The second part of an interview with Piro Subrat, author of Invertidos y Rompepatrias (Queers Wreck the State, 2019)

Javier: At the outset of the Spanish Civil War (1936–9), the National Confederation of Labor (CNT), a massive anarcho-syndicalist union, and allied groups, such as the Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI) and Free Women, launched a social revolution in Catalonia and Aragón, while they resisted the fascist attempt at a coup d'etat. However, in Invertidos y Rompepatrias, we see that there existed a spectrum of opinions among these revolutionary groups on questions like the family, (homo)sexuality, gender, and sex work (126–41). 

Do you think it's possible that this historical experiment—which admittedly was nearly unprecedented—lacked a sufficiently profound sexual and gender revolution?

Piro: I believe that within the social revolution that anarchism developed there was also a sexual revolution, but that this sexual revolution was hampered in the same way that anarchism was at the local level. Generally speaking, the anarchist movement's position during the preceding decade and a half before the Civil War was to condemn homosexuality and drag, with just a few timid voices speaking out in their favor. Even so, it was perhaps the only social and political movement of the time that took public positions in favor of homosexuality—if we assume that the Generation of '27 was something other than a politically cohesive movement, while the CNT was. Still, these pronouncements were not by themselves sufficient for a profound sexual revolution. 

That being said, there were situations which from a contemporary point of view were authentically revolutionary: namely, the spread of contraception, and the practice of free love. The latter term refers to partnerships outside of State recognition, although these bonds would sometimes be translated into civil marriages officiated by the union—something that the Free Women criticized in their newspaper. Some people at the time also saw the abolition of sex work as revolutionary, and for some today it continues to be so, although the position of sex workers both then and now views such a perspective as a falsehood promoted by privileged women. Already in the 1930's, female sex workers complained that these women wanted to set them up, or would set them up, with jobs that involved less pay and greater exploitation. As a result, many would leave the workshops to return to the streets. Also, for many anarchists, to “cure” homosexuality was revolutionary: this was something that the Ministry of Health sought while under anarchist control, but that it did not have time to put into practice. Clearly, this was a project that from our vantage point, and from that of 40 years ago (as well as from that of at least one person at the time), was unusual.

Together with this, it is true that many sexual and gender dissidents approached the anarchist movement during this time, perhaps believing social revolution to be an order that would be more LGBT-friendly than the Republican State, and certainly, much more than the Franquist faction. Or perhaps they found it frustrating and insufficient that the anarchists had reactionary views on the sex question—or maybe, it was a bit of both. In any case, these dissidents remained within the anarchist movement at this time. It also happened that a segment of the populace that previously had not dared to freely develop its sexuality felt more empowered to do so in the context of social revolution. Here, we find a multitude of people who either were or were not involved in political organizations, but who acted more freely: cabarets, drag shows, sex-workers' unions, nudism on the beaches, public sex... And we know about the adverse reactions from the world of workers, because there were complaints in the press, the Stalinists referred to such practices in their discourse and propaganda to criticize the revolution, and there even were boycotts from the anarchist world itself. Still, the reactions that we have recently discovered have been positive: namely, they were happy with this course of the revolution. I've no doubt that there were many more than those now available to us in the historical documentation.

Javier: Politically speaking, the Catalan Stalinists infamously strangled the anarchist social revolution in May 1937, over the course of a bloody week that has been termed the “Spanish Kronstadt” (137–8), in an allusion to Lenin and Trotsky's bloody suppression of the Kronstadt Commune declared by revolutionary sailors in 1921.' In retrospect, many anarchists today blame these events on the CNT-FAI's leaders, who in November 1936 accepted integration into the Second Republic within a Popular Front, with the aim of defeating the Franquist insurrection. At the same time, I do not know what the alternative would have been. Emma Goldman fiercly criticized the proposal of the Friends of Durruti, who recommended that the CNT-FAI impose an “anarchist dictatorship” to putatively defend and advance the social revolution.

What are your thoughts?

When we touch on these questions, I believe we are engaging in “historical fiction,” which is a genre of history that I have always viewed as a bit tricky. It implies a great deal of knowledge about the events, but the truth is that history can never be seen as a progressive or fixed line toward a certain point. Instead, a thousand things can happen along the way.

In my totally subjective view, several personalities from the CNT-FAI acted at this time like politicians in the bad sense of the word. Anarchism has always said, as it continues to say, that power corrupts, and from November 1936 on (if not before), the CNT-FAI acted like yet another political party within the Republican State. Accordingly, these leaders mimicked the logic of State power, thus abandoning all revolutionary commitments.

I greatly admire Emma Goldman, who was one of the first people in the modern Western world to speak out in favor of homosexuality, but on this point I disagree with her. Of course, I know the fate of the Civil War, as she did not when she criticized the Friends of Durruti. To destroy the social revolution and return to a Republican order, with a regular army and an attempt to portray the Republic before the League of Nations as just another liberal democracy, did not help win the war. The French government became more right-wing during the Civil War, Britain sold Czechoslovakia to Adolf Hitler, and the Republican Popular Army was not prepared for a confrontation with an army that had enormous reserves in the colonies and some of the most cutting-edge weapons technologies in the world, either sold or donated by the Third Reich and Fascist Italy.

