The Spanish Anarchists of Merthyr in the Early Twentieth Century
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Date/Time
Date(s) - Sat 9 January
2:00 pm - 4:00 pm

Location
Hydra Bookshop


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This talk will focus on an on-going research project into the anarchist elements of the wider Spanish community in Dowlais and Abercraf, c.1900-1920.

Following a shortage of labour during the Second Boer War (1899-1902) the management of the Dowlais Iron Works used its subsidiary company in the Basque region to encourage Spanish labourers and their families to move to South Wales. By 1911 there were 264 Spaniards in the borough of Merthyr Tydfil, part of an international community which also included migrants from Ireland, Eastern Europe, France and Italy.

A number of these migrant workers identified with anarchist ideas, which had found popular support in Spain since the 1870s. The anarchists of the Merthyr region maintained a constant stream of communication back to the movement in Spain, facilitated by the networks sustained by the movement’s grass-roots publishing culture. These letters portrayed a largely negative experience: from exasperation at what they saw as hierarchical and regimented unionism in Wales, to conflicts within the Spanish community between social democratic and anarchist sections. They disliked the weather, religion, food and culture they found in Dowlais, and many sought to leave the area as soon as they could. Using this evidence, alongside research conducted at the South Wales Miners’ Library and local archives in Merthyr, this paper suggests that the connections between Wales and Spain reinforced differences between the Spanish anarchists, Welsh workers and other Spaniards, despite the anarchist belief in internationalism and transnational organisation. Recognising such difficulties can help to reflect on the experience of migration and its effects on bottom-up politics, during an era of great development in globalisation and international capitalism.

James recently submitted his PhD thesis, at the Department of History at Sheffield University. His work examines the development of the anarchist movement in Spain over the turn of the twentieth century, with particular focus on the movement’s print culture. His thesis explores the movement’s adoption of terrorism, education and syndicalism as revolutionary strategies, and the effects this had on shaping the largest anarchist movement in world history.

James’ work on Dowlais will form part of a wider project of young researchers in Britain and Spain entitled ‘New Approaches to Spanish Anarchism,’ which seeks to apply international perspectives to the subject. He has discussed this work at a number of institutions, including the International Conference of Historical Geographers and the 2015 ‘Unofficial Histories’ Conference in Amsterdam.

This work is currently being written up for publication ? any thoughts, ideas and input on this project will be greatly appreciated.

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