The Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI) started in 1927 as a clandestine organization of Spanish and Portuguese anarchists and it became influential to the powerful Spanish trade Union federation Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT). The FAI is often thought of as associated with the CNT. The FAI tried to make the CNT adopt a correct anarchist course and deliver it from communist or reformist members. The FAI organized revolutionary insurrections against the Second Republic and played a leading role in the Spanish Civil War.
Until the mid-1930s, the FAI existed as a loose network of anarchist grupos de afinidad(affinity groups). This traditional form of anarchist organization consisted of five to ten members connected through personal relationships and a strong commitment to the same ideological principles. The grupos de afinidad gathered together in local federations, which were clustered in regional bodies, and the latter were in touch with the top-level peninsular committee. A legendary affinity group was Los Solidarios, set up in early 1920s by Bueanaventura Durruti and Francisco Ascaso. Los Solidarios organized sabotage, attempts on employers and officials, and robberies to fund workers' strikes. After a period of exile, Durruti and Ascaso were charged with trying to kill King Alfonso XII and General Primo de Rivera in 1926 in Paris. Thanks to an international campaign, they were set at liberty and went to Belgium. They returned to Spain in 1931. When they officially became part of the FAI in 1933, their name was changed to Nosotros ("We").
In 1932 and 1933 the FAI was behind a series of armed insurrections against the Republic in parts of Catalonia, Aragon, La Rioja, and Andalusia. The insurrections usually began with an attack on the local police, followed by the burning of the municipal registries, a proclamation of libertarian communism, the appointment of administrative and defense committees, and the abolition of currency. Invariably these actions resulted in the arrival of military police and repressive measures that drove the anarchists away. In the end these actions exhausted the FAI. The fourth FAI congress in May 1936 in Saragossa rejected these revolutionary tactics.
The FAI reigned supreme when, in July 1936, it successfully helped to hit back against the military insurrection of Franco's troops that sparked off the Civil War (July 17, 1936). The FAI now operated with the CNT under the joint name of CNT-FAI. As the war continued and the structure of the state became unstable, the FAI passed libertarian reforms. Industrial and agrarian collectives emerged in Catalonia, eastern Aragon, and Valencia. The FAI also participated in political violence against right-wingers.
Breaking with the anti-parliamentarian tradition, members of the CNT-FAI joined the Catalan and the Republican governments in the autumn of 1936, thus opening a deep rift with the rank-and-file. The conflict intensified in the street fights in Barcelona in May 1937, when members of the CNT-FAI and the dissident communist party Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista POUM fought against the orthodox communists and the police. The new government under Juan Negrín operated without the CNT-FAI and dismantled the collectives. In July 1937, the FAI congress left the loose group structure and adopted a federal organization. It also endorsed participation in state institutions.
This internal dissension accelerated the decline of the FAI and other branches of the libertarian movement. After the Civil War, brutal repression by the Francoist police nearly broke up the FAI in all its practical forms. The FAI operated in exile and suffered from severe internal discord. The archive of the FAI central executive committee Comité Peninsular is at the IISH, together with the archive of the CNT and many other Spanish libertarian persons and organizations. The FAI survives and publishes the magazine Tierra y Libertad.
More information in the FAI inventory.
With thanks to Eduardo Romanos