It's almost comical that the leaders of the Second Republic thought they would receive the support of the same countries that had abandoned Ethiopia upon its invasion by Benito Mussolini in 1935. Perhaps they thought that those were Africans, and that they were not, within the arch-racist mentality of those days. This is something that different people from that time concluded: namely, that social revolution could be a war strategy, given that the revolution could be extended beyond borders. There was an attempt along these lines to negotiate with Moroccan nationalists and tribes of the Rif Mountains colonized by Spain, who only requested an autonomous model akin to Catalonia, but it appears that the government of Prime Minister Francisco Largo Caballero laughed at and ignored them completely. Still, there was an anarchist delegation interested in the question that ended up meeting the nationalist groups. In this sense, it is not utopian to imagine that, had the anarchists been in control of the Republican zone at this time, the response would have been very different.

It is not just because revolutions are cool that they expand on their own, as has sometimes been said, but rather, that different strategic decisions could have been taken that might have tipped the balance of the war in the anti-fascists' favor. I have no doubt that a situation of generalized chaos in the Franquist rearguard due to Arab and Rifian insurrectionists could have left Franco on the ropes, but the Second Republic inherited the remains of a colonial empire in Africa, which it maintained with a cruelty similar to its predecessors—to the point of risking defeat instead of giving it up. Meanwhile, the CNT was indifferent to Spanish imperial glory. This is yet another enigma: we will never know what would have happened, had this possibility been pursued.

Beyond this, the seizure of power has always been a taboo for anarchists. The reality is that power is like energy, which is neither created nor destroyed, but rather, transformed. Catalan-Aragonese anarchism wrenched power from the elites and made it its own. As a collection of ideas that opposes authority, understood as privilege, anarchism shared this power among the most disempowered sectors—insofar as this was possible, under difficult wartime conditions, and subjected to the continued existence of Republican institutions, which still possessed some power. The proposal of the Friends of Durruti, the Workers' Party of Marxist Unity (POUM), the majority of the Iberian Federation of Libertarian Youth (FIJL), and a large part of the militant workers comprising the CNT was to take away the power that still remained in the hands of the Republican State, because it was using this authority for horrible ends that did not contribute to the victory over fascism. These included the repression of anarchist and POUM militants, and the accumulation of huge amounts of light and heavy weapons in the rearguard, while at the front, the militias used antiquated rifles from the Cuban War of Independence (1895–8) which exploded in their hands.

Within this context, and given all the background I provided before, this proposal seems to me completely logical and legitimate, and I find it very understandable that another revolution would break out in May 1937, though without the success of the previous year's revolution. With this said, I believe that the anarchist order that emerged after July 1936 was no less an “anarchist dictatorship” than what could have been achieved in the case of victory in May 1937. In reality, I think that this was, and would have been, far less dictatorial than any other regime that has existed in the Spanish State during the past two centuries. Perhaps, it would have avoided the military defeat of 1939, although, as I have said, this is a question for historical fiction.

Javier: During the Franquist dictatorship (1939–1976), which preached strictly Catholic and ultra-rightist ideologies, the Law on Social Danger and Rehabilitation was expanded to explicitly criminalize homosexuals (189). At the same time, the Spanish Communist Party (PCE), repressed and persecuted by Franco, propagandized along the line that homosexuality was a bourgeois deviation and corruption (173, 436). 

Do you think that this parallelism between Franquist and Stalinist homophobia encouraged the surge of a certain LGBTQ+ anarchism, after Franco's death in 1975?

You have definitely exerted yourself in making these questions the most complex ones possible. Or perhaps it is that I always think about any given question in a myriad of ways.

I think you have identified a pretty important element of the relationship between anarchism and sexual liberation during the so-called Transition (1976–1982). One should understand that the PCE maintained a hegemonic role in the anti-Franquist struggle beginning practically at the end of the Civil War. This was due to its having a better-organized apparatus in the final months of the Republic's existence, and due to the support it received from the Communist Parties (CP's) of neighboring countries—but above all, from Moscow. The Soviet Union was a regime that practiced State homophobia, not always to the same degree, but especially so, during the reigns of Stalin and Brezhnev. Franquism coincides fully in time with both periods, except for the few years that separate Franco's death from that of Brezhnev. The slogans sent by other CP's to the PCE in sexual terms during the entire Franquist period were purely homophobic, save at the end, when the French and Italian CP's engaged with each other. Although it was difficult for them, these CP's became increasingly more supportive of sexual liberation. This was the germ of what is known as Eurocommunism.

Furthermore, over the course of the 1960's, and especially after May 1968 in France and the Prague Spring (also in 1968), the PCE split, and rivals emerged from all over. The Chinese Cultural Revolution led Maoism to flower all around Europe, but this Maoism was not that of China in 1949—more lax and diverse, having abolished the homophobic legislation of the previous Nationalist regime. Rather, this new Maoism of the Cultural Revolution was frenzied, fanatical, and highly homophobic. It privileged the monogamous heterosexual family as the fundamental base of socialist society, and considered homosexuality to be disgraceful and shameful. Indeed, once Mao died in 1976, homosexuality was once again criminalized in China. Such Maoism would become a strong rival of the PCE's at the end of Franco's life, and in the years after his death.

