Title: Durruti in the Spanish Revolution
Author: Abel Paz
Date: 1996
Source: Retrieved on 19th September 2020 from https://libcom.org/library/durruti-spanish-revolution
Notes: Translated to English by Chuck Morse

    TRANSLATOR’S ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

    Preface to the spanish edition

      Note to the second spanish edition

  FIRST PART: The Rebel

    CHAPTER I. Between the cross and the hammer

    CHAPTER II. August 1917

    CHAPTER III. From Exile to Anarchism

    CHAPTER IV. Los justicieros

    CHAPTER V. Confronting government terror

    CHAPTER VI. Zaragoza, 1922

    CHAPTER VII. Los solidarios

    CHAPTER VIII. José Regueral and Cardinal Soldevila

    CHAPTER IX. Toward the Primo de Rivera dictatorship

    CHAPTER X. The Revolutionary Center of Paris

    CHAPTER XI. Guerrillas in Latin America

    CHAPTER XII. From Simón Radowitzky to Boris Wladimirovich

    CHAPTER XIII. Los Errantes in Buenos Aires in 1925

    CHAPTER XIV. Toward Paris: 1926

    CHAPTER XV. The plot against Alfonso XIII

    CHAPTER XVI. The International Anarchist Defense Committee

    CHAPTER XVII. The Anarcho-Communist Union and the Poincaré government

    CHAPTER XVIII. The anti-parliamentarianism of Louis Lecoin

    CHAPTER XIX. Emilienne, Berthe, and Nestor Makhno

    CHAPTER XX. Lyon, and in prison again

    CHAPTER XXI. Clandestine in Europe

    CHAPTER XXII. The fall of Primo de Rivera

    CHAPTER XXIII. The Murder of Fermín Galán

    CHAPTER XXIV. “Viva Macià! Death to Cambó!”

    CHAPTER XXV. The new government and its political program

  Second Part: The Militant

    CHAPTER I. April 14, 1931

    CHAPTER II. Before May 1: the Forces in Play

    CHAPTER III. May 1, 1931

    CHAPTER IV. The Nosotros group faces the CNT and the Republic

    CHAPTER V. The FAI and the CNT meet

    CHAPTER VI. The republic’s social policy and the CNT

    CHAPTER VII. In the middle of a storm without a compass

    CHAPTER VIII. Durruti and García Oliver respond to “The Thirty”

    CHAPTER IX. Two paradoxical processes: Alfonso XIII and the Gijón bank

    CHAPTER X. The insurrection in Alto Llobregat

    CHAPTER XI. The steamship Buenos Aires

    CHAPTER XII. Guinea — Fernando Poo – The Canaries

    CHAPTER XIII. Split in the CNT

    CHAPTER XIV. The insurrectional cycle

    CHAPTER XV. Prisoner in El Puerto de Santa María

    CHAPTER XVI. From electoral strike to insurrection

    CHAPTER XVII. Socialism, absent in december 1933

    CHAPTER XVIII. The general strike in Zaragoza

    CHAPTER XIX. A historic meeting between the CNT and Companys

    CHAPTER XX. From the damm boycott to the cells of the headquarters

    CHAPTER XXI. October 6 in Barcelona: against whom?

    CHAPTER XXII. The Asturian Commune

    CHAPTER XXIII. “Peace and order reign in Asturias”

    CHAPTER XXIV. “Banditry, no; collective expropriation, yes!”

    CHAPTER XXV. Toward the “Popular Front”

    CHAPTER XXVI. The CNT judges Durruti

    CHAPTER XXVII. February 16, 1936

    CHAPTER XXVIII. The Fourth Congress of the CNT

    CHAPTER XXIX. The long wait for July 19, 1936

  Third Part: The revolutionary, from july 19 to november 20, 1936

    CHAPTER I. Barcelona in flames

    CHAPTER II. General Goded surrenders

    CHAPTER III. The death of Ascaso

    CHAPTER IV. July 20

    CHAPTER V. Lluís Companys confronts the CNT, and the CNT confronts itself

    CHAPTER VI. The Central Committee of Anti-Fascist Militias of Catalonia

    CHAPTER VII. The Durruti-García Oliver offensive

    CHAPTER VIII. The Durruti Column

    CHAPTER IX. “The clandestine revolution”

    CHAPTER X. Koltsov visits the Durruti Column

    CHAPTER XI. Largo Caballero, reconstructing the republican state

    CHAPTER XII. García Oliver, Largo Caballero, and the problem of Morocco

    CHAPTER XIII. Antonov Ovssenko and García Oliver

    CHAPTER XIV. The spanish gold road to Russia

    CHAPTER XV. The Libertarian Confederation of Aragón

    CHAPTER XVI. Stalin’s shadow over Spain

    CHAPTER XVII. “Viva Madrid without government!”

    CHAPTER XVIII. The crossing of the manzanares river

    CHAPTER XIX. The Durruti Column in Madrid

    CHAPTER XX. November 19, 1936

    CHAPTER XXI. Durruti kills Durruti

    CHAPTER XXII. Durruti’s funeral

  Fourth Part: The deaths of Durruti

    Introduction

    FIRST CHAPTER. The first versions

      CIPRIANO MERA (NOVEMBER 18)

      ANTONIO BONILLA (NOVEMBER 19)

      JULIO GRAVES (DECLARATION TO ARIEL AT 5:00 PM)

      CIPRIANO MERA

      R. DIKNANIE KARMEN

      THE DOCTORS’ CONTRADICTIONS

    CHAPTER II. Fact or fiction?

      Mathieu Corman (militiaman in the Column’s International Group)

      J.M.

      JAUME MIRAVITLLES

      PIERRE ROSLI

      MIKHAIL KOLTSOV

      DOMINIQUE DESANTI

      HUGH THOMAS

      PIERRE BROUÉ AND EMILE TÉMIME

      THE REVIEWER FROM THE TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT

      Albert Meltzer

      JAMES JOLL

      ANONYMOUS:

      ANTONIA STERN’S VERSION

      FATHER JESÚS ARNAL AND THE JOURNALIST MONTOTO

    CHAPTER III. Contradictions and fabrications in the presented versions

      JAUME MIRAVITLLES’ FANTASTIC IMAGINATION

      “SANTI,” DURRUTI’S MILITARY ADVISOR

      THE ACCOUNT OF THE JOURNALIST FROM THE TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT

      CORMAN AND ANONYMOUS

      FATHER JESÚS ARNAL

    CHAPTER IV. Durruti’s second death, or his political assassination

    CHAPTER V. Conclusion

    APPENDIX. The jigsaw puzzle of the search for Durruti’s body

      ERASING HISTORY

      THE CONFUSION OF THE MAUSOLEUMS

      EMPTY TOMBS

      WHERE ARE THEY?

      A MYSTERY

    Afterword

      1. Why a new edition

      2. From Diego Camacho to Abel Paz, passing through Ricardo Santany

      3. Anarcho-syndicalism in the history of the Second Republic and the 1936–1939 war

TO JENNY, WHOSE CONSTANT AND CONTINUED SUPPORT MADE THIS BOOK POSSIBLE.

TRANSLATOR’S ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I translated this book in honor of Durruti’s revolutionary legacy and, to a lesser extent, Paz’s contributions as a partisan intellectual. Many people from the around world have helped me along the way. I must first thank AK Press for asking me to translate the work and for their consistent encouragement. I am particularly grateful to AK’s Charles Weigl. His expert and exhaustive editorial assistance enabled me to improve the manuscript dramatically. Eva García, Nadia Gil Velazquez, and Astrid Wessels all patiently helped me unravel countless obscure and idiomatic passages. Dieter Gebauer and Laia Canals both provided indispensable aid. Julie Herrada from the Labadie Collection at the University of Michigan graciously and promptly mailed me various important documents. I am indebted to Paul Glavin for his unflagging support for my literary endeavors over the years. Annette Burkin and Rebecca DeWitt copy edited the entire text and enriched it significantly. Finally, I must express my deepest appreciation to Yvonne Liu. She offered helpful comments on several chapters, although more than anything I am grateful for her constant emotional support, companionship, and for bringing so many joys into my life.

While those listed above made this translation much better than it would have been without their help, I alone bear final responsibility for the text.

Preface to the spanish edition

For a variety of reasons, we were initially unable to publish this biography in its original language and had to bring it into the world in translated form. However, readers curious enough to buy the Spanish and French editions should be aware that the Spanish version is distinct from the French in important ways. We should also inform readers that they may find material in this biography that they have seen elsewhere, in works by other authors. This is because many unscrupulous “historians” and “specialists” have extracted information from the French edition of this book without indicating—and sometimes even deliberately concealing—its origin. Anyone with concerns can be assured that we have used primary sources almost exclusively. This compels us to include abundant and sometimes cumbersome footnotes, but we believe that it is important to note our sources, especially when treating a person upon whom so many silences, shadows, and distortions weigh.

Having made these disclaimers, we should explain what prompted us to modify this work between the publication of the first French edition and this Spanish edition.

In 1962, when we began researching Buenaventura Durruti’s life, we knew that we would encounter substantial difficulties. We decided to persevere, despite the challenges, because he interested us so much. We reasoned that we could at least use the available sources to construct a coherent account of his person and trajectory, even if we would be unable to cover every dimension of his life (a large part of which transpired underground and in prison). It was with that idea that we patiently began collecting notes, speeches, letters, and commentaries on or by our subject. But we felt dissatisfied with the results of our work at first: the same facts and stories seemed to be repeated endlessly, with greater or lesser passion, but there was little substance once we passed our findings through the sieve of reflection.

Then we changed tactics and, where we thought we would run into a wall of silence, we found a broad and warm comprehension instead. Aurelio Fernández and Miguel García Vivancos were the first to share their memories with us. Thanks to their help, we were able to investigate the 1920s, which contain many obscure areas. We were struggling with some of these when we had the good fortune of receiving Manuel Buenacasa’s assistance.

He put us in contact with Clemente Mangado, who provided testimony of unique value and illuminated Durruti’s passage through Zaragoza as well as his encounter with Francisco Ascaso.

But what had Durruti done before 1920, during his early years? Testimony from Laureano Tejerina’s sons and Florentino Monroi, a childhood friend of Buenaventura’s, was invaluable here. Likewise, Durruti’s compañera Emilienne Morin gave us his sister Rosa’s address, who put important materials belonging to or related to her brother at our disposal. Her offerings were a true wellspring for us. However, we needed to speak with Durruti’s mother and yet, as exiles, we were unable to travel to León to do so. At ninety years old, we could lose her at any moment. Fortunately, a youngster from the family volunteered to do what we could not and conducted vital interviews with her about Durruti’s childhood and years as a young adult. Five years had passed by that time, but we had harvested good and plentiful material. We had enough to begin researching the so-called “Latin American excursion” that Durruti and his friends made. We spent nearly two years studying their passage through the New World before arriving on firm ground. Finally, once that was complete, we only needed to delve into the period of the Column, during the revolution. And here numerous former Column members assisted us greatly, particularly Francisco Subirats, Antonio Roda, Ricardo Rionda, José Mira, Nicolás Bernard, and L. R.. All of them, in addition Liberto Callejas, Marcos Alcón, and Diego Abad de Santillán, made significant contributions. We also received valuable information from persons who were intimate with or close to Durruti, like Teresa Margalef, Juan Manuel Molina, Dolores Iturbe, Emilienne Morin, Berthe Favert, Felipe Alaiz, José Peirats, Federica Montseny, and many more.

At last, we had enough information to begin drafting our biography, putting all our thought in Spain, its people, and its revolution. When we finished the work, it was clear that we would be unable to publish it in Spain. We had the opportunity to release a French edition but, since France is not Spain, that implied shortening the original text. That is what occurred and that is why abbreviated versions of this biography have circulated in French as well as Portuguese and English. Such was the book’s fate when Barcelona’s Editorial Bruguera opened up the possibility of finally printing the complete work in our own idiom and for our own people. When we agreed to issue a Spanish edition of Durruti: The Proletariat in Arms, we felt duty-bound to revise the text. Durruti had been living and growing in us since the appearance of the French version in 1972. We also felt obliged to incorporate corrections and clarifications sent to us by various people mentioned in the work. Correspondence with García Oliver was particularly useful; it threw light on important events and topics and, above all, helped place us in the atmosphere in which our subject lived.

All this new information enriched the work deeply. We felt a responsibility to make it public and could not limit ourselves to the framework of the first French edition. We were unwilling to deprive readers of the new insights we had garnered, especially when the book would now be published in our own language and could be a resource for a new generation eager to know its recent past. As a result, we decided to rewrite the text, without compromising the subject of the book, the historian’s trade, or the disinterested contributions obtained. Despite the grandiose stage upon which Durruti acted, we have tried to show his human qualities, which always expressed the passion that was so characteristic of him, or perhaps his era. Of course Durruti was a product of his times, which he struggled so ardently to transform. Men make history and are also made by it. Durruti, like the whole human type, cannot escape this general rule. Many people have helped us produce this expanded work, which we sincerely dedicate to the Spanish and world proletariat. Durruti’s daughter Colette and José Mira recently gave us new letters from Durruti. We also enjoyed the congenial help of Osvaldo Bayer, who provided us with information relating to Argentina. Estela and Alberto Belloni were equally important for the chapters on the Americas, especially the Río de la Plata region. Rudolf de Jong and the always patient and friendly staff at Amsterdam’s Institute for Social History gave us their full attention while we consulted their archives. Likewise, the Centre International de Recherches sur l’Anarchisme (CIRA) in Geneva afforded us every type of support. We are grateful to the staff at the Instituto de Historia Social, the Museo Social, the Archives des Affaires Etrangères, and the French Archives Nationales, all in Paris. We also obtained documents from Spanish Refugees Aid at New York City’s Hoover Institution. Our Canadian friend Donald Crowe translated the texts in English and Antonio Téllez produced the index of names. We are indebted to Julián Martín for his help with the photographs. We express our deepest appreciation to everyone who played a role in the production of this work. We close by saying that we have and assume complete responsibility for the present biography.

Paris, February 1977

Note to the second spanish edition

I want to thank the comrades at the Fundación Anselmo Lorenzo for publishing this new, revised, and corrected edition of Durruti and especially José Luis Gutiérrez for his introduction and notes.

Barcelona, April 1996


(The introduction by José Luis Gutiérrez appears as an Afterward in this English translation.)

FIRST PART: The Rebel

CHAPTER I. Between the cross and the hammer

At 4:00 pm on June 4, 1923, unknown assailants opened fire on a black car across from the St. Paul Home School in the outskirts of Zaragoza. They fired thirteen bullets, one of which penetrated the heart of one of the car’s occupants. The victim died instantly. He was Juan Soldevila Romero, the Archbishop Cardinal of Zaragoza.

News of the prelate’s death terrified local authorities and thrilled the humble classes. The police were paralyzed with shock at first, but went into action quickly, and tried their best to overcome the stubborn silence of the locals. El Heraldo de Aragón, the only newspaper in Zaragoza with an evening edition, had to completely re-do its front page. It printed a full-page photograph of the deceased with the headline “An unusual and abominable crime.”

There was tremendous anxiety in the Civil Government. The Superior Police Chief and the Civil Guard commander were discouraged, confused, and simply did not know how to proceed. [1] The Civil Governor said that they shouldn’t do anything until they got orders from Madrid. The wait wasn’t long: they received two telegrams around 8:00 that evening. In one, King Alfonso XIII sent his condolences and, in the other, the Minister of the Interior demanded that they resolve the matter immediately. [2]

The CNT’s Local Federation of Unions distributed a leaflet throughout the city threatening grave consequences as well as a general strike if even one innocent laborer was brought in on murder charges. It was a sleepless night for Zaragoza’s workers and authorities. The latter decided not to launch a crackdown, but those who feared it felt unsafe in their own homes.

The following morning’s newspapers described the incident according to their whim and fancy. El Heraldo de Aragón thought anarchists rather than militant workers had committed the crime. La Acción was more specific: a band of anarchist terrorists led by Durruti bore responsibility for the act. As if to verify the claim, it printed a long list of criminal deeds that it attributed to that “terrible assassin” and demanded that the government take whatever steps necessary to stop that “scourge of God.” Seventy-five years earlier, León, like other cities of the Spanish plateau, was little more than an anachronism; a picture of a stagnant, clerical, and monarchical Spain. But the metropolis slowly grew, evolving around its ancient church, the center of local life. Agriculture was nearly the only source of income for León’s ten thousand inhabitants, which was the case throughout all of Old Castile. The city was riveted to the land, although its residents always had an eye trained on heaven, from which they hoped to receive good fortune. Cattle grazing, like in the times of the Mesta, [3] and a rudimentary leather tanning and wool industry, completed the picture. Buenaventura Durruti entered the world in this austere environment. He was the second child of the youthful marriage of Anastasia Dumange and Santiago Durruti [4] and opened his eyes in building number nine in Santa Ana Square at 10:00 am on July 14, 1896. Surrounded by six brothers and a sister, José Buenaventura was a “robust child and full of life.” [5]

Spain was going through rough times and the country’s economy and political institutions were in deep crisis. The remains of the old colonial empire were rebelling against the “motherland.” The Cubans had revolted under the leadership of José Martí and Spain’s Regent María Cristina commanded Prime Minister Cánovas del Castillo to use whatever force necessary to crush the insurrection. [6]

The crown sent General Weyler to the island with orders to smash the uprising. His solution was to turn Cuba into an immense concentration camp.

At the same time as the insurrection in the Caribbean, the Filipinos rose against the metropolis, particularly the Dominican monks who controlled the economy of the islands. The repression was as merciless there as in Cuba. Even nationalist intellectual José Rizal fell to Spain’s executioners. [7]

There was pressure on the peninsula as well. In Andalusia, under the extortion of the landowners, peasants launched revolts that took on dimensions of social war. There was also a climate of violence and conflict in the coalfields of Asturias. In the industrial regions of the Basque country and Catalonia, there were nearly uninterrupted protests and strikes. The government’s reply was absolutely savage. It filled the prisons with workers and carried out frequent executions.

All these events culminated in 1898, when the last colonies (Cuba, Philippines, and Puerto Rico) were lost and the country sank into an economic quagmire due to the disappearance of colonial exploitation and trade.

Two years later, when the country’s financial problems were at their most severe, Buenaventura and his older brother Santiago began to attend a school run by Manuel Fernández on Misericordia Street. Buenaventura’s first educational experience lasted until he was eight years old. We have little information about this period, but do know that Manuel Fernández thought the subject of our biography was a “mischievous child, but with noble sentiments and quite affectionate.” Decades later, Durruti himself said a few words about his childhood in a letter to his sister Rosa: “Since my most tender age,” he wrote, “the first thing I saw around me was suffering, not only in our family but also among our neighbors. Intuitively, I had already become a rebel. I think my fate was determined then.” [8]

There is good reason to believe that while writing this letter Durruti was recalling an event that occurred when he six years old; an incident that would have a powerful impact upon him and that may explain his instinctive social awareness. We refer to the arrest of his father for his active participation in the 1903 tanners’ strike in León.

The strike lasted nine months and it was the first significant labor conflict in the city. The tanning workers were resolute and although hunger as well as oppression followed their resistance, their work stoppage was ultimately a victory for the working class, since it laid the foundations of proletariat organization in the region.

The first instances of labor mobilization in León had occurred four years earlier, when Buenaventura’s uncle Ignacio started a workers’ association on Badillo Street. We know little about this group, except that it spread a message of mutualism and fraternity among the tanners, who began meeting monthly in its office to discuss their problems. [9] Previously, a small group of Republican intellectuals had formed León’s most progressive strata, but they were so moderate and accommodating that they were hardly a concern for local authorities or the clergy. Things changed around the turn of the century, with the work being done on the Valladolid-León railway line; the first socialist and anarchist publications began to arrive in the city, thanks to the railroad workers as well as the laborers in the León-Asturias mining reserve. Surely these publications inspired Ignacio’s group of tanner friends and also informed them about the agitation sweeping through Spain at the time, particularly in Bilbao and Barcelona. The eight-hour workday, already secured by the tailors in Madrid, was the central demand. In any case, León’s tanners soon began to make salary and work schedule demands on the owners. At the time, wages went from 1.25 to 1.75 pesetas for a “sunrise to sunset” workday. The tanners wanted an increase of fifty céntimos and a ten-hour day. They entrusted Ignacio Durruti, Santiago Durruti (father), Antonio Quintín, and Melchor Antón with articulating their demands to the owners’ association. The employers rejected their requests outright and the workers went on strike. Given that tanning was nearly the only local industry, their work stoppage brought the entire city to a halt.

Authorities responded by arresting those they considered responsible for the revolt. Residents felt repulsed when they saw honest workers being treated like common criminals and declared their solidarity with the arrestees. This popular reaction caused some anxiety among the authorities and apparently the bishop himself—who was rumored to have instigated the crackdown—intervened to free the prisoners, although not before they had languished in the provincial jail for fifteen days. The strike dragged on for nine months. Local merchants extended credit to the strikers, Lorenzo Durruti’s canteen gave food away at unrealistic prices, and Ignacio Durruti sold his workshop and donated the proceeds to the workers. But none of this could stop hunger from invading the workers’ homes and breaking the rebel spirit. Little by little they gave in and the strike finally came to an end. The tanning bourgeoisie was duly contented with its victory, but some workers, like Buenaventura’s father, decided to change occupations before ceding to the employers. [10]

Prior to this conflict, the family had been somewhat less pinched economically than those of a similar social status. Although Durruti’s father earned a modest salary, they received help from Lorenzo, Pedro, and Ignacio, which made a big difference for them. But life began to vary for everyone after the strike: Lorenzo had to close his canteen; Ignacio mysteriously disappeared (everyone assumed that he had emigrated to the Americas) and Durruti’s maternal grandfather Pedro Dumange watched his business slowly collapse as a result of the boycott declared against it by the local bosses. This forced the family to change its plans for the children’s education. Grandfather Pedro wanted Buenaventura to study, so that he could have a career in the textile business, but the family’s scarce economic resources (Santiago earned two pesetas daily as a carpenter) made this impossible. There was simply no way to consider paying costly tuition fees. Santiago and Anastasia thus decided to send their children to Ricardo Fanjul’s school, which was more consistent with their means.

Buenaventura did not distinguish himself with his performance during this second educational period. Indeed, he was a rather mediocre student, although Fanjul seemed to think that he showed some potential. “A boy with a sharp intelligence for literature,” the teacher wrote in the student’s report at the end of the year. [11]

When Durruti turned fourteen, the family began to think about the boy’s future. Grandfather Pedro, who was especially fond of him, insisted that he should study in Valladolid and even promised to pay for the classes. But Durruti rejected the idea and disappointed his grandfather. He wanted to learn mechanics and be a worker like his father.

In 1910, he began an apprenticeship in the workshop of the master mechanic Melchor Martínez, who was famed for being a furious revolutionary because he provocatively read the El Socialista newspaper in local cafes, although the truth is that his socialism was not particularly well-formed. He was radicalized while working in Bilbao and later, old and full of admiration for Pablo Iglesias, returned to León. [12] He set up a ramshackle workshop there that made more noise than anything else and at which some workers with socialist leanings used to gather to argue and talk about the advances of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE).

There had been some progress in León in the area of workers’ organization by the time. Two labor associations, the Railroad Workers’ Union and the Metalworkers’ Union, had affiliated with the Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT). For their part, the city’s young people began to distance themselves from the Church. Indeed, Buenaventura told his mother that he would no longer attend the religion classes that the parish priest of the Santa Ana church led every Thursday. He never again participated in religious activities and even declined to receive communion during the following year’s Easter celebration. This scandalous act earned him a reputation as a troublemaker among the city’s residents.

Melchor Martínez, who became an expert in the boy’s adventures, immediately took a liking to his apprentice. He told Durruti’s father: “I’ll make your son a good mechanic, but also a socialist.” [13] Once, when the master and the boy were alone together, Martínez brought the youth over to the furnace and, grasping the pliers, removed some reddened iron. He began to beat the anvil, while saying: “This is what you have to do. Hit the iron when it’s red hot until it takes on the form that you want.” At the end of the day, he told Durruti that he would make a good blacksmith because he hit hard but added: “You have to direct your blows carefully. Force alone isn’t enough. You need intelligence, so you know where to hit.” He later developed an interest in the youth’s intellectual growth and urged him to enroll in the night classes at the “Los Amigos del País” educational center. [14]

Buenaventura learned the basics of mechanics and the principles of socialism at this workshop. One day, after two years there, his teacher told him that he couldn’t teach him any more mechanics or more socialism and that it was time for Buenaventura to move on. He got a job in Antonio Mijé’s workshop, which specialized in assembling washing machines used to clean minerals in the mines. After a year there, the third practicing his trade, Mijé qualified him as a second-class lathe operator.

It was then—in April 1913—that he joined the Metalworkers’ Union and received membership card number twelve. [15] The lanky young man became a fixture at union meetings, although he rarely took part in the discussions. His work and union life were deeply intertwined thereafter.

Iglesias Munís was the most prominent socialist theoretician in León at the time and founded the city’s first socialist newspaper ( El Socialista Leonés) in 1916. [16] For the most part, he functioned as an educator and people listened to him as if he was an oracle. Durruti imitated the other workers at first, but quickly escaped his influence and began to think for himself about the working class’s problems.

In one of his talks, Iglesias spoke about the progress of socialism in Spain. He noted that the Socialist Party had scored significant electoral victories, despite the CNT’s opposition to the elections. Buenaventura asked him to explain why the CNT had abstained, although he only received an ambiguous reply from Iglesias. Durruti did not give more thought to the matter, but from then on began to participate in the discussions. He observed with some pleasure that he was able to agitate the union leaders, who criticized him for his revolutionary intransigence. They told him that he should be more patient, but Durruti responded by saying that “socialism is either active or isn’t socialism.” In other words, he asserted that “the emancipation of the working class requires the complete destruction of capitalism and we can’t stop our revolutionary efforts until that happens.” They told him that he should be sensitive to the political complexities of the moment, but Durruti rejected the idea that the vicissitudes of bourgeois politics should condition the workers’ movement. While there was a vast chasm between Buenaventura and the leaders, his words hit a cord among the union’s youth, who shared his revolutionary urgency and felt repelled by the endless advice of “moderation.” [17] Discussions of this nature continued until 1914, when economic conditions in Spain changed radically as a result of the First World War. Spain was a neutral party in the conflict and provided the belligerents with all types of vital products and raw materials. The Spanish bourgeoisie, trading with both the Germans and the Allies, conducted a substantial business.

