Canton of Cartagena, Spain’s “Municipality of Paris” seeks its place in history

The red flag of the Canton of Cartagena is raised at the Town Hall of the Murcian City on the occasion of the city’s 150th anniversary.Cartagena City Council

In July 1873, in Europe marked by the workers’ revolutions of the nineteenth century, such as the First International in England or Paris municipality In France, Spain also witnessed an episode of rebellion against power and demands for social and labor rights. he Cartagena Canton He resisted the government of the First Republic for six months and, contrary to the prevailing historical account, did so in search of progress in the democratic state and the rule of law. Now, 150 years later, he seeks to reclaim his place in history.

That uprising was not only of local importance, explains Jean Moisand, a historian from the Sorbonne University, but was part of a group of international revolutions that should be studied globally. For this expert, one of the greatest international scholars of the Cartagena canton, the revolution of the cantons “is comparable to that of the French communes”, to The well-known Paris Commune. That revolution only managed to last for two months, between March and May 1871. The Canton of Cartagena faced the government of the First Republic for six months with a real political and social organization outside the formal system, which is why, for the historian, it can be defined as a “strong revolutionary movement”.

“There are a few important revolutions, and this is one of them,” he snaps. Because, in fact, “for six months, Cartagena was literally a territory independent” of Spain, explains the city’s official chronicler, historian Luis Miguel Pérez. The canton formed a government that began to legislate and even mint its own currency, which had its own army and flag.

In his opinion, the significance of this rebellion lies in the fact that what the cantons set out to do was “to change the state system of a country”, and thus its significance transcends the local. “The canton has been mistaken for Cartagena’s struggle for independence from Murcia which does not correspond to reality,” he explains. This revolt is “unrelated” to the demand for the creation of the province of Cartagena, but is related to the search for a federal state “very similar to the present state of autonomy”.

The same idea was echoed by the French professor, who asserted that the cantons understood democracy as representation that must go beyond elections, which they considered “another, but insufficient, resource”. They raised the need for a federal model that should start from the municipality (canton), as the organization closest to the people, and in which popular participation was “very demanding, continuous and very inclusive”, with continuous voting on the most important issues.

For Moisand, the idea of ​​”social democracy” is very recent and was reflected in movements such as 15-M in Spain, or in recent moves in France against Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform.

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That is why, in addition to the social achievements that have been achieved or suggested, the “most impressive progress” in this cantonal revolution is “how the people were able to completely rule a besieged city,” says the expert. “They showed that popular government was possible,” he explains, “and that the world would function better if personal merit and not just prior social status were recognized.”

But the social achievements were also really “ahead of their time”, in the words of Pedro Egea, a professor at the University of Murcia, who organized a conference last March in which fifteen national and international experts participated to try to shed light on this historical phase. Under their government, the rebels promoted an eight-hour day and outlawed child labor and slavery. They created “universal suffrage” in which women were not included, but “unthinkable” advances were made for them at the time, such as signing the “Women’s Emancipation Decree” that recognized their rights as independent people. The revolutionary regime itself was the first in Spain to issue a divorce decree that not only allowed the dissolution of the marriage, but also forced the husband to pay a pension to his ex-wife.

Egea stresses that although it may seem like small details or specific cases, it is important to stress that these milestones have already been met. To the above he adds other examples, such as the abolition of the death penalty, and even the pardoning of a prisoner; Commit to “free, secular, and public” education, or confiscate certain Church property.

Despite all the political and social achievements that have been made, the Cantonal Revolution is practically unknown. To explain why it has not been studied so much compared to its European sisters, Moisand cites, on the one hand, the moment in which it took place, “at the end of the cycle” of those revolutions, which the victorious parties, in Spain and Europe, sought to silence.

In addition, it highlights the “extremely popular dimension of the rebels” from Cartagena: many were illiterate, others went into exile or were deported to places where they had no access to print media.

With the Bourbon Restoration, the University of Murcia professor adds, “all knowledge” about the canton was laminated and its defenders persecuted. Until the establishment of the Second Republic, there was a complete information vacuum. Everything that was published about the uprising was extremely negative. And again, the Franco era becomes a research wasteland. There was complete censorship until very late in the twentieth century,” he says. In fact, he warns, even today, that no memory has been recovered and gives the example of a street map of the city of Cartagena, without a single reference to this historical event.

And the French expert believes that “even today in Spain it is difficult to talk about these revolutions and defend their role without being seen as extremist.” He notes that in Spain there is “a great debate about recovering democratic memory, but it is always limited to the twentieth century. This memory must also be recovered to understand the complexity of the Spanish nineteenth century.” In his opinion, it is “disheartening” and “biased” to want to attribute the development of economic history to England or politics to France, when already in the nineteenth century there was globalization that made all countries experience similar development processes.

For the historian of Cartagena, though very slowly, progress is being made in this recognition of the historical truth of the canton. After the celebration of this year’s Congress, for the first time, one of the masts of the Cartagena City Council raised the red flag of the canton on July 12, the day the uprising began. This date must have been very important, not only for Cartagena, but for Spain. Little by little this event is given its true dimension, ”he concludes.

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