres, in Spain and the Revolution, 25.8.37, which includes the statements of their position. More information on the group is given in Temma F. Kaplan’s article “Spanish Anarchism and Women’s Liberation” (Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 6, No. 2, 1971) – a contribution highly relevant to the subject of this pamphlet.
13. See Gilbert Cox, The Defence of Madrid (Gollanez,, 1937)
14. Mundo Obrero, 7.11.36, quoted in Hugh Thomas, The Spanish Civil War (Penguin I965), p.406.
15. Alrarez del Vayo, Freedom’s Battle (London I940).
16. Borkenau, p.I75.
17. See Orwell, pp.8-9, on earlier atmosphere.
18. The anarchists’ role vis-a-vis the government is critically discussed by Vernon Richards in Lessons of the Spanish Revolution (Freedom Press, 1972).
19. Burnett Bolloten, The Grand Camouflage (New York, 1961) – a thorough documentation of how the CP took over.
20. Quoted by Temma Kaplan, J.C.H, VI,2,p. 108.
21. In besieged Mdrid, according to Gilbert Cox, prostitutes were few but had little spare time.
22. Quoted in Gilbert Jackson, The Spanish Republic and Civil War (Princetown I965). The tone of this conflicts somewhat with Temma Kaplan’s impression.
23. Thomas, The Spanish Civil War, p.244. Actually, he writes “any marriage between militiamen”, but it is doubtful whether the Republic was that permissive.
24. Orwell, pp188-89.
25. S. G. Payne, The Spanish Revolution (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, I970). This compares with 70,080 peasant cells, 14,213 students’, and 28,021 workers’.
26. Leval, in Dolgoff’s Anarchist Collectives, p. 60
27. Peirats, quoted by Vernon Richards, p. 133.
28. Spain and the World, 10.I2.37.
29. As documented by Bolloten and others.
30. Temma Kaplan says, without giving a source for the statement, that they did (p.106), but the phenomenon cannot have been widespread. See Thomas, The Spanish Civil War, p.409, note 2, on the reaction of an Irish Lieutenant who fought for the Nationalists: “Women at the battle seemed to him the final degradation of the Republican side.”
31. Koestler, Spanish Testament. ibid, for description of de Llano.
32. S. Clissold, Spain (Thames & Hudson, 1969).
33. Isabel de Palencia, Smouldering Freedom (Gollancz, I946).
34. Miguel Garcia, Spanish Political Prisoners (Freedom Press, 1970).
35. See Noam Chomsky, “Objectivity and Liberal Scholarship” in American Power and the New Mandarins, (New York, 1967).
36. J. C. H., VI, 2, p. 102.

Text from

Anarcha-feminism is, ultimately, a tautology. Anarchism seeks the liberation of all human beings from all kinds of oppression and a world without hierarchies, where people freely organise and self-manage all aspects of life and society on the basis of horizontality, equality, solidarity and mutual aid. Consequently, such a struggle necessarily entails working to change hierarchical relationships between the sexes, that is, anarchism is a specific type of feminism. (

History and actuality of anarcha-feminism: lessons from Spain

Marta Iniguez de Heredia

Anarcha-feminism, understood in this way, raises several questions: Does anarcha-feminism really exist? Does the term have anything to contribute to anarchism? How can it be useful for us today? What can be improved?

In what follows I will argue that there has long been an anarcha-feminist movement. In particular, I will discuss the contribution to this movement of Mujeres Libres (Free Women), an anarcha-feminist group active during the Spanish civil war, from 1936-1939. Although many anarchists, including Mujeres Libres, rejected a feminist label because feminism was understood to be an ideology of the bourgeoisie,1 and although I do not call myself an anarcha-feminist because I purport that anarchism is what best describes my feminism, I argue that anarchafeminism is useful as both a term and in practice in both anarchist and feminist movements. With regards to the former, anarcha-feminism can serve to ‘mainstream’ gender and feminist struggle, thereby making anarchist practice more consistent with anarchist theory. With regards to the latter, anarcha-feminism can contribute to other feminist critiques of and
struggles against gender oppression.

Spain offers a good case study of the history and current relevance of anarcha-feminism. Spain has seen three periods of intense gender consciousness-raising both in the Spanish maledominated anarchist movement and the broader public. In the first period, the late nineteenth century, anarchists developed a critique of patriarchy though this critique was often relegated to the peripheries of anarchist movement. The second period, which spanned the early twentieth century, can be considered the cradle and climax of anarcha-feminist movement. This is when Mujeres Libres were active. Finally, the third period, the post-dictatorship period until today, reveals a pattern within anarchist movement of disregarding the importance of fighting gender oppression here and now. This pattern points to the continuing importance of anarcha-feminism.

In the first two periods, anarchists referred to the ‘woman question’ whereas today they speak of gender oppression and patriarchy.2 Although language has changed over time, these three periods share three themes: a critique of the restriction of women’s role in society to that of reproduction; a critique of women’s second-class position both in mainstream society and in the anarchist movement; and, most importantly, a strategy of empowering women to participate fully in anarchist struggles. Mujeres Libres referred to this empowerment process as capacitación something that I will return to later.3

Capacitación was part of a process that I will call ‘gender mainstreaming’. Mainstreaming literally means to incorporate something or someone into ‘the dominant trend’.4 This ‘dominant trend’ in anarchism is nothing close to conventional or conservative but rather the struggle against capitalism and the state. A struggle committed to end all forms of oppression, including racism, homophobia and patriarchy. Thus, in the context of anarchism, gender mainstreaming means to make the fight against gender oppression, to go hand in hand with the struggle against capitalism and the state. It may sound awkward to use the term ‘gender mainstreaming’ in this context, considering its use by liberals, reformists and conservatives in the halls of the United Nations (UN).5 The term, however, was developed by feminist critiques of UN policies since the mid 1970s, demanding that gender oppression be more central in the making of UN policies and that women be empowered to participate in working against gender inequalities.6 If we understand gender mainstreaming in these terms, the term is useful to understanding the demands of anarcha-feminists.