Accordingly, we see that official Communism and one of its principal alternatives promoted homophobia, while, during the course of the 1970's, the hippie movement, Situationism, and countercultural anarchism bloomed, permeating much of the youth, and promoting discourse that was pro-sexual liberation. There continued to be homosexuals who were integrated into the previously mentioned CP's, and they remained there, often for a long time. They sometimes achieved certain changes within these CP's. Even so, there is no doubt that anarchist thought seduced a large part of sexual and gender dissidents during the Transition, due to the incapacity of most Communists (at least, among those who had the most publicity from outside) to promote gay liberation within their agendas for a socialist State. This explains the great distrust expressed by many militant cross-dressers and gays of the time toward their fellow LGBT militants within CP's. This dynamic would provoke schisms which would foment, for instance, the Coordinator of Collectives for Sexual Liberation in Catalonia.

Despite all that I've said, it wasn't as simple as 2 + 2 = 4. There were unofficial Marxisms, like council communism and Trotskyism, that pretty soon (council communism in particular) were supporting sexual liberation. This even took place before the first LGBTQ+ Pride in Barcelona in 1977, and in the case of certain sections pertaining to the Revolutionary Communist League. Trotskyism was more influential than council communism in the Spanish State, as it was another very important Marxist force during the Transition. It continued to show with its existence that there were other paths to socialism that, among other things, did not have to pass through State homophobia. 

Moreover, China and the Soviet Union are always discussed in these terms, as though there weren't other socialist countries during these times. Most of these countries did have homophobic legislation, and continued to do so in 1975. Yet, over the course of the 1970's, some pretty important countries from the other side of the Iron Curtain began to decriminalize homosexuality: Hungary (1961), the German Democratic Republic (1968, although since 1957 homophobic legislation had been codified), Bulgaria (1968), Yugoslavia (1973–1977, according to the region), or Poland, which following the expulsion of the Nazis, never again criminalized it during the rest of the twentieth century. Many of these cases predated the Western countries that are now considered to be super-advanced leaders of sexual diversity, in the face of the homophobic East, beginning with Great Britain and the vast majority of the U.S. This was discussed among certain CP's in which homosexuals militated. It was also brought up in contemporary magazines and publications from within the gay movement itself.

With all of this, I wish to conclude by saying that I believe that the homophobia advanced by Marxism during the Franquist period had a lot to do with sexual and gender dissidents' embrace of anarchism. This is not to say that Marxism was totally homophobic, but there were other reasons for this confrontation with anarchism: for instance, the boom experienced by the anti-authoritarian movement during the first years of the Transition, or simply, that many people considered that their thoughts and desires fit perfectly well with anarchism, as has happened before to more than one of us gays.

Spanish Republican Fighters, 1937

Javier: In this two-part interview, we've discussed a lot about male homosexuality.

How did it go for lesbians and women with lesbian desires in the Spanish State during the time that you cover in Invertidos y Rompepatrias?

The historical process of rendering lesbianism invisible has its echo in my study, as in practically all other studies on LGBTQ+ history, including specifically lesbian ones. To this, we can add women's historical social exclusion from political militancy. We see that women take a secondary role to men in historiographical works that focus on political struggle, whether focused on Marxism, anarchism, or sexual dissidence. Still, the situation is not the same in every organization, both among feminists and specifically among lesbians.

In short, there were great informal attempts at lesbian organization during the Second Republic (1931–9), and even before, promoted by lesbian groups that knew each other and went out to the streets with a certain kind of visibility, having at least some acquisitive power. There are cases of fairly evident dyke writings and key roles played in the anti-fascist zone during the Civil War, such as Irene Polo and Lucía Sánchez Saornil. From there, we pass to absolute invisibility. One must dig a great deal to find lesbians during the early Franquist period (1939–59), although obviously, they existed. Such invisibility reached such a point that the homophobic laws hardly applied to or affected them. For example, in Madrid in 1978, dozens of people were arrested according to the Law on Social Danger, including just one lesbian. More than prison, psychiatric institutions were the punitive centers by definition for lesbians and bisexual women during Franquism and the post-Franquist period. Even so, this dynamic allowed them to experience a bit less social and political persecution, since nobody would believe that two girlfriends holding hands or cohabitating were partners, because neither society nor the powers that be could conceive of non-penile sex. Neither were they capable of articulating a life without men at the center, within a context wherein women had to ask permission from their fathers or husbands to open a bank account, work, or buy a car.

On the other hand, the role of lesbians in the diverse anti-Franquist struggle begins to blossom gigantically, once the dictator's death approaches. I will cite the example of Amanda Klein, a militant from the Communist Movement of Spain, who is considered the woman who introduced Marxist analysis into the Catalan homosexual movement, even while Franco still lived. She would thus influence the rest of the fronts for gay liberation in Catalonia and throughout the country.