Industry, trade, and maritime transport grew rapidly, which was particularly beneficial for the metallurgic and extraction industries. Old businesses were revived and the mines were worked intensively. This meant that the factories and mines had to hire more workers which in turn prompted laborers to emigrate from the countryside to the industrial areas. This heightened the importance and influence of the proletariat, particularly in Barcelona, which absorbed many of the migrants. There was a significant rise in worker mobilization in the Catalan capital.

The mines in León functioned at full capacity, just like those throughout the country, and Antonio Mijé’s mechanic workshop tripled its work. However, all the orders overwhelmed Mijé workshop and thus he decided to send teams of men to the mining centers in Matallana, Ponferrada, and La Robla to install mechanical washers on-site. Mijé made Buenaventura a leader of one of these teams and sent him to Matallana. For Durruti and his two workmates, this trip was a long-awaited opportunity to make contact with the celebrated miners of Asturias.

The first few days passed quickly, because the work was so demanding, but the mine was soon shut down by a strike called to protest the abusive treatment that one of the engineers inflicted on the workers. The miners wanted the engineer to be fired, but the management rejected this demand outright. Others mines in the area went on strike in solidarity, increasing the volatility of the conflict. Buenaventura observed that “mine managers need us to assemble our mineral washers as soon as possible because they’re unable to keep up if we don’t. But we’re not budging. They have to choose between meeting the strikers’ demands or disappointing their clients. It’s up to them.” The higher-ups assembled the mechanics and told them that they had a contract to fulfill, but Buenaventura declared that nothing would happen while the strike lasted. Some threats were made, but the mechanics held firm and the management had to cede. They removed the engineer. [18]

The León youths impressed the miners, particularly the “big one,” as they liked to call Buenaventura. They became friendly with him from then on and began to call him by his first name. About this period, Buenacasa wrote, “Durruti was a shout that rose in Asturias.” That was indeed the case. [19] Buenaventura received a surprise when he returned to León after the assembly was completed. Mijé called him into his office and took him to task for his conduct during the strike. He warned him that the Civil Guard had taken an interest in him and told him to restrain his militant impulses. “This is León, not Barcelona,” he said.

They had heard about the conflict in the Metalworkers’ Union too. The leaders admonished Durruti for his radicalism, whereas the young people were excited and envied his participation in the struggle.

Melchor Martínez, his teacher, didn’t beat around the bush. He told him to get out of León: neither José González Regueral, the Lieutenant Colonel of the Civil Guard and provincial Governor, nor Commander Arlegui would tolerate extremism in the region.

Buenaventura had another surprise at home. His father, who was very sick at the time, joyfully told his son that he had secured him a position as a mechanic fitter in the mobile workshops of the Railroad Company of the North. All of this went against his plans, but given the family’s situation, he decided to accept the job. It was under these circumstances that he was swept up by the celebrated strike of August 1917.

CHAPTER II. August 1917

The proletariat, now strong and populous due to the industrial expansion, entered into open revolutionary struggle. The decisive moments of the battle occurred in the summer of 1917, as Spain teetered on the brink of revolution.

Since the beginning of the century, the Catalan and Basque industrial bourgeoisie understood that the principal obstacle to its growth lay in Spain’s economic and political structures and that the country would never develop as long as the clergy, aristocracy, and military monopolized political power. They thus initiated an offensive aimed at displacing the parties that had been taking turns running the state and linked their efforts, psychologically, to deeply rooted autonomist sentiments among the Catalan and Basque peoples. These passions were becoming increasingly separatist in character and represented a growing challenge to the power of the central government in Madrid.

The explosion of the First World War prompted the bourgeoisie to accumulate wealth at a frenzied rate, although it did not bother to modernize industry or prepare itself for the economic crisis that would occur when the doors of foreign trade closed. In 1916, in the midst of the European war, Spain had to confront a terrible reality: the country had a deficit of more than 1,000,000,000 pesetas and also had to bear new costs deriving from its unfortunate military campaign in Morocco.

The monopolistic oligarchies had been getting rich while the state spent its reserves. The government was desperate and appealed to Catalan and Basque industrialists, in the hopes that they would help it extract itself from its impasse. Conservative Treasury Minister Santiago Alba advocated placing a direct tax on the extraordinary profits made by companies and individuals, but his plan had a limitation that the industrial bourgeoisie noted immediately: the agricultural capitalists were exempt from the tax, which once again demonstrated the feudal influence on the state. Using this exception as a platform, Francesc Cambó, a leading representative of the Catalan bourgeoisie, attacked the project in the Cortes and not only stopped it in its tracks but also caused the government and the Count of Romanones to fall. However, the bourgeoisie faced its own emergency when foreign purchases were limited in 1917. Indeed, the consequent decline in profits marked the beginning of the difficult, irredeemable situation into which Spain would descend after the war. Despite all this, the bourgeoisie was incapable of drawing all the pertinent conclusions and, ideologically speaking, did little to differentiate itself little from the conservatives.

The working class, struggling under the high cost of living, organized a national protest in 1916 that shook the entire country and its dominant strata in particular. For the first time, the CNT (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo) and the UGT (Unión General de Trabajadores) signed an accord that spoke openly of social revolution. [20] The industrial and agricultural elites forgot their differences after seeing this proletarian demonstration and both responded belligerently to the workers’ demands. A social war was brewing. Two events disturbed the fragile political situation even further. One was the Russian Revolution, which appeared to all as a transcendent event in which the working class and peasantry took control of their destinies for the first time. In Spain, news from Russia detonated popular uprisings in the cities and the countryside, where rebellions erupted to the shout of “Viva the Soviets!”

The second event was the rebellion of the infantry within the armed forces. Their revolt was not strictly political, but motivated by a reaction to the monarchy’s favoritism toward the African military lobby, which insisted that the government continue the war in Morocco at all costs. [21] By May 1917, the objective conditions necessary for a revolution seemed to have crystallized. The CNT and UGT—in keeping with the 1916 unity pact—had to confront the events and prepare their respective forces for action. The two groups framed the situation very differently. The matter was clear for the CNT: they had to take advantage of contradictions among the bourgeois and exploit the dissension between the army and the state in order to destroy the monarchy and proclaim an advanced social republic. For the UGT, which the Socialist Party controlled, the juncture was not so much social as political in character: it wanted to form a parliamentary block that would install a liberal government but not liquidate the monarchy. The two workers’ organizations were unable to find real common ground between these diametrically opposed approaches to the moment.

While the Socialists discouraged mass action—telling the CNT that it wasn’t the right time to rise up—two additional events helped undermine the revolutionary potential of the period. The first was Eduardo Dato’s entrance into the government, who rushed to meet the demands of the infantry and thus reestablished discipline in the army. The second was the resounding failure of the Parliamentary Assembly that had gathered in Barcelona with a pledge to appoint a provisional government. [22] That Assembly dissolved itself when it learned that Barcelona’s working class had built barricades in the streets and raised the red flag. It left the workers at the mercy of government persecution from then on (July 19, 1917).

With the Assembly dissolved and the Socialist Party’s political dream dispelled—it had pinned its hopes on the triumph of the Parliamentary Assembly—the UGT and the Socialist Party did not know what to do. Their leadership was frightened as it watched social discontent grow more virulent daily and found no solution but to restrain the working class. Pablo Iglesias declared that a peaceful general strike would suffice to calm the masses and, from then on, that was the UGT’s objective. It took control of the workers’ rebellion (in opposition to the CNT) and formed a National Strike Committee. Police arrested the Committee within hours of the declaration of the general strike on August 13, 1917.

A witness of the 1917 general strike summed it up in these terms: “The revolt was revolutionary, unanimous and complete throughout Spain; I don’t know if anything like it has occurred elsewhere in the world. Hundreds of workers fell throughout the Peninsula.... [but] it began without a concrete goal and lasted a week. The heroic workers of Asturias prolonged it for eight additional days.” [23]

Indeed, the repression was severe: “the troops were called out and used their machine-guns against the strikers.... The troops were thought to have behaved barbarously ... the army ... with the King [was] the only real power in the country.” [24]

To round things off, several months later, in response to those who reproached the Socialist Party for having tried to make a revolution in Spain, Socialist leader Indalecio Prieto declared the following in the Cortes: “It’s true that we gave arms to the people and that we could have won, but we didn’t give them ammunition. What are you complaining about?” [25] That was the fate of the workers rebellion nationally. How did it unfold in León?

The strike was as unanimous there as in the rest of Spain and the most rebellious youth were mobilized, including Buenaventura. This handful of youngsters participated actively in the revolt and, when the strike was over, tried to support the Asturian miners who, as just noted, extended it for eight more days. The youth as well as older workers inspired by them used sabotage to stop the trains from operating in the region. They set fire to locomotives, pulled up tracks, and burned down the railroad warehouse.

León’s Socialist leaders hurried to rescind the strike order when they saw the direction that it had taken and that the workers had escaped their control, although not without first publicly denouncing the sabotage (thus making it easier for police to capture its perpetrators). Clashes with the Civil Guard were frequent and, on several occasions, strikers greeted police with stones at the gates of the railway workshops.

Few could stomach the union’s order to return to work, knowing that their fellow comrades were being machine-gunned in the streets of Asturias. But little by little, the strike lost intensity and the workplaces began to operate again, although there was ongoing sabotage on the rail lines and life did not normalize completely until it was clear to all that the rebellion had ended in Asturias.

With normalization came the crackdown. The Railroad Company announced that it was collectively sacking its entire workforce and that each worker would have to reapply individually. This signified the loss of old union rights and that the Company could once again select the personnel. Naturally, the most rebellious, Buenaventura included, stayed away.

For its part, the Railroad Workers’ Union completed the abuse by expelling the youth, who had made up the core of the resistance. Buenaventura Durruti was at the top of their list. In the statement justifying their decision—made unilaterally by the leadership council—they said: “it is a question of a pacific strike in which the working class shows its strength to the bourgeoisie in a disciplined way. The actions undertaken by these young people go against union practices and they are consequently expelled for indiscipline.” [26]

The youth were unable to defend themselves and the Union even helped police by identifying them as the perpetrators of the sabotage. Under such circumstances, they had two choices: either go to prison or leave the city and hope for better times.

CHAPTER III. From Exile to Anarchism

In early September, Buenaventura and his friend “El Toto” went to Gijón, which suggests that Durruti had formed lasting bonds with the Asturian miners during the events in Matallana.

He was there only briefly. By December, he was in Vals-les-Bains (Les Ardeches, France), where he mailed a reassuring postcard to his family: “I’m doing quite well, thanks to the help of a Spanish family named Martínez.” [27]

Several things occurred during Buenaventura’s short stopover in Gijón that may help explain his later activities in France. Durruti and his friend had different concerns. The police were after “El Toto” for acts of sabotage that occurred during the strike, whereas Buenaventura had his own preoccupation: he had deserted from the army.

Shortly before the strike, he had been called up in the second military draft of 1917. He was supposed to become a second gunner in the San Sebastián Artillery Regiment in late August. Commenting on the matter in a letter to his sister, he said: “I was hardly excited to serve the homeland, and what scarce enthusiasm I had was taken from me by a sergeant who commanded the conscripts like they were already in the barracks. When I left the enlistment office, I declared that Alfonso XIII would have one less soldier and one more revolutionary.” [28] It is safe to assume that the Asturian miners decided to hide him and facilitate his passage to France when they learned about his desertion.

Buenacasa was also fleeing the government at the time and it must have been around then that he met Buenaventura. “We didn’t get along very well at first,” he says. “I was studious, whereas he was more rebellious. He wasn’t friendly with me then, nor was I with him.” [29] Buenacasa did not hear of him again until they met in San Sebastián in 1920. But this time Buenacasa was impressed by “Buenaventura’s progress on the theoretical plane” and mentions that Durruti possessed a CNT membership card. When had he joined the CNT? How had he made such theoretical progress? The answer to these questions can be found in his first exile in France, which lasted from December 1917 until March 1919. [30]

When people from the Basque country and Asturias (like Durruti) crossed the Pyrenees to escape government repression, they found a large and dynamic group of exiled Catalan anarchists in the French Midi, particularly Marseilles. There was an anarchist Commission of Relations in that city that was in active contact with militants in Barcelona. The revolutionary syndicalism of the Confederation Generale du Travail also had a strong influence on the port workers there. [31]

Raising money among the Spanish immigrants was one of the group’s principle activities. They used these funds to produce propaganda and buy weapons, both of which were smuggled into Spain. All this required traveling and careful planning. Buenaventura probably took his first steps as a CNT militant moving between Marseilles and the conspiratorial center in Bordeaux.

We also know that Buenaventura maintained contact with his friends in León and that he and “El Toto,” who lived in Asturias until 1919, did not lose touch during this exile. [32]

With respect to Buenaventura’s ideological evolution—his “theoretical progress,” according to Buenacasa—Hans Erich Kaminski says that Durruti “burned through the stages, taking much less time than Bakunin to declare himself an anarchist.” [33] Kaminski wrote this in the summer of 1939, doubtlessly under the impact of Durruti’s powerful personality. However, the truth is that Buenaventura never passed from socialism to anarchism: he had always been an anarchist, at least implicitly.

Since Paul Lafargue [34] arrived in the country in 1872, Spanish Marxism was opportunistic and quickly descended into reformism. The Socialist Party forgot everything about the doctrine other than its focus on party politics and although SP leader Largo Caballero later called for the working class seizure of power, he did so with neither faith nor conviction. As a whole, in ideological terms, Spanish Marxists differed little from the German or French social democrats of the 1930s (with the exception of Andreu Nin’s group). [35]

Anarchism, by contrast, found a fertile land in Spain. Its rejection of the state resonated in a country with such deep-seated, decentralist tendencies and with a working class that felt intense disdain for all forms of parliamentary maneuvering.

When Buenaventura first encountered anarchism, he identified it with the active and revolutionary socialism that he had already articulated in León. That is why it is better to speak of his “theoretical progress,” as Buenacasa does, than a passage through “stages.”

Durruti was in the Burgos Military Hospital in March 1919. In a letter to his family, he says: “I was incorporated into my Regiment when I was getting ready to visit you. They brought me before a Court Martial, which assigned me to Morocco with penalties. However, the doctor found a hernia in me during the medical review and that’s why I’m in the hospital. In any case, I won’t be here long. And I don’t want to go to Morocco without seeing my friends. It’s very important that they visit me.” [36] This letter concealed his real intentions and his detention was related to activities that he had carried out in Spain in close contact with his friends from Bordeaux.

In early January 1919, he had crossed the border on a mission to inform the comrades in Gijón about the efforts in France. He completed the task and, after seeing the activist prospects in Asturias, decided to stay in Spain for a bit. “El Toto” told him about the progress in León. The young people expelled by the union had started an anarchist group and also a CNT Sindicato de Oficios Varios [union of various trades], which could already boast of a significant number of members. The CNT was also expanding throughout the country, particularly in Barcelona, where the movement frightened the bourgeoisie. One of every two workers was affiliated with the Confederation, giving the organization a total of 375,000 adherents at the time. Durruti got a job as a mechanic in La Felguera, a metalworkers’ center in which anarcho-syndicalism was very influential. He acquired his first CNT membership card there. He was only in La Felguera briefly: Durruti soon went to the mining coalfield in the León province, when a bitter conflict with the Anglo-Spanish mining company exploded in La Robla. During that period, the Asturian miners’ union was involved in numerous strikes and was thus unable to send militants to La Robla. “El Toto,” who had been handling the contacts with León, had already been in Valladolid for three months. He thought of Durruti, who was unknown in the area, while planning an act of sabotage in the mines. Durruti and two activists from La Coruña took off for La Robla. As expected, the mine’s management came to an agreement with the workers after the sabotage.

Buenaventura, now close to León, wanted to see his old friends. They planned a meeting in Santiago de Compostela, but the Civil Guard arrested him en route. Authorities sent Durruti to La Coruña, where they discovered his desertion from the Army. He was then brought to San Sebastián and went before a Court Martial. He cited his hernia during the hearing in order to gain time and plan an escape. Indeed, his friends from León had been informed about his travails, thanks to a letter he had sent his sister Rosa, and he managed to abscond with their help. He hid in the mountains for several days and was back in France by June.

This time he went to Paris and worked at the Renault Company. While he maintained little correspondence during this second exile, he did describe his circumstances in a postcard (surely aware that strangers would read it). He says that he is: “living alone, isolated from the world, and working as a mechanic.” But photographs from the period offer a different image, showing him surrounded by numerous friends. We do not know what he did during this interval, although he was in active contact with Tejerina, the secretary of the León anarchist group. [37]

In a short biography of Durruti, Alejandro Gilabert says that his “comrades assiduously kept him up-to-date on the Spanish social and political situation” and the “anarchist movement’s progress in the country.” They also informed him about the decision that anarchists made at a national conference to actively participate in the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo.” [38] He adds that “they made this decision, above all, because the police were setting up an organization of pistoleros in order to kill militant labor activists.” [39] Thanks to his friends, Gilabert says, Durruti also knew the details of the “great CNT Congress held in Madrid in December 1919, at which nearly one million workers were represented. They also told him of the CNT’s decision to join the Third International and send Angel Pestaña as its representative to the Second Congress of the Communist International in Moscow (1920).” [40]

All these exciting developments, Gilabert claims, prompted Buenaventura to return to Spain in the spring of 1920.

News of the Russian people’s victory over Czarism in 1917 had a powerful impact in Spain and increased the combativity of the general strike in August that year. Its influence is also evident in the CNT’s decision to join the Third International. For the anarchists, the Russian Revolution was an authentic dictatorship of the proletariat that had fully destroyed the bourgeoisie and Czarism. [41]

Buenaventura responded to that influence as well and it is likely that his decision to return to Spain reflected the pervasive excitement in postwar Europe. Indeed, Russian events captivated many young people like Durruti, although they knew that the Spanish revolution would have to follow its own path and would not replicate the Bolshevik experience. In time—after the authoritarianism of the Russian dictatorship was unmasked—they would reproach the Bolsheviks for trying to impose the Bolshevik way on Spain and for not appreciating the Peninsula’s unique socio-historical circumstances. Nonetheless, all these ideas and emotions were confused at the time.

The Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta described the confusion well in a letter to his friend Luigi Fabbri: “With the expression dictatorship of the proletariat, our Bolshevizing friends intend to describe the revolutionary event in which the workers seize the land and the means of production and try to create a society in which there is no place for a class that exploits and oppresses the producers. In that case, the dictatorship of the proletariat would be a dictatorship of all and it would not be a dictatorship in the same sense that a government of all isn’t a government in the authoritarian, historical, and practical meaning of the word.” But the nature of the Bolshevik dictatorship was also clear to him: “In reality, it’s the dictatorship of a party, or rather, the leaders of a party. Lenin, Trotsky, and their comrades are doubtlessly sincere revolutionaries and won’t betray the revolution, given their understanding of it, but they are training government cadres that will serve those who later come to exploit and kill the revolution. This is a history that repeats itself; with the respective differences having been considered, it’s the dictatorship of Robespierre that brings it to the guillotine and prepares the way for Napoleon.” Even so, Malatesta—who was also swept up by the excitement of the era—retreats from his critique when he states: “It could also be that many things that seem bad to us are a product of the situation and that it wasn’t possible to operate differently, given Russia’s special circumstances. It’s better to wait, especially when what we say cannot have any influence on events there and would be poorly interpreted in Italy, making it seem like we’re echoing the reactionaries’ biased slanders.” Although Malatesta did not release this letter until 1922—for the reasons he indicated—his perspective does not lend itself to distortions. The anarchist posture was unambiguous: “We respect the Bolsheviks’ commitment and admire their energy, but we’ve never agreed with them in theory and never will in practice.” [42]

Nothing happening in Russia was known with precision in the spring of 1920. The only thing clear that was that the bourgeoisie was pouring a flood of aspersions on the Russian revolutionaries in the press. That is why their class brothers from all nations defended them. But of course the best way to help the Russians was to make other revolutions in other parts of the world. That was on Durruti’s mind when he decided to return to Spain.

CHAPTER IV. Los justicieros

When Buenaventura arrived in San Sebastián, the CNT was making inroads into an area that the Socialist Party and its union body, the UGT, had dominated until then. Prior to the CNT’s Second Congress in 1919, anarchist activity in the Basque region was limited to printed propaganda put out by the small number of groups there. But anarchists in San Sebastián and also Bilbao began to go into action and lay down solid organizational roots after the 1917 general strike and the dramatic increase in anarcho-syndicalist activity throughout the country.

Around this time, workers began building the Gran Kursaal casino at the mouth of the Urumea River and labors from Aragón and Logroño came to participate in the undertaking. The anarchist group in San Sebastian set out to organize this mass of immigrant workers, under the guidance of veteran militant Moisés Ruiz. Activists from Zaragoza and Logroño also helped out, including Marcelino del Campo, Gregorio Suberviela, Víctor Elizondo, José Ruiz, Inocencio Pina, Clemente Mangado, and Albadetrecu. [43] They were highly enthusiastic, but not particularly strategic and Ruiz soon realized that some of their tactics would elicit resistance from the locals, who were accustomed to the softer practice of the Socialists. To counteract and defeat the Socialist Party on the intellectual terrain, he turned to his good friend Buenacasa, who traveled from Barcelona to San Sebastián at his request. Buenacasa was a talented agitator and his influence was soon felt, as much in the education of militants as the creation of the first Construction Workers’ Union. As a propagandist, he participated in lectures and challenged the Socialists to public debates on numerous occasions. The Socialists immediately understood that their supremacy in the area was at risk and they, in turn, called in Socialist militants from other regions. A bitter conflict between the Socialists and anarchists thus began in the Basque country. For its part, the Basque bourgeoisie saw this discord as an opportunity to weaken the proletariat and sided with the Socialists.

“One day,” writes Buenacasa, “a tall and brawny young man with cheerful eyes turned up at the union. He greeted us warmly, like he’d known us all his life. He showed his CNT card and said without preamble that he had just arrived and needed work. Of course we occupied ourselves with him, as was customary, and found him a job in a mechanics’ workshop in Rentería. From then on, he regularly came to the union after work. He would take Los Justicieros the newspapers piled up on a table and sit in a corner and read.

He barely participated in discussions and, when it was late in the evening, retired to the inn in which we had found him accommodation.”

Durruti’s face made an impact on Buenacasa and, after reflecting for a moment, he recalled their previous encounter. He was the unpleasant youth that he had met in Gijón three years before.

I became curious about him and sought out his friendship. The only thing I could gather from our initial conversations was that he had been in France for a number of years, but he didn’t tell me why and didn’t say anything about Gijón. I felt certain that he recognized me and his silence about the episode intrigued me. Could it be that our first meeting left a bad taste with both of us? Whatever it was, neither of us ever referred to Gijón directly.

He enjoyed talking, but not arguing. He always avoided digressions and stuck to the heart of the matter. He was neither stubborn not fanatical, but open, always recognizing the possibility of his own error. He had the rare and uncommon virtue of knowing how to listen and to take into consideration the opposing argument, accepting it where he thought it was reasonable. His union work was quiet, but interesting. He and the other metalworkers that we had affiliated to our Sindicato de Oficios Varios [union of various trades] formed an opposition group within the UGT’s Metalworkers’ Union (in which they had also enrolled). He began to speak out at meetings of the Metalworkers’ Union and more than once a Socialist leader started to worry when Durruti took the floor. His speeches—just like at the rallies many years later—were short but incisive. He expressed himself with ease and when he called a spade a spade, he did it with such force and conviction that no one could contradict him.

His comrades nominated him for leadership positions in the Metalworkers’ Council, but he never accepted them. He told them that such positions were the least important thing and that what really mattered was rank and file vigilance, so the leaders don’t become bureaucratized and are forced to fulfill their responsibilities.

We became closer over the months and he told me about his life. For my part, I tried to put the best militants that we had in San Sebastián in his path (and always in such a way that he wouldn’t suspect it). They all quickly came to like that quiet fellow from León.[44]

These militants were: Gregorio Suberviela, mine foreman; Marcelino del Campo, builder and school teacher’s son; Ruiz, son of a stationmaster; and Albadetrecu, who had separated from his bourgeoisie family in Bilbao because of his anarchist convictions. In addition to becoming friends, these young men also formed an anarchist group called Los Justicieros, which operated simultaneously in Zaragoza and San Sebastián.

When they created this group, there was intense discontent among the miners and metalworkers; there were endless strikes and grassroots pressure was overwhelming the union leadership. In response to the growing turbulence, the government installed soldiers in the provincial governments and made Lieutenant Colonel José Regueral the governor of Vizcaya, who would do nothing to differentiate himself from General Martínez Anido or Arlegui, lieutenant colonel of the Civil Guard. His first official act was to declare at a press conference that he intended to “get the workers to toe the line.” As if to corroborate the claim, he immediately ordered numerous governmental detentions and personally beat inmates. [45]

Things were even worse in Barcelona. The systematic government repression was transforming the labor struggle into a social war. Prominent workers were literately hunted in the streets by groups of pistoleros hired by the bourgeoisie and the police regularly applied the infamous “ ley de fugas.” [46] The best Catalan activists ended up behind bars. It was only the young militants—still unknown to the police and pistoleros—who could survive the bitter conflict. Buenacasa explains:

The CNT National Committee was underground and overwhelmed. It asked militants throughout Spain to help them fight the bourgeois and police offensive taking place in Barcelona, but its efforts were in vain. An authoritarian, vicious, and perpetual clampdown complemented the street assassinations. Our most talented militants had to make a harrowing choice: kill, run, or go to prison. The violent ones defended themselves and killed; the stoic and brave were shot down from behind; the cowards fled or hid; and the most active and imprudent went to prison.[47]

This government and employer terror was one of the weapons—the most extreme and desperate—that the dominant classes used against the rise of the workers’ movement in Barcelona and the proletariat’s growing maturity. The bourgeoisie had locked out 200,000 workers in late 1919 and yet ultimately had to give in. To avoid a repetition of such a defeat, they could think of nothing better than shameless aggression.