This article attempts to contribute both to a relatively small amount of anarchafeminism literature as well as to the more general anarchist and feminist literature. For instance, Ackelsberger’s Free Women of Spain a ground-breaking study published in 1991, does not mention anarcha-feminism, not even in its attempt to analyse the legacy of Mujeres Libres in contemporary anarchism7 Years later she contributed to a volume on political thought with her Anarchism: the Feminist Connection. This reluctance to talk about anarcha-feminism openly resembles the classical anarchist position of identifying feminism as already included in the word anarchism. In addition, reference books on anarchism, such as Woodcock’s Anarchism and Marshall’s Demanding the Impossible, do not attempt to recognize the existence and contribution of anarcha-feminism.8 Contributing to recent studies of anarcha-feminism from Heighs, and the more specific ones of Maroto this paper also argues for anarchafeminism’s relevance today.9 Addressing the history, present and lessons of anarcha-feminism is a necessary task that would enhance our current and future struggles.

In what follows, I will first present an overview of anarchist principles and will argue that anarcha-feminism is not a separate body of theory but rather integral to anarchism. I will then present a brief history of anarcha-feminism in Spain based on those three periods mentioned above. Finally, from my own experience, I will discuss why anarcha-feminism remains relevant today as a critical tool in the struggle for a new world.

Anarchism and anarcha-feminism

Anarchism is more than an ideology. It is a philosophy and a practice of life, illustrated by its tendency of filling up the streets before the bookshelves. Baldelli states that ‘[a]narchism has always been anti-ideological, insisting on the priority of life and action to theory and system’.10 Anarchism has developed outside academic circles, forging itself through different struggles; thus the existence of different kinds of anarchism.11 I will focus on what is commonly referred to as collective anarchism, which has arguably been practiced by most anarcha-feminists.12Collective anarchism, also called communist or social anarchism or anarcho-syndicalism, broadly holds that the free organisation of individuals into collectives that work collaboratively and without hierarchies is not only the key to revolution but also a guide to the organisation of society in the future.13

Many core anarchist arguments can be traced as far back as the ancient Greek philosopher Zeno de Citium, the stoic, who envisaged an ideal cosmopolitan society, where love would foster harmonious relationships, and where state laws and money would not be imposed upon individuals.14 Some have also suggested that elements of traditional Chinese thought have had a ‘kind of protoanarchist social vision’ long before the Greeks.15 In the sixth century BCE, Lao Tse denied the legitimacy of rulers; two centuries later, Zhuangzi criticised private property, the unequal distribution of wealth, class hierarchy and the existence of rulers.16 Some have also seen traces of anarchist practice and organisation in traditional African societies and culture.17 Woodcock, in his critique of Kropotkin’s study of the free symbiotic arrangements throughout history and across species,18 argues that these claims have weak historical foundations and are a mere ‘mythology created to give authority to the movement’.19 However, it is important to recognise that anti-authoritarian ideas have an important historical legacy though these ideas might not have been developed by individuals, organisations or movements that claimed to be anarchist or that in any way created, per se, anarchist organisations as we know them today.

It was not until the nineteenth century that anarchism began to develop into a cohesive set of ideas that sparked an anarchist movement conscious of its own existence, and it is not until then that we find traces of anarcha-feminism. Anarchist ideas flourished at this time in response to the evolution of the modern industrial state and as an expression of the desire for a free and equal society, an aspiration that continues to be relevant today. Woodcock similarly argues that ‘nineteenth-century anarchists developed particular conceptions of economic equality and classless liberty in reaction to an increasingly centralized and mechanized capitalist state’.20

Authors like Godwin, Proudhon (despite controversies21), Kropotkin and Bakunin, all of whom wrote around the nineteenth century, are considered by many to be the founders of anarchism.22 They, in addition to Goldman, Malatesta, Rocker and Berkman, amongst others, contributed to forging a collectivist tradition of anarchism.23 For Goldman:

Anarchism really stands for the liberation of the human mind from the dominion of religion; the liberation of the human body from the dominion of property; liberation from the shackles and restraint ofgovernment. […] Anarchism is not […] a theory of the future to be realized through divine inspiration [and does] not comprise an iron-clad program to be carried out under all circumstances.24

Similarly, Kropotkin stated that anarchism is:

The name given to a principle of theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived without government – harmony in such a society being obtained, not by submission to law, or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements concluded between the various groups, territorial and professional, freely constituted for the sake of production and consumption, as also for the satisfaction of the infinite variety ofneeds and aspirations of a civilized being.25

While Kropotkin and later Goldman elaborated specifically on women’s emancipation, not all anarchists were equally committed to women’s liberation.26 Proudhon’s story is worthwhile commenting on here briefly. His anarchism was put into question by many of his contemporaries such as Déjacque and Léo for denying the need for women’s liberation and claiming that a woman’s role was to be her husband’s slave.27 However, other anarchists, such as Déjacque and Léo stated firmly that ‘one cannot be an anarchist without being a feminist’.28

Anarchism can be interpreted through a series of principles that are common to all these thinkers. These include anti-authoritarianism, direct action, solidarity, mutual aid, freedom and the making of means consistent with ends. Unfortunately, it is not possible to provide a complete analysis of these principles here, but a brief discussion of them is necessary to an understanding of anarchism and anarcha-feminism.29

Anarchist anti-authoritarianism is normally identified with the rejection of the state and government as authoritarian institutions. However, anarchism is broader in that it rejects the organisation of society on the basis of any hierarchy and thus rejects all hierarchical institutions. Direct action is the principle of acting for oneself. It is strategic, as a ‘method of immediate struggle by the workers’30 and the practice of emancipation. 31 It also contains an ideological component in that direct action assumes individuals, capable of acting for themselves without the intervention of intermediaries, be they institutions or other individuals. This principle has been extensively used to enable people to struggle for themselves and to reject figures of authority that remove from people’s hands their capacity to do and speak.