During the Transition, the effervescence of feminist and gay movements—with the understanding that “gay” is a new word, taken from English, which does not mean (as it does now) just male homosexuality, but rather, which refers to the umbrella term for all non-heterosexual identities—pushed hundreds, even thousands, of lesbians and bisexuals to struggle in the streets and to collective militancy. This is not to mention those who were already organized in unions, political parties, or base communities, although not on the basis of sexual orientation. Oftentimes, these actors' hearts were torn between struggling in liberation fronts or in different feminist coordinators. Generally, due to the sexist and male-centric attitudes of masculine gay militants, the large majority opted to separate from these fronts, except in exceptional cases, as in Valencia. This dynamic led such women to feminist coordinators, and with these, the positions are diverse and confrontational, because a certain lesbian sector felt itself excluded, while another part did feel included. This latter part would maintain its ties with the feminist movement until the later 1990's, when these “collectives of feminist lesbians” began to dissolve or become diluted by the new lesbian activism of the times.

Prior to the drift of lesbian groups to feminist coordinators, there existed lesbians who were out within feminist collectives. For instance, the LAMAR (Anti-Patriarchal Struggle of Anti-Authoritarian and Revolutionary Women) collective, which was perhaps the first anarcha-feminist collective to emerge during the Transition, together with the Free Women of the CNT, were full of lesbians. Many lesbians entered LAMAR knowing that it contained many fellow lesbians within it, although it wasn't officially a lesbian collective. This process began in 1976, and starting in 1978, we begin to see lesbian splits from the fronts: that is, GLAL (Group in Struggle for Lesbian Liberation) in Barcelona, ESAM (The Movement for Women's Sexual Freedom) in Bilbao, and the core of what would later become the Collective of Lesbian Feminists of Madrid (CLFM)... 

In this last case, the CLFM would cover the gap left by the decline of the gay movement in Madrid until 1981 or 1982, by organizing Pride marches and all that that involved. Sometimes, it's said that there was a lapse in Madrid during these years of gay militancy, but such a view would overlook the prominent role played by the CLFM. Recently, I witnessed how this marginalizing narrative was repeated during a history talk given by Gracia Trujillo, one of the main archivists of lesbian memory in the Spanish Kingdom. The audience member who repeated this line was a historical gay militant from Catalonia who had lived through all of this, although perhaps at the time, he was more interested in political careerism and chasing State grants than in following the work of his lesbian comrades, as has happened in much LGBTQ+ historiography.

Tragically, many lesbian groups have been ignored and abandoned by the feminist movement. The former felt that they had struggled for abortion, divorce, and for the decriminalization of other so-called “women's crimes,” but that their heterosexual fellow women, who led the feminist movement, did not fight for lesbian rights in turn. Other lesbian groups believed that feminist coordinators did support them. I think that both visions are right and legitimate. It's true that there was a type of feminism that left out lesbians, but that wasn't the entire feminist movement. If by chance it was that kind of feminism that infiltrated community movements, following Franco's death, to impose political agendas (a kind of feminism that reported back to the PSOE and PCE above all), with the coming of the PSOE (Social Democrat) government, it accommodated itself in positions of power, forgetting about lesbians and many others, including straight women who continued to suffer classism, racism, ableism, medical abuse, and a myriad of other problems. In the same way, there was a feminist movement that did support lesbians and gay liberation, within limits. For example, in 1986, two lesbians were arrested and tortured in Madrid for having kissed in public, and the feminist movement led mobilizations to support them. These protests succeeded in taking down the law which had served as the pretext for arresting them.

Bringing this debate to the present, the kind of feminism that accommodated itself to power during the 80's is the kind of feminism that has promoted the waves of transphobia that we experience at present, beginning with the coming of the approval of the so-called Trans Law (2023). The same feminists who disregarded lesbians in the 80's within this new context direct their hatred toward trans* people, and I'm not surprised at all. Indeed, by contrast, a great deal of those people who supported lesbians and other struggles from within the feminist movement today are the historic feminists who openly support trans* people, as well as sex workers, who are still very oppressed within the Spanish Kingdom, including by the political left. Of course, there exist exceptions, but if you trace historical lines, the political evolution of all these people becomes quite telling.

Lastly, I did not want to conclude this response without mentioning Gretel Ammann, a Catalan lesbian feminist who played a very key role during this time, although her memory has been forgotten. Being a militant of the Communist Movement of Spain (MCE) and many other struggles, she was active in the feminist movement, translated Valerie Solanas's “SCUM Manifesto,” co-founded the Lady's House in Barcelona, participated in the publication of lesbian magazines like Amazonas and Laberint, and did so many other things that resulted in her premature death at the age of 53 in 2000. I also want to mention Empar Pineda, an active anti-Franquist radical, also from MCE, who was a mayoral candidate in Barcelona in 1979, a militant in the feminist movement and member of the CLFM for decades, plus a defender of the rights of sex workers, who thankfully still lives. These two people are forgotten, despite deserving to be very present within LGBTQ+ historical memory, as they were central to the struggle for lesbian liberation and the rest of sexual and gender dissidence.