Los Justicieros wanted to respond to the National Committee’s call for help. They thought that the “best way to help the comrades was by turning all of Spain into an immense Barcelona;” but that “required a strategic plan that was impossible to carry to out at the moment.” Nevertheless, they considered going to Barcelona “to occupy posts left vacant in the struggle.”[48] Buenacasa had to intercede to “restrain their juvenile impulses with his moral authority, urging them to stay in San Sebastián, where the social struggle was just as important as in Barcelona, only less spectacular.”[49]

Something occurred in Valencia on August 4, 1920 that would have a powerful impact on the Los Justicieros. It was the anarchist assassination of Barcelona’s ex-governor José Maestre de Laborde, Count of Salvatierra. During his term in office, he permitted the application of the “ley de fugas” to thirty-three militant workers. In response, anarchists in Valencia decided to execute him. The act shook the highest levels of the government. Although it had tried to restrain Barcelona authorities, it had failed to so and watched impotently as their savagery increased daily. Now it was paying the price. For Los Justicieros, the assassination was exemplary and they soon began to plan one of their own. Their target was José Regueral, the Governor of Bilbao, who bore responsibility for vast acts of brutality against the working class. However, while they were busy making their preparations, they learned that Alfonso XIII was planning to attend the inauguration of the Gran Kursaal casino. They ruled out the Regueral action: “Killing Alfonso XIII would be most positive for the proletarian cause,” they thought.[50] “The best way to do it was by constructing an underground tunnel that would take them directly to the parlor where the guest reception was going to occur. Under Suberviela’s direction, they began digging the passageway in a nearby house. Durruti was entrusted with acquiring and storing the explosives.”[51]

The work was grueling and their progress slowed considerably when they reached the building’s foundations. The dwelling from which the tunnel began had been disguised as a coal yard, but the large number of bags of dirt being removed from it must have made the police suspicious. The police executed a search and the team working then escaped after a quick gun battle. Durruti, who was in Gijón at the time, received some unpleasant news when he returned: the news media and police had decided that he, Gregorio Suberviela, and Marcelino del Campo were responsible for the plot. “Under these conditions,” Buenacasa told them, “you can’t remain in San Sebastián. I’ve got everything arranged so that you can go to Barcelona.”[52] But getting out of San Sebastián would not be easy. The police were searching aggressively for the “three dangerous anarchists.”[53] Fortunately, some railroad workers with whom Buenacasa had been in contact helped the three fugitives escape on a freight train heading to Zaragoza.[54]

CHAPTER V. Confronting government terror

Marcelino and Gregorio were well known in Zaragoza, but this was Buenaventura’s first time in the city. They arrived in the early morning and decided to go to the Centro de Estudios Sociales on Augustín Street, instead of to Inocencio Pina’s house (one of the local Justicieros). Durruti found himself in a different world when he crossed the building’s threshold. San Sebastián’s workers’ center was quite small and Gijón’s Centro de Estudios Sociales (led by Eleuterio Quintanilla) was unknown to him. [55] Now, for the first time, Buenaventura was in a workers’ center that was large enough to genuinely meet the movement’s needs. All the activities, even the intellectual ones, took place there. Various signs hung on the rooms: Food workers, Metalworkers, Electricity, Light and Gas, Waiters, etc. There was a well-stocked library and, nearby, the office of El Comunista, the “Publication of the Centro de Estudios Sociales, Voice of the Worker Unions of the Region and Defender of the International Proletariat.” Next to El Comunista was the office of Cultura y Acción, the magazine of the CNT unions in the region.

When the young men arrived, only three people were there: Santolaría, the Centro’s president; Zenón Canudo, the editor of El Comunista; and the caretaker. [56] After their initial surprise at the unexpected visit, Gregorio (who had met the first two before) introduced Marcelino and Buenaventura, whom he described as an Asturian comrade. Canudo and Santolaría filled the new arrivals in on the state of things in Zaragoza. [57] They spoke with particular concern about the young Francisco Ascaso, unknown to Durruti at the time, who had been locked up in the Predicadores prison since December 1920 on charges of killing Adolfo Gutiérrez, the editor in chief of the Heraldo de Aragón. Ascaso was looking at a probable a death sentence. [58] José Chueca, from El Comunista, then entered and anxiously shared some remarkable news: authorities had discovered a plot to assassinate Alfonso XIII in San Sebastián and everyone said three young anarchists were responsible. He then cited the names of the three visitors, which made everyone laugh. This irritated Chueca: he had never met them before and wouldn’t have imagined that they would be standing right there. Before Santolaría left, he told the three friends that “it would be better if you stayed away from the Centro, which could be or perhaps already is under surveillance.”

Buenaventura and his two friends found Inocencio Pina at nightfall and met Torres Escartín in Pina’s house on the outskirts of the city. [59] They received a detailed report on several comrades’ desperate circumstances. In addition to Francisco Ascaso, they found out that Manuel Sancho, Clemente Mangado, and Albadetrecu were also in prison. They were charged with trying to kill Hilario Bernal, who ran the Química, S.A. business and was essentially the leader of the Zaragoza bourgeoisie. [60] These four men later became members of Los Justicieros, after it fused with the Voluntad group.

“To save ourselves from death sentences and more prison sentences,” Pina told them, “we have to confront the bourgeoisie and the authorities, and mobilize public sentiment, particularly that of the proletariat. At the moment there are only two of us [Pina and Escartín] ready to do this and two people are hardly enough for such an undertaking. You’ll have to decide, given the circumstances, if you’d rather continue the trip or remain in Zaragoza.”

In reality, Buenaventura and his friends had already made up their minds: one didn’t abandon comrades in a time of need. From that moment on, the “young Asturian” (as Durruti was known at the time) and his friends were incorporated into the advance guard of Zaragoza’s revolutionaries.[61]

At the time, the bourgeoisie was retaliating for the concessions it had been forced to make after the previous year’s Light and Gas strike, as well the Waiters and Streetcar workers’ strike. [62] It fired workers for punitive reasons alone and often set the police on them, naturally with the full support of the Count of Coello, the provincial governor, and Cardinal Soldevila. It was difficult for the three outlaws to find work but Buenaventura, thanks to his skill in his trade, was able to get a job in the Escoriaza mechanic workshop. Pina had to help the other two, taking them into his modest fruit and vegetable business.

Despite everything, this was a period of relative social peace in Zaragoza. Notwithstanding the harassment suffered throughout 1920, the working class had rebuilt its ranks, and they were in good health. The unions functioned normally and had even grown. The workers’ press, although reduced by censors, was available on the street. Life, other than the torments caused by the increasing unemployment, seemed calm.

Zaragoza’s apparent tranquility stood in sharp contrast to the open struggle unfolding in Barcelona, where Martínez Anido, Barcelona’s civil governor, imposed his own form of terror. He conducted a vast operation of systematic assassinations, forced unions underground, and threw activists in jail (including Angel Pestaña, who had recently returned from the USSR). The youth, organized in anarchist groups and leading the underground unions and CNT groups, confronted the police. But the consistent loss of militants to the forces of repression meant that inexperienced or less reliable activists sometimes had to be prematurely promoted within the CNT. Indeed, police arrested the entire National Committee in March 1921 and the new committee formed to replace it was made up entirely of unsteady or last minute CNTistas, like Andreu Nin, who had only joined the CNT two years earlier.

When authorities arrested CNT General Secretary Eugenio Boal, he had the report that Angel Pestaña had sent from prison in his possession. In the document, Pestaña described his activities at and impressions of the Second Congress of the Communist International that had been held in Moscow in August 1920. He also argued that “the CNT, for various reasons but especially because of the imposition of the so-called twenty-one conditions, should ... reexamine its decision to join the Third International, which it made in the enthusiasm of 1919.” Boal did not have time to deliver this report to the unions and the new National Committee led by Nin received his text. However, the National Committee delayed its transmission on the basis of a strictly literal interpretation of the CNT’s statutes: they claimed that it was not the unions’ prerogative to reevaluate the 1919 Congress’s decision to join the Third International and, as long as another congress has not taken place, the 1919 decision remained valid. This new National Committee, with its pro-Bolshevik perspective, obstructed the CNT’s progress. [63]

At the time, militants in Zaragoza were focused on the need to set up a Peninsula-wide anarchist federation and, toward that end, the Vía Libre, El Comunista, Los Justicieros, Voluntad, and Impulso groups sponsored a conference. They decided at the event to send a group to the southern, central, and eastern parts of the country to meet with comrades and enlist them in the project. They delegated responsibility for this organizing trip to Buenaventura Durruti and Juliana López, who left Zaragoza for Andalusia in February 1921. This was the first time that Buenaventura assumed a responsibility of the type. He convinced the comrades in Andalusia to federate their diverse groups on a trial basis and allow a committee to coordinate their actions in the region. [64]

Durruti then went to Madrid, where he would receive an important surprise. On March 8, a day before his arrival, unknown assailants fired from a sidecar at the automobile carrying Eduardo Dato in the middle of the Paseo de la Independencia. Dato died instantly. The police put the capital under siege, cordoning off whole neighborhoods in their attempt to catch the perpetrators. [65] It was too risky to meet with Madrid’s anarchists under these circumstances, so Buenaventura and Juliana left the city immediately.

When they got to Barcelona, a rumor was circulating that Dato’s assassination had shaken the Madrid government deeply and that it had ordered Martínez Anido to stop persecuting the workers. [66] Buenaventura met with Domingo Ascaso for the first time in the small restaurant where he normally ate lunch. They spoke about Dato’s murder and its consequences, as well as Anido’s terror. Domingo and Durruti concluded that Anido was not likely to be restrained by the government’s demands. The two men continued talking in a home in the Pueblo Nuevo workers’ district. Durruti learned that the unions had been shut down and that many well-known activists as well as dozens of more obscure militants had been thrown in jail (Seguí, Pestaña, Boal, and Peiró were among the detained). The pistoleros were operating like a parallel police force and carried a green membership card to identify themselves. They stood at factory entrances to intimidate union leaders or simply shot them down if the management asked them to do so. There were also bands of informers. Some had been CNT members who decided to betray their comrades after the police threatened them with death. “Against these external and internal dangers, we anarchists have closed ranks,” said Domingo Ascaso. “We’ve distanced ourselves from those who are suspicious and devoted ourselves to dramatic actions, like the murder of Dato, who bore real responsibility for what Martínez Anido is doing. We’ve got other spectacular actions in the works.” [67] But, Ascaso told Durruti, his organizational idea was impossible for the time being, since they could not withdraw from the projects that were absorbing them. “Please tell all this to the comrades in Zaragoza,” he said, “and also that some well-known Barcelona pistoleros hide out there and surely intend to extend their activities to that city.” [68] Buenaventura made an assessment of his trip when he returned to Zaragoza. Although in some cases suspicions complicated matters, most of the comrades were ready to form lasting accords with one another and this would be the first step toward creating a peninsular anarchist federation. Indeed, Zaragoza militants got to work immediately: the Via Libre group began planning a national conference and, until it could take place, decided that its publication would serve as a forum for discussing the problem of anarchist organization. At Buenaventura’s behest, several members of Los Justicieros went to Bilbao to get pistols.

Buenaventura and Gregorio, who knew the Basque militants well, asked Zabarain to help them purchase arms. He was pessimistic at first, saying: “Since Regueral’s arrival in Bilbao, the CNT has been underground consistently. The unions’ tills are absolutely exhausted. The money has been used to help the families of arrestees or spent on trials. It’s impossible to consider this type of assistance.” [69] They tried to get some funds and weapons from local comrades, but only managed to acquire a little bit of cash and some small arms; the latter thanks to certain selfless Bilbao militants who handed over their pistols at “a time when a gun was the best membership card.” Gregorio, excited, declared that “for big problems, there are big remedies” and suggested that they rob some banks. After all, the state was taking what little the workers’ organizations had. Torres Escartín and Buenaventura expressed concern about their inexperience. They had participated in armed conflicts with the police and pistoleros, and carried out dynamite attacks, but had never held up a bank. Nonetheless, they accepted his proposal and Gregorio and Buenaventura began to plan a robbery of a Banco de Bilbao. But Buenaventura convinced his friend that the hold-up was impossible, given the meager resources at their disposal. Zabarain suggested another target, which seemed much more feasible. They would clean out the paymaster of one of Eibar’s metallurgic businesses, who transported a large sum of money from the Banco de Bilbao and only in the company of a driver. They would do the job in the middle of the Bilbao-Eibar road.

Thus, on the designated day, they feigned a car accident, gagged the driver and paymaster, put them in the back of their own car, and took off with the money.

The local press reported on the daring theft of 300,000 pesetas the next day. Police said that they suspected that the heist was the work of a band of Catalan bank robbers. Los Justicieros hid in a house in the “las siete calles” neighborhood, while Zabarain started making efforts to acquire one hundred Star pistols (known as the “syndicalist pistol” at the time). They divided the money not used for the guns into two parts; they sent one half to Bilbao and Juliana took the other half to Zaragoza. The three friends left for Logroño several days later. [70]

CHAPTER VI. Zaragoza, 1922

Life was calm in Zaragoza in June 1921. Durruti was working in a locksmith’s shop and the pistoleros still hadn’t gone into action. The unions were functioning more or less normally, but their legal situation was ambiguous. The inmates waiting to be tried in the Predicadores prison were the only discordant factor. Francisco Ascaso had also become seriously ill, due to mistreatment by prison authorities and the poor conditions. In response, his comrades wrote the Prisoner Support Committee and asked them to intensify their work on his behalf. [71] Buenaventura felt some admiration for Ascaso, since Pina and the others spoke of him with genuine veneration. On several occasions, Durruti said that he wanted to visit him in prison, but his friends invariably objected to such a reckless idea.

Durruti stayed in Pina’s house and lived like a hermit there. Zaragoza police began to lose interest in him, which was a particularly good thing, given Police Chief Pedro Aparicio’s infamous hatred of the CNT. This seclusion enabled Durruti to build upon his limited education in Pina’s library, where he read Michael Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin. Durruti later stated that “their perspectives help balance one another: there is violence and radicalism in Bakunin, whereas one finds a practical element and the foundations of the free society in Kropotkin.” [72] Radical Spaniards, as a whole, had already synthesized both thinkers at the time and it is precisely that synthesis, linked to Spain’s regional tradition, which explains the uniqueness of Iberian anarchism. In any case, Durruti made the above statement many years afterwards and, given his activity during the period, it appears that it was Bakunin not Kropotkin who had the decisive influence at that moment. These readings were enriched by the constant discussions between Durruti and Pina, in which they shared their divergent conceptions of anarchist thought. Spain began to enter a new political crisis. Its unpopular military campaign in Morocco was truly disastrous. Abdel-Krim’s army crushed General Silvestre’s troops: fourteen thousand Spanish soldiers met their deaths in the battle of Annual. The Spanish people exploded in violent indignation after the defeat and demanded not only an end to the war but also punishment of the politicians and military men responsible for the massacre. The social discontent became widespread and large strikes occurred in all the major industrial areas. The Civil Guard couldn’t muzzle the protests and the Prime Minister Manuel Allendesalazar submitted his resignation to the King in terror. Alfonso XIII, with his habitual disdain for the “rabble,” was preparing to go on vacation at his palace in Deauville when he summoned Antonio Maura. The King told him to form a “strong government” to silence those demanding accountability for the Moroccan disaster. His task would be to win the war on the social terrain; not in Morocco against the Moors, but in Spain against the Spanish workers. [73]

Maura, an able and experienced politician, understood that Alfonso XIII was asking him to “make Spain toe the line.” [74] He put the Governor of Zaragoza, the Count of Coello, in charge of the Interior Ministry in his new government. His political program was: crush the working class and win over the bourgeoisie (particularly the Catalan bourgeoisie, whose brazen terrorism indicated its profound disdain for the Madrid government). Maura increased the use of public assassinations, made chain gangs run the roads of Spain, [75] and filled the prisons with workers. This is how he was able to “pacify” the nation, but his attempt to attract the Catalan bourgeoisie was a complete failure. The Catalans asked for the Treasury Ministry and when they did not receive it, Maura’s government’s days were numbered: it collapsed in March 1922.

Inspired by Mussolini and Víctor Manuel, Alfonso XIII thought he could solve the country’s problems by imposing a fascist general who would subdue the country and permit him to “reign” in peace. Alfonso XIII told Sánchez Guerra to do as much when he became the new Prime Minister but, instead, Sánchez Guerra formed a government of social truce and reestablished constitutional guarantees on April 22, 1922.

By this time, the CNT in Aragón had already begun to experience the tragedy of pistolerismo, which had been imported from Barcelona by the Count of Coello and Archbishop Soldevila. [76] Local authorities in Zaragoza went on the offensive when they heard that Sánchez Guerra would replace Maura. Their first move was to try to rapidly conclude any pending legal actions against radical workers. They announced the dates of the trials for the attack on Bernal as well as Gutiérrez. These trials—and others—could prove disastrous for the workers. Los Justicieros put themselves on war footing, with the support of radical lawyers from Madrid and Barcelona.

Eduardo Barriobero, the main defense lawyer, articulated his views to the Prisoner Support Committee: “Government policy will change when Sánchez Guerra takes over and constitutional guarantees are reestablished. The CNT and the rest of the opposition will no longer have to be underground. But, if the trial is finished and the defendants are sentenced before that occurs, the trial will never be revised and they’ll spend many years in prison. We’ve got to get the people of Zaragoza to proclaim their innocence in the street. Only popular pressure will make things turn in our favor.” [77] A representative from the local anarchist groups told the Prisoner Support Committee that they should organize a general strike and violent street demonstrations, but the CNT representative said that “with the unions closed, the workers won’t respond to a call for a general strike.” [78] Local anarchists decided that if the CNT didn’t declare the strike, they would do so and face the consequences themselves. The anarchists sent Buenaventura and other militants to discuss the issue with the local CNT, which then called a meeting to decide what to do. They faced a dilemma: if the working class responded to the call, it would be a victory for both the CNT and the defendants. But, if the workers didn’t support the strike, the CNT would be weakened and authorities would feel even freer to persecute it. Durruti pointed out at the meeting that, with the anarchist groups calling the general strike, the CNT could accuse them of adventurism if the strike failed but all would benefit if it succeeded. They accepted this argument and the anarchist and CNT groups began drafting their strategy.

They had to enter into action at once as the trial for the attack on Bernal was scheduled to take place on April 20. The day before, they circulated pamphlets about the trial, the need for a general strike, and told the workers to gather at the prison gates and the High Court. On April 20, authorities posted Civil Guardsmen in key sites throughout the city as well as near the prison and High Court. The streetcars began to go into the street at 6:00 am, under police guard. Police tried to clear the demonstrators with a volley of gunfire. Mangado says that “the prisoners awoke to explosions and deafening noise. The shooting lasted for two hours, until it was time for the prisoners to be taken to the High Court. When they entered the street, a large crowd received them with shouts of ‘Viva the honorable prisoners!’ and ‘Viva the CNT!’ The police’s shooting in the air had not broken the workers’ will. The protestors escorted the prisoners to the High Court, which was packed with people. The audience rose up as soon as the judge opened the session and shouted ‘Viva!’ to the prisoners. The same ‘Viva!’ and the sound of gunfire came from the street. Everyone immediately realized that the court wanted to conclude the trial as soon as possible, perhaps at the behest of the governor.

That was a very positive sign. During his speech for the defense, Eduardo Barriobero made the following statement: ‘Proof of my defendants’ innocence? I will not be the one who supplies it. When a whole people proclaim it in the public square, it is demonstrated.’” [79] Those in the room began to yell and made a chorus of his declaration. Bernal then confessed that he did not recognize any of the accused as perpetrators and the judge proclaimed their innocence an hour later. The people overwhelmed the police as they escorted the prisoners outside. Shouts of victory rang out everywhere. When Sánchez Guerra reestablished constitutional guarantees, the people of Zaragoza immediately reopened the closed union halls, without waiting for any type of government authorization. Indeed, there was a true social celebration around the country, particularly in Barcelona where unions were re-opened, prisoners were set free, and workers’ publications reappeared. Each Barcelona union called an assembly of its members, which were held in cinemas and theaters rented for the purpose. The Wood Workers’ Union organized one of the most important of these events in the Victoria Theater. Once the building was full, Liberto Callejas (Marco Floro) read a list of the 107 men that the Confederation had lost to the pistoleros. Then, “in view of the whole world, a new Union Committee was nominated; these were dangerous posts, given that Anido’s mercenaries continued to lay in wait. Gregorio Jover was made representative of the Local Federation of Sindicatos Unicos [industrial union groups] of Barcelona.” [80] The same thing occurred in assemblies held by the rest of the Catalan unions: members were publicly appointed to positions of union responsibility and thus the undemocratic vices accumulated during periods of underground activity were finally overcome. The CNT quickly recovered its old members and its ranks even increased.

But the CNT had to confront a thorny problem: its relationship to the Third International. [81] To address the prevailing confusion on the issue, the new National Committee decided to convene a CNT Congress and, prior to the event, a national conference of unions (in Zaragoza on June 11, 1922). Although the CNT was functioning normally throughout Spain, it was still underground in legal terms and thus the Zaragoza CNT had to request government permission to hold a “national workers’ meeting to discuss the Spanish social question.” Victoriano Gracia opened the ceremony in the name of the workers of Aragón and then Juan Peiró spoke, sending his greetings to the Spanish working class. The government representative at the event soon understood the nature of the gathering and tried to suspend its sessions. From the rostrum, Gracia told the government’s man that “the Zaragoza working class is not going to tolerate arbitrariness: we will declare a general strike.” Faced with this threat, the government operative backed down. The meeting concluded with a large rally in the bullring.

The question of Third International was discussed at length at this conference. [82] Hilario Arlandis asserted that his delegation had been legitimately appointed at the Lérida meeting. [83] Gastón Leval and Pestaña reported on their stay in Moscow. [84] After hearing these presentations, the conference declared that “Nin, Maurín, and Arlandis abused the CNT’s trust and took advantage of a period of government persecution, which prevented their machinations from being stopped. It reaffirms the decisions of the Logroño conference [85] and approves Angel Pestaña’s motion to de-authorize Andreu Nin as the CNT’s representative in the Red Labor International.” Given the “twenty-one conditions,” the conference declared that the CNT could no longer belong to the Third International [86] and proposed that it join the International Association of Workers, which had recently been reconstituted in Berlin. Lacking authority to decide on these matters, the conference referred the question to the unions, so that they would declare in a referendum whether or not to adhere to the Third International. [87] The conference’s deliberations were made public, as noted, in the Zaragoza bullring. There Salvador Seguí, who became the CNT’s General Secretary, denounced the government’s harassment in a vigorous speech: “I accuse the public powers of causing the terrorism between 1920 to 1922.” Victoriano Gracia then spoke to crowd, demanding freedom for Francisco Ascaso, who was a victim of Police Chief Pedro Aparicio’s intrigues.

The press affirmed the great political scope of the meeting. Barcelona’s Solidaridad Obrera ran an editorial titled: “Those once thought dead now enjoy good health.” Under pressure from the workers, the government soon freed Francisco Ascaso. He denounced the police’s machinations in a rally held immediately after his release: Aparicio and his whole clique were publicly condemned once again. In reply, the bourgeoisie unleashed a new offensive and blacklisted Ascaso, a practice that workers called the “hunger pact.”

Francisco was preparing to reunite with this brother Domingo in Barcelona when Pina invited him to a meeting that Los Justicieros were going to hold to resolve the group’s pressing problems. It was there that Francisco met Torres Escartín and Buenaventura Durruti. They discussed the group’s first disagreement, which revolved around different tactical perspectives. Pina had a quasi-Bolshevik position on role of anarchists: anarchist groups would make up the revolutionary vanguard and it was their job to ignite the insurrection. [88] He thus believed that they should become “professional revolutionaries.” Durruti’s view of the anarchists’ role, and also professional revolutionaries, was the complete opposite. For him, the proletariat was the real leader of the revolution and, if the anarchists had a significant impact, it was only because of their radicalism. The great theorists, he argued, drew their ideas from the proletariat, which is rebellious by necessity, given its condition as an exploited class. Above all, the struggle should rest on solidarity and militants must recognize that the proletariat has already found the vehicle of its liberation by itself, through the federation of workshop and factory groups. For Buenaventura, they would only adulterate the proletariat’s maturation if they made themselves into “professional revolutionaries.”

What anarchists had to do was understand the natural process of rebellion and not separate themselves from the working class under the pretext of serving it better. That would only be a prelude to betrayal and bureaucratization, to a new form of domination. [89] Ascaso was drawn to Buenaventura and his outlook. Indeed, the former had already expressed similar views in an article in La Voluntad entitled “Party and Working Class.” [90] Ascaso and Durruti’s beliefs complemented one another and both represented, in their own way, a break on “bolshevization,” bureaucratism, and the many falsehoods emerging from the Russian revolution. When the meeting ended, everyone departed in pairs for security reasons and Buenaventura and Francisco left together.

This was the beginning of a vigorous friendship and activist collaboration. A whole set of circumstances would reinforce the bonds that emerged from the outset between these two men and their differences only reinforced their similarities. Ascaso was thin and high-strung; Durruti, athletic and calm. The former was suspicious and seemed unpleasant at first; the latter was extraordinarily friendly. Cold calculation, rationality, and skepticism were characteristic of Ascaso. Durruti was passionate and optimistic. Durruti gave himself over to friendships fully from the start, while Ascaso was reserved until he got to know the other better. These two revolutionaries forged a deep trust and great projects grew from the dialogue between them.

One day they received a letter from Francisco’s brother Domingo sketching out the situation in Barcelona: “The calm is a myth and there’s a bad omen on the horizon. The employers’ pistolerismo has now found a new refuge in a yellow syndicalism, whose members enjoy the same privileges as Bravo Portillo’s earlier pistoleros. While the CNT leaders may believe in this calm, I don’t think the anarchist groups are deceived. The latter are preparing for the new offensive that will be declared sooner or later. It will be a decisive conflict, and many of our comrades will fall, but the struggle is inevitable.” Domingo then urges his brother to stay in Zaragoza, despite all the difficulties. [91] But Barcelona drew both Ascaso and Durruti like a magnet and they informed the group that they were going there. This decision caused a rupture with the other Justicieros, although Torres Escartín, Gregorio Suberviela, and Marcelino del Campo decided to join them. United by the name Crisol, the five friends began a new life in early August 1922.

CHAPTER VII. Los solidarios

There was enormous turmoil in Barcelona when Durruti and his friends arrived in August 1922. Pistoleros had just tried to kill the well-known anarchist Angel Pestaña [92] and there was a general strike throughout Catalonia. A group of Catalan intellectuals publicly denounced the authorities’ failure to stop the bourgeoisie’s intolerable aggressions and, in the Parliament, Socialist deputy Indalecio Prieto demanded that the government force Martínez Anido’s resignation. President Sánchez Guerra had to intervene. Although “Martínez Anido’s star began to pale,” [93] pistolerismo continued to operate through the so-called Free Unions [ Sindicatos Libres]. These were labor organizations created and manipulated by the bosses and protected by the church, which hoped to use them to implant a Catholic syndicalism. Ramón Sales, who founded these organizations as rivals to the CNT, was an old pistolero chieftain. The employers forcefully obliged the workers to join these unions and began to fire CNTistas, measures supported by pistolero terrorists in the streets and at the factory gates. It was a war without quarter. Furthermore, under the leadership of Francesc Macía, a significant part of the Catalan intelligentsia began again to demand independence. [94] Their agitation helped relieve some of the pressure on the cornered Confederación Nacional del Trabajo.

