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Social Republicanism in XIXth c. Spain

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SOCRES (Social Republicanism in XIXth c. Spain)

Reporting period: 2019-09-01 to 2021-08-31

The SOCRES (SOCial REpublicanism in 19th century Spain) project studies an almost forgotten episode of Spanish contemporary history, the “cantonal revolution” of 1873, which had its epicenter in the military harbor of Cartagena (South East of Spain). This movement – quite similar to the Paris commune of 1871 in its political project – played an important role in the global history of revolutions, socialism and colonial emancipations, even if its memory has been erased. SOCRES aims at rediscovering the insurgents and their political thought. It also studies the role of exiles, deportees, migrants and seamen in the global diffusion of social republican ideas, investigating both the roots and echoes the insurrection had in the colonies (mostly Philippines and Cuba), and in the rest of the world.
In order to document the sociology of the movement and its transnational connections, archival material has been collected in Madrid, Cartagena, Alcala de Henares, Viso del Marqués, Aix-en-Provence, La Courneuve, Vincennes and Havana. The list of the refugees in Oran after the Canton’s defeat proved very useful to establish a database of the insurgents. As for printed documents and manuscript archives from the insurrection, they revealed the rebel’s vision of history, their discourse on municipal autonomy and federation, on republicanism, liberalism and socialism. These archives also documented the presence of women in the Canton, even more forgotten than their male counterparts. It also made visible populations such as conscript, sailors, exiles, deportees or simple migrants, which circulated republican and/or socialist ideas in the whole Spanish Empire, and in the Atlantic world.
The first result of the investigation was to show that the Cartagena Canton was much more popular, more feminine and more diverse in its geographical origins than the historiography pretended. Against the narratives of a romantic and “bourgeois” revolution, SOCRES has put in evidence the Canton’s dynamics of radicalization, and the way civilian and plebeian leaders quickly beat the moderate wing of the insurrection. It has also demonstrated that, even if the cantonalist project had been formulated as a male ideal of armed Republic, women had played an active (though subaltern) role as nurses, prostitutes or workers in the arsenal depots. Some of them had even taken up arms in the last weeks of the siege.
The second result of SOCRES is to propose a new account of the canton’s political project, which was much more in touch with the labor struggles of its time than what 1970’s historians pretended. As the investigation has shown, many workers and peasants were present in the canton. Their politization had begun in the 1860’s, in a moment when both radical republicanism and internationalism were circulating among Spanish working classes. However, SOCRES has also demonstrated that nearly three-quarters of the cantonal forces exiled in Algeria were not city workers or peasants but soldiers, military seamen and convicts from the Cartagena prison, categories that we are used to consider as a “lumpen” unable to demonstrate political thinking. In that matter, SOCRES follows the suggestion of the Global history of work and penalty, according to which our preconceived ideas of modern work and of workers movement needs to be revised. Free factory workers were not alone to give birth to workers movements: precarious workers such as Cartagena’s women, or forced workers such the canton’s soldiers, seamen and convicts were also able to mobilize, and to make the Canton a pioneer experience in the history of socialism and social-republicanism.
The third result of SOCRES is to show that, whereas the canton of Cartagena has always been presented as a local and isolated movement, it had wide national, imperial and transnational connections. French Algeria, only a few hour of Cartagena by sea, was the first and most visible region of contact. During the six months of its existence, the canton took the form of a Pirate Republic fueled by the commercial and political exchanges with the French colony, from which came most of the knowledge about the Communes. This was made possible by the giant mutiny of thousands of military sailors at the beginning of the insurrection, and by the know-how of civilian sailors and smugglers who took the commandment of the mutinous ships. SOCRES also inscribed the canton in a Spanish imperial history, showing how much the revolution was imbued with a “Creole dream” of political autonomy which had flourished in the colonies of Porto Rico and Cuba. It also evidenced the links between the insurgents and a reformist nebula from Filipinas, and finally retraced the colonial geography of the insurgents’ deportations and exiles to Cuba, Marianas and Algeria. As these convergent results show, the canton of Cartagena was a global revolution in its scope and reverberation, and it should form part of the Global histories of 19th century.
SOCRES has shed new light on the history of political thought. Republican studies have experienced a great development over the past decades: they have shown that beside liberalism and socialism, a third political tradition like republicanism was strongly rooted in Western history. However, the overwhelming majority of these studies focus on the Northern West and neglect the tradition of social republicanism, more present in France, Italy or Spain. This neglect is not always compensated by the history of socialism which often ignores social republicanism for its supposedly “bourgeois” features. SOCRES has documented the massive adhesion of Spanish popular classes to social republican projects in the 19th century. By showing the depth of popular politicization, it has challenged the clichés about the political backwardness of southern Europe and about the political ‘apathy’ of Spanish society before the Second Republic (1931-1939).
SOCRES has also given voice to categories which were marginalized by the classical history of labor, such as peasants in arms, arsenal workers, conscripts, sailors and convicts, and finally working class women. It has advocated for another history of the labor movement, traditionally centered on the white male, free factory worker of Northern Europe and the United States. It has also focused on the role of exiles, deportees, migrants and seamen in the global diffusion of social republican ideas, to question the national frame which still dominates modern political history. The “Atlantic history” has already evidenced the links between migrations and revolutions, focusing on the Northern Atlantic during the 16th to the 18th centuries. The historian Benedict Anderson has displaced the picture, promoting the Spanish Empire as the center of a global anarchist web of relations woven at the end of the 19th century, which connected anticolonialist intellectuals from Philippines and Cuba to European anarchists. SOCRES has shown that a few decades earlier, a global web of contest had already emerged from the Spanish Empire and that it was expressed in the language of social republicanism, Atlantic abolitionism and workers’ internationalism. It has thus woven the history of the Cartagena Canton as an innovative global micro-history of the 19th century.
1. Alleged convicts 2. Insurgents from the Land Army 3. Insurgents from the Navy 4. Women insurgents