Solidarity refers not only to the ability to empathise with other people’s oppression but also to a willingness to act accordingly to support their needs and struggles.32 Anarchism rejects charity and even the term ‘help’; it promotes solidarity on the basis that the wellbeing of others is ultimately our wellbeing. Mutual aid was a principle developed extensively by Kropotkin.33 While mainstream evolutionary theories argued for a competitive evolutionary process, Kropotkin held that evolution was a process of cooperation and, especially in regards to humans, of socialisation. Anarchists, therefore, also opposed liberal conceptions of freedom, which posit that a person’s freedom ends where another’s starts.34 Instead, they argued that one’s freedom is enhanced and expanded with another’s freedom.35 Anarchist understanding of freedom differed from liberal conceptions of freedom in other ways. More than the ability to own property or to sell one’s labour, freedom was the liberation from all forms of oppression, the capacity to realise one’s self fully, and the ability to enter into equitable relationships with others. Freedom, seen from a collectivist point of view, also incorporates the idea that the individual and the collective are complementary.

Finally, the principle that means must be consistent with ends has consistently guided anarchist struggles. Thus, in the pursuit of a non-hierarchical cooperative society, anarchists strive to organise themselves horizontally and on the basis of the principles outlined above. The ‘revolution’, for anarchists, starts here and now, especially with one self. Anarchism ultimately does not provide a narrow path to follow but instead aspires to achieving the time when people make their own choices and work in collaboration with others.

Anarchism, as opposed to other feminisms or other single-issue struggles, promotes a comprehensive struggle that incorporates political, economic and social change. Unfortunately, within the anarchist movement, while gender norms have been challenged, they have not been eliminated. Despite political development, within the anarchist movement people tend to replicate the same behaviours that a broader society imposes on us. As a result, one of the first leitmotifs for the emergence of anarcha-feminism, especially in Spain, was the rejection of patriarchal attitudes that discouraged women from participating in the struggle. These came from mainstream society as well as from the male dominated anarchist movement. Anarcha-feminism, developed in response to this inconsistency between anarchist thought and practice, for if means must be consistent with ends, patriarchy must be fought here and now. Anarcha-feminism demanded feminist solidarity of anarchists. Equally important, anarcha-feminism, unlike other feminisms, provided what Brown calls ‘an intrinsic critique of power and domination per se’, linking struggles against patriarchy to struggles against all other oppressive institutions.36

Brief history of anarcha-feminism in Spain

The history of anarcha-feminism is part of the history of anarchism. With regards to Spain, anarchism seems to have had a precedent in the milenarist movement against the Roman Empire and the Catholic Church.37 Again, the argument here is not that there was an anarchist movement at this time, but that anarchist ideas are rooted in a fertile ground of generations of struggle against arbitrary power and social injustice. It is during the nineteenth century that we see the emergence of an anarchist movement, as such.

Garcia-Maroto argues that the feminist movement had a bourgeois and suffragist origin but that these ideas provoked anarchists in late nineteenth-century Spain to focus on the ‘woman question’.38 However, the feminism that emerged from the anarchist movement does not follow the path set by liberal feminists of previous decades; instead, it retained anarchist challenges to liberal conceptions of freedom and the relationship between the individual and collective as well as anarchist principles of solidarity, direct action and consistency between the means and the ends. What is more, as Granel points out, ‘anarchism contributed to the development of a feminist consciousness’.39Granel argues that anarchism was able to identify multiple relations of domination. In turn, anarchists posited that human emancipation required, not just economic reform, but social transformation. Anarchist analyses of society included an analysis of interpersonal relationships, creating the space for attention to female subordination within them. The result was twofold: the development of an anarchist critique of sexual politics and of the important role of family and sexual life in the (re)creation of the social order; and a conviction that sexual reform and women’s emancipation were essential to the process of social revolution.40 Principles of conscious reproduction and free choice in the formation of personal relationships have been central tenets of anarchism since its beginnings. This enabled anarchists, more so than Marxists and socialists, to identify the link between gender and the reproduction of oppressive institutions such as the state and capitalism. Marsh and Golden argue that anarchists’ critique of gender norms also enabled anarchists to act in solidarity with what would later come to be called ‘queer’ struggles.41

Thus, the anarchist movement that emerged out of the industrial revolution and the workers’ movement in Spain as well as in America and the rest of Europe42included a strong gender consciousness. In the US, women such as Helena Born, Marie Ganz, Mollie Steimer, Voltairine de Cleyre and later Emma Goldman ‘embraced anarchism […]to restructure society as a whole, but they also wanted to transcend conventional social andmoral precepts as individuals in order to create for themselves independent, productive andmeaningful lives’.43 In Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Mexico, anarchists also promote danarcha-feminism very early on.44 In France, Flora Tristan, considered one of the mothers ofso-called ‘utopian’ socialism, devoted her life to fostering an international workers movement in which both sexes and all races would unite.45 Also in France, Déjacque and Kropotkin, in the third quarter of the nineteenth century, called on anarchists to include women in the struggle for the emancipation of humankind. They attacked the subjugation of women to men, the family as an institution that oppressed women as well as men, and repressive sexual morals.46