The CNT’s most active center was the Woodworkers’ Union on San Pablo Street, where the more radical militants gathered. It was here that Buenaventura and his comrades struck up a friendship with local activists, an association from which the famous Los Solidarios group would be born in October of that year. They organized around a tripartite plan: “Confront the pistoleros, support the CNT, and set up an anarchist Federation that would take all the anarchist groups scattered around the peninsula under its wing.” [95] Indeed, the problem of organization was a high priority for them: they saw it as an indispensable precondition of the revolution, perhaps even more important than the battle against the bourgeoisie and terrorism. They founded a weekly periodical named Crisol, which had the support of Barthe (a French exile), Felipe Alaiz, Liberto Callejas, Torres Tribo, and Francisco Ascaso (the magazine’s administrator).

The group had decided to kill the instigators of the anti-worker policy— Martínez Anido and Colonel José Arlegui—but halted preparations when they received some important news. They learned that both military men had been planning to stage a fake assassination attempt against themselves in order to justify their repressive practices to the Madrid government. An anonymous Catalan journalist spoiled their conspiracy when he telephoned the President and revealed their ploy. Sánchez Guerra, worried by the turn that things were taking in Barcelona, telephoned Martínez Anido in the early hours of October 24. He informed him that “Colonel Arlegui, after what occurred, cannot continue carrying out his duties,” and ordered Anido to remove him as Police Chief. Martínez Anido stated that he couldn’t fulfill those orders and thus Sánchez Guerra ordered him “to consider himself fired and hand over the provincial government to the President of the High Court.” [96] This change of authorities obliged Sánchez Guerra to make constitutional guarantees effective in Catalonia and, with it, normalize union and political life in the region.

Los Solidarios took advantage of this opening to call a conference of anarchist groups from the Catalan and Balearic Islands area. The event was well attended and showed that anarchists in the region were sympathetic to the organizational project that the Solidarios were advancing in Crisol. Conference participants formed a Regional Commission of Anarchist Relations, which was the embryo of what would later become the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (Iberian Anarchist Federation, FAI). They also discussed the new political situation and concluded that, “given the interests at play in Spain, especially in Catalonia, the calm cannot last for long. The persecution in Catalonia was not a mere caprice of Martínez Anido, but the natural consequence of class antagonisms. Martínez Anido was simply a tool of the bourgeoisie, and the fact that he has disappeared from the scene does not mean that the bourgeoisie will stop its abuse. Its figureheads may change, but the bourgeoisie—due its reactionary character—will continue using terrorist tactics.” [97]

They understood that the rightwing pressure groups accepted Sánchez Guerra’s policy of “social truce” only with reluctance. The army, supported by the landowners and the clergy, would try to seize state power and impose a military dictatorship if given the chance to do so. The monarchy would not be able to resist it, since its fate was indissolubly linked to the Armed Forces. Thus, faced with this imminent military coup, the anarchist groups decided to accelerate their revolutionary efforts and devote themselves to agitation campaigns in the industrial and rural areas, while the Commission of Anarchist Relations would coordinate action at the peninsular level. Libertarian publications in Catalonia— Crisol, Fragua Social, and Tierra y Libertad—would support all these initiatives.

The conference also revisited the anti-militaristic strategy pursued by anarchists until then, which had only produced a significant loss of militants, who were forced to go into exile once they rejected military service. They decided that it would be more effective for young people to join the army and form revolutionary action groups within it. These would be known as Anti-militarist Committees and they would link their actions to those of local anarchist groups. They created a special bulletin named Hijos del Pueblo to spread revolutionary ideas among the troops.

Three Solidarios were members of the Regional Commission of Anarchist Relations: Francisco Ascaso, Aurelio Fernández, and Buenaventura Durruti, all of whom took on important responsibilities. Francisco Ascaso was the Commission’s secretary, Aurelio Fernández was entrusted with putting the Anti-militarist Committees into operation, and Buenaventura Durruti’s task was to build an arsenal of guns and explosives.

Durruti and another metalworker by the name of Eusebio Brau set up an underground workshop for making hand grenades and also a foundry for the same purpose. They quickly amassed a stock of six thousand hand grenades and stored them in various parts of the city.

For his part, Aurelio Fernández infiltrated the army and won a number of corporals over to the revolution, as well as some sergeants and even several officers. Anti-militarist Committees began to proliferate in regiments outside the region.

Finally, Francisco Ascaso built alliances with comrades in other areas: specifically, with anarchist Regional Commissions that had been operating since Buenaventura’s trip the previous year.

All of these efforts demonstrated that conditions were ripe for undertakings of a greater magnitude, but great risks remained.

Salvador Seguí—one of the most well-balanced minds of the Spanish anarchist movement—was murdered on March 10, 1923. Angel Grauperá, president of the Employers’ Federation, paid a group of hit men a large sum to do the job. In the middle of the day on Cadena Street, in full view of residents terrorized by the gunman’s weapons, they coldly shot down the “Sugar Boy”—as Salvador Seguí was known—and his friend Padronas. This unleashed a wave of anger among workers, causing even the bourgeoisie to become frightened by its own deed, given the victim’s prestige in Barcelona’s proletarian and intellectual circles.

The CNT called a meeting of Catalan militants and they decided that they had to stop the repression definitively and finish off the pistoleros and their leaders once and for all. They also agreed to try to find the economic resources that they needed to confront their organizational problems: [98] union tills were empty thanks to the constant seizure of funds by authorities. For their part, Los Solidarios resolved to eliminate some of the leading reactionaries: Martínez Anido, Colonel Arlegui, ex-Minister Bagallal, ex-Minister Count of Coello, José Regueral (the governor of Bilbao), and Juan Soldevila, the Archbishop Cardinal of Zaragoza. These individuals bore direct responsibility for the terrorism exercised against the anarchists and workers. Several other anarchist groups decided to launch an attack on the Hunters’ Circle, a pistolero refuge and meeting place of the most vicious employers.

The raid had a devastating psychological effect. They never imagined that more than fifteen people would audaciously burst into their lounge and fire at them at point blank range. That is exactly what happened. The bourgeoisie asked for police protection and many pistoleros fled Barcelona.

There was tremendous confusion in the city. The poor supported the radical workers and greeted police invasions of their neighborhoods with gunfire. It was a bitter war, and Durruti and his friends were destined to live out one of the most dangerous and dramatic chapters of their lives. Years later a witness observed that “it had no precedent other than the period experienced by Russian revolutionaries between 1906 and 1913. These youths disregarded the adults’ prudent recommendations and became judges and avengers in Spain’s four corners. They were frequently persecuted by the state and had no support other than their own convictions and revolutionary faith.” [99]

CHAPTER VIII. José Regueral and Cardinal Soldevila

Although Durruti rejected Pina’s idea that they should make themselves into “professional revolutionaries,” this is what he and the other Solidarios would become due to the course of events. The Solidarios had to adopt a lifestyle in keeping with the demands of their insurgent activities, but it should be noted that Durruti and his comrades were never “salaried revolutionaries,” something that clearly distinguished them from the bureaucrats and “permanents” of the socialist, communist, and syndicalist organizations. García Oliver commented on the issue many years later: “I joined the CNT in 1919 and lived through all the turbulent phases of its struggle for survival. With other good comrades, I organized Sections, Unions, Locals, and Counties; I took part in hundreds of assemblies, rallies, and conferences; I fought day and night, with more or less good results; I spent fourteen years of my youth in jails and prisons. But I never accepted remunerated posts: professional activism simply did not correspond to my approach. This may be why I was never Secretary of the Local Committees of Barcelona, Regional of Catalonia, or National of Spain. And it isn’t that I consider it degrading to live from the organization’s meager salaries or because one earns much more charging workers’ wages. It’s just that it would have attacked my spirit of independence.[100]

One of the first problems the group had to face was economic. They had spent all their resources buying guns and explosives, and yet circumstances now demanded even more money, not only to sustain themselves but also for activities that they were about to undertake. They needed cash urgently and, having neither the means nor the time to hold up a bank, they decided to rob some Barcelona City Hall employees who transported money. The job was risky, because the employees traveled with a police escort, but Los Solidarios went through with it nonetheless. The holdup occurred at the intersection of Fernando Street and Ramblas, a stone’s throw from the bank. Los Solidarios disarmed the two police and made off with the money, which the press valued at 100,000 pesetas. [101]

Durruti left for Madrid immediately, where he intended to participate in a conference called by the Vía Libre group (April, 1923). He also had to deliver some money to help with the trial of Pedro Mateu and Luis Nicolau, who were charged with killing Prime Minister Eduardo Dato. Things progressed in Barcelona while Durruti traveled. Los Solidarios found out that Languía was hiding in Manresa: he was one of the most wellknown pistoleros, the right-hand man of Sales (leader of the Free Unions [Sindicatos Libres]), and widely thought to have played a role in the murder of Salvador Seguí. Ascaso and García Oliver took off for Manresa at once. They knew that three pistoleros always guarded Languía but managed to surprise the four thugs in the back of a bar where they were playing cards. The shootout was brief and they left the town quickly. The evening newspapers in Barcelona were already reporting on the murder of “Mr. Languía, citizen of order” by the time they got back to the Catalan capital. [102] The murder of this well-known assassin was a shock for the Barcelona pistoleros. Sales ordered his men to kill those thought to bear responsibility: García Oliver, Ascaso, and Durruti, names that had already begun to appear regularly in the press, accused of holdups, assassinations, etc. These militants and their friends had to rely on their sixth sense to escape alive. Although traps and surprises menaced them at every step, Los Solidarios were determined to carry their plan forward. As soon as they received good information about where Martínez Anido and José Regueral were hiding, Ascaso, Torres Escartín, and Aurelio Fernández set off to liquidate Martínez Anido while Gregorio Suberviela and Antonio “el Toto” left for León, Regueral’s refuge.

Martínez Anido had retreated to Ondarreta, an aristocratic area in San Sebastian. He lived in a cottage there and was guarded by two policemen around the clock. However, he was not a recluse: at noon every day he passed through tunnel separating Miraconcha from Ondarreta and took a long walk on the road wrapping around the Concha beach. He always ended the afternoon in the Military Club or the Gran Kursaal.

Los Solidarios had detailed information about his itinerary, but decided to confirm it by waiting for Anido in a café that looked out over the road. They would determine their course of action later.

Shortly after sitting in the café, Torres Escartín began to suspect that someone was looking through the window from the street and went out to surprise him. He would be the one surprised when he found himself face-toface with General Martínez Anido and his two police escorts. The General had casually taken a glance in the café.

Concealing his shock, Torres Escartín disguised the delicate situation as well as he could and went back into the café, while Martínez Anido disappeared along the street. He told his friends what had happened and all lamented that they had left their weapons in the hotel.

Francisco Ascaso, suspicious by nature, assumed that Martínez Anido must be aware of their presence in San Sebastián as well as their reason for being there. He suggested that they grab their guns and shoot him down wherever they find him.

They went to the Military Club, the Gran Kursaal, and anywhere else Anido was likely to visit. All of this was in vain: Martínez Anido was nowhere to be found. Apparently he had left for La Coruña in a hurry. Without wasting time, the three Solidarios bought tickets, this time separately, for La Coruña. When they arrived, Ascaso and Aurelio went to the port to talk with some dockworkers about arms that were going to be shipped from Galicia to Barcelona. Torres Escartín made contact with the local CNT. They all agreed to meet around midday in a centrally located café.

The police detained Ascaso and his friend while they were walking through the port and brought them to the police station to be searched. They had received confidential information suggesting that the two men were drug traffickers. However, the detainees managed to convince the captain that they were simply there to file some papers necessary to emigrate to Latin America. They were released and left La Coruña immediately, convinced that it was they—not Anido—in jeopardy.

When Anido turned up at the police station to question the men being held, he was dismayed to discover that his pursuers had been set free after their identities were verified. This event cost the police captain his career: Anido told him that “they were two dangerous anarchists following in his footsteps to kill him” and that he was fired as a result of the mistake. The police raided hotels and arrested various suspects, but Los Solidarios had had the presence of mind to leave the Galician city quickly. [103] They were discouraged when they returned to Barcelona, and particularly when they found out that authorities had arrested Durruti in Madrid.

Durruti had a dynamic temperament and there was nothing more contrary to his nature than idleness. Inactivity was a torture for him and, when circumstances forced it upon him, he tried to release his energy in a thousand different ways. [104] When Durruti arrived in Madrid, he discovered that the conference that he intended to attend had been postponed for a week. This disrupted his plans, but he took advantage of his free time to accomplish part of his mission by visiting Buenacasa, with whom he had to sort out the matter of the trial noted above.

Buenacasa didn’t recognize him at first, since “he was going around dressed like an Englishman, disfiguring his face with some thick-framed glasses.” Durruti asked him about the status of the trial and delivered some money for legal costs. He then said that he wanted to see the inmates. Buenacasa did everything he could to dissuade him—saying that was way too risky and a good way to get himself locked up—but Durruti would not be deterred. A visit, he said, would “raise the prisoners’ morale.” Buenacasa finally acceded, hoping that the “jailers would take him for some strange tourist, given his foreigner’s outfit.” [105]

Durruti was not satisfied with his trip to the prison. He could only see one of the defendants—journalist Mauro Bajatierra [106] —whose deafness made it impossible to talk with him in the visiting room. He and Buenacasa later said goodbye near the prison and he headed toward the city center. The police surprised him from behind while he was walking on Alcalá Street. He considered resisting, but realized that he was completely surrounded. They promptly threw him in a car and shot off toward the Police Headquarters.

They confirmed his identity in Police Headquarters and charged him with three crimes: armed robbery of a trader named Mendizábal from San Sebastián; the conspiracy to kill Alfonso XIII, and desertion from the army. They sent him to San Sebastián under these three accusations.

The newspapers in Madrid and Barcelona raved about his detention; declaring that one of Spain’s leading terrorists had finally been captured. Indeed, the crime reporters made him into an extraordinary figure. They described him as a consummate bank robber, a train bandit, a dangerous terrorist, and, above all, an unbalanced mind with signs of a born criminal who perfectly illustrated the theories that the “criminologist” Lombroso advanced in his outrageous study of anarchists. [107]

When they read the accounts in the press and learned that Arlegui was in Madrid’s General Office of Security, many of the Solidarios thought Durruti was doomed. They could apply the “ ley de fugas” to him at any time. Ascaso, however, was not going to give in and he and a lawyer named Rusiñol organized a plan to seize Durruti from the “justice” system’s clutches. Rusiñol thought the armed robbery charge was the worst of the three accusations. The charge of conspiring against the King was nothing more than a simple supposition and the claim that Durruti had deserted the army could actually help them organize his escape. He told Ascaso that they should visit Mr. Mendizábal and try to convince him of his error, if he continued to claim that Durruti was one of the perpetrators of the crime.

Francisco Ascaso, Torres Escartín, and the lawyer went to San Sebastián, bringing the group’s meager funds with them. The meeting with Mendizábal went extremely well: he said that he had not made a report against anyone named Durruti and was prepared to state as much to the judge. “Mendizábal declared him innocent and his participation in the plot against the King was now in doubt. With a good sowing of money, the lawyer requested his client’s freedom. The judge agreed, although Durruti nevertheless remained incarcerated for the last crime.” [108]

Rusiñol told Durruti about all these developments during a visit, which Buenaventura later explained to his sister in a letter: “I should have been released two days ago, but apparently someone has fallen in love with the name Durruti and they’re holding me for I don’t know what reason.... I write at night by candlelight, since the noise of the waves crashing against the prison wall stops me from sleeping.... I trust that you’ll be judicious enough to stop mother from making another trip to San Sebastián. It’s a very difficult trip for her and painful for me to have to see her through bars. I’m sure she’s very tired. Convince her that I’m fine and that my release is only a matter of days or perhaps even hours.” [109]

While Durruti languished in jail, the Fiesta Mayor occurred in his native city, an annual event in which the rich and poor celebrated the Patron Saint, each in their own way. The former flaunted their power and wealth, while the later liquidated their savings on new clothes and copious amounts of food. They could at least eat well once a year. There were fireworks in the workers’ neighborhoods, whereas the wealthy gathered in the city center at the Casino’s annual dance or went to the theater. A theater company from Madrid had been invited to stage The Rabid King that year. [110] .

The play’s first performance occurred on May 17, 1923 and, as expected, the city’s rich and powerful were in attendance. Ex-Governor José Regueral was also there, accompanied by his personal bodyguards. No one will ever know why Regueral left the theater that night before the piece had finished, but the fact that he did so was a big help to Gregorio and “El Toto,” who were wandering around the plaza, hidden among the throng.

Regueral stood for a few moments at the top of the staircase, with his two police escorts just behind him. The plaza was in the midst of the celebration and nobody, other the two Solidarios, paid any attention to that braggart. He took a few steps down the stairs and then a pair of shots suddenly rang out, muffled by the sounds of the fireworks. Regueral lost his balance and began to roll forward. He died instantly, and his police custodians had no idea where the bullets had come from. They stood there; surprised and immobilized before the lifeless body of this man who was so “distinguished” by his hatred of the working class.

Protected by the clamor that erupted once the crowd learned what had occurred, Gregorio and his friend disappeared into the warm and star-filled night.

The next day the press related the event with typical sensationalist fantasy. Some claimed that the murder was the work of an anarchist group from León, whose principal boss, Buenaventura Durruti, was incarcerated in San Sebastián. Others erroneously asserted that León police had already captured one of the perpetrators. The reality was that the police didn’t know who was responsible and lashed out blindly, arresting endless suspects. Durruti’s brother Santiago was among those detained and they would have taken his old and sick father, prostrate in bed, if Anastasia and the neighbors had not resisted. All of Buenaventura’s friends were brought in, including Vicente Tejerina, secretary of the local CNT.

The arrestees gave statements, but were released within twenty-four hours due to lack of evidence. That was the extent of the investigation and no one was ever be punished for the crime. What the police never knew was that the perpetrators were hiding in a house near the cathedral and that a week later, “like good León peasants, they left one morning for the countryside to find a new refuge in Valladolid.” [111] León authorities started to develop an interest in Durruti’s case and new investigations prompted further delays in his release. Torres Escartín and Ascaso were waiting in San Sebastián for their friend to get out of prison but, given the circumstances, they decided that it would be unwise to remain there. They spoke with the lawyer about the case and then went to Zaragoza, to wait for Durruti in that city. Zaragoza was not particularly secure either, given that both Escartín and Ascaso had been mentioned in the local press as bandits. However, they were committed to staying in the area and told their comrades that they were going to hole up in a small house outside the city that had been rented by a Catalan anarchist named Dalmau. At the time it was occupied by an old anarchist militant named Teresa Claramunt, who was resting there after a grueling speaking tour of Andalusia.

Claramunt knew Ascaso and Escartín only by name and received them in an antagonistic spirit. She associated them with violent actions being executed in the capital of Aragón, which she opposed emphatically. Without preamble, she mentioned “the recent death of a strike-breaker and security guard, both with children. ‘That was detrimental to the working class’s ideal,’ she told them. ‘We have to reject those types of action. If we must use violence,’ she said, ‘we should use it against those who beget it: heads of state, ministers, bishops, whoever they might be, but not wretches like this strike-breaker and guard.” [112] The admonished comrades listened speechlessly, unaware that she might consider them culpable. Ascaso thought it best to let her vent and try to avoid arguments. That was a good tactic; after speaking her mind, Teresa began to recover her natural calm and, with a much softer tone, expressed concern for Ascaso’s health. The two men then defended themselves and articulated their view of revolutionary violence, which they saw as a form of propaganda. Now, on better footing, they continued the conversation and spoke about the situation that the pistoleros had created in Zaragoza.

There was a climate of desperate violence in Zaragoza, much like in Barcelona. The pistoleros who fled Catalonia and hid out in the capital of Aragón committed numerous assaults, robberies, and murders. Of course local bourgeois newspapers held the workers responsible for all these incidents and managed to influence not only public opinion in general but also people like Teresa.

Both Ascaso and Escartín knew that militants would make some mistakes. It was bound to happen in such a risky and passionate struggle, although they felt that these occasional errors did not invalidate their tactics as such. In fact, they were determined to confront that state of affairs in Zaragoza head on and decided to organize an action that would ultimately shake the local ruling class and even the very foundations of the state. That was the only way to stop that wave of violence that was enveloping Zaragoza and threatening to confound even balanced individuals like Teresa. The vox populi accused the Archbishop Cardinal Soldevila of patronizing gambling houses and being responsible for and protecting the pistoleros. There were even rumors of his weekly orgies in a certain nun’s convent. He was truly the most hated person in the capital of Aragón. [113] Ascaso and Escartín felt that eliminating this individual would put some order in the bourgeois disorder sweeping the city. At three in the afternoon on June 4, 1923, a black automobile with license plate Z-135 left through the garage door of the archbishop’s palace in Zaragoza. There were two men in the backseat behind a lattice window. Both were clergymen; one was around forty years old and the other eighty. They were talking about a woman who happened to be the mother of the former and the sister of the latter, a wealthy lady who apparently showed signs of derangement. After passing through the center of the city, the car traversed the Las Delicias workers’ district as it headed toward a location outside the metropolis known as “El Terminillo,” where there was a beautiful country estate surrounded by lush vegetation. It was the St. Paul Home School. [114] The passengers were none other than “His Eminence” Cardinal Soldevila and his nephew and chief majordomo, Mr. Luis Latre Jorro. The chauffeur slowed down when they reached the property’s entrance and waited for attendants to open its wrought-iron gate. “At that moment, from three or four meters away, two men fired their pistols at the car’s occupants, shooting what seemed to be thirteen shots, one of which penetrated the heart of His Eminence the Cardinal. He died instantly, while his nephew and chauffeur were badly injured. The assailants disappeared as if by magic. No one could provide exact descriptions or accurate details of the event.” [115]

The killing was the talk of the town and news of the event reached the Royal Palace an hour later. King Alfonso XIII held Cardinal Soldevila in great esteem. He immediately dispatched a telegram to the Archbishopric of Zaragoza and sent one of his secretaries to the scene of the crime. He ordered them to resolve the matter at once.

All the newspapers ran lengthy articles on the attack. El Heraldo de Aragón printed the following full-page headline: “Yesterday’s unusual and abominable attack. The assassination of the Cardinal-archbishop of Zaragoza, Mr. Juan Soldevila Romero.” A photograph of the victim sat squarely in the middle of the page. The paper devoted three pages to the story. With respect to the police investigations, it said: “The police chief and his companions followed the assassins’ presumed escape route. At one point they found an Alkar pistol thrown alongside a path. It had the word ‘Alkarto’ inscribed on its barrel, which is an arms factory in Guernica. It was a nine-caliber weapon and did not have one single cap in its clip.

“They continued onward, cutting across fields until they got to the Las Delicias workers’ neighborhood. No one that they encountered en route could provide any information about the assailants.” El Heraldo de Aragón also reprinted comments on the matter from other Spanish newspapers. The Madrid daily Acción opined: “This crime is the best reflection, more than any other, of the state of things in Spain.” The Heraldo de Madrid asserted: “The crime was not the work of the union men, but anarchists.”

All the police’s efforts that night to identify the assailants were fruitless. Nevertheless, under pressure from the Interior Minister—who was in turn pressured by De la Cierva, leader of the Conservative Party— Zaragoza Civil Governor Fernández Cobos ordered Police Chief Mr. Fernández to conduct a thorough investigation and rapidly arrest the perpetrators. Police focused on Zaragoza’s anarchist and workers’ movement circles and tried to build a trial on the basis of entirely arbitrary arrests.

Victoriano Gracia, general secretary of Zaragoza’s Federation of CNT Unions, warned: “If even one innocent worker is arrested, the authorities and no one else who will bear responsibility for what might happen.” [116] The governor, frightened by the CNT’s statements as well as the audaciousness of murder, went against his orders and commanded the police not to make arrests unless there was material evidence implicating a suspect and to limit their raids to sites related to the incident. They released detainees one by one. That was the case for Santiago Alonso García and José Martínez Magorda, eighteen and sixteen years old respectively, who were arrested on the road from Madrid as they returned from searching for work in Vitoria. Two days later Silvino Acitores and Daniel Mendoza were freed as well.

Barcelona’s La Vanguardia published an article on June 14 stating that the Zaragoza’s civil governor had informed the Interior Ministry that they would prosecute an individual seized a few days earlier on suspicions of links to the Soldevila murder. However, a week later, the newspaper declared that there would be no trial due to a lack of evidence. It was only in late June that Madrid authorities decided to find a scapegoat. They ordered a raid on June 28 and brought in Pestaña and other anarcho-syndicalist leaders on terrorism charges. The allegation rested on a flier secretly distributed in the barracks that warned soldiers that their superiors were planning a coup and urged them to make common cause with the people. [117]

The Zaragoza police also arrested Francisco Ascaso, who they held responsible for Cardinal Soldevila’s death. Although he could demonstrate that he was visiting inmates in the Predicadores prison at the time of the attack (and several witnesses substantiated his alibi), he was still charged with the crime. The next day the national press reported the dramatic news of the arrest of one of the Cardinal’s assassins, who had been executed by the infamous gang led by the terrorist Durruti. [118] The papers also published the following statement from the Conservative politician Mr. De la Cierva: “Attacks are committed every day in Barcelona that go unpunished, as well as holdups whose culprits are never found, such as in the case of the armed robbery of the Tax Collection Offices or the assault on the lawyer from Blast Furnaces. As the country’s representatives, we have to wonder if the government has the means to stop these terrorist acts.” [119]

The Church pressed the federal government and Zaragoza authorities to apprehend the well-known anarchists Esteban Euterio Salamero Bernard and Juliana López Maimar as accomplices in the crime. Unable to find the former, the police seized his mother in his stead, an elderly woman in her seventies. Authorities declared that they would hold her hostage until her son turned himself in. They had yanked her out of bed, sick with tuberculosis. Twelve hours after news of this outrageous detention broke, Esteban Salamero turned himself over to Zaragoza police. He said that he had “nothing to fear” from the law and demanded his mother’s release. [120]

Police tried to coerce Salamero into confessing his complicity in the murder by beating his mother in front of him. He was unable to endure this sight and signed a confession, although the police’s tactics later became public knowledge.