Street protests during the Day of Struggle against Repression, June 25, 1978. The banner reads, “Sexuality is not reproduction. Lesbianism = pleasure and revolution.” Courtesy Piro Subrat

Javier: During the Transition (1976–82), after nearly forty years of Nationalist-Catholic repression, several marginalized groups joined the CNT: for instance, ecologists, feminists, homosexuals, former prisoners, psychiatric patients, and people with disabilities (309, 323, 340). Even so, many CNT members were displeased with this influx of countercultural and/or socially excluded individuals, some of whom they labeled “clowns” who were insufficiently serious for anarchist struggle, given that the CNT defined itself as a union, not a coordinator for marginalized people. 

Do you think that this resistance was due more to the traditionalism, puritanism, and support for eugenics on the part of the CNT, and/or a desire to preserve the organization's already-established strategic mission?

To respond adequately to this question, we must shift our view toward the Spanish, and especially Catalan, anarchist tradition. Anarchism and the CNT had been a social movement, not just a trade-unionist struggle, and there was an attempt to instill this idea newly during the Transition. Furthermore, in the collective imaginary, there was a sense that anarchism was the most liberatory force, and as such, that these social struggles were represented within anarchism.

This was true in theoretical terms, and at times, practically speaking. The CNT faced many difficulties in transporting an organization that had been successful during the 1930's to the very different context of the 1970's. The CNT could hardly function during Franquism due to the unusual level of repression, so it survived as a historical bastion that hardly evolved in exile in southern France, where it suffered internal conflicts over more personal than political questions. The working class had changed completely, together with a change in working conditions and the near-institutionalization of informal work for large sectors of the marginalized populace. Plus, “superproductivity” and consumerism were at their zenith, and there had been a philosophical change in the European world, toward what is now known as postmodernism. The working-class identity was no longer the main idea, and for this reason, the union no longer had reason for being the axis of either society or of anarchism. This was something that a large part of the CNT at the time could not understand, and I fear that many people still don't grasp, despite the great changes seen in the CNT and the other unions that came out of it (CGT, Workers' Solidarity) during the past 40 years. Personally, I would say these changes were for the better.

When Franco died, there was an anarchism alive in the streets, but it was not the CNT's. It was an anarchism that originated in social opposition; the hippie movement; French Situationism; the echoes of May 1968; urban and rural communes; and the libertarian ateneos, or popular education centers, that were founded through neighborhood struggles. The reconstruction of the CNT beginning in 1976 excites all these people to join a project that 40 years prior had put the Spanish bourgeoisie in check. The CNT mixes with sectors that have completely different ideas, but still, in many cases, they reproduce the same exact structures from 40 years earlier. I describe in the book how this clash took place. Here, I will simply add that it disillusioned and pushed away many of those youth.

In any case, I don't want to frame this as “the historical CNT vs. new anarchism,” because it wasn't exactly like that. A large part of the CNT did want to incorporate broader struggles and play that role of the anarchist unifier of social movements, being cognizant (whether consciously or unconsciously) that the working class was not by itself a sufficient unifier. Regardless, this interface was inadequate, and furthermore, several repressive blows struck hard against anarchism, leaving the CNT injured. These included conflicts over understanding the CNT not as a social movement, but rather as a union, thus provoking a split that in 1990 named itself the CGT.

This conflict has been ongoing in the CNT's history during the last century. To this day, it continues to be very present in new conflicts, emerging within new contexts. The basic conflict can be summarized as “anarchism or trade-union,” although in practice it's much more complicated than that. This is not due to one side being reformist, and the other revolutionary, but rather due to the fact that certain CNT sections function in a local or regional context. We must not forget that the first letter of the CNT stands for “Confederation,” and that this affords a great deal of autonomy to local unions. Whether at present or in the 1970's, the CNT will tend toward one side or the other. People from the more “unionist” sector (to call it this way) might be more infused with other social struggles, and more involved in the rest of anarchism, while people from the most “anarchist/pro-social movement” sector might be more self-absorbed and enclosed in their organization. To generalize about the CNT was, is, and always will be a great error.

A problem that the CNT had, which I believe it still has, is to equate anarchism with the CNT, and to believe that the rest is unrealistic and unserious, if we speak in excessively absolute terms, to facilitate understanding. During the last 40 years, through the strength of experience, the CNT and the CGT have gotten along much more horizontally with other anarchist organizations, compared to the case during the Transition, as far as I have been able to see. Still, I have no doubt that the large part of the CNT sinned in labeling all those social movements from the Transition “partial struggles”—as though they were incomplete, as though they were not concrete ideological projects that looked forward to utopias that in many cases, if we take them by their maximum ends, were not very different from what anarchism proposes. Organically, the CNT could not see ecology; feminism; struggles against ableism, and on the part of the mentally ill; the incipient anti-racist movement; sex-workers' struggles; and the gay movement—that is, the full compendium of organized struggles around the coordinators of marginalized people—as equals to itself. Ultimately, although anarchists sometimes struggle to understand this, if all struggles are “partial struggles,” then anarcho-syndicalism is the same, and so is anarchism, because they are equally incomplete if they remain stagnant and self-absorbed as sectors of all these social movements.