In Spain, a few circumstances facilitated the introduction and development of anarchist ideas. Very significant were the formation of the Ateneo Catalán in 1861 and the introduction of Bakunin’s work by Fanelli.47 In 1898, Teresa Mañé and Juan Montseny founded the magazine Revista Blanca, which became amongst the most progressive spaces for political discussion on topics ranging from politics to the environment and which placed special emphasis on gender and sexuality.48 As Cleminson states, ‘the Revista Blanca can be used as a gauge for the discussion of such matters in the Spanish anarchist movement and especially as an indicator of the extent to which foreign ideas penetrated in Spain, either through the anarchist movement or outside of it’.49 With the turn of the century, multiple other anarchist specific magazines, periodicals and organisations, such as the journal Estudios, the cultural and educational spaces called Ateneos Libertarios and the Regional Workers Federation, flourished.50Unfortunately, women remained a minority within a patriarchal anarchist movement.51

Despite their rejection of the word feminism, Spanish anarchists attempted to address specifically women’s cultural, social and economic subordination. They put a special emphasis on birth control, sexual liberation and literacy. Their attempts were also apparent in the formation of two anarcho-syndicalist organisations, the Regional Federation of Workers and its successor, the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT). Both organisations, founded in 1908 and 1910 respectively, were designed as tools for the working class to fight capitalism and the state and to provide a foundation for a future anarchist society. Both stated purposefully their intentions to organise women in the unions in order to facilitate women’s emancipation, to promote equal pay and to include women in the running of the organisations themselves.52 The extent to which they were successful was limited by the prevalence of gender norms that inhibited the ability of both men and women to challenge women’s subordination.

In the 1930s, anarchists organised both to combat the fascist uprising and to realise their dream of emancipation.53 In the midst of this organising, a number of women, including Lucía Sánchez Saornil, Mercedes Camposada and Amparo Poch, formed the group Mujeres Libres.54

This second period proved to be a landmark in what can be called anarcha-feminist history, although the term anarcha-feminism was not used. In the 1930s in Spain, there was already an unspoken clash between different feminist perspectives. Liberal feminism was identified by Mujeres Libres as coming from the middle and upper classes and focused on giving women the same rights as men whilst ignoring a capitalist system that made some men subordinate to others. Another strand of feminism developed out of anarchist critiques of class and social and political oppression, arguing for social revolution and not just forpolitical reform. The women of Mujeres Libres participated in the group not because they saw flaws in anarchist theory but rather in the practices of male-dominated anarchist groups, practices that excluded women and ignored gender oppression. This was obvious in the CNT unions. Despite their efforts to address the ‘woman question’, membership in these unions remained majority male and the issue of gender oppression marginal.55 The anarcha-feminism of Mujeres Libres, then, was not an attempt to elaborate new theories against patriarchy, but to put into practice many of the ideas that activists in the previous years had been developing and to emphasise the necessity of women’s capacitación for the social revolution taking place.

Mujeres Libres used the term ‘capacitación’ to talk about the process of women’s emancipation. Capacitación is more than ‘empowerment’ and should not be confused with mainstream feminist calls to ‘take the power’.56 The capacitación of women meant a process of developing the skills and confidence that would enable them to fight for their emancipation. It included (and still includes) education and the development of independent judgement and critical thinking57 Mujeres Libres was formed ‘as a feminine conscious force to act as the vanguard of the revolution and progress, aiming at the emancipation of women from the triple slavery: slavery of ignorance, slavery of women and slavery of production’.58 To fight the ‘slavery of ignorance’, they published magazines and journals, established schools and organised public forums.59To fight the ‘slavery of women’, they promoted women’s sexual, religious and moral liberation, created health centres, opened political discussion about sexuality and free love, and criticised strongly the values of Catholicism, the family, and female chastity.60 To end the ‘slavery of work’, they promoted women’s critical and self-confident participation in the CNT and the enabling of women to struggle against capitalism.61 Overall, as Mujeres Libres stated, their intention was:

[T]o enable (capacitar) women to make of themselves individuals capable of contributing to the structuring of the future society, individuals who have learned to be self-determining, not to follow blindly the dictates of any organization.62

Mujeres Libres, ultimately, took the anarchist principle that means must be consistent with ends to mean that patriarchy, along with capitalism and the state, must be fought in a nongendered, self-managed and horizontal manner ‘here and now’.

Despite anarchist movement on an unprecedented scale, Spain was to suffer forty years of dictatorship under General Francisco Franco. The severe repression imposed by this regime not only trapped Spain in a retarded industrial economy but also, and more importantly, it provoked a regressive cultural movement. As a result, it was not until the dictatorship was exhausted, in the 1960s and 1970s, that Spain saw another wave of feminism.

From the 1960s on, political activism in Spain was fuelled by Franco’s weakening as well as the second wave of radical feminism, the events of May 1968 and the anti-war and anti-colonial movements. The radical feminism of the 1960s and 1970s coming from the United States, also clearly influenced Spanish feminists. Those women from Mujeres Libres that still survived, as well as many younger women, identified with Robin Morgan when she complained in the late 1960s about the ‘revolutionary practice’, which still displayed patriarchal and patronising attitudes against women, encouraging the development of a whole movement of autonomous women’s-only groups across not only the United States, but also in Europe and, as such, in Spain.63 The feminist message ‘the personal is political’ and feminists’ promotion of horizontal organisation and equality of group members were received warmly in anarchist circles.64

The anarchism that re-emerged after years of clandestine activity was initially strong in advocating gender equality and sexuality liberation. Following Franco’s dictatorship, disappointingly but unsurprisingly, Spain became a liberal democracy, founded on the three oppressive pillars of capitalism, the state and the normative family. In a revealing book about the Spanish transition to democracy, analysed from the perspective of the grassroots radical anti-authoritarian movement, Jose Ribas discusses the ‘ascension and fall of the anarchist movement’ between 1976 and 1978.65 Ribas states that ‘the annihilation of anarchism is the great secret of the transition’.66 Indeed, the 1980s witnessed the start of about 20 years of decline in CNT membership, as well as in the numbers of the re-established Mujeres Libres and the Ateneos Libertarios, and, in general, in participation in the vibrant political debate that took place in the previous decade.67

Today, there is still a reluctance to use the term anarcha-feminism. In fact, in all my activist years, I have only heard one woman, Maria Angeles Garcia Maroto, an anarchafeminist author, openly call herself anarcha-feminist and claim the relevance of anarchafeminism.68 All my female and male counterparts in the anarchist organisations I have been in still argue that there is no need to include the word ‘feminism’ in the word ‘anarchism’ because anarchism already promotes the abolition of patriarchy.

Overall, these three periods of political discussion and activism, the intensity and diversity of which this paper has only touched upon, illustrate how anarcha-feminism, without being a different or oppositional current within anarchism, attempted to make anarchist practice consistent with anarchist principles through a sort of mainstreaming of those issues that were too often deemed secondary. While the success of those first anarchafeminists is irrefutable, it was not total, and it remains worthwhile to provide a critical analysis of anarchism and anarcha-feminism in the present.

Critical assessment of anarcha-feminism from and for an activist perspective, my experience

This section attempts to outline some recommendations for more effective anarcha-feminist activism or a more consistent anarchism. Drawing upon my own experience, I emphasisethat we need to develop formal strategies to challenge patriarchal, racist and homophobic behaviour both within anarchist organisations and society more broadly. Crucially, we need to create spaces in which discussion of the meaning and methods of struggle against patriarchy can occur. This discussion would be enriched, firstly, by a generational transmission of experience and knowledge, as well as by a dialogue with other feminisms so that we may mutually challenge each other and grow politically.69

I have been active in the anarchist movement for a decade. During this time, I have come to realise that anarchist women face similar barriers in their attempts to combat patriarchy as they did two generations ago. Patriarchy, along with racism, homophobia and environmental destruction, are all part and parcel of our well-nurtured hierarchical, capitalist, state-organised world. These issues, however, are often not seen as important as demanding better working conditions or creating anarcho-syndicalist unions. What the everyday militancy in anarchist organisations belies is that leaving these issues to be dealt with in the aftermath of the revolution is to condemn the society we dream of to suffer from the same evils we confront today.

I first joined Madrid’s anarchist ateneo and later became a CNT member. This put me in contact with other anarchist organisations such as Mujeres Libres. Time spent with members of Mujeres Libres was eye-opening for me in regards to women’s oppression. Through engagement with these women, anarchism offered me the tools with which to critique gender and the gendered relationships around me. I began to question an often unitary emphasis on the struggle of workers against the state and became aware of a number of patriarchal attitudes and behaviours around me. It was not that the men in the union were sexist but rather that men and women in the union uncritically performed normative gender roles. While these behaviours were at times challenged as part of the process of educating ourselves, these challenges remained a sort of self-discipline as opposed to an explicit strategy in the organisation.70

Despite the almost fifty years that separated me from Mujeres Libres, I found myself identifying with the experiences of the women who were active in the group. Though the CNT, as an anarcho-syndicalist organisation, emphasised the importance of self-representation and equal participation, many male members stayed at the union offices everyday until late, thus delegating their home responsibilities to their partners who could therefore not participate fully in the organisation’s activities.71 I thus felt compelled to remind these compañeros that the revolution takes place at home as well as in the workplace. I also felt compelled to challenge certain assumptions about the meaning of sexual liberation. Frequently, men assumed that as anarchist women we were sexually liberated and that, in turn, we were sexually available to them. Those women who refused this definition of liberation were accused of being ‘frigid’. Noting the gendered nature of participation, I questioned distributions of work that consistently left food preparation to women and more technical and visible tasks to men, and I placed special attention on encouraging my female compañeras to speak up in meetings, to inform themselves, develop their own opinions and undertake skill-development trainings.

This path of confrontational but constructive criticism has not been always an easy one. At one point, another compañera and I considered forming a sex workers’ union section within CNT. We were shocked by what we unearthed. We encountered three responses to our proposal: prostitution was not work and therefore should not be unionised; prostitution should be abolished because it is a form of gender oppression but this was not the union’s priority; and, expressed exclusively by men and the most unexpected, the presence of female sex workers in the union would make men lose concentration and the union would degenerate as a whole.

As young women still in the process of developing our feminism, we took the position that regardless of our individual opinions about prostitution, sex workers were a neglected sector of the working class population and that we, as an anarcho-syndicalist union, could provide for them a platform from which to make their demands heard and fulfilled. As anarchists, we also felt that the abolishment of prostitution was something that should be achieved by sex workers and not imposed upon them. Of course, arguments that portrayed prostitutes as a threat to the stability of the union merited only critical responses, if any. In the end, after several months of speaking to prostitutes we came to the conclusion that they did not want to form a union and that was, for us, the end of the story. The sexist arguments that the issue raised remained unchallenged.

Our failure to mainstream gender within the anarchist movement made it difficult to respond constructively to challenges posed by feminists who were not anarchists, feminists who we nonetheless strove to act in solidarity with. To illustrate, CNT-Madrid normally attends International Women’s Day rallies organised by radical feminists. During one rally, which I attended with both male and female CNT members, a battle nearly ensued. Women from some of the other organisations started to spit at my compañeros and to hit them with their banners and flag sticks. They argued that it was a women’s day and that there should be no men in the rally. Some CNT men and women responded that women and men need to struggle together against women’s oppression whilst others agreed that the day was women’s day and that, without discouraging men from joining their struggle, the rally should be a women’s only event. Unfortunately, this issue was never discussed formally in the union, nor there was a common position held by women in the union. In subsequent years more and more CNT men decided not to attend the rally so as not to be abused and this discouraged some women in the CNT from supporting the rally. I feel this confrontation resulted from a lack of debate between organisations and amongst ourselves.

After more than ten years of activism in anarchist as well as non-anarchist organisations, I believe that a form of anarcha-feminism or gender mainstreaming is fundamental to the pursuit of a free society. I have also come to understand that the same applies to issues such as racism, homophobia and environmental degradation. We cannot assume that these issues will self-evaporate with the ‘arrival’ of the new world.

I have also learnt that anarchists active today need to know the history of anarchist thought and struggle so as to understand that anarchism is a comprehensive struggle against all oppressions. Anarchism, being fundamentally a practice of ideas, does not necessarily need to be read in order to be understood and embraced as a philosophy of life and as a political strategy. However, as a movement with such a wealth of experience, it is necessary that we share our skills and experience as part of a strategic struggle. In particular, this sharing needs to be intergenerational. If people like me had more opportunity to learn about this history, we would perhaps make fewer mistakes. It is time to review the tactics used by Mujeres Libres and other anarcha-feminists and put those that remain useful into practice once again. Finally, I think there needs to be more dialogue between anarcha-feminism and other feminisms so as to enhance both our political thought and our practice.


Anarchists have historically placed special emphasis on analysing and fighting patriarchy. While anarcha-feminism is a tautology, anarchists have felt compelled to ‘mainstream’ gender within anarchist movement. Mujeres Libresand other anarcha-feminists have contributed to women’s emancipation in ways that, for instance, Marxism, Socialism, and liberal democracy have not been able to. Marxism and Socialism have not elaborated on the specific power relations between sexes and too often reduce power relationships to economic relationships based on class. Liberal democracy has only provided a narrow path for reform, a strategy that the capitalist elites might find useful in terms of accessing so-called positions of responsibility or power, but that essentially leaves behind a majority of women and men suffering from the evils of multiple other forms of oppression. In addition, these theories have failed toprovide participatory ways of fighting that is consistent with their ideas of equality. As an anarchist, I do not accept that liberation can be achieved through oppressive and hierarchical structures and institutions such as political parties, representation-based politics and the state apparatus.

Both men and women are oppressed. Because anarchism provides a critical analysis of power, anarcha-feminism gives us the tools to address all forms of oppression and to act in solidarity with the oppressed, thus avoiding a reductionist understanding of power based on class or gender. It also enables us to work in solidarity and mutual aid despite our differences, for though our experiences of power might differ, illegitimate power is our common enemy.

Anarcha-feminism has been and still is a tool to make of our lives and our political struggles a place where we not only fight against the public face of violence and oppression but also the private side of it, in the home and the family. This process of mainstreaming gender oppression can act as a model for mainstreaming a struggle against racism, and homophobia and environmental destruction. The ‘revolution’ entails the creation of new structures to organise society and production as well as different ways of relating to each other and to the world. Whilst anarcha-feminism strives to make anarchist thought and practice more consistent, it also calls on feminists everywhere to struggle not just against patriarchy but against all oppression, to realise that until there is no one oppressed in the world we will not be free.

Marta Iñiguez de Heredia


  1. Martha Ackelsberg, Free Women of Spain: Anarchism and the Struggle for the Emancipation of Women (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1991), 75.
  2. Ibid, 97-98. See also Margaret Marsh, ‘The Anarchist-Feminist Response to the “Woman Question” in Late Nineteenth-Century America’, American Quarterly, vol. 30, no. 4 (Autumn 1978): 533-547.
  3. Ackelsberg, Free Women, 115.
  4. ‘Mainstream’ in Macquarie Dictionary, 4th edition (Sydney: Macquarie Library, 2005), 865.
  5. To be sure, the concept of mainstreaming has served several purposes in history. Its first and most common meaning relates to the area of education where it is used to refer to the incorporation of students with disabilities or other special needs into normal classes, ie: the ‘mainstream’. See Ibid, 865. Also Hilary Charlesworth, ‘Not waiving but drowning: Gender Mainstreaming and Human Rights in the United Nations’, Harvard Human Rights Journal, vol. 18. no. 1. (Spring 2005): 2.
  6. Ibid. 2; See also Karen Morrow, ‘Not so much a meeting of minds as a coincidence of means: Ecofeminism, gender mainstreaming and the United Nations’, Thomas Jefferson Law Review, vol. 28. no. 185 (Summer 2005): 189-191. See also Carolyn Hannan, ‘Empowering Women: Ten Years After the Beijing Conference’, Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, vol. 7. (Summer/Fall 2006): 175.
  7. Ackelsberg, Free Women.
  8. George Woodcock, Anarchism: a history of Libertarian ideas and Movement (New York: Penguin Books, 1962); Peter Marshall, Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism (London: Fontana Press, 1992).
  9. Howard J. Ehrlich, (ed.) Reinventing anarchy, again (Edinburgh: AK Press, 1996); Maria Angeles García-Maroto, La Mujer en la Prensa Anarquista (Madrid: Fundación Anselmo Lorenzo, 1996); Maria Angeles Garcia-Maroto, ‘Razones para un anarcofeminismo’, Tierra y Libertad, no. 176, March 2003; available from; accessed 2 May 2007; Maria Angeles Garcia-Maroto, ‘Feminismo y Anarquismo’, Tierra y Libertad, no. 189, April 2004; available from; accessed 15 August 2007.
  10. Giovani Baldelli, Social Anarchism (Melbourne: Penguin Books, 1972), 10
  11. A concise account of the different trends can be found in Marshall, 6-11. For a discussion of the different methods and approaches within anarchism and, for a more nuanced argument concerning the development of anarchism from practice rather than from literature, see David Graeber, Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology (Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2004), 15-20.
  12. Goldman, Mujeres Libres and contemporary anarcha-feminist groups demonstrate this statement.
  13. See Marshall, 6; Baldelli; Alexander Berkman, The ABC of Communist Anarchism (Chicago: The Vanguard Press Inc., 1929). Anarcho-syndicalism follows the same ideas, emphasising the need to organise federatively through workers unions in order to fight for the future society and set the basis for it. See Rudolf Rocker, Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism, 1938 (Melbourne: Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation ASF-IWA, 2001); Mikhail Bakunin, ‘The Policy of the International, 1869’ in Sameul Dolgoff, Bakunin on Anarchy: Selected Works by The Activist-Founder of World Anarchism (London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd, 1973), 160-175; Juan Gómez Casas, Historia del Anarcosindicalismo Español (Madrid: LaMalatesta Editorial, 2006), 44-57 and 85-113.
  14. A. C. Pearson, The fragments of Zeno and Cleanthes (London: C.J. Clay and Sons-Cambridge University Press, 1891), 198-210.
  15. Peter Zarrow, Anarchism and Chinese Political Culture (Oxford: Columbia University Press, 1990), 7.
  16. Ibid, 7-8.
  17. Sam Mbah and I.E. Igariwey, African Anarchism: the history of a movement (Tucson: See Sharp Press, 1997), 27-54.
  18. Peter Alekseevich Kropotkin, Mutual Aid: a factor of evolution, 1914 (New York: University Press, 1972).
  19. Woodcock, 36.
  20. Ibid, 37
  21. Godwin’s his individualism, leant towards a type of liberalism as he was prepared to tolerate some form of minimum temporary government. See William Godwin, An enquiry concerning political justice, 1793 (Oxford and New York: Woodstock Books, 1992). Proudhon’s misogyny clearly undermined his anarchism, as will be noted later in the paper. See also, note 28.
  22. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, What is property? An enquiry into the principle of right and of government, 1840 (New York: H. Fertig, 1966). Robert Alexander, The anarchists in the Spanish Civil War, vol 1 (London: Janus Publising Company, 1999), 6 -7. Anthony Masters, Bakunin: the father of anarchism (London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1974).
  23. Martha Ackelsberg, ‘Rethinking anarchism/ rethinking power: a contemporary feminist perspective’ in Mary Shanley and Uma Narayan (eds.) Reconstructing political theory: feminist perspectives (Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997), 158.
  24. Emma Goldman, ‘Anarchism: what it really stands for’ in Anarchism and Other Essays (New York: Dover Publications Inc, 1970), 63.
  25. The Encyclopædia Britannica: a dictionary of arts, sciences, literature and general information (New York : Encyclopedia Britannica Co., 1910-11), ‘Anarchism’ vol.1.
  26. Petr Aekseevich Kropotin, The conquest of bread, edited by Paul Avrich (London: Allen Lane The Penguin Press, 1972), 139-144; Emma Goldman, Living my Life, vol. 2, 1931, (New York: Dover Publications Inc., 1970), 552-557; Emma Goldman, ‘The Tragedy of Woman’s Emancipation’, in Anarchism and Other Essays (Dover Publications: New York, 1969), 213-225.
  27. Caroline Granier, ‘Peut-on être anarchiste sans être féministe?’, Le Monde Libertaire, no. 1344, January- February 2004; available from; accessed 30 July 2007.
  28. Ibid.
  29. The literature is extensive in this sense, considering the books on general political thought, contemporary movements and ideologies, apart from the specific literature on anarchism. Aside from the good reference books on this matter already noted (Woodcock and Marshall), a general overview of anarchism and bibliography can be found in Matthew Festenstein and Kenny Michael, ‘Anarchism’ in Political ideologies: A reader and Guide (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 353-79; Jeremy Jennings, ‘Anarchism’ in Roger Eatwell and Anthony Wright, Contemporary Political Ideologies, 2nd edition (London and New York: Continuum, 1999), 131-51.
  30. Rocker, 25
  31. Bakunin, 167.
  32. See also a chapter on the concept of solidarity in Herbert Marcuse, An Essay on Liberation (Melbourne: Pelican Books, 1972), 82-93.
  33. Kropotkin, Mutual Aid.
  34. Isaiah Berlin, ‘Two concepts of liberty’ in Isaiah Berlin, Four Essays on Liberty (London, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1969), 122 -123.
  35. Bakunin, cited in Dolgoff, 5.
  36. L. Susan Brown, ‘Beyond Feminism: Anarchism and Human Freedom’ in Ehrlich, 149.
  37. Xabier Paniagua, ‘Milenarismo y Anarquismo’ paper presented at Historical Congress for the 75th Anniversary of the creation of the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (Guadalajara, Federación Anarquista Ibérica, 2002). This movement, which was not exclusive to the Iberian Peninsula, came from and spread all across Europe and the Middle East and was encouraged a great deal by women and women’s groups. For a very good account of this topic see Norman Cohn, En Pos del Milenio: Revolucionarios Milenaristas y Anarquistas Místicos en la Edad Media (Madrid: Alianza,1993). For an interesting reading on how women self-interpreted, resisted and survived in early modern Spain see Lisa Vollendorf, The lives of Women: a New History of Inquisitional Spain (Nashville: Vandelbilt University Press, 2005).
  38. Garcia-Maroto, ‘Femininismo y Anarquismo’.
  39. Helena Andrés Granel, ‘Mujeres Libres, Una Lectura Feminista’ (Zaragoza: X Feminist Research Prize
    Concepción Gimeno de Flaquer, Universidad de Zaragoza, 2007): 3; available from
    siem/articulos/Premios/MujeresLibres.pdf; accessed 20 April 2007.
  40. Ibid, 2.
  41. Margaret Marsh, Anarchist Women: 1870-1920 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1981), 22 and 75. See also Golberg.
  42. Please note that I am referring here to physical continents and not to political boundaries.
  43. Marsh, Anarchist Women, 4.
  44. Nelson Méndez, Mujeres Libres de España 1936-1939: Cuando florecieron las rosas de fuego (Caracas: Universidad Central de Venezuela, 2002).
  45. See, for example Flora Tristan, Peregrinations of a pariah, 1833-1834 (London: Virago, 1986); Flora Tristan, The worker’s union (Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1983). For a guide to Flora Tristan’s work see Máire Cross, The letter in Flora Tristan’s politics, 1835-1844 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).
  46. Granier.
  47. Gómez Casas, 25-26.
  48. Equipe de Recherche Associée au Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Els anarquistes educadors del poble: “La Revista Blanca” (1898-1905) (Barcelona : Curial, 1977); Revista Blanca, archived at the National Library of Spain; available from,accessed 15 August 2007.
  49. Richard Cleminson, ‘Male Inverts and Homosexuals: Sex discourse in the Anarchist Revista Blanca’ in Gert Hekma, Harry Oosterhuis, and James Steakley (eds.) Gay Men and the Sexual History of the Political Left (London: The Haworth Press, 1995), 262.
  50. Cleminson, 260; Gomez Casas, 25-57.
  51. Andrés Granel, 10; Ackelsberg, Free Women, 48.
  52. Ackelsberg, Free Women, 52-55; Garcia-Maroto, ‘Feminismo y Anarquismo’.
  53. The Second Spanish Republic, declared in 1931, suffered from civil unrest fuelled by the social, economic and political crises of the previous regime. In addition, as a traditionally monarchical state, the Republic did not receive the support of the right wing bourgeoisie nor of most of the military or of the still strong feudal owners. On 18 July 1936 General Francisco Franco, who had managed to organise part of the army and support from Moroccan soldiers (still a Spanish protectorate during this period), revolted against the Republican Government. On 19 July, the people took up arms to confront this uprising to realise their desires for freedom, aligning themselves with different political groups, most significantly, the Republicans from the government, the Communists and Socialists under the Communist Party, the union Unión General de Trabajadores and the Anarchists, principally under the CNT umbrella. At a time of fascist uprisings in Europe, Franco gained the support of Hitler and Moussolini, though France, England and Russia offered their support belatedly. For a detailed account of this period please see Alexander; and George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia (Harmondsworth: Penguin in association with Secker & Warburg, 1966).
  54. Although anarchists would always say that no body is necessary and every body is important in order to highlight that in the anarchist movement there are no leaders, it is nevertheless necessary to emphasise the amazing task that these women undertook and achieved.
  55. CNT and Mujeres Libres came to function as sister organisations. They provided support for each other, though Mujeres Libres always emphasised their need for autonomy and their determination to make their own decisions in the struggle. Not everyone saw the creation of Mujeres Libres as positive. One of the common criticisms was the need to address women’s subordination from within already existing groups. Other critics including, significantly, Federica Montseny, argued that women’s subordination could not be solved through organising but only by changing the dominant culture, starting with women’s self-esteem. See Ackelsberg, Free Women, 87-114. For accounts of these criticisms, see specifically 90-2.
  56. See Miller Gearheart, cited in Brown, 151.
  57. Ackelsberg, Free Women, 115-42.
  58. Mujeres Libres, Estatutos (Madrid, Mujeres Libres: 1937), 2.
  59. Ackelsberg, Free Women, 118-22.
  60. Ibid, 128-40.
  61. Ibid, 122 -28.
  62. Ibid, 116
  63. Ana De Miguel, Los feminismos a través de la historia (Mexico D.F: Creatividad Feminista, 2002); available from; accessed 11 April 2007.
  64. For a more extensive discussion about the connection between this form of radical organisation and anarchism see Peggy Kornegger, ‘Anarchism: The Feminist Connection’ in Ehrlich, 160-161.
  65. Jose Ribas, Review of Los 70 a Destajo: Ajoblanco y Libertad (Barcelona: RBA, 2007); available from; accessed 15 August 2007.
  66. Jose Ribas cited in Luis Alemany, ‘La aniquilación del anarquismo es el gran secreto de la Transición’ El Mundo, 12 May 2007; available from; accessed 15 August 2007.
  67. See Gómez Casas, 368-93, for an account of the reconstruction of the CNT and the crises it suffered in the
    late 1970s and early 1980s. I have been a witness to the decrease in membership during the 1990s, followed by an increase in the 2000s.
  68. Garcia-Maroto, ‘Razones’.
  69. For a discussion of this topic see Brown.
  70. Self-discipline indicates here the personal commitment to anarchist struggle and philosophy.
  71. On Anarcho-syndicalism please see footnote 14.

Originally published in Lilith: A Feminist History Journal

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