While he awaited trial, the justice system built its case against Francisco Ascaso, Rafael Torres Escartín, Salamero, and Juliana López. [121]

CHAPTER IX. Toward the Primo de Rivera dictatorship

While Zaragoza police used the most odious tactics to find the men who killed Cardinal Soldevila, the person that the press depicted as the central figure in the matter—the “terrible Durruti”—was released from the San Sebastián Provincial Prison. The incongruities of the law! The last time that Durruti’s mother had visited him in prison, he promised her that he would go to León the minute that he was freed and spend some time with the family. But when he found out about the arrest of Ascaso and the other comrades in Zaragoza, he decided against the León trip and went to Barcelona without delay.

Durruti could see that there was serious confusion among anarchists and CNTistas as soon as he arrived. Three tendencies struggled to impose their control on the Confederation. One was a misguided revolutionary position that wanted to institutionalize holdups as a CNT strategy. The second, advanced by Angel Pestaña was a more moderate view and denounced the illegalist approach as alien to the CNT and anarchism. Finally, there were the Bolshevik-Confederals (principally Nin, Maurín, and Arlandis), who persevered in their attempt to take control of the CNT, putting forward their Syndicalist Revolutionary Committees.

The situation was even more confusing in the national political realm. The parties, including the Socialist Party, were in the midst of a deep crisis. In some cases this was due to their inability to grasp the challenges of the times and, in others, to divisions introduced by the Communist International. The army was the only solid and structured institution, and its influence increased thanks to the bourgeoisie’s backing and the Church’s support. The latter’s links to it had grown dramatically since the death of Cardinal Soldevila.

Prime Minister García Prieto was a mediocre, faint-hearted politician who had been unable to sleep since he received the explosive dossier about Morocco. That document—the result of investigations made by General Picasso—demonstrated that various leading figures, even Alfonso XIII himself, bore responsibility for the massacre of Annual. A scandal was approaching and it absolutely terrified García Prieto, who knew that he couldn’t keep the report from the Chamber of Deputies. He desperately hoped that something would occur that would force him to resign. This politician was so servile that he would rather fall off the face of the earth before confronting the King.

Fortunately for García Prieto, his wishes coincided with those of Alfonso XIII, who had dreams of installing a Mussolini in Spain, as Víctor Manuel had done in Italy. After considering various generals who seemed like bright stars, he found that the brightest was General Primo de Rivera, perhaps because he shared the King’s contempt for the rabble (i.e., the people). Indeed, one of the main reasons that Alfonso XIII facilitated this coup, in addition to his disdain for the constitution, was his desire to silence those demanding accountability for the disastrous war in Morocco. But he needed a pretext to justify his maneuver and what could be better than squashing the “worker banditry” (i.e., anarcho-syndicalism)? Even the Catalan bourgeoisie would applaud such an idea, despite their longstanding hostility to the central government in Madrid.

An intra-governmental dispute between the “Africanists” and those wanting to end the Moroccan campaign made it much easier for the King to pursue his aims. One of those calling for a retreat from Morocco was Navy Minister Luis Silvela. He had ordered General Castro Gerona to negotiate an end to the armed conflict with Abd el-Krim (through Dris Ben Said, the latter’s representative in Melilla). Alcalá Zamora, Minister of War and spokesperson for the Count of Romanones, was the main proponent for continuing the war and vetoed Silvela’s efforts. Alcalá Zamora’s veto also required that Silvela resign, which he did. His replacement made General Martínez Anido military commander in Melilla and, a few days after he assumed his post, Dris Ben Said was riddled with bullets. Clearly this conflict would not be resolved peacefully.

The national political scene and CNT’s internal conflicts were the main topics of discussion at the Solidarios meeting held when Durruti arrived in Barcelona. Captain Alejandro Sancho, who advised the group on military matters, attended the gathering. He reported on developments within the Armed Forces, where there was open talk of an imminent military coup and where General Primo de Rivera’s name was being put forward as a future dictator. He said that the military leaders would do little to oppose the coup and that it was unclear how the soldiers would respond. As for the Anti-militarist Committees, they were too new to undertake any spectacular actions and proselytizing work had become nearly impossible in the barracks after the recent increase in surveillance following the discovery of subversive propaganda in them. The only hopeful possibility that Captain Sancho could identify was the chance that the soldiers might fraternize with the workers if an uprising occurred. That, at least, had happened on other occasions.

Men without the courage of Los Solidarios would have given up in the face of such dreadful circumstances, but that was simply not in their character. Instead of resigning themselves and retreating, they decided to respond to the anticipated coup by organizing a revolutionary general strike. For the strike to succeed, they first had to get the wrecked workers’ unions operating again, which the constant waves of repression had crushed. And to carry out the insurrection, they needed arms. Money, once again, became a central problem. They decided to rob a state bank to resolve the issue and, for reasons of ease, selected the Gijón branch of the Bank of Spain. Durruti and Torres Escartín took charge of the operation and set off for the Asturian city at once.

On their way, they stopped off in Zaragoza to get an update on Ascaso and his prison comrades, [122] but stayed only briefly, since Durruti and Torres Escartín were well-known there and charges relating to the Soldevila matter still hung over Torres Escartín. A local comrade updated them about new developments in the case and also their plans to fight back. If everything went as anticipated, the Zaragoza bourgeoisie and Church would not have the pleasure of garroting Ascaso. [123] Indeed, they were organizing a jailbreak that would free the most committed prisoners in Predicadores. In addition to Ascaso and others, Inocencio Pina was there as well, who had been arrested on June 13 after a shootout. Police also captured the young comrades Luis Muñoz and Antonio Mur on the same day that they seized Inocencio. Their case was particularly serious, since they had killed one of the arresting officers, López Solorzano, who was the right arm of Inspector Santiago Martí Baguenas, leader of the Social Brigade. [124]

Durruti and Torres Escartín continued on to Bilbao that day. An engineer in contact with an anarchist group there pledged to get them the arms that they needed if they provided him with the money to make the purchase. He could get several thousand rifles if they could produce the damned cash. Our Solidarios felt very carefree when they arrived in Gijón, since they were unknown to the local police. They patiently planned their robbery of the Gijón bank.

While they did so, General Primo de Rivera and his regal accomplice charted their assault on power. They were also carefree, since the major political forces seemed unconcerned with their maneuvers. It was only the anarchists and the CNT who gave their undivided attention to their dictatorial plans, and with good reason: they knew that the principal justification for the military coup was to destroy anarchism and revolutionary syndicalism. Barcelona anarchist groups commissioned García Oliver to meet with the CNT National Committee in order to coordinate their forces for the general revolutionary strike, although the results of the meeting were discouraging. The successive government crackdowns had compromised the workers’ organization: they had bled the CNT of its cadre and many unions maintained only a token existence. Angel Pestaña told García Oliver the following: “The revolution demands organization. The energies liberated in a revolution are those expressing the phenomenon of creative spontaneity. For a revolution to succeed, a minimum of 90 percent of organization is required and we find ourselves under the sum of fifty. Our deficiencies are the result of employer terrorism, in addition to our own internal conflicts and the disastrous impact that Bolshevism has had on our ranks, which has disoriented the working class in places like Sabadell. Today the only way to confront the coup is an alliance of all the forces opposed to the dictatorship. But what are those forces?

The UGT doesn’t show any interest in resisting the coup. It is the CNT that will stand alone before the approaching dictatorship. But the dictatorship is an attack on the country’s authentic forces, which are organized under the acronym CNT. Our response will honor our revolutionary tradition, as we have always done.” [125] Angel Pestaña hadn’t said anything that García Oliver didn’t already know, but it was important that such things be explicit in that encounter between the CNT and the militant anarchists during those grave moments. The anarchist groups redoubled their efforts during the month of August 1923.

Durruti and Torres Escartín sent an urgent message to the Solidarios in Barcelona, saying that everything was ready and they had to come quickly to prevent everything from going to waste. One thousand rifles were waiting in Eibar that someone named Zulueta had ordered on their behalf from the Gárate y Anitua manufacturer.

We will let another author describe the dramatic robbery carried out in Gijón on September 1. His account appeared on the front page of El Imparcial under the following headline: “Brazen robbery of the Gijón branch of the Bank of Spain. Thieves seriously wound the bank manager and take more than a half million pesetas.”

Gijón, September 1—At 9:00 in the morning, shortly after this branch of the Bank of Spain opened, the most audacious robbery of all the most audacious in Spain occurred in the first lending establishment of this city. The event took place in the following way:

Six youths brandishing pistols entered through the main door, dressed in workers’ clothes and wearing berets and caps. Their eruption into the main room caused tremendous panic among the employees and customers. One of the robbers stood at the door, with the entrance to his back, while holding a pistol in each hand. The others quickly went to the vault. With a hoarse and imperious voice, the one at the door shouted: 50 Toward the Primo de Rivera Dictatorship“Hands up! Everyone be quiet!” With fantastic speed the thieves entered the vault, where they shot two or three times and seized all the money the collectors had in the drawers and on the counter. When he heard the gunfire, branch manager Luis Azcárate Alvarez, fifty-nine years old, emerged from his office on the upper floor. He shouted from the top of the stairs: “What’s happening?” The gunman apparently leading the gang responded: “Don’t move! We’ll kill you!” Mr. Azcárate ignored the threat and continued down the stairs. The thieves shot at him several times. One of the bullets seriously injured him in the neck. Mr. Azcárate fell face down onto the floor, spilling out an enormous amount of blood.

The bandits put the money in their pockets and went toward the door, pointing their pistols at the employees and customers. Once in the street, they got into an automobile that had been waiting with its motor running and got away.

But first they shot several times at a municipal policeman who tried to stop them. He attempted to fire back, but his weapon malfunctioned. The bandits shot at passers-by to force their way through, and also at the many residents who had come out onto the balconies of nearby houses after hearing the shouting and gunfire.

Policeman Félix Alonso, who had tried to confront the criminals, was able to see the car’s license plate when it slowed down while crossing another vehicle’s path. It was registered in Oviedo, with plate number 434. The car’s skilled driver got around the other car and, making clean and certain maneuvers, raced down Begoña Street, crossing Covadonga and then taking the road from Oviedo.

By pure chance, the thieves had not stolen several million pesetas held in the big reserve vault. It had been open just moments before they entered. Apparently their goal was to rob money destined for the Duro-Felguera Society payroll.

The bank robbers stole 573,000 pesetas, according to an estimate calculated immediately afterwards.

The Civil Guard took off in pursuit of the outlaws on the road from Oviedo. A couple, accompanied by a police agent, found the driver three kilometers from Gijón. They arrested him and brought him to Gijón, where he gave the following statement:

Six individuals turned up in Oviedo on Thursday and hired him to make an excursion to Gijón on Friday, but yesterday came to tell him that the trip was had been postponed until today.

The six individuals who had contracted his service appeared this morning and ordered him to set off on the road to Gijón. When they reached Pintsueles Mountain, two men appeared on the road and the passengers ordered the driver to stop. When he did so, the driver found himself with two pistols pointing at his chest. The two men on the road commanded him to get out and follow them.

The driver obeyed and saw one of the car’s six occupants get behind the steering wheel and start the motor. It was clear that he knew the car’s make perfectly.

The driver and the two bank robbers stopped in an elevated area, from which he could clearly watch the car drive toward Gijón. When he lost sight of it, the two gunmen told him not to be afraid, not to follow them, and that nothing would happen if he didn’t resist. He would get the car back later, which will pick him up right there.

They led him deeper into the woods at Pintsueles Mountain, some two hundred meters from the road. He did not have to wait for long: shortly afterwards, the gunmen scanning the mountains made out the automobile. They all went back to the road, only to see the car pass by without stopping.

One of those watching the driver told him:

“Evidently they forgot that we’re waiting here. You should just follow the road forward. You’ll find the car soon enough.” The terrified driver fled, but the thieves, who also disappeared, hadn’t deceived him. He came across the abandoned car some fifteen kilometers from Gijón, in the area known as Alto de Prubia.

Several women in the vicinity told him that six individuals got out of the car fifteen minutes earlier. They asked for directions to the Llanera train station and then slipped off in the direction indicated to them. The Civil Guard has cordoned off the whole province and is conducting raids in the mountains near the road.

A couple detained an individual named José Pueyo who was heading toward Felguera, his hometown. He pulled out a pistol when he saw the guards. They took him to Gijón.

We will comment on the account of the event printed in El Imparcial below, but we first want to record the official story that Duke Almodóvar del Valle, Minister of the interior, gave to journalists. His description is more accurate than the El Imparcial version: he mentions four bank robbers, which is correct, since the driver stayed at the wheel of the car and another waited at the bank’s door. He and the journalist from El Imparcial also differ on the amount of money taken. The minister said that “it is calculated that the quantity stolen exceeds 700,000 pesetas,” although the real figure was 650,000 pesetas. Typically, during event of this nature, the robbery victims also try to take a cut: we can assume that the discrepancy reflects that fact. With respect to the bank manager, the press said that he had to give his statement to police in a first aid post because his injury was so serious. This is also untrue (his wound was little more than a scratch). It is worth describing the circumstances in which Mr. Azcárate, the only semi-victim of the event, was hurt. A participant in the action said the following:

Durruti was the one with the hoarse voice: it was he who kept the bank customers at a distance. The manager came down the stairs, hastily and suicidally, and went towards Durruti and tried to disarm him. Durruti struggled a little with this crazy man who—apparently thinking that Durruti was weak and scared—slapped him. It was at that moment that Durruti threw the individual off him and, while doing so, fired his gun. The bullet merely scraped the man’s neck. Durruti didn’t intend to injure or kill anyone. The shots let off inside the bank and during the exit were in the air and simply to scare people away. Durruti commented on the situation once he was in the car: “That lunatic wanted to die and tried to bite my finger” he said, showing his bloody little finger. “What a mess I had to make, like a terrible pistolero, trying to convince that maniac that he should stay still. And, as if to prove his insanity, he slapped me while I had a pistol in each hand!”[126]

When the group abandoned the vehicle, their plan was to go to Llanera and take the train. Instead of this—considering that police would be watching the roads and train stations closely—they decided that two of them would head to Bilbao through the mountain and purchase the arms. These two were García Vivancos (the driver) and Aurelio Fernández. Durruti, Suberviela, Torres Escartín, and Eusebio Brau stayed together and hid out in a secluded cabin in the mountainside. Several days later Fernández and Vivancos had an encounter with the Civil Guard, who were searching the area intensively, but managed to slip through the security cordon with the money. Not long afterwards, on the morning of September 3, Durruti was shaving while Torres Escartín and Eusebio Brau ate lunch. Gregorio Suberviela was on look out duty. They heard voices in the distance and suddenly a group of Civil Guards appeared. Gregorio began shooting. Torres Escartín and Eusebio Brau took off together, while Durruti and Gregorio each went their own way.

There was intense gunfire between the Civil Guards and Torres Escartín and Brau, who had been trapped and had to resist. The battle lasted for several hours and their ammunition began to run out. Eusebio Brau tried to seize a nearby guard’s Mauser while Escartín covered him, but he was not fast enough and died instantly after being shot. A Guard then knocked Torres Escartín unconscious with a vicious riffle butt blow to the back. The Guards took the dead and injured to their barracks and later dragged Torres Escartín off to the Oviedo prison, who was nearly destroyed after enduring several hours of torture. [127]

El Imparcial had published a fairly dispassionate account of the robbery, but the press changed its tone with the arrest of Torres Escartín. He was marked as one of Cardinal Soldevila’s murderers, and the association of Torres Escartín and Ascaso naturally brought Durruti’s name into the fray, although for the moment it was Torres Escartín who mattered most to the reporters. The judge overseeing the proceedings against Ascaso hurried to request Torres Escartín’s transfer to compete the trial preparations. When news of his pending transfer reached the Oviedo prison, Torres Escartín’s prison comrades began to organize a prison break. He told them that the plan was premature, given his precarious physical state, but he ultimately decided to give it a try after considering his dismal prospects. Unfortunately, he twisted his ankle while jumping from the prison wall to the street and was nearly immobilized as a result. His comrades tried to carry him, but Torres Escartín told them not to be sentimental and to run. Holding himself upright by leaning on the walls, he managed to evade the security forces for a time but started to grow increasingly weak and finally fainted in front of a church. A parish priest leaving the “house of God” found him shortly afterwards and, thinking the man suspicious, called the Civil Guard, who confined him to the prison once again.

The León press occupied itself with Durruti. It published his photograph and, below it, a list of his many “crimes.” They used every type of fantasy and refinement to describe Buenaventura’s escape from his persecutors. One journalist even wrote that Durruti had fled by disguising himself as a priest, whose robes he obtained by stripping a clergyman at gunpoint in the middle of a church. [128]

In the Santa Ana neighborhood, Durruti’s mother Anastasia became León’s most famous woman. To anyone who asked her about her son “the thief,” she replied: “I don’t know if my son has millions. All I know is that every time he comes to León, I have to dress him from head to toe and pay for the return trip.” [129]

While people discussed these robberies and killings in salons across the country, no one seemed to notice what was being planned from above. Los Solidarios despaired and were convinced that time was working against them. The weapons bought in Eibar were still there and likely to remain there for a while. In fact, Alfonso XIII was so surprised at the ease of his game that he even considered making himself a Mussolini, although Antonio Maura, that old and shrewd politician, dissuaded him.

On September 7, Primo de Rivera and Alfonso XIII held a meeting and set September 15 as the date for their coup, although they later moved it forward to September 13. This was due to pressures from General Sanjurjo and also because the government had decided to present the conclusions of Picasso’s investigation of the Moroccan military disasters to the parliament on September 19.

General Primo de Rivera called the press to his office at 2:00 in the afternoon on September 13. He gave them his “Manifesto to the Country.”

This movement is of men: anyone without a completely distinguished masculinity should stand aside.... In virtue of the trust and mandate that they have deposited in me, a provisional military Junta will be formed in Madrid and entrusted with maintaining public order. We do not want to be ministers nor do we have any goal other than to serve Spain. The country doesn’t want more talk of accountability, but to know it, to demand it, promptly and justly. We sanction the political parties by removing them completely.

His manifesto contained endless declarations about ending terrorism, communist propaganda, separatist agitation, inflation, solving the Moroccan problem, putting the country’s financial chaos in order, etc.

A journalist asked if the coup was inspired by Italy’s “March on Rome.”

We don’t need to imitate the fascists or the great figure of Mussolini, although their acts have been a useful example for everyone. In Spain we have the Somatén and have had Prim,[130] an admirable soldier and great political figure.[131]

When the working class found out about the coup, it absorbed its defeat passively, doing little more than mount sporadic and symbolic demonstrations. It was simply too disorganized and battered to really resist. For their part, the political parties did nothing, despite the fact that the manifesto announced their elimination. The government crossed its arms while it waited for Alfonso XIII to return from San Sebastián, where he had been spending his summer vacation. Meanwhile, troops occupied public buildings and even the Congress of Deputies, where Picasso’s famous dossier vanished into thin air. The CNT National Committee released the following statement on September 14: “At present, when generalized cowardice is manifest and civil authorities hand power over to the military without a fight, it is incumbent upon the working class to make its presence felt and not let itself be kicked by men who break every law and plan to eliminate all the workers’ victories achieved through long and costly struggles.” They concluded by calling for a general strike, but did so without optimism: indeed, what should have been a popular rebellion was reduced to isolated and spontaneous actions that did not inspire the populous, despite their heroism.

The UGT and Socialist Party also released a statement that day, which urged their members “not to consider an uprising.” They published another document on September 15 that implicitly recognized the dictatorship and cautioned “against futile rebellions that could provoke a crackdown,” adding that “all groups that might take independent actions are de-authorized.” [132] The royal train entered Madrid’s Estación del Norte station around midday. The entire government was on the platform. García Prieto urged the King to discharge the seditious general; the King, in reply, discharged García Prieto and his government. When the King reached the Palace, he sent a telegram to Primo de Rivera saying that he was handing power over to him.

With the dictatorship institutionalized by the King, the constitution that Alfonso XIII had sworn to defend was now abolished; capriciousness began to rein and no one knew how long this new period would last. It was clear was that the political parties would passively accommodate themselves to the new situation, including the Socialist Party, which was not going to feel great pangs of socialist conscience when it did so. But the situation was dire for the working class. The CNT and the anarchists, the genuine representatives of the working class, could not make a deal with the government—like the UGT was going to do—without renouncing their principles. The CNT would have to go underground. What did it mean for the CNT to be underground? Hadn’t the CNT been forced underground constantly since its birth? What did the CNT pursue? The economic and political emancipation of the working class through revolutionary expropriation and self-management in all spheres of life. Could they achieve that legally? No, and “the sermon that workers can obtain their emancipation within the law is a deception, because the law orders us not to tear the wealth from the rich’s hands, which they have robbed from us. Expropriating the wealth for the benefit of all is a precondition of human freedom.” [133] It was this perspective that would frame the CNT’s theory and practice: it was illegalist through and through. The Solidarios intensified their security precautions for the group’s members and guarded over collective belongings (like arms) as if the revolution depended on it.

One of their short-term actions would be helping Francisco Ascaso and Torres Escartín escape. For the long term, Durruti and Ascaso were entrusted with organizing a revolutionary center in France. From abroad, this center would support the Revolutionary Committee that would be set up in Barcelona to continue the struggle against capitalism, the state, and religion.

CHAPTER X. The Revolutionary Center of Paris

García Vivancos arrived in Barcelona in late November 1923 feeling discouraged about his trip to the Asturian capital. At first things had looked promising when he landed in Oviedo: a soldier in the regiment guarding the Oviedo prison promised to mobilize his comrades to help break Torres Escartín out. The plan’s pieces slowly fell into place and, when it was nearly time to execute it, everything was ruined: soldiers from another regiment took over prison security. García Vivancos now had to work to secure the collaboration of a whole new squad of guards. He immediately began to sound things out, but began to worry when the police questioned him about his activities in Oviedo. While he had a good alibi—documents indicating that he was a traveling knitwear salesman—and the interrogation went well, it seemed clear that the guards had not been transferred by accident. He left Oviedo at once. [134]

Although García Vivancos failed to organize Torres Escartín’s escape, the Zaragoza comrades were successful and the jailbreak from Predicadores was a complete triumph. The majority of the escapees left for France immediately. “El Negro” was among them—a native of Aragón with a long police record due to his revolutionary activities in Madrid—who had concealed his identity by using a false name when authorities arrested him and Inocencio Pina in Zaragoza. Francisco Ascaso was the most compromised of all. Buenacasa tried to convince him to go to France right away, but he was determined to visit Barcelona first. [135]

Los Solidarios held an important meeting when García Vivancos returned to the Catalan capital. It emerged that General Martínez Anido, Interior Minister and member of Primo de Rivera’s military junta, had a special interest in crushing what he called the “Durruti gang” and had sent several of his best men to Barcelona to accomplish the task. Martínez Anido’s antipathy toward the group only increased with Ascaso’s escape. Under such circumstances, Ascaso and Durruti’s lives were in great danger. The group decided that the two should go to Paris, where they would set up a revolutionary center to help a similar one established in Barcelona. They would also start a press in collaboration with the French Anarcho-Communist Union (ACU) to produce international anarchist propaganda. The group gave them a significant portion of what remained from the Gijón robbery to carry out these missions.

At the time, the ACU office occupied the ground floor of a building at 14 Petit Street in Paris’s district nineteen. Books on sale and the front page of the anarchist weekly Le Libertaire were displayed behind its storefront window. A narrow hallway led into a room lined with shelves, weighted down with French language anarchist books and pamphlets. In the back, there was a room used for everything: storage, editing, running the newspaper, and ACU administration. The administrator, Severino Ferrandel, was there daily and attended to tasks such as book and newspaper sales and also received the visitors from Paris or the provinces that came in search of literature or news. The bookstore became more crowded in the evening, after work hours. Louis Lecoin was one of the usual hosts. He was busy with the campaign to stop the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italian anarchists who would ultimately die in the electric chair in the United States.

Ascaso and Durruti went to the Petit Street building as soon as they arrived in Paris. They spoke with Ferrandel and his young compañera, Berthe Favert, explaining that they wanted to talk with the comrades responsible for ACU organizational matters. Ferrandel brought them to the back room, where Durruti and Ascaso met several of these militants. They outlined their plan after the brief introductions. The ACU men responded with interest but also some skepticism. Plans? Anarchists have plenty of plans, what they lack is the money to carry them out. When the Spaniards announced that they were able to contribute a large sum of cash so that they could take the first steps, the discussion took a new turn and they agreed to hold another meeting to lay the foundations of the publishing project. They met again several days later. Sebastián Faure, Valeriano Orobón Fernández, and Virgilio Gozzoli were in attendance. Durruti and Ascaso handed over 500,000 francs. [136] They decided to publish an international, tri-lingual magazine (French, Spanish, and Italian), which would mark the inauguration of the International Anarchist Press. The Anarchist Encyclopedia planned by Sebastián Faure would be the press’s first book. Once the meeting was over and they left the building, Francisco Ascaso and Buenaventura Durruti reflected on the future. If they were very frugal, they had enough money to support themselves for a month, but a month goes by quickly and so they had to find work right away.

Although it was easy to justify expending money stolen in Gijón on the “historic rifles of Eibar” and the International Press, Spanish newspapers ran articles implying that these two spent extravagantly and wastefully. These stories were repeated time and again, including in the book that Police Captain Eduardo Comín Colomer wrote years later about police “killed in action.” The captain claimed that: “After all the crimes carried out, the members of the Crisol group distributed fifteen thousand pesetas per head. Luis Muñoz, a native of Iniesta (Cuenca), sent his ‘take’ to his family, in addition to another two thousand that he had ‘saved.’ This enabled them to buy land.” [137] Comín Colomer then states that Luis Muñoz was one of the perpetrators of the holdup in Gijón, identifies him as a member of the Crisol group (not the right name), and asserts that he killed policeman López Solorzano, a death for which he was arrested on June 13, 1923. This is an enormous blunder, given that it is public knowledge that the robbery in Gijón took place more than two months later. Here error and slander make good company, especially when inspired by a desire to discredit anarchism in the eyes of “responsible public opinion.”

In early January 1924, Francisco Ascaso and Buenaventura Durruti settled in Paris, not in Marseilles, as La Voz de Guipúzcoa incorrectly stated. They went there not to carry out holdups, as that newspaper claimed, but to support themselves through their work; Durruti was a mechanic with the Renault Company and Ascaso, despite his noted pulmonary ailment, worked as a laborer in a plumbing tube factory (a job that aggravated his illness).

