Right-wing "libertarians" on Spanish Anarchism

Right-wing "libertarians" on Spanish Anarchism: A reply

In the mid-1990s, there was an extensive debate (if that is the right word) on various newsgroups about the Spanish Revolution. In the one corner, there were various right-wing "libertarians" (most prominently, James A. Donald) who argued that the Spanish anarchists were (to quote him) "totalitarians" who, apparently almost immediately after the defeat of the fascist uprising in july 1936, organised "killing fields" and "a fairly large and permanent organization of mass murder." Anarchists, in reply, pointed out that this was nonsense, based on extremely selective quoting from accounts of a wave of largely spontaeous murders following the breakdown of the Republican state in the wake of defeat of the army in two-thirds of Spain.

The anarchists also noted that these killing, as unfortunate as they were, can only be understood in terms of, firstly, fear of the fascism and as revenge of decades of repression and oppression by the ruling class. For example, unmentioned by James Donald, the Catalan bosses organised pistoleros against the CNT in the early 1920s, essentially death squads who assassinated union militants. Equally, the often bloody repression of various popular uprisings in the first half of the 1930s also goes unmentioned, as does the mass murder in Franco's Spain at the time.

Also unmentioned, of course, were two awkward facts for his case. Firsly, that this wave of assassinations peaked immediately after defeat of the fascist uprising and quickly ended. Secondly, that no serious historian has mentioned Donald's "fairly large and permanent organization of mass murder." This, of course, did not stop him repeating his invention and writing webpages to propagate it.

Bryan Caplan, a right-wing "libertarian" professor of economics, then produced his The Anarcho-Statists of Spain a somewhat more sophisticated attack but still a mishmash of selective quoting and dubious assumptions. Significantly, Caplan makes no attempt to suggest that the CNT organised "killing fields" and "a fairly large and permanent organization of mass murder", as James Donald did. This was probably because Caplan knew that such an assertion simply cannot be supported by any real evidence. However, Caplan's account is flawed for many other reasons.

These articles were written at the time of the initial debate and articles by Donald and Caplan. Since then, links to both Caplan's and Donald's distorted accounts appear occassionally when discussing anarchism or the Spanish revolution (they are linked to in wikipedia for example). As such, it is useful to present them here together. Needless to say, it is doubtful that Donald or Caplan will admit they were wrong and, as such, these essays are not aimed at them. It is aimed at those who seek the facts of what happened in Spain and wish to see what the accounts of Donald and Caplan miss out or distort. As will become clear from reading these replies, both quote selectively and ignore much evidence which refutes their case (often from the same book, sometimes from the very same page they quote).

The articles have been revised slightly, although only with references which were available at the time the articles were originally written.

On James A. Donald

James A. Donald's Reign of Error

An account of the strange relationship of James Donald with the facts

What really happened in Spain?

A detailed reply to his webpages on the Spanish Revolution. As will be quickly seen, his account is ideologically driven nonsense.

Appendix: James Donald and Noam Chomsky

Dan Clore's detailed refution of James Donald's hatred-fuelled attack on Noam Chomsky, a hatred which has the same low quality of evidence and logic as his attacks on the Spanish Anarchists. This has been added to give readers more material on which to base their evaluation of Donald's claims at presenting the facts of what happened in Spain.

On Bryan Caplan

Objectivity and Right-Libertarian Scholarship

A detailed reply to Caplan's apparently more serious and scholarly attack on the Spanish Anarchists. In reality, just as ideologically driven as Donald's but which avoids the worse nonsense Donald inflicts on the world.


Like what you are reading?  Get a notification whenever we post a new article to

Anarchist Writers via Facebook or Twitter

where you can also like and comment on our articles