Laboratories of Dissent: A cartography of anarchist resistance to Franco in prison and in exile, 1950-1975

Jessica Thorne

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


This thesis explores the little-known but formative networks which developed across 1960s Europe between anarchist political prisoners in Franco’s Spain and emerging activists of the European ‘New Left’. Scholars have traditionally turned to the experience of student and worker radicals in the northern tiers of Europe to explain the rise of the new left and its sharp break with the post-1945 consensus. In Spain, however, there was no redistributive alignment between the state and industry; the labour movement was brutally excluded from the Franco dictatorship’s post-1939 state-building process, of which the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT), Spain’s revolutionary syndicalist union, was a considerable force. This context of defeat forced the CNT to consider other models of revolutionary change. This thesis seeks to work beyond the narrative of defeat by recovering for the historical record those anarchist protagonists who were in considerable part responsible for generating new direct-action opposition. Exploring the trajectories of CNT activists in prison and in exile, this thesis reveals how the Spanish generation of ‘1936’ would, as a result of this defeat, become enmeshed with the sequences of revolts associated with ‘1968’. Prison and exile were the main sites where these two revolutionary generations converged and established new networks of opposition. Employing a biographical and transnational approach, this thesis follows these dissident anarchists as they imbued their longstanding opposition to the regime with the anti-colonial ‘guerrilla’ Marxism of the 1960s. This is not only a story about the decline of the CNT as a trade union, it also offers a new reading of Spain’s ‘economic stabilization’ and both its radicalising and de-radicalising effects. As this thesis argues, the shift away from the CNT’s traditional focus on workplace activism was driven not only by state repression, but by the total reconfiguring of class relations in Spain.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Graham, Helen, Supervisor
  • Bantman, Constance, Supervisor, External person
  • Beer, Daniel, Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date7 Mar 2024
Publication statusUnpublished - 2024


  • Anarchism
  • Spain
  • Francoism
  • Anti-fascism
  • Labour movement

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