Most of the émigrés in France at the time were Spanish, as a result of the dictatorship and Martínez Anido’s persecution, and most concentrated in the French Midi: Toulouse, Marseilles, Béziers, etc. The Spanish anarchists soon felt a need for organization, although in reality there had always been a degree of organization among Spanish political exiles in the country. In his memoirs, Anselmo Lorenzo notes that when he fled to Marseilles in the previous century he met a group of Spaniards as soon as he arrived and that they helped him find work as a typesetter. We have also seen that Durruti secured employment thanks to help provided by anarchist groups on French soil when he was a refugee in 1918. [138] After 1920, the number of exiles rose with the intensification of Martínez Anido’s terrorism and especially following Primo de Rivera’s coup. The existing organizational bases made it easy to accommodate newcomers, but naturally their arrival generated greater needs, particularly for propaganda. New publications appeared, such as Liberación, which later became Iberión after police suspended the former, and Tiempos Nuevos, which became Voz Libertaria for the same reason.

Over time, all these subversive activities—propaganda and various actions—culminated in the foundation of a strong Anarchist Federation of Spanish-speaking Groups in Exile, which anticipated what would later be the Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI).

Durruti and Ascaso relied on these exiled anarchists as they established themselves in the Parisian workers’ district known as Belleville, where many other Spaniards lived.

Despite the pervasive repression in Spain, spirits were high among Spanish anarchist exiles and many hoped to return to the country in the near future. Of course the idea was not to go back in resignation, but as a force that would overthrow the dictatorship. On December 30, 1923, the CNT held a meeting in Spain at which they prepared to put the CNT’s underground apparatus into operation. At this meeting, it looked like the conflict had been settled with the Bolshevik sympathizers (who still tried to obstruct the CNT’s new scheme of emergency organization). This further increased the optimism among exiles as well as their desire to help the organization. But if the Spaniards were upbeat, the same cannot be said of the other groups of anarchist exiles, such as the Italians and Russians, who passed their own problems onto the French. The Russian Revolution had created a divide among anarchists and was the primary source of the difficulties. Some Russian anarchists found extenuating circumstances to justify the Bolshevik’s terrorist methods and their oppression of Kronstandt and Makhno. Others, as if to confirm the defeat, wanted to transform the anarchist movement into a party and infuse it with a Bolshevik spirit in the name of efficiency.

Some of the Italians had drawn the same conclusion as the Russians, although in their case it was the apparent need for a united front against Italian fascists that pushed them in that direction. However, they were not split quite as sharply as the Russians, thanks to the influence of Enrique Malatesta, who denounced the Bolshevik dictatorship and its authoritarianism. Camilo Berneri, who arrived in Paris after escaping from Italy, reinforced Malatesta’s position.

The problem was most serious among the French. Anarchists had virtually lost their influence on the workers’ movement. The Socialists dominated the CGT and the Communists, enthusiastically using anarchist methods, entrenched themselves in the CGTU. [139] Bolshevism had dazzled activists of great value, like Pierre Monatte, who influenced a large number of anarchists or anarcho-syndicalists. Although they didn’t join the French Communist Party, they adopted an ambiguous and intermediate posture that weakened the anarchist movement, which slowly shrank and surrendered itself to empty debates over means and ends, theory and practice. These abstract disputes removed them even further from the proletariat’s daily concerns, which is a path that leads to death not life.

Durruti and Ascaso reflected on the course of the Russian Revolution and thought that it could be an example to revolutionaries worldwide about what should and should not be done. To argue that the revolution necessarily had to descend into the dictatorship of the few was to renounce revolution itself. That would imply that radicals would have to trust only in the slow evolution of society, in the hope that it would follow a straight and progressive path. History had already revealed that as a falsehood. It made more sense—they thought—to appreciate the particular circumstances of the Russian Revolution, which made its results quite logical. The revolution emerged during a war and the war itself had denatured it, crushing the most conscious part of the revolutionary vanguard, which also unfortunately lacked a strong libertarian perspective.

It was only the Bolshevik Party that had emerged from the disaster of the First World War with solid structures and really knew where it was going and what it wanted. It wanted power and subordinated all its actions to that goal, while disingenuously calling for “all power to the Soviets”. After seizing power, the Bolsheviks did what they had to do: use every trick, coercion, and terrorist measure to hold on to it. When a few have power, the rest are subordinate. With the Bolsheviks triumphant, Kronstandt and later the Ukraine were to be the swan songs of the real Russian Revolution. Perhaps it could have been otherwise, but anarchism would have needed to have penetrated the Russia soul, as it had that of the Ukrainians and those of Kronstandt. Could that have happened? Answering such a question required a deeper analysis of Russia and its problems and neither Durruti nor Ascaso—who were primarily men of action—wanted to lose themselves in labyrinths of conjecture.

They knew that when anarchists have a greater influence on a revolution, that revolution is more libertarian. This is why they were consumed with the idea that what they had to do was to develop the revolutionary capacity of the classes exploited by capital and the state to the utmost, not cross their arms and enclose themselves in endless debates. It was the exploited classes who were called upon to subvert the dominant economic, political, and social structures. They alone would be the source of the new forms of social and political life that would arise from the revolution. The anarchists had to detonate situations that had become explosive and only needed to be ignited. Through continuous action, theory would become practical and practice theoretical. Revolutionary practice was the best school of revolutionary theory.

The subject of revolution was the principal topic of discussion when Durruti and Ascaso spoke with their anarchist comrades of any nationality. Optimism ran high whenever they were present, and theory stopped being a dogma and took on forms of practice, of life. “Walking, we make the road,” Ascaso used to say, paraphrasing Malatesta’s statement that “of things, things are born.” What was important was to be active and, with so many issues prodding them into action, Durruti and Ascaso were in a perpetual state of ferment. While Paris went through a period of clarification, Spain, especially Barcelona, suffered bloody, often fatal repression. The liberal Catalan bourgeoisie stopped accepting Primo de Rivera’s promises that he would give Catalonia administrative autonomy and soon felt the full force of the dictatorship. The government dismissed the president of the Mancomunidad, Puig I Cadafalch, put the monarchist Alfonso Sala in his place, and then suppressed the institution altogether. [140] The coup de grace came in May 1924 when state outlawed the use of the Catalan flag and language.

Although the dictator concentrated his brutality against Catalonia, he hardly limited it to its liberal class. What really bothered him was Catalonia’s proletariat and especially the CNT. Of course Martínez Anido, Primo de Rivera’s executive arm, had old accounts to settle with Los Solidarios and worked tirelessly to destroy the group from the moment he took over the Interior Ministry. And, indeed, he achieved a measure of success, thanks to his network of informers. The Solidarios’ first warning came when the police discovered one of their armories in the Pueblo Nuevo workers’ district. Although they took new precautions thereafter and distanced themselves from people who seemed questionable, it was already too late. The police went into action on March 24, 1924.

They surprised Gregorio Suberviela at home, but he managed to shoot his way out. He descended the stairs of his flat and crossed the street but the police, who were taking cover in the doorways of neighboring houses, had him surrounded. An escape would have been a miracle. Thus, in the middle of street, in full view of the neighbors, one of the most complete revolutionaries that Pamplona had ever produced was shot down. Police never knew that they killed a participant in the Gijón bank robbery and José Regueral’s executioner.

Marcelino del Campo, Tomás Arrate, and other militants also fell, although in different ways. Two undercover police introduced themselves to Marcelino as “persecuted comrades.” He feigned to believe them and said that he would take them to a safe house in the country, where they would find “trusted comrades.” His goal was to get them out of Barcelona and then shoot them. His ploy failed. In hopes of capturing him alive, police pounced upon him as he went into the street. He drew his pistol and killed two of them, but quickly became the third casualty. Police raided Aurelio Fernández’s house at almost the same time that Gregorio and Marcelino fell. His brothers Ceferino and Adolfo Ballano were with him. The three descended the stairs in handcuffs after they were arrested. However, the police became careless once they reached the street, perhaps because it has been so easy to detain them and also because they didn’t know that they had seized another one of the Gijón bank robbers. Aurelio took advantage of this to push his brother into the police’s path and, with both Ceferino and Adolfo in their way, he escaped through the twisting and turning streets that made up Barcelona’s so-called “Chinatown.” Francisco Ascaso’s brother Domingo, a true escape artist and suspicious by nature, heard the police enter the stairway of his building and lowered himself from his fourth floor apartment with a rope that he kept precisely for such a purpose.

Police surely thought that Gregorio Jover, who had recently joined the group, was a simple collaborator and were not particularly vigilant after arresting him. Gregorio took advantage of this to jump through a police station window and flee.

If Martínez Anido thought this raid had crushed Los Solidarios, he was completely mistaken. Ricardo Sanz, García Oliver, Aurelio Fernández, Domingo Ascaso, Alfonso Miguel, and Gregorio Jover were still in action. Alfonso Miguel and Ricardo Sanz covered Gregorio Suberviela and Marcelino del Campo’s responsibilities in the Revolutionary Committee. No one could find Domingo Ascaso. García Oliver spent several days searching for him when, to García’s surprise, it was Domingo who found him. Domingo told him that he needed to go to Paris, so that he, Francisco, and Durruti could accelerate the revolutionary preparations in Spain. When they parted, García asked where he had hid and Domingo told him in the Pueblo Nuevo cemetery. Indeed, a close friend of Domingo’s, an old man from Aragón, worked there as a gravedigger and had harbored him in one of the mausoleums. Domingo told Oliver: “The best hiding place is among the dead. They don’t speak!” [141]

By picking on the Catalanists, Primo de Rivera, only created new allies for the anarchists. When the government outlawed the Catalan flag and language, the Catalanists from the Estat Català group—created by Colonel Francesc Macià in 1922—sought out contact with anarchist groups. Ricardo Sanz claims that they were even members of the Revolutionary Committee operating in Barcelona during the period. [142] In May, shortly after the Estat Català joined the struggle and the raid that we described above, the CNT called a national meeting in Sabadell. The meeting transpired normally until the end, when police invaded the building. They had fortunately prepared an escape route in advance and the majority of the participants got away. García Oliver had also fled, but police arrested him at the train station. Tried and sentenced, they sent him to the Burgos penitentiary, where he would remain for six long years.

Domingo Ascaso’s mission was to accelerate the revolutionary process by launching a guerrilla strike from the Catalan Pyrenees that would facilitate the liberation of the hundreds of anarchist prisoners incarcerated in the Figueras penitentiary. Parallel to the Pyrenees action, they would unleash an insurgency in Barcelona with the support of soldiers from the Atarazanas barracks. For the success of the Barcelona operation, they counted on taking possession of the arms bought in Eibar that were being stored in the Barcelona port. [143]

Domingo Ascaso communicated this plan to Durruti and Francisco, who were already beginning to tire of the Parisian environment—which seemed to consist of nothing but endless meetings. They wanted desperately to go into action and were excited by the plan, despite its risks. According to Domingo, the first thing they had to do was size up the comrades—without informing anyone about the matter—in order to be sure that they could carry out the action with solid people. Barcelona would send someone to tell the militants in France when they were ready.

Their delegate turned out to be Gregorio Jover, who arrived in July 1925, when the project was already well underway. All the Barcelona groups had expressed their support and the committed soldiers even reaffirmed their desire to participate in a move against the dictatorship. They assembled various comrades in Paris for an “important meeting.” Once everyone had gathered, Gregorio Jover explained the undertaking. Everyone declared their willingness to partake in the guerrilla operation. They appointed a commission at the meeting to organize the expedition and acquire weapons. The Ascaso brothers, Durruti, and García Vivancos took on the task. The latter turned out to be particularly well suited for the job. He quickly made contact with a Belgian arms dealer who sold rifles with one hundred cartridges at thirty francs each. [144]

They had fully sketched out the Pyrenean offensive by late September. The weapons purchased—each participant chipped in money to buy them— were not rifles, but pistols of various calibers.

While things advanced in Paris, problems arose in Barcelona: the soldiers started to cool off, Los Solidarios were unable to get the arms stored in the port, and now there was the risk that the weapons might be returned to the so-called Zulueta. Likewise, some militants began to voice skepticism about the likelihood of the revolutionary spirit erupting among Barcelona’s workers, the driving force of Spanish social struggles.

When they learned about the situation in Barcelona, some of the comrades in Paris also began to vacillate. This became apparent at a meeting called precisely to discuss the insurgency. Those who were committed to it did their best to convince the skeptics. Durruti and Ascaso were the most dedicated to the undertaking, perhaps because their optimism demanded such continued and dramatic activity. However, in this case, in which participants were risking their lives, it was difficult to compel the unwilling to partake. Nonetheless, Durruti spoke to the group, not to persuade anyone, but simply to make some points that he considered elemental for understanding revolutionary action:

When, how, and in what way can we know that “things” are ready? Yes, it’s true that the news from Barcelona is not very encouraging, but it’s no less true that the basic preconditions necessary for a revolutionary action exist and are emerging, at least in Catalonia, and especially in Barcelona. The dictator has picked a fight with the Catalanists, but has only made new friends for us by doing so. He exiles intellectuals like Unamuno and Soriano, sows discontent among the middle class, and practices the most shameless favoritism. The war in Morocco is dragging on, and the soldiers don’t want to go there and die. Don’t you see positive elements in all this, especially when linked to the conditions of the peasantry and the working class in certain regions? Of course there are negatives, but it’s the clash between the positive and the negative that produces the spark. We have the right and the obligation to force the negative to clash with the positive and cause the spark. Is that adventurism? Then I say that all revolutions have been triggered by adventurists. Yes, it’s possible that we’re wrong and that we’ll pay with our lives or end up in prison. That’s conceivable. But I’m certain sure that rebellions like this are not in vain and that they bring us a closer to the generalized revolt.

I’m not trying to convince anyone. An act like this has to be done by people committed to the basic ideas that I’ve outlined tonight.

Durruti’s speech was not meant to set alight fleeting enthusiasms. It was not a leader’s harangue, but simply clear speech among revolutionaries. How were his words understood? We don’t know, but none of the committed comrades were absent on the day of the action. [145] Shortly after this meeting several things occurred that were going to enhance the likelihood of the guerrilla action’s success. Unamuno and Soriano arrived in Paris after escaping from the Canary Islands and the editor of Le Quotidien put the pages of his newspaper at their disposal so that they could voice their criticisms of the dictatorship and Spain’s socio-political conditions.

Likewise, Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, the celebrated novelist from Valencia, perhaps embarrassed by his retiring life in Menton, plucked up the courage to join the fray and signed his name to a French-language pamphlet denouncing Alfonso XIII and the militarist terror in Spain.

There were good reasons to be upbeat about the guerrilla operation. Orobón Fernández, one of the participants, describes it as follows:

Comrades impatiently awaited the telegram in Paris, Lyon, Perpignan, Marseilles, and in every French city where anarchist groups existed. Those of us who lived through those moments of combative fever will never forget them. We all knew that we would have to assemble on the border when the telegram came and cross it fighting tooth and nail against the border police. Everyone was aware that we were going to battle large, well-organized, and better armed forces than ours. Many would pay with their lives, although the revolutionary action would ultimately succeed. We didn’t care about the risks. Liberty is well worth many lives!

The telegram arrived and we quickly set off for the border in groups of ten or twelve, taking a pistol as the only weapon, acquired at the cost of who knows how many hardships. In the Quai d’Orsay train station, the departure point for those in Paris, we could see [Domingo] Ascaso handing out tickets to the comrades before he boarded with the final contingent, carrying heavy suitcases loaded with twenty-five Winchesters, the longest arms of the expedition.

As agreed, the comrades in Barcelona set out to take the Atarazanas artillery barracks. To avoid attracting attention, they approached in very small groups. They intended to attack with grenades at 6:00 am.

Atarazanas is in Barcelona’s fifth district, which has always been a well-watched neighborhood. Barricades always appear first there and it is also the home to the Solidaridad Obrera printing press, the editorial offices of Tierra y Libertad and Crisol, the Wood Worker and Construction worker unions, and the many comrades who like to live close to their centers and newspapers. Due to the pervasive surveillance, and despite all the precautions taken, the police must have noticed something. One of the groups heading toward the barracks found itself blocked by a guard patrol, which tried to arrest them. This caused a heavy shootout, which left one guard dead and another injured. The panic spread and the police—executioners armed with machineguns—surrounded the barracks. It was impossible to carry out the planned attack.

Police arrested Comrades Montejo and Llácer nearby. They were summarily judged and executed. They faced death with great fortitude.

Given the failure of the Barcelona action, those of us going to the border didn’t have the slightest chance of success.

The comrades who left for Vera and Hendaya, which were the points closest to Paris, arrived eighteen hours before those who went to the other sites along the border. They took care of the first detachment that they encountered, but were later surprised by superior forces after an exhausting march through the mountains. They had to retreat while fighting. Two comrades were killed, one seriously injured, and the others were arrested two days later, some of whom were executed in Pamplona. The rest will be tried and their hearings will likely be taking place when this correspondence is published.

When those who were going to attack the border near Figueras and Gerona reached Perpignan, they read about the Vera events in the newspapers. They had arrived eighteen hours too late! Of the nearly one thousand comrades that met in Perpignan, many had to disperse, others were captured, and only some fifty could escape the security forces and take the suitcases of Winchesters and bullets up to the slopes of the Pyrenees. A comrade from a small Spanish village met them there, who was to guide them through the mountains to Figueras, where they would attack the prison holding a large number of comrades, including Elías García, Pedro Mateu, Sancho Alegre, Clascu, and the accused of Cullera. Our guide told us the bad news: several regiments were waiting along the border, with machine-guns and artillery. The authorities had taken significant defensive measures and thus we were unable to attack by surprise, which was one of the principal factors of success.

Our undertaking was impossible.

Crying with rage and anger, and a little ashamed at having been defeated without a fight, we had to return to our points of departure. That day, in the middle of the mountain, a thousand meters above the sea, I saw many of those fifty men cry, lamenting that they had been unable to give their lives to the revolution.

Ascaso was among them. Durruti among those of Vera. Jover with those who attacked the Atarazanas barracks in Barcelona.

It was a naïve attempt, clumsy, whatever you want; but those men possessed a great revolutionary passion and for this they deserve everyone’s respect. They failed, that is all. We have failed so many times, but one day we will triumph![146]

What does it mean to fail? Failing in relation to what? Those in Barcelona and the Pyrenees who rose up in November 1924 were not trying to seize power and didn’t believe that they alone would bring down the dictatorship. They only wanted to demonstrate that it was time to stop being afraid. And they didn’t achieve it because those who had to defeat fear were defeated by it. That is all.

But it soon became clear that Alfonso XIII and his dictator were truly frightened. Martínez Anido sent operatives to France to discredit the action’s organizers by spreading rumors designed to make it seem that the whole thing had been a police conspiracy. Parallel to this disinformation campaign, Alfonso XIII’s government undertook another, more efficient action: it pressed the French government to move against Spanish anarchists living in France.

This had immediate results: homes were searched, arrests were made, and people expelled. Many of the participants in the uprising went to Belgium and others set off for South America.

Despite the fact that the police were searching for them actively, Ascaso and Durruti did not want to leave France before finding out more about the situation in Barcelona and the new activities planned by the Revolutionary Committee. While waiting for this information, they holed up in the outskirts of Paris in a house provided by some Parisian anarchists.

They did not have to wait for long. The Revolutionary Committee in Barcelona sent Ricardo Sanz to tell Ascaso and Durruti about the organization’s dreadful circumstances and how it urgently needed money. They thought that an excursion to Latin America might be a solution, enabling them to arouse emigrants’ interest in developments in Spain as well as collect the much-needed funds.

Thus, using false passports, Durruti and Ascaso set off for the Americas from the port of Le Havre in late December 1924.

CHAPTER XI. Guerrillas in Latin America

The stopover in New York was brief; only long enough to stock up for the trip to Cuba. Although Ascaso and Durruti were heading to Argentina, they decided to spend some time in the Caribbean island once they set foot in Havana. They went to the home of a young man by the name of J.A., a Spanish émigré who supported libertarian ideas and whose address they had received from Ricardo Sanz. J.A. was as young as his two visitors, but didn’t share their faith in revolutionary violence. He could be described as an evolutionary anarchist.

J.A. received Durruti and Ascaso fraternally and opened his home to them, but they soon quarreled over the question of strategy. J.A., like the other Spanish anarchists living in Cuba, thought that the anarchist’s task was educational and that it was futile to try to cut short the journey to a libertarian society, particularly given the lack of education among the country’s poor strata. While the misery and desperation reigning among them might provoke explosions of rage, such irruptions could not go further due to the proletariat’s lack of theoretical maturity. Propaganda, J.A. told Durruti and Ascaso, was what mattered most: spreading anarchist theory to make anarchist ideas penetrate the workers’ minds.

“Your undertaking is doomed to failure,” he said. “The Spanish and Cuban workers will give you some pesos but nothing more, despite the terrible conditions in which they live. Don’t expect anything else. And if you do try to stir things up, you’ll either be expelled from the country or thrown in prison, from which it’s very difficult to leave in Cuba unless it’s feet first.” [147]

At the time, Gerardo Machado governed Cuba—a tyrant who kept himself in power through fear, like all those of his ilk. Superficially, the country seemed somewhat prosperous, but this only concealed the domination of Yankee capital in the country and the city. It was enough to visit the taverns and workers’ neighborhoods to be see the moral and physical misery of the populace. Prostitution was ubiquitous and even encouraged by the government.

Propaganda is necessary—Ascaso and Durruti said—but theory is a dead letter if not accompanied by action. This is especially true when there are so many illiterates, who are precisely those that propaganda is supposed to influence. And, furthermore, if propaganda is not backed up by an organization, then the movement’s press and magazines are at the mercy of the authorities: they’re shut down and destroyed, their editors imprisoned. The pessimism among anarchists in Cuba, or at least those with whom Durruti and Ascaso interacted, did not deter them. Why should Cuba be different from Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Mexico, or other countries with large and dynamic anarchist movements? And, besides, the Cuban people had victoriously fought against Spain for national independence: did they do so simply to be dominated by the dollar? The fact that the United States had sunk its talons into the country didn’t diminish the merit of the Cuban anti-colonial struggle, but anarchists had to show that political independence needed to be complemented by economic independence, which is impossible to achieve with bourgeois politics. Political independence hadn’t resolved anything: the same economic structures and the same ruling class from the colonial period remained. No theory was more relevant than anarchism for denouncing the bourgeoisie’s false solutions, while also pointing toward the most direct path to real human liberation. But anarchism’s critical message—said Durruti and Ascaso—must not be enclosed in a small circle of true believers. Anarchists have to take to the street, actively promote their ideas, and mix with the urban and rural workers. The written word must become practical action.

Durruti and Ascaso became port workers. They loaded and unloaded the ships, socialized in the taverns, and lived alongside their workmates in the hovels that served as homes. Their fellow workers soon appreciated the two Spaniards; particularly Durruti, thanks to his brawn and readiness to lend a hand to the weakest. Sharing these work and life experiences exposed them to the proletarians’ miseries and humiliations and also to their disappointments in all the so-called leaders that urged them to act but left them in the lurch when it counted most. Fatalistically, the workers expected nothing but endless toil and then death, the only remedy for their misery. Indeed, superstition and fatalism were the two primary obstacles to any discussion about abolishing their physical and moral suffering. Talk of organization, of unionization, of forming groups, only invoked the memory of a leader that had deceived them or the image of being dragged off to prison in handcuffs; to one of those prisons from which you only leave “feet first.”

But neither Ascaso nor Durruti let themselves be overcome by the prevailing discouragement and felt duty bound to convince their fellow workers that they were right to respond in such a way to the leaders and prison and, precisely to avoid being tricked or incarcerated, they should neither entrust themselves to politicians nor rebel individually. When a “professional” leads the union, he’ll inevitably betray the rank and file. Likewise, when a worker responds in isolation he is imprisoned or beaten to a pulp. It is the workers alone who should make up the union and they must not admit anyone unfamiliar with the direct effects of exploitation. And it is pointless to rebel individually: the revolt has to be collective. If the union is you—Ascaso and Durruti argued—and you are all perpetually vigilant and expel those who try to impose themselves upon you, then you will prevent the emergence of new leaders. If you stay united and insist on your demands, Machado won’t have enough police to beat you or enough cells in which to jail you. Little by little, with simple language, a clear stance, and ideas like “you have to lead your struggles yourselves, without bosses or leaders,” the idea of organization took hold among the port workers. It was concretized in an organization that federated with other associations already operating among tobacco and food industry workers.

Durruti revealed himself to be a talented mass agitator at the meetings and assemblies. He used simple but devastating language and his speeches were more like ax blows than oratory. He had a unique ability to immediately arouse the interest of his listeners and sustain a strong bond with them throughout his talk.

Durruti started to make a name for himself, not only among workers but also the police. He was soon at risk of being arrested and thus he and Ascaso decided to disappear from Havana. They left the city in the company of a young Cuban who would guide through the island’s interior. They arrived in the Santa Clara district and started working as cane cutters on an estate between Cruce and Palmira. A sit-down strike erupted there a few days later, when the plantation owner reduced the cane cutters’ salary under the pretext of a drop in the price of sugar. Foremen quickly reported the work stoppage to the owner, who ordered everyone to gather in an open area in front of the estate house. The foremen circled around the assembled workers on horseback. The owner reproached the cutters for letting themselves be carried away by certain individuals, whose identities he knew very well. He then named the three men that, according to him, had instigated and organized the revolt. The foremen seized the three supposed ringleaders and dragged them off to the closest rural police post. The police appeared an hour later with the three laborers, who had been beaten so viciously that they fell lifelessly at their comrades’ feet. “Does anyone else wants to complain?” the employer bellowed. “The time you’ve wasted will be deducted from your pay. Hurry up, get to work!” His orders rang out like the crack of a whip. With lowered heads, the workers returned to the sugarcane fields, followed closely by the rural police.

Durruti and Ascaso were among those bowed laborers. While cutting cane and more cane, they spoke with their Cuban comrade and the three decided that they should teach the employer a lesson, one that would serve as an example to his colleagues.

The employer was found stabbed to death the next morning with a note reading: “The justice of Los Errantes [trans.: The Wanderers].” The police, who were waiting for such an incident, took off in pursuit of the “executioners.” But, early-risers that they were, they were already in the Camagüey province by then.

News of the murder spread like wildfire and inflated as it circulated. Ultimately the rumor was that “a gang of Spaniards called Los Errantes had executed a half dozen employers because they mistreated their employees.” Giving chase to the “assassins” was a matter of pride for the “rurales.” By executing this raid in a very public fashion, they hoped to scare off anyone who might consider imitating them. They struck out blindly in their search and beat some peasants and burned down their shacks under the pretense that they had hid Los Errantes.

It drove the rural police crazy that they couldn’t find on the perpetrators. Their frustration only increased when they learned that the corpse of a bullying foreman in the Jolquín district had just been found with a communiqué indicating that Los Errantes were responsible for his death. This new attack ended up confusing the “rurales” about the location of their culprits and filled the employers with such fear that they fortified themselves in their palaces with excessive distrust and suspicion. [148]

While the authorities sought Los Errantes in the island’s interior, they had already reached Havana, with the intention of escaping the dangerous situation right away. We know how they were able to disappoint Machado’s police thanks to a witness’s account:

Seeing that it was impossible stay in Cuba any longer, they decided to go to Mexico. They rented a small cutter to ferry them outside the port and, once they were cleaving the bay, demanded that the boatmen take them onboard any of the ships rigged to set sail.

The frightened boatmen took them to one of the fishing ships. They boarded and then forced the skipper to raise the anchor, while taking the two skippers of the cutter with them.

Once they were at high sea, with pistols in hand, they demanded that the fishing boat’s skipper head to Mexico.

They sailed to the Yucatan coast, where they disembarked after lavishly rewarding the Cuban sailors.

Disembarking was not easy. Two or three detectives from the Mexican Treasury noticed their arrival and, thinking that they were smugglers, decided to take them to the Progresso port and hand them over to police.

While walking, Durruti offered a certain sum in exchange for freedom....

The Treasury agents were more interested in the money than delivering their suspects. With directions provided by the government agents themselves, our friends arrived in Mérida and from there went to Progreso, where they set off for Veracruz.[149]

A Mexican anarchist named Miño was waiting for them in the port of Veracruz, which indicates that Durruti or Ascaso had written Mexican comrades and told them that they were coming. Miño brought them to Rafael Quintero’s house in the Mexican capital. He was a leader of the Mexican Confederación General de Trabajadores (CGT) [150] and had fought in the Mexican revolution alongside Emiliano Zapata. He also had a print shop at 13 Miralle Plaza, where he put them up at first. [151]

A few days later, Quintero took them to the CGT’s office at 3 Vizcaínas Plaza. Economic problems hampering the CGT’s publication were the topic of discussion at the meeting held on the night of their visit. Without saying a word, Los Errantes donated forty pesos to the newspaper. [152]

The meeting was depressing for the two Errantes, not only because of the financial hardships suffered by the anarcho-syndicalist organization but also because of its lack of dynamism. It was clearly living off the legacy of the Mexican revolution, which was little more than a memory by then. The best had died and the survivors had accommodated themselves to the new situation. Some even joined the new “revolutionary power,” which rewarded them with governmental appointments. This is how, for example, some ex-anarcho-syndicalists became governors. It was only the old comrades of Flores Magón, who died in a Yankee prison three years earlier, who really kept the spirit of anarchism alive. They hadn’t forgotten the principle that “revolution and law can’t cohabitate; the true revolution is always illegal,” to cite a posthumously published essay by Flores Magón. [153] The militants who carried on Magón’s work were those persecuted by all governments, and it was among them that Durruti and Ascaso found housing and support.

They stayed in Rafael Quintero’s print shop for several weeks, while they waited for Alejandro Ascaso and Gregorio Jover’s arrival in Mexico City in late March 1925. When the four reunited, they decided that it would be best to leave the city. Quintero suggested that they take up residence in a small farm in Ticomán. Román Delgado, who owned the property, welcomed the four Spaniards and introduced them to the local anarchist group, which included Nicolás Bernal, the aforementioned Delgado, Herminia Cortés, and others. [154]

In April 1925, there was a robbery at the office of a thread and fabric factory called “La Carolina.” Not long after this occurred, all the witnesses that we have consulted affirm that a large sum of money was delivered to the CGT. The donation was made in support of its publication and also its efforts to start a Rationalist School like those that Francisco Ferrer y Guardia created in Spain in 1901.

Several weeks had passed and we hadn’t heard anything from them. Then suddenly they showed up out of nowhere, elegantly dressed and driving an older Buick. Durruti asked: “Has the newspaper come out?” When he was told yes, he wanted to read the published issues. “Are there still financial problems?” “Of course there are!” Durruti responded by handing over a considerable amount of cash. When he did so, Durruti noted that he was looked upon with some suspicion and, to dispel any doubts among the Mexican comrades, he showed a letter from Sebastián Faure that he was carrying in his pocket acknowledging the receipt of large quantity destined for the social library.[155]

Another witness writes the following about this period of Durruti’s hazardous life:

It was a surprise. He invited me to lunch, but not without first asking me to dress in my finest suit, since we were going to one of the best restaurants in the port. I refused initially, not because I had qualms, but simply out of an aversion to anything that went against my life and thought as a militant. He insisted, saying that it was imperative that I join him. He had to talk with me and couldn’t invite me to a modest restaurant because he had come to Tampico disguised as a wealthy man. I was intrigued and finally accepted. Why not? I was curious and also eager to savor dishes that I hadn’t tasted for a long time. When we finished eating, Durruti told me: “What would you think if we had thousands of pesos to start a hundred schools like the one founded by the Petroleum Union?”

“That’s a dream, Miguel,” I said. (Miguel was the name that Durruti used at the time.)

“Well, it’s not a fantasy. I might be able to handover 100,000 pesos to your confederation.”

Durruti was very fond of children, which is why he risked his life robbing banks to support their education. When we said goodbye, he told me:

“Look, I know that you’re men and that you’re everything for your ideals. But we Errantes work in silence and wager all to serve our convictions.

You do things differently: you fight against the state legally, we challenge it illegally.”[156]

And we take this statement from Venezuela’s Ruta magazine:

Old Mexican comrades still remember Durruti’s passage through the Aztec capital. He was one of the most fervent promoters of the Mexican CGT, led by Jacinto Huitrón, Rafael Quintero, and an additional handful of libertarians at that time. He was also naturally modest and had a pure love of the ideology.

After describing the serious financial obstacles faced by the CGT as it tried to set up a rationalist school, columnist Víctor García wrote:

Durruti had the virtue of grasping problems quickly, often intuitively, and understood the mindset of these well-meaning comrades. In a confidential conversation with the CGT Council, he requested that they permit him to solve their economic problem. When asked what he had in mind, he said that he would explain that later. Two days afterwards, Durruti handed over a large sum of money to the School Committee and told them: “I took this money from the bourgeoisie... Of course they wouldn’t have given it to me if I’d just asked!” The following day newspapers in the Mexican capital published a long article on the robbery of the “La Carolina” factory and reported the exact sum stolen. That was the amount, without a centavo less, that Buenaventura Durruti had handed over to the militants putting together the Rationalist School.[157]

Of course things don’t always go smoothly when money is raised in such a way. In the case of “La Carolina,” the cashier grabbed the telephone to call the police during the holdup, there was a struggle, and a shot was fired that killed the employee. This, and the fact that several other robberies and attempted robberies had already occurred, made life very risky for Los Errantes. They decided that it would be best to leave Mexico at once. It was not for fear of police raids; these focused on poor neighborhoods, whereas Durruti and Ascaso were staying in a luxury hotel (under the name of “Mendoza”—an “owner of mines in Peru”—and his companion). Nonetheless, “one day, with only a few bags, false passports, and not too many pesos in their pockets, they left the hotel and began the journey back to Cuba. They left ‘Mendoza’ the responsibility of settling the bill.” [158]

It was May 1925 and the four Spaniards were evidently in desperate straits since, according to Atanasia Rojas, “they had been forced to sell various things, including the car, to finance the trip to Cuba.” Naturally, given their previous activities there, Cuba was not even remotely secure for Durruti and Ascaso, and so they stayed on the island only long enough to hold up Havana’s Banco de Comercio. Immediately afterwards, they took off for Valparaíso, Chile on the Oriana steamer. They planned to meet Victor Recoba and Antonio Rodrìguez in Chile, but could not, because the latter two were not in the country.

A French jockey was also onboard the ship that took them from Havana to Valparaíso, who thought the Spaniards were heading to Chile on business. We note the presence of this individual because he will be the Chilean police’s primary source of information, after the events that we are going to relate. The Oriana arrived in Valparaíso on June 9, 1925 and on July 16 the Mataderos branch of the Bank of Chile was held up. We can see traces of Ascaso and Durruti in a Chilean police report: “They worked at odd jobs until the bank robbery and continued working afterwards, from July 16 to early August. The owner of the rooming house where they stayed described them as five, well-mannered men who spoke continuously about social struggles, calling themselves revolutionary Spaniards and saying that they were traveling the Americas in search of money to finance the movement against the Spanish monarchy.” [159]

According to Chilean police, 46,923 Chilean pesos were stolen from the Bank of Chile during the July robbery. They report: “After seizing the money, the unknown assailants fled in an automobile at a high speed, shooting in the air and creating immense confusion in that densely populated area.

A bank employee grabbed onto the car while it was tearing out. One of the thieves shouted at him, telling him to let go, but the employee didn’t give up.

He got him off with a shot.”

Durruti, Francisco and Alejandro Ascaso, and Gregorio Jover stayed in Chile. The fifth man immediately left for Spain after the holdup. Who was the fifth man? Antonio Rodríguez. Indeed, it was none other than “El Toto,” also known as Gregorio Martínez. They used the entirety of the 46,923 pesos to support the underground struggle against Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship.

Los Errantes left for Buenos Aires in early August 1925. Before continuing with our biography, we must make a brief detour into Argentina’s workers’ movement in general and its anarchist movement in particular.

CHAPTER XII. From Simón Radowitzky to Boris Wladimirovich

Due to circumstances beyond their control, Durruti and Ascaso’s “Latin American excursion” would end in the country where it should have begun. And, even worse, police from three countries were chasing the Errantes for “crimes” of a character that had divided the Argentine anarchist movement in 1925. Specifically, some anarchists advocated expropriation and attacks on individuals, while others vigorously opposed such tactics and believed that they were destructive to the movement. The tendency toward violence was a natural consequence of the Argentine state’s vicious oppression of the workers’ movement. Indeed, government harassment and the high number of anarchists among the waves of immigrants and exiles arriving in the country meant that there would be an abundance of combative anarchists in Argentina.

Argentina’s militant labor federation, the FORA (Federación Obrera Regional Argentina), was founded in 1901. The emergence of this organization must be placed in the context of the long history of attempts to build a unified the workers’ movement in the country, whose first precedent was the appearance of a section of the International Association of Workers (or First International) in 1872. The First International and similar efforts later ended in failure in Argentina due to the interminable conflicts between social-democrats, marxists, “syndicalists,” and anarchists, much like to those that occurred in Europe. Anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists predominated in the labor movement, particularly in the artisanal trades. Their prevalence was evident at the FORA’s so-called Fifth Congress in August 1905, where participants decided by a large margin to embrace “anarchist communism” as the federation’s ideological identity. For their part, the social democrats had organized the Socialist Party in 1896, which belonged to the reformist and parliamentarian Second International.

A workers’ organization will not exist without class conflict and the class conflict will not exist without the bourgeoisie. Workers’ organizations began to appear in Argentina in the 1880s because the country had evolved, economically and industrially, to such an extent that the bases of bourgeois society, and consequently the class struggle, had taken shape. This struggle was going to unfold in its purest form there.

“There was a tremendous fear of the workers,” wrote Diego Abad de Santillán, “and every effort was made to weaken the movement triggered by the Buenos Aires bakers’ strike in August 1902. During this strike, Judge Navarro ordered police to raid the FORA—the headquarters of eighteen unions in the capital—and they caused tremendous damage to furniture and books.... The result of the attack was the opposite of what the judge had hoped: workers became infuriated and protested energetically. Socialist orators joined the anarchists to condemn the outrage and they held a joint rally on August 17 that 20,000 workers attended.” [160] Proletarian radicalism grew and subsequent strikes were settled violently; with police brutality on the one hand and worker sabotage and boycotts on the other.

The government did not want a May Day celebration to occur that year, but the FORA called a rally in Buenos Aires for May 1, 1904 anyway. Participants departed from the Lorea Plaza and congregated around the Mazzini statue on Julio Avenue. More than 100,000 people came to the event, according to estimates published in the bourgeois press. This was an enormous number, considering that the Argentine capital had only one million residents at the time. The police suddenly began to fire at the demonstrators and, when armed workers responded, an intense shootout began. A sailor named Juan Ocampo was shot and killed. Approximately three hundred protesters surrounded his body and several men hoisted it onto their shoulders. The enraged workers marched to the office of the anarchist weekly La Protesta on Córdoba Street. Police tried to stop them several times but realized that these armed men were prepared to fight back and thus contented themselves with following from afar. Militants later took Ocampo’s body from the office of the anarchist newspaper to the FORA building on Chile Street, where they left it in the care of the working people of Buenos Aires. The workers inside the building saw police mobilizing outside in a battle deployment. The militants recognized that another confrontation would be futile and left willingly. The guardians of law and order took advantage of this to seize Ocampo’s body and bury it secretly. In addition to killing the sailor, the gunfire wounded more than thirty workers. These events are known as the Mazzini massacre.

This bloody crackdown didn’t subdue the working class; on the contrary, worker militancy increased throughout the country. In June 1905, the Longshoreman or Port Workers’ Union called a South American congress to form a Federation of Maritime and Land Transport Workers that would unify all the transport unions in South America. The circular laying the foundations of the initiative said:

This Committee resolves to hold ... the First Congress of the South American Maritime and Land Transport Workers. The Maritime Transport associations in the following Republics will take part: Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Chile, Peru, Paraguay, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Mexico. We will create a South American alliance and discuss the best way to counteract the advances of insatiable capitalism and also begin dialogue with the International Federation of Transport Workers based in Hamburg [Germany].

This initiative was very significant, both socially and politically. For the labor movement, it meant strengthening international ties among workers in a continent formed by a mosaic of states created according to the interests of the ruling classes. Spain first dominated the area and then came the neocolonial powers of Great Britain and the United States. For the ruling classes, the rise of independent proletarian organizations was a threat to the partnership between the local bourgeoisie and imperialist powers. They were particularly worried about the possibility of unity among the Latin American workers’ movements and any attempt to redefine the integration of the diverse Spanish speaking countries in liberatory terms. For this reason, the state persistently and brutally attacked the workers’ rebellions, their unions, and their federation (the FORA).

The May Day rallies after the one narrated above were equally intense. The reason lay in the terrible conditions to which the working class was subjected. The workers’ responded by declaring their commitment to anarchist communism at the FORA’s Fifth Congress in 1905 and, afterwards, the workers’ movement became increasingly aggressive. In 1906 alone, there were thirty-nine strikes in Buenos Aires, in which a total of 137,000 workers participated, and an average of six hundred laborers were on strike at any given time. This pervasive social antagonism put the rulers on edge. Indeed, the increasing pressure from the workers and the spread of anarchist propaganda was especially irritating for Buenos Aires Police Chief Colonel Falcón. He swore that he would crush the libertarians and, in his effort to do so, continuously violated individual liberties, abolished the freedom of association, instituted restrictive laws, and wantonly applied martial law. A war was brewing between the workers and the Argentine state.

The government applied the so-called “State of Siege” for the first time in 1902, which swept away the most venerated constitutional rights, and it was imposed thereafter for long periods of time by almost all elected or de facto governments. It was the exception rather than the rule to live under constitutional law. Furthermore, that same year the government also passed one of the most hated laws in Argentine history: the Ley de Residencia (number 4,144), which remained in force for more than half a century. This law enabled the government to deport all foreigners that it deemed undesirable. It was a direct attack on the working class, which is obvious when one considers the very high number of immigrant workers—especially Italians and Spaniards—that began to arrive in Argentina in 1875 and continued to do so until 1914. The law was an excellent weapon for the government, which it used to free itself of forward thinking men who struggled for democracy and liberty.

The FORA reacted to the regime’s arrogance by calling on the workers to rebel and fight class exploitation. The year 1909 would be decisive in this bitter war between the high-bourgeoisie (a satellite and accomplice of international capitalists) and Argentines condemned to the worst working conditions, which they shared with the masses of immigrants brought into the country as cheap labor.

The high-bourgeoisie and Argentine statesmen were preparing to commemorate the anniversary of the country’s first government on May 25, 1910. One hundred years earlier the area known as the United Provinces of the River Plate separated from Spain and became Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uruguay. However, heirs of these nineteenth century national liberation struggles saw the working class’s growing militancy with disdain and believed that class conflict was something “alien to the lands of the River Plate.” The dominant class simply could not understand that the country’s economic development and incorporation into the capitalist world market as a semi-colony required the emergence of the class struggle. It was inevitable that a revolutionary movement would emerge. The bourgeoisie and its government representatives responded with outrage; trying to silence every voice of protest and human dignity with the police, shutting down unions, banning the workers’ newspapers, breaking into and destroying proletarian centers and libraries, and imprisoning and deporting activists who rose up in defense of the rights of man.

Nevertheless, the workers did not retreat and began 1909 by calling general strikes, rallies, and gatherings. There was deep outrage at the execution of Francisco Ferrer in Spain, whose death was among the issues prompting the anger and protests.

“Like almost always, two demonstrations occurred on May 1 that year: one organized by the Socialists and one called by the anarchists. The anarchists gathered in Lorea Plaza (today Congreso), whereas the Socialists assembled in Constitution Plaza. Around 30,000 people participated in the former. After they began marching, the police charged and fired at the people. It was impossible to stop this unanticipated attack and a massacre took place. President Figueroa Alcorta’s government draped itself in glory. There were eight deaths and 105 injured among the demonstrators. A including a young Russian named Simón Radowitzky was among the aggrieved workers.” [161]

In response to this brutality, the Socialists in the Unión General de Trabajadores and the anarchists in the FORA called a general strike and declared that their members would not resume working “until the imprisoned comrades are freed and the unions reopened.” The strike lasted for a week, and it was both spirited and unanimous, despite government violence during those seven days. Authorities ultimately had to cede; they released eight hundred prisoners, repealed the municipal code of penalties, and permitted unions to be reopened. But Colonel Falcón, the instigator and ringleader of the oppression, was still at the head of the police. This was a mockery and a provocation to the working class.

The May Day assault deeply shook Simón Radowitzky, who was only eighteen years old and a recent arrival in the country. Working completely alone, he decided to free the people of the bloodthirsty animal that tormented them: he killed Colonel Falcón with a bomb on November 14, 1909. One month had passed since Alfonso XIII had executed Francisco Ferrer. As expected, a violent crackdown followed the murder. Although the government banned La Protesta, its editors still managed to release a clandestine bulletin applauding the young Russian. Likewise, the FORA also used an illegal publication ( Nuestra Defensa) to praise Simon Radowitzky’s act of vengeance.

It was in the midst of this climate of violence that the patriotic and bourgeois commemoration of the centenary of Argentine independence was being planned. The FORA wanted to transform the event into a revolutionary and internationalist celebration and called a South American workers’ congress for April 30 of that year. All the labor associations sympathetic to the FORA’s ideas said that they would attend.

From their respective countries, the Latin American bourgeoisie decried the gathering and pushed Argentina to finally get the unruly anarchists in line. The heavy repression began on May 13: the government declared a state of emergency and imposed police terror everywhere. The first to be arrested were the editors of the La Protesta, La Batalla, and the members of the Federal Councils of the FORA and CORA (Confederación Obrera Regional Argentina, which emerged from a 1909 split in the FORA and was “syndicalist” and “economicist” in orientation). Authorities then detained many prominent militants, including a large number of foreigners. Gangs of thugs organized demonstrations and took to the streets, all with the support of the bourgeoisie, the government, and the police. They ransacked and burned down centers of proletarian agitation, including the offices of La Protesta and the Socialist paper La Vanguardia.

The government packed Ushuaia with prisoners. This infamous penitentiary in southern Argentina was commonly known as the “cemetery of living men.” Many foreigners were also deported. And yet, despite all this, the Buenos Aires workers still had the courage to declare a general strike to protest the centenary and the bourgeois-police terror.

After the events in 1910, the FORA spent three years underground. It began to re-organize its unions after authorities relaxed some legal restrictions in 1913. Older militants were shocked to see a new, younger generation in their ranks that had joined the struggle during the difficult, underground period.

Although there were still class conflicts after the First World War, they were less bloody than before. One reason for this may be the split that occurred at the FORA’s ninth congress in April 1915. One faction, which called itself the “FORA of the Ninth Congress,” adopted a syndicalist line, while the other—the “FORA of the Fifth Congress”—held fast to organization’s anarchist stance. A bitter dispute erupted between the two groups and energies that they should used to fight the bourgeoisie were wasted in intra-movement battles.

In early 1917, the bourgeoisie launched another offensive against the workers. Police killed twenty-six proletarians that year alone. There was also a new rise in workers’ militancy in response to the Russian Revolution and the agitation that erupted in 1919 and 1920: the factory occupations in Turín, the workers’ councils in Bavaria, the revolution in Hungry, and the multiple forms of subversion throughout Spain. All these events had a powerful impact in Argentina and created a highly politicized youth, who joined the FORA (of the “Fifth Congress,” which we will call the FORA hereafter) and other radical groups. Then something extraordinary took place: the spontaneous emergence of revolutionary consciousness, which was ultimately unable to lead to a revolution (because it was spontaneous). All these passions resulted in the “Tragic Week” of January 1919. A situation emerged that seemed revolutionary but, in reality, needed more solid foundations to be so. The anarchists could not work miracles or simply seize the state like the Bolsheviks. The revolutionary spontaneity gave everything it could and then collapsed after the first onslaught. The lesson of the “Tragic Week” was the pressing need to organize the revolution. Although the proletariat was going to pay dearly for its lack of preparation, its impulses filled the ruling classes with terror. That is why the bourgeoisie unleashed the tremendous wave of persecution after the 1919 insurrectionary strike. Authorities dragged 55,000 into police stations across the country and turned the Martín García Island into a prison. Amazingly, the FORA and its unions, the workers’ groups and their newspapers, continued to survive and publish (although underground). In fact, a new workers’ daily called the Tribuna Proletaria began to appear.

During this rebirth of the workers’ movement, which we locate in 1920, the Russian Revolution had a strong impact in Argentina, as it had in countries around the world. The question of whether or not to support the Soviet Union became a source of conflict within the FORA: enthusiasm for Russia and its “dictatorship of the proletariat” swept up some FORA militants, much as it had captivated activists at the CNT’s Congress in 1919. “This dissension,” writes Abad de Santillán, “weakened the FORA precisely when it was on the verge of absorbing the country’s entire labor movement into its heart.”

The FORA of the Ninth Congress supported the “anarcho-Bolshevik” current within the FORA (of the Fifth Congress) and even financed their pro-Bolshevik newspapers. Ultimately, the Bolshevik supporters in the FORA and the FORA of the Ninth Congress fused to create a new workers’ organization in March 1922: the Unión Sindical Argentina. Lamentable acts of proletarian abandonment occurred between 1920 and 1922. During these difficult years, Moscow’s agents came to Buenos Aires to divide the workers’ movement, partially achieving what the Maurín-Nin group had attempted unsuccessfully in Spain.

“The agitation in Patagonia,” wrote Santillán “began to be a public concern around this time [August 1921]. At first it was a simple rebellion with modest demands, but police persecution and landowner hatred transformed it into a historic event. It enveloped thousands of ranch workers and lasted almost a year, until the National Army savagely annihilated it. Dead and injured workers numbered in the thousands. The hero of those brilliant days was the Lieutenant Colonel Varela, ‘the pacifier.’”

Divisions in the workers’ movement bore responsibility for this and other sad events during the period. FORA activists tried to end the internal debates and dedicate themselves to rebuilding the labor movement, but the damage had already been done. And, as expected, in the midst of these intramovement conflicts, a united front emerged against the anarchist movement. How were the militant anarchists going to respond? The most immediate reply came from a German worker named Kurt Wilkens who was active in Buenos Aires’s anarchist groups. With a bomb and some bullets, he killed the “pacifier” of Patagonia on January 23, 1923.

Men like Simón Radowitzky and Kurt Wilkens naturally made a powerful impression upon the youth, who had been educated as militants in the heat of defeats, massacres, and that united front against the anarchist movement. And, since one drop of water resembles another, the same thing that occurred in Spain in the early 1920s happened in Argentina: the organization of revolutionary defense against government terror. Expropriation would be one of the strategies of a movement that the bourgeoisie and state had cornered and hoped to crush.

The first anarchist to use expropriation as a revolutionary strategy in Argentina was a Russian. He name was Germán Boris Wladimirovich and he was a doctor, biologist, writer, and painter. [162] At age twenty he was active in Lenin’s party but separated from the Russian Social Democrats—later called Bolsheviks—after their congress in 1906. Boris then began to turn toward anarchism until he finally devoted himself to the movement fully. He traveled through Germany, Switzerland, France, and ultimately settled in Argentina on his friends’ advice (after contracting a respiratory illness), where he spoke and wrote for the cause. Like Bakunin, Boris was a dedicated anarchist but never stopped being and feeling Russian. Indeed, his acts after the “Tragic Week” reflect his Russian roots.

Before the “Tragic Week,” a fascist organization began operating that was first known as the “Civil Guard” and later the “Patriotic League.” It was made up by sons of the Argentine bourgeoisie and led by Manuel Carlés, a doctor who was influential in governmental circles. Carlés put the League at the police’s service and its members actively participated in the crackdown on the workers both during and after the “Tragic Week.” The Patriotic League’s motto was: “Be a patriot, kill a Jew.” In Buenos Aires, the vast majority of Jews were Russian, but for Carlés and his supporters Jews and Russians were the same thing, especially when it was a question of fighting the Russian Revolution. These right-wingers called for a “slaughter of Russians!” in their muddled, nationalist tracts. Could this anti-Russian and anti-Semitic propaganda take root among Argentines? Unfortunately history offers many examples of collective psychosis...

Boris Wladimirovich was Russian, possibly Jewish, and knew from experience how dangerous these campaigns against “Russians” and “Jews” can be. Doubtlessly he thought of the constant pogroms in his homeland. How, then, could he explain the Russian Revolution to the Argentine people? Boris Wladimirovich and his compatriot Juan Konovezuk, both active in the FORA’s pro-Bolshevik wing, decided to start a newspaper to inform Argentines about the revolution in their country and undermine the influence of the Patriot League’s anti-Russian propaganda. But they had no money, so Boris—who probably had experience with expropriation in Russia—planed to holdup a jeweler. He and Juan Konovezuk carried out the unsuccessful heist on May 19, 1919. During the robbery, Konovezuk—who turned out to Andrés Babby, a thirty year old white Russian who had been in Buenos Aires for six years—shot a policeman to death. Both were arrested and the country’s press devoted a great deal of attention to the matter. At their trial, Boris declared: “A propagandist like me has to face these contingencies.... I already know that I won’t see the triumph of my ideas, but others will follow in my footsteps sooner or later.” Boris and Babby received life sentences and were incarcerated in Ushuaia.

The action carried out by these two Russians caused a debate to erupt among Argentine anarchists about the legitimacy of expropriation as a revolutionary strategy. La Protesta opposed the use of violence and attacks on individuals. It wanted to preserve an untainted anarchism, although it was difficult to do so while also calling for “class vengeance,” which was the maxim it used to defend Simón Radowitzky, Boris Wladimirovich, Kurt Wilkens, and Sacco and Vanzetti. In contrast to La Protesta’s contradictory and temperate position, the La Antorcha magazine argued that revolution and therefore revolutionaries are beyond the law by definition. Rodolfo González Pacheco, a strong personality reminiscent of Flores Magón, was this publication’s most outstanding figure. He was an incisive and steely writer, as demonstrated in the short pieces he published under the title “Posters” and other works. The divide between La Protesta and La Antorcha over revolutionary methods was absolute in 1923.

There were two additional figures of great significance among the “Antorchists:” Miguel Arcángel Roscigna and Severino di Giovanni. The former was a celebrated leader of the Buenos Aires metalworkers and secretary of the Prisoner and Persecuted Support Committee. The latter, a schoolteacher and secretary of the Italian Anti-Fascist Committee, had a sentimental and idealistic disposition. The brutal force of the state will soon transform him into “the idealist of violence.” [163] Boris Wladimirovich had put a mechanism into motion that only needed to be oiled. Hipólito Irigoyen, following the example of previous Argentine presidents, provided much of the “oil” with his methodological persecution and continued imprisonments. This was the situation in Argentina when Los Errantes arrived in August 1925.

CHAPTER XIII. Los Errantes in Buenos Aires in 1925

We will say more about Severino di Giovanni. The child of a wealthy family, he was born in Italy on March 17, 1901 in the Abruzos region, 180 kilometers east of Rome. He studied to be a schoolteacher and, in his free time, typography. He began to explore anarchism as a youth through readings of Bakunin, Malatesta, Proudhon, and Kropotkin. He was orphaned at nineteen and, a year later, devoted himself completely himself to the anarchist movement.

The “March on Rome” occurred in 1922, and Mussolini took power shortly thereafter. Severino fled the country, along with his two brothers and many other radical workers. Some settled in France and others went to Argentina. Severino was among the latter group and arrived in Buenos Aries in May 1923. He promptly got a job as a typographic worker and joined the FORA.

The Radical Party governed the country then. This party represented the new middle classes, who were in conflict with the old landowner, rancher, and commercial oligarchy and wanted a greater opening for a democracy and liberalism that would favor their interests. Hipólito Irigoyen was the Radical Party’s main leader and became its first president: he ruled between 1916 and 1922, was reelected in 1928, and finally lost power after a military coup in 1930. Despite Irigoyen’s democratic populism, two waves of repression against the workers occurred during his first term in office: the first was during the January 1919 “Tragic Week” in Buenos Aires and the second was in 1921–1922, against the workers of Patagonia. Between 1922 and 1928, Doctor Marcelo Teodoro de Alvear occupied the presidency. He was also from the Radical Party, had strong links to the old regime, and was once Argentina’s ambassador to France. His spouse, Regina Pacini, was a “high society” Italian with sympathies for Mussolini. She doubtlessly encouraged her husband to fight the anti-fascist Italian exiles living in Argentina.

As an activist, di Giovanni immediately began working with the antifascist groups on Argentine soil; as a writer, he served as the Buenos Aires correspondent for L’Adunata dei Refrattari, the Italian-language anarchist magazine published in the United States. However, he was soon convinced that the anti-fascist groups in Argentina were little more than a harmless pastime for social-democratic, communist, and some liberal politicians. “For di Giovanni, multi-tendency anti-fascist organizing was a deception for the masses. That is why he started publishing the anarchist newspaper Cúlmine, which he wrote, laid out, and printed during his free time, in hours robbed from sleep.” This was the person who would scandalize the “crème de la crème” of the local ruling class at a cultural event organized by the Italian Embassy at the Colón Theater on June 6, 1925.

Italian ambassador Luigi Aldrovandi Marescotti was an aristocrat who wanted to exploit the twenty-fifth anniversary of Víctor Manuel III’s accession to the throne for political purposes. He decided to organize a celebration “in a big way,” that would both affirm his confidence in Mussolini and show the diplomatic corps that Italy’s political regime enjoyed good health and prestige. Indeed, Argentina was a very important stage upon which the dramas of Italian politics played out, due to the hundreds of thousands of Italian immigrants who had settled in the country over the previous decades. Many of them and their children, having “made it in America,” were now bourgeois to the bone and supported Mussolini’s fascism.

The Italian ambassador secured the attendance of the Argentine President and his spouse at the celebration at the Colón Theater. Of course the President was accompanied by all his ministers, with the minister of Foreign Relations at the head of the group. Numerous other ambassadors, consuls, and political personalities were present, as well as the high society “ladies and gentlemen” and representatives of the international monopolies. The bourgeois youth active in the Patriotic League were also there, working with the Italian embassy’s “black shirts.” In sum: this event in Buenos Aires—the so-called “Queen of the River Plata”—would be just as grand as any Fascist celebration in Rome.

The evening began with the Argentine national anthem, which the Municipal Band of Buenos Aires performed. After the customary applause, the musicians then began to play Italy’s Royal March. The bourgeoisie and Fascists stood up, while the ambassador sang the praises of Fascist Italy at the top of his lungs.

Suddenly, there was some commotion in the theater’s upper gallery, where the bourgeoisie had set aside seats so that the plebs could attend the event. The murmurs quickly became shouts and cries of “Assassins!” “Thieves!” “Matteotti!” rang out in theater. [164] Suddenly hundreds of leaflets protesting oppression in Italy rained down on the seats below, even falling onto the ambassador’s feet.

The “black shirts” had been strategically distributed throughout the theater precisely to stop an incident like this from occurring, but the disruption had caught them completely unawares. They immediately raced toward the unexpected outburst. A struggle erupted between the anti-fascists and the “black shirts,” who had not forgotten to bring along their truncheons. One of those shouting the loudest was a tall, young man with blond hair who was dressed in black. A “black shirt” took him by the neck and dragged him over the seats, but the youth fought back with the strength of a beast. After suffering numerous strikes, he dropped to the ground and audience members tried to punch and kick him. He finally stopped in the first row, where he continued denouncing Mussolini and his Fascist government. The dozen troublemakers dominated the theater for ten minutes—shouting and then trading blows with those trying to silence them—but were cornered and captured one-by-one. The youth dressed in black was the last to fall. They were dragged out of the theater, while the “crème de la crème” of Buenos Aires attempted to retaliate. They tried to spit on and kick the dissidents, who had insulted what many there regarded as their motherland, their king, and the king’s favorite, Mussolini.

Escorted to the street by high-ranking Italian soldiers, the rebels were handed over to the police and loaded into a paddy wagon. The last to enter was the young man in black, who spat a “Viva anarchy!” into the face of a stiff Italian soldier. [165] This youth was the only one among the arrestees to respond without evasion to police questioning. He declared that he was an anarchist and signed his statement with a firm hand: Severino di Giovanni. Los Errantes visited the editorial office of La Antorcha when they arrived in Buenos Aires. Donato Antonio Rizo, who ran the anarchist weekly, greeted them. He spoke to them about the political situation in Argentina, the conflicting views among anarchists about how to respond to government terror, and some of the comrades that he and other members of the La Antorcha group considered exemplary. One of those was Severino di Giovanni, an impassioned militant who thought “it was time for deeds, not words.” [166] Another was Roscigna, a distinguished activist from the metalworkers’ union who shouldered the weight of the Prisoner and Persecuted Support Committee. He was cerebral and strategic but when it was time to act, he always jumped in headfirst (unlike the party bureaucrats who hid behind their “operatives”).

Durruti and Ascaso knew of Diego Abad de Santillán and López Arango through mutual acquaintances, their writings, and their work with La Protesta. They also knew other comrades who had passed through Spain and now lived in Argentina, such as Gastón Leval, Rodolfo González Pacheco, and Teodoro Antilli (the latter two through their writings). Buenos Aires was home to some of the most talented men in the anarchist movement, but the vicissitudes of the struggle had left them bitterly divided. There was a clear split between the men of action and the theorists—which Spanish libertarians had managed to avoid—and the schism threatened to undermine the anarchists’ influence on the Argentine working class. In response to this, Los Errantes decided to refrain from any actions that could further aggravate the already heated debate over the legitimacy of revolutionary violence and expropriation. They resolved to search for common ground and calm dialogue with militants from either faction. However, given Argentina’s contradictory conditions and the problems faced by militant anarchists, Durruti and Ascaso’s position would ultimately prove untenable.

If anarchists lack solidarity among themselves, then they lack their fundamental strength. Indeed, La Protesta, despite its purism, could not stop itself from defending Radowitzky, Wilkens, Sacco and Vanzetti, and others. The first two had used personal direct action and the bomb for the purposes of social justice, whereas the charge of “robbery” (expropriation) hung over the second two. La Protesta defended Sacco and Vanzetti in typically bourgeois terms by professing their innocence. However, Yankee capitalism would never concede such a thing: as anarchists, Sacco and Vanzetti were guilty by definition. How to break out of that game of deceits and double meanings? Flores Magón resolved the problem by recognizing that it was impossible to fight the state within the law: they had to fight it illegally, on the revolutionary’s natural terrain. If the editors of La Protesta wanted to be consistent, they would have to embrace Magón’s stance; if not, their purism would drive them to evolutionism or reformism. There was no middle ground in Argentina during those years, above all because government violence largely determined the contours of the struggle.

The Los Errantes quickly exhausted the few pesos that they had brought with them and used their network of friends to find jobs (they had never asked the movement to subsidize them and this period of their lives would be no different). Durruti became a port worker, Francisco labored as a cook, and Jover made his living as a cabinet-maker. Alejandro Ascaso disappeared from Buenos Aires shortly after arriving for reasons that are unknown to us.

Los Errantes were working and living unassuming lives when an armed robbery occurred on October 18, 1925. According to Buenos Aires’ La Prensa newspaper, this is what happened: “Like a movie, three individuals enter the Las Heras streetcar station, of the Anglo, in the middle of the Palermo neighborhood. One of them is masked. They pull out black pistols and threaten the collectors, who had just made the nightly recount of ticket sales. They shout ‘hands up’ in a marked Spanish accent and demand the money. The employees babble that it’s already in the safe. They demand the keys. No, the boss has them, and he’s already left. The assailants talk among themselves. They withdraw. While leaving, they take a small bag that a guard had just left on the counter: it contains thirty-eight pesos in ten-cent coins. There is a ‘lookout’ outside and, further away, an automobile waiting for them. They disappear without being pursued.” [167]

Osvaldo Bayer, from whom we take the previous quote, writes: “Buenos Aires police are confused. Gunmen with a Spanish accent? They are unaware of anyone with those characteristics. They question underworld figures, but don’t learn anything useful. Nobody knows them. The booty was laughable and thus the police are sure that they’ll pull off another job soon.” And that is exactly what happened “on November 17, 1925, barely a month after the holdup of the Las Heras station. Minutes after midnight, the ticket-seller Durand has finished counting the day’s collection in the Primera Junta subway station in Caballito. He’s still waiting for the last subway service from the center of the city. When it arrives, he’ll be able to finish his work and go home. A stranger suddenly appears and pulls out a pistol. In a Spanish accent, he says: ‘Shut your mouth!’ Meanwhile, another robber bursts into the ticket office and grabs the wooden box that normally holds the collection. Everything hardly lasts an instant. The two men turn around and head toward the exit onto Centenera Street. The ticket-seller begins to shout: ‘Help! Thieves!’ That’s when one of the assailants turns around and shoots into the air to scare him and stop him from giving chase. A policeman stopped on Rivadavia and Centenera must have heard the shouting and gunfire. He runs to see what is going, while drawing his weapon. They beat him to it: there are two more assailants serving as ‘lookouts’ in the two subway entrances and, when one of them sees that the policeman has his gun out and is going to run into the two robbers, who are leaving through the stairs, he fires two bullets that hit their mark.

“The agent drops like lead. The four bandits run to a taxi that is waiting for them on Rosario and Centenera. For some reason, the driver can’t start the car and, after losing precious minutes, the thieves get out and run eastward on Rosario Street and then disappear. The robbery was in vain; a failure identical to the one at the Las Heras station. The collection money had not been put in the wooden box, as usual, but rather in an iron box under the window. There wasn’t even a ten-cent coin in the wooden box.” The Argentine police assume that the two events are connected and put special emphasis on the “matter of the Spaniards.” They concluded that the assailants in both cases must be the same people. But who are they? It was then that Argentine police received the “dossier” from Chilean police that established, with the help of the Spanish police, that the criminals were Durruti, Ascaso, and Jover.

“With their photos in hand, Argentine authorities identify the men who robbed the Las Heras and Primera Junta stations. Yes, they had no doubt. It was them. They begin an exhaustive investigation and raid boarding houses and hotels in search of the foreigners. They find nothing. Social Order intervenes and detains anarchists of action, in hopes of getting some clues, but they don’t turn up anything useful either. “They hang posters in the subways and streetcars bearing photographs of the four foreigners.” [168] These posters prompted poet Raúl González Tuñón to write some magnificent verses about Durruti:

I see his face in the mug shot

Straight ahead, from the side, with a number,

His turbulent hair, disheveled.

The only thing missing is a dove above

Raging and delicate[169]

At this point in our biography, we should review some facts before proceeding. Thus far, bank robberies were only types of expropriation practiced by Durruti and he had demonstrated some skill in each instance. When Los Errantes arrived in Argentina, they decided not to undertake actions that might exacerbate existing debates about expropriation and revolutionary violence. How, then, could it be that they suddenly carry out two poorly planned and chaotic robberies of train stations? What proof demonstrates that Los Errantes were the culprits? Did a robbery victim recognize one of them? Were the perpetrators Spaniards because they had a Spanish accent? The truth is that there was no proof and police only decided that it was them after the intervention of their Chilean and especially Spanish colleagues (the latter supplied their photos). By hanging posters in the streetcars and subways, by using the press, and by vigorously pursuing Los Errantes, it seemed like police were challenging the robbers to defy them. They did just that on January 19, 1926 at the San Martín branch of the Banco Argentino.

“While residents of the tranquil city of San Martín were eating lunch or taking refuge from the sun and the heat in their homes,” La Prensa reported, “a group of outlaws armed with carbines placed itself at the entrance of the Banco Argentino branch across from the principal plaza.” We continue with Osvaldo Bayer: “Seven individuals (four with masks) get out of a double touring car on the corner of Buenos Aires and Belgrano, two blocks from the police station. Four enter the bank and the other three, armed with rifles, take up positions at the bank’s main door. It is a very strange robbery, with a nuance of professional bandits. When the three outside see some unsuspecting pedestrians approach, they point their rifles at them silently. The pedestrians think it is a joke at first, but leave in a hurry when they realize that the men are serious. Meanwhile, the four who entered work quickly. They go for the counters, go through the paymasters’ drawers, and collect all the money they find. They don’t bother going to the safe. Altogether they take in 64,085 pesos. The bank employees obey when they hear a hoarse Spanish voice shout:

“‘Anyone who moves will be shot!’”

“They escape in a car with the money. The police chase them, but they cover their getaway with gunfire.”

CHAPTER XIV. Toward Paris: 1926

After the holdup of the bank in San Martín, police were now sure of the thieves’ identities. They increased surveillance of the city’s anarchist circles and tightened control over the borders and ports. It would seem impossible for Durruti, Ascaso, and Jover to pass through the net that police had thrown over the region and yet that is exactly what they did. They set off for Europe in Montevideo at the end of February 1926.

Los Errantes experienced some of the most difficult moments of their lives between January 19 and their departure. It was very hard for them to find a safe place to hide and some veteran militants who knew Durruti and Ascaso from Spain even turned their backs on them; not because of police pressure, but simply to avoid getting involved. Had it not been for members of the Unión Sindical Argentina and the La Antorcha and El Libertario groups, it is very likely that authorities would have captured them. But this never happened, as we have said, and the principle organizer of their escape was a Spanish anarchist named J.C. Este. He had recently arrived in Buenos Aires and, when he learned about the difficulties that Los Errantes were facing, he rushed to arrange their trip to Montevideo and put them onboard the steamer that would bring them to France.

While they were busy acquiring passports and preparing their escape to Uruguay, Argentine police were searching for them relentlessly. Their hunt became even more complicated thanks to mistakes made by the police and also the press in Spain. A very confusing article appeared in a Spanish paper on February 23, 1926: “The Spanish Gunmen: Has Durruti Been Arrested In Bordeaux? Nothing is known about the event in Gironde, but in Gijón they guarantee that it happened. Some details of a terrorist’s eventful life.” That was the headline that La Voz de Guipúzcoa printed above its coverage of the news from ABC in Madrid, which had published the following telegram from its Gijón correspondent: “Gijón, 23, 11:00 pm. We just learned that Francisco Durruti has been arrested in Bordeaux for robbing a furniture factory in that city, a crime for which two Spaniards were recently guillotined. Durruti is the leader of the gang of gunmen who held up a branch of the Bank of Spain in Gijón on September 1, 1923. The bank manager, Mr. Luis Ascárate, was shot to death during the act.” “Durruti,” the correspondent from Gijón concludes, “had also been also in Havana, where he committed another bank heist.”

“We were surprised,” La Voz de Guipúzcoa wrote, “that our correspondent in Bordeaux, M. Melsy Cathulin, had not said anything about the matter and so we asked him about the issue during our daily meeting yesterday. He told us that officials had not reported Durruti’s detention and that none of the local newspapers had mentioned the event. This was strange, given the importance of the arrest and the stir caused by the robbery throughout Gironde. Furthermore, no one had previously implicated Durruti in the robbery of the Harribley furniture factory. Police had arrested three anarchists for that crime, in which two people died and three were injured. Two of the arrested anarchists, Recasens and Castro, were guillotined last December, but the leader of their group got away. Recasens and Castro said that their ringleader was from Aragón and used the nickname “El Mano” or “El Negro.” The fugitive in the photographs [which La Voz published] does not resemble Durruti in this slightest and his first name is also not Francisco. José Buenaventura Durruti, also known as “El Gorila,” is indeed one of the most prolific Spanish terrorists. He is a native of León and is fifty years old.

In 1922, Durruti lived in San Sebastián and worked as a mechanic adjuster in the Mújica Brothers factory and then later at another factory. He was vicepresident of the CNT’s Sindicato Unico [trans.: industrial union group] in the Eguía neighborhood and, until August that year, did not stand out as a man of action. He was an excellent worker but it was clear that his extremist ideas were deeply rooted. In August 1922, Durruti and two other syndicalists carried out a bold robbery of the Mendizábal brothers’ office. The three bandits entered with pistols drawn and, pointing them at Mr. Ramón Mendizábal, forced him to open the safe and hand over whatever money was in it, in addition to what he was carrying in his wallet. The crime went unpunished, since Durruti and his accomplices left San Sebastián before police found out about their participation in the event. Durruti was later arrested and transferred to San Sebastián, but it was impossible to prove his culpability.” La Voz de Guipúzcoa continued with Durruti’s biography, but their account contained numerous errors about his trip to the Americas.

Durruti, a man gifted with a rare intelligence, disappeared from Havana and set sail on a steamship with a false passport. In autumn 1924, he showed up in Paris. He had abundant money at his disposal—the booty from robberies in the Americas—and used part of it to support the anarchist weekly Liberation.

According to Spanish police, Durruti was traveling with another anarchist named Juan Riego Sanz, one of the ringleaders of the irruption at Vera del Bidasoa.

Despite the glaring errors in this article, it does contain two pieces of information that contradict those who tried to dismiss Durruti as a “pistolero:” he was a skilled technical worker and used the money stolen from banks to support the cause. But we return to essential matters: it was this article that shaped the actions of the Argentine police. Specifically, considering the official character of the Madrid daily, and also that the Argentines had failed to apprehend any of Los Errantes, it makes perfect sense that this article led them to think that Durruti had escaped and was in Paris. However, the Buenos Aires authorities were mistaken: Durruti, Ascaso, and Jover sailed to France in the very end February, 1926.

Before embarking, the comrades in charge of arranging their flight learned from reliable sources that the ship was not going to stop in any Spanish port. With that reassuring news, Los Errantes occupied their cabins. Several of the vessel’s sailors were sympathetic to anarchism and Durruti and his friends immediately made contact with them. These sailors’ reports were extremely useful and helped avert a tragedy.

While the ship approached the Canaries Islands, its captain announced that they needed to stop in Spain’s Santa Cruz de Tenerife for reasons beyond their control. Los Errantes became extremely worried. Had they been discovered? Were they going to be delivered to Spanish authorities? They were not going to let themselves be surprised and decided to take control of the ship and prevent it from making that stop at any cost. Who could help them? The anarchist sailors. They immediately spoke with one of them and asked him why the ship was making an unexpected stopover. The sailor put them at ease when he explained that it was fully justified by damage that the steamship had suffered at sea.

The passengers disembarked in Santa Cruz de Tenerife and stayed in a hotel at the shipping company’s expense. They would have to remain there until the company could send another ship, which would pick them up and take them to La Havre.

Although there was apparently no reason to fear, Los Errantes decided to take passage onboard an English ship scheduled to stop in the French port of Cherburgo. They arrived on April 30, 1926 and within two days were living in a hotel on Legendre Street in the Paris’s Clichy neighborhood. Using passports acquired in Buenos Aires, they registered under the names Roberto Cotelo (Durruti), Salvador Arévalo (Ascaso), and Luis Victorio Rejetto (Jover).

Los Errantes found a different Paris in May 1926 than the one they had known two years earlier. Most of the Spanish anarchists had moved to Belgium or scattered to the eastern and southern parts of the country. Lyon and Marseilles were the main centers of exiled anarchist activity. There was a Spanish Commission of Anarchist Relations in Lyon. There was also a group in Béziers called Prisma that would publish a magazine by the same name a year later that would be the voice of Spanish anarchist exiles in France. Nonetheless, Paris was still an important city for the exiled Spanish anarchists, thanks to the International Press, which worked under the auspices of the French anarchist periodical, Le Libertaire, the publication of the French Anarcho-Communist Union.

The following Spanish anarchist groups were among the most active: Germen, Sin Pan, Proa, Afinidades, and Espartaco. Among the most distinguished Spanish militants, we should note Valeriano Orobón Fernández, who published the Spanish language magazine Tiempos Nuevos; Liberto Callejas, who edited Iberón; and Juan Manuel Molina, better known as “Juanel,” who was the Spanish representative on the Administrative Council of the International Press.

The month and a half that Durruti and his friends spent in Paris is largely an informational vacuum for us. What we do know relates to their activities as men of action.

When had they learned that Alfonso XIII intended to pass through Paris on a trip to London? We don’t know. But after Durruti and his friends arrived in the French capital they met three old acquaintances who had fled Spain: Teodoro Peña, Pedro Boadas Rivas, and Agustín García Capdevila. These youths were implicated in bomb attacks on Spanish soldiers and it would be disastrous if they fell into the French police’s hands. Los Errantes thus decided to send them to Argentina, recommending them as good comrades to Roscigna. According to Osvaldo Bayer, those youths “carried a special invitation from Durruti for Roscigna, asking him to come to Europe, because he was needed as a strategic man of action. Roscigna did not accept the request: he apologized, but said that he was too engaged in the struggle in Argentina to leave.” [170] They had also asked Boadas to tell a comrade-driver in Buenos Aires that they urgently needed him in Paris. If we link Roscigna and the driver with the plan to kidnap Alfonso XIII—for which Durruti, Ascaso, and Jover were arrested on June 25—it is easy to deduce that their main concern from May until their detention was preparing the action against the King of Spain.

With the exception of comments by Italian anarchist Nino Napolitano, who was close with Durruti and Ascaso, very little information is available about this mysterious conspiracy.

I met Ascaso and Durruti at the home of a Parisian comrade named Bertha. One day they lost a suitcase and naturally I offered them mine. Ascaso took it in hand and said, laughing: “It isn’t strong enough!” I objected and said that the suitcase was perfectly good, of excellent treated material. I seemed like a shopkeeper anxious to sell his wares, but my efforts were in vain. Ascaso didn’t want it. Some time later I found out why: they needed a very strong suitcase to carry dismantled rifles and other weapons.

Around that time [1926], Paris was preparing for a visit from King Alfonso XIII.... The Third Republic planned to receive the man who had killed Francisco Ferrer with the melodies of La Marseillaise. Durruti and Ascaso planned to receive him with a pair of shots. They organized everything with absolute serenity.

This is the idiosyncrasy of Spaniards: they behave like great men, which is not to say patriots, even when they are proletarians. Our two comrades possessed this talent and made great use of it in the days preceding the official visit. To elude the web of police agents, they went to places in the French capital frequented by members of high society. They played tennis in a club and even bought a fancy automobile so as not to seem suspicious when they pulled up next to the statesmen participating in the welcome ceremony. They planned every detail meticulously.

We had dinner in Bertha’s house on the eve of the King’s arrival. I remember that she served us a sago soup that neither Ascaso nor I liked very much. We made fun of her culinary skills. When Durruti and Ascaso laughed, she began to cry.

“Where two conspire, my man is the third,” Maniscalao, the known agent provocateur of the Bourbons once said smugly. This time the third man was sitting at the wheel of the car that would take Ascaso and Durruti to the scene of the action. He had sold out to the French police. The two conspirators were arrested and Paris received Alfonso XIII to the sounds of La Marseillaise without missing a beat.[171]

Nino Napolitano’s testimony is first hand, but he wrote it in 1948. Too many things had happened in the intervening twenty-two years for him to be able to recall all the facts properly and, as a result, there are contradictions in his account of the period.

Bertha lived with Ferrandel, who ran Le Libertaire, and surely both were aware of Ascaso and Durruti’s plans. The visit mentioned in the quote must have occurred while they were preparing the action and, since the visits were infrequent, Bertha was quick to break into tears when teased. Ascaso and Durruti were arrested on June 25 and Alfonso XIII arrived two days later. The important thing in Nino’s comments is his reference to the provocateur; to the “driver” recruited by Los Errantes in circumstances that are unknown to us.

We noted that they had asked Boadas to tell the Argentine driver-comrade to come to Paris quickly. The Argentine did not come. García Vivancos also disappