During the 1930s, with fascism on the rise throughout Europe, international attention quickly came to focus on Spain. With the help of Hitler and Mussolini, “Generalissimo” Francisco Franco returned home from Morocco with his troops, intent on seizing power over the failing Spanish State. In response to this attempted coup d’etat, huge regions of the country, led by radical parties and unions like the CNT and FAI (anarchist) or UGT, PCE and PSUC (communist). For most of the next year, the Spanish Civil War (or “Spanish Revolution”, depending on who you ask), raged as anarchists, communists and fascists fought it out for control of the country. Spain became the crucible of the ideological battles beginning to rage across the continent at the time. Germany and Italy sent arms, aid and troops to Franco, Russia aided the communists and the Allied Powers, who quickly made it illegal to aid the “republicans” (anti-fascists) in any way, saw thousands quietly sneak toward Spain to sign up for the “International Brigades”, including famous names like Bethune, Orwell and Hemmingway.

Sadly, as the war wore on, the republican side did not fare well. Fearful of offending Allied Powers, Stalin sought to avoid a full-on revolution (either anarchist or communist). The UGT, PSUC and PCE turned on the CNT, FAI and POUM (radical Marxists), leading to shoot-outs, arrests and murders, then defeat for the the republican side. Franco ruled Spain (largely in thanks to American aid) until the 1970s.

One of the many who ventured to Spain in that era was Ethel MacDonald, a Scottish anarchist and activist who enthralled the English-speaking world with her radio broadcasts from the front. Her story, both as a journalist and advocate for anarchist prisoners put a human face on this whole ugly ordeal. Tonight’s movie, An Anarchist’s Story (BBC Scotland Documentary, 2006), is her tale.