In case the question is not yet adequately treated, I would stress that I believe that the disconnection among different anarchist sectors during the Transition was due to a mix between a generational conflict that derived from the lack of closeness between generations, provoked by exile following the Civil War and Franquist repression, together with the organic functioning of the CNT, anchored in the unfamiliar lived context of the 1970's. By this, I don't mean to refer just to the internal structures, nor do I comment on whether formality and organizations with acronyms are better or worse. Rather, I am speaking also and above all about the mental structures and ways of being reiterated from exile, or replicated as carbon copy between the 1930's to 1970's. This failed opportunity was fostered and encouraged at all times by the enormous repression against anarchism unleashed throughout the Transition, which included a multitude of imprisonments and murders at the hands of the State or by fascist paramilitary groups, and by the individualism that grew within a philosophical context that had nothing to do with the social-community conception of anarchism from a century prior.

I confess that I may also be sinning in holding the CNT responsible for this failed meeting. I don't currently militate in either the CNT or the CGT, nor have I ever, but my familiarity with militants from both organizations is and has been very important. I am incapable of making abstractions beyond my own political experiences in terms of interpreting this missed opportunity from 45 years ago, because what I've been told, or what I've read by, the anarchist sectors unaffiliated with the CNT coincides with many of my own experiences. Even so, I also believe that an important factor was the organizational method of these new social movements, which often tended toward a permanent change of name, given the lack of observation of collective agreements. Another was infiltration by Communist militants, being something that, due to the historical trajectory of betrayals received on the part of Marxists, sometimes causes anarchists distress. I believe that the arrival of drugs and especially heroin also profoundly affected this distance among organizations. As I understand it, heroin affected more the militants of informal organizations, though the average age of the members of these organizations was younger than that, for instance, of the CNT's members, and this also made a difference. Still, even the CNT suffered due to the influx of heroin.

Lastly, if it still needs to be clarified, the homophobic views of a large part of the CNT's historical membership had its role in this disconnection. At book presentations, I always say that, within anarchism, one can find the most reactionary and simultaneously radical positions of all the written publications among anti-capitalist forces during the Transition. This shows that anarchism attracted both radicals who wanted to abolish the family and heterosexuality as well as people who viewed homosexuals as diseased, and who thought that mixing gay demands with the CNT would make a mockery of its glorious conscience. However, I believe that these takes, although very well-known at the time for being so indignant and anachronistic, played a less important part in the disconnections than everything else I've mentioned.

Javier: In 1977, the Coordinator of Marginalized Groups, with “certain anarchist links,” was founded in Madrid to counteract social exclusion and domination, beyond labor exploitation (395).

Do you think that this form of self-organization by marginalized people took shape due to the resistance on the part of both the PCE and the CNT to embrace these oppressed groups?

Despite everything I've already mentioned, the CNT was present in the Coordinator of Marginalized Groups, almost from its founding until its dissolution. Indeed, at the beginning, there were several political organizations that were present in the Coordinator, but they went on to abandon it—typically, after the June 1977 elections. In the end, just CNT and Communist Action, a councilist party, remained. Precisely these two organizations placed their bets on base communities, and electoralism was not at all a priority within their political agendas.

That being said, CNT Madrid had conflicts over the presence of the CNT in said coordinator, and there were even confrontations, especially with its pro-prisoner committee, which was very involved in the anti-carceral struggle, and in agitating against the Law on Social Danger. Opposition to this law was what had united all the collectives that made up this coordinator. The case of the PCE is much worse, given that it organically struggled to publicly support the demands of the gay movement. This wasn't, however, the case with its youth wings, its Catalan counterpart (the PSUC), and some of its local sections. The PCE slowly began to take up such questions, but it seems clear that publicly it could not come out in favor of gay liberation. Perhaps, this had something to do with the party's electoral anxiety, not to mention its recent Stalinist past, which was manifestly opposed to sexual liberation.

To my way of seeing it, the Coordinator of Marginalized Groups was another form of organization for gay liberation. In the book, I view it as another gay collective in Madrid during the 70's, together with the Democratic Movement of Homosexuals, the Homosexual Front for Revolutionary Action, and Mercurio. These three groups participated within the coordinator. At the organizational and discursive levels, this body came very close to anarchism, as did Mercurio, which coincidentally was one of the last groups to last until the end of the coordinator's existence. It was not by mere chance that Mercurio would be the source of the first Madrid-based gay front: namely, the Front for Homosexual Liberation of Castile.

I believe that the origin of this coordinator was the need for self-organization to struggle against the Law on Social Danger, because this law was not covered on the front pages of the daily newspapers, nor discussed in the political debates over the reform of Franquism and the quickly-approaching first elections since 1936. As such, the law's abolition was not part of most demands made by the parties that were running for said elections, with the exception of a coalition of the radical left. The gay movement and the rest of groups that approached this movement, founded this coordinator (feminists, Roma, people with disabilities, psychiatric patients, sex workers), and succeeded in provoking public debate on the Law on Social Danger did so with hardly any support from said parties, and with obvious opposition by Franquist forces. Ultimately, this reform was achieved in December 1978. Unfortunately, official LGBTQ+ historiography has overlooked this coordinator in its historical memory, and in my opinion, it is due to clearly politically radical aspects, which we could now call intersectional. These political proposals even today would alienate and even frighten a good deal of official LGBTQ+ activists. Still, I think we have to do justice to its important role, and for that reason, I've dedicated so much space to it in my study.

Javier: During the Transition, several street uprisings took place for sexual and political liberation. Equally, the Armed police, known as los grises (the graycoats), meted out a great deal of repression. Indeed, in June 1977, to observe the eighth anniversary of the Stonewall uprising in New York, Barcelona's first gay Pride took place (472–9). 

This massive unpermitted march met with an atrocious brutality on the part of the grises, didn't it?

I wrote a very detailed description of this march in my study, although since then I've found more sources that discuss it in terms that don't contradict my narrative, while providing new nuances. This march was absolutely impactful at the time, and it came out on all the written press of the day.

The Ramblas neighborhood of Barcelona was the scene of hundreds of street protests during the Transition, given that Barcelona itself was, as it continues to be, an epicenter for radical anti-capitalist groups that have placed Franquism and its political continuity in predicaments. An unpermitted march of gays and cross-dressers would have been no different. According to witnesses who had been present at other marches, the repression was one of the bloodiest they had ever experienced. The popular response was also one of the most combative ever: it was principally led by people in drag, people who were involved in the struggles of the time, and those who were there to provide support.

This history appears to me to be a close parallel to the Stonewall uprising, in which racialized cross-dressers, living precariously, played a prominent role: here, this role was played by cross-dressing sex-workers who lived precariously in Barcelona, having migrated from the poorest regions of the State. All of this was marked within a context of political ebullience and contact with street battles, which at the time were playing important parts in confronting the Vietnam War. In the same way, historiography has succeeded in ignoring all of this, and in attempting to cast it as political revolt, isolated from its context in a romanticized past, and relegating to a secondary place the key role played by the identities that presently continue marginalized within the LGBTQ+ community in this action.

I want to point out that there were different mobilizations for sexual liberation in the Ramblas during this time that ended with pitched battles between police and cross-dressers. Indeed, some of the first militants from the Catalan gay movement led a small, spontaneous night-time protest on June 28, 1976. This action consisted in some dozens of people, joined by others who saw them on the streets. It ended quickly and without incidents. This was a pretty common occurrence at the time. Once Franco died, everything seemed possible, so the streets became the setting for situations like this one. You could get up and start yelling on the Ramblas, and end up with a spontaneous march at 2am calling for “Llibertat, amnistia y estatut d'autonomia” (Liberty, amnesty, and an autonomous state), as happened to a colleague who started it all as a prank, but who soon had 200 people following him.

Militants from the Basque Gay Liberation Movement (EHGAM) march in Euskadi (the Basque country) during Pride in the late 1970’s. The banner reads (in Castilian and Basque), “International Day of Gay Pride. We are here, and we are not hiding.” Courtesy Piro Subrat

Javier: In 1976, in the Basque country (Euskadi), the Basque Gay Liberation Movement (EHGAM) was founded. EHGAM sought a double struggle for gay liberation and Basque national liberation: a classless, anti-patriarchal, and gay-friendly Euskal Herria (“free Euskadi”). 

What are some of the similarities and differences that you see between the struggles of EHGAM and other radical Basque groups, such as Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA)?

I will begin by clarifying that I don't have Basque origins, whether by birth or family ties, but I focused on Euskal Herria in my research because I believe that Spanish historiography has a serious problem due to its being written in Madrid, and bringing to bear all the preconceived notions that exist within Madrid, relative to the rest of the State. Indeed, I'm from close to Madrid, so it's where I lived during my childhood and adolescence. Still, I believe that no one should do historiography in the Spanish Kingdom without engaging very closely with Basque history and culture. This is because the Basque question has decisively marked all the history of the Spanish State, and to ignore this closeness could mean that the results of one's research would be at least incomplete, if not unusual. For all of these reasons, I dedicated so much attention to Euskal Herria in my study, including the contributions of its gay movement.

ETA disbanded in 2018, and to this day, the right and far-right still refer to it in its electoral campaigns. Claims of terrorist incitement and the whole juridical-political apparatus in these terms continue to be activated, and the system continues to arrest and condemn people for the same reason. I say this, because my response cannot be as complete as I would like, as there are things I would prefer to avoid and have overlooked in my study, and which I probably am still omitting.

ETA was one of many organizations that have supported independence and socialism for Euskal Herria, which literally means “the nation of people who speak Euskera,” on both sides of the Pyrenees Mountain border. Although ETA's had a great deal of mediatic, social, and political coverage due to its armed actions, I believe that the weight of the struggle for these goals has been taken up by other civil-society organizations, including certain political parties and youth groups, Basque-language defense collectives, and anti-authoritarian organizations that have handled the gigantic repression suffered by the Basque people during the long past half-century. I don't want to take away from ETA's importance in this. Rather, I believe that ETA has supported a struggle that has broad dimensions that go beyond ETA. This is known as the Movement for Basque National Liberation. Within it, not everyone agreed with ETA's actions, while not everyone saw them as necessarily bad.

Beyond this, Euskal Herria involves seven provinces, three of which are in southern France, and four in the north of the Spanish Kingdom. The Spanish political regime actually allows for autonomy. It differs from the U.S. federal system, in that the given territories enjoy less autonomy and are much more subjected to what Madrid dicates than what the states of the U.S. can expect from Washington D.C.. Southern Euskal Herria (Hegoalde, in Basque) is split into two Autonomous Communities, one with three provinces (Euskadi) and another with one (Navarre), toward the end of dividing the Basque people. Indeed, all means have been tried to delink Navarre from Basque culture, and to decouple Navarre and Euskadi from the three other provinces to the northeast. Beyond this, there isn't enough space in this interview to describe the gigantic socio-political, cultural, economic, police, military, paramilitary, demographic, urban, criminal, and fascist repression—I run out of adjectives to describe it—suffered by the Basque populace and, more specifically, left-wing Basque agitators for independence, whose history goes back to before the Civil War. This repression predates the existence of Franquism, but it was greatly exacerbated during the dictatorship, and the existing Spanish regime continued in the Franquist wake in so many ways, in terms of relations with Euskal Herria. To date, the situation is very similar, with the difference being that the Spanish State no longer confronts an armed group, but the Basque people still confront several armed groups that work for State salaries, whether wearing uniforms, using fascist symbols, and/or financing themselves with secret State funds.

I say all of this, because I'm not sure about the level of knowledge that exists in the U.S. or U.K. about this issue. I believe that it's very important to understand for the purpose of speaking of the context wherein EHGAM militated and, ultimately, comprehending all Spanish politics of the last half-century, considering that any political dissidence that has bothered those in power has to some extent or another been related to ETA. Being an organization that supported Basque nationalism and socialism, EHGAM was no different, and there exist journalists, politicians, and historians who have tried to frame it within the flow chart of the Movement for Basque National Liberation, but this is false. Soon after starting to research EHGAM, one realizes that its functioning was very similar to that of the fronts for gay liberation of the same time that it was founded. In this sense, within EHGAM there were members of the Basque pro-independence left, as well as Trotskyists, PCE Communists, social democrats, and members of Basque nationalist groups that didn't want independence for Euskal Herria, but rather, autonomy for the region within the Spanish Kingdom itself... There was a lot of variety, given that EHGAM was nationalist and socialist, but with the understanding that such nationalism and socialism were diverse.

In reality, EHGAM historically has been, and continues to be, anti-fascist, manifestly left-wing, and opposed to both the military-political occupation of Euskal Herria, and to the repression that the whole of the country has been subjected. It has worked with, and continues to work with, a multitude of organizations from Basque civil society, including nearly all political parties, always from these ideological starting points. Beyond this, the context of the EHGAM—given all the Basque political ebullience and permanently active struggles—has allowed it to be one of the historical organizations of the movement for sexual liberation that has maintained radical, anti-capitalist views to the present day. It continues to be a collective that is friendly and comradely with the struggles of queers, transfeminists, and other radical youth groups: a collective that is opposed to pink capitalism and the homonormative model, one that is affiliated to the context within each of its zones and permeated by the rest of local social movements. Disgracefully, it thus marks a stark contrast with the majority of historical LGBTQ+ collectives from the 1970's that have survived to this day, with the sole possible exception of the Catalan FAGC (Front for Gay Liberation in Catalonia).

Lastly, I wish to add that the Movement for Basque National Liberation was also key to gay liberation. With this, I don't want to say that—within such a large and massive movement—there wasn't and doesn't continue to exist homophobia, toxic masculinity, and internalized and externalized sexual repression, and so on. Sadly, I have seen these and other things within the historical documentation. Still, the power-structures of social organizations, from the 70's and 80's to the present, have prioritized sexual liberation as essential, and this is easy to corroborate in the discourse used daily by the present-day organizations that are descendents of this Basque left. Such discourse is often quite similar to that of transfeminist base collectives, to a certain extent, but not without their differences. 

As a co-founding member of EHGAM once told me, his experience was that, the more left-wing and pro-independence an organization was that requested support from the gay movement, the greater was the support provided, and this should not be forgotten. This is especially the case within that period of amnesia by which LGBTQ+ historiographers attempted to ignore all of this, through creating a sort of quarantine to isolate everything Basque (in parallel to what has been done politically), and through portraying the PSOE and other governing parties as leaders of sexual liberation. In reality, the PSOE ordered the silencing of parliamentarians who spoke in favor of the gay movement, while the Basque left was publicly supporting it and urging its members and allied organizations to work on these questions. As the punk band Puagh sings, “history gives you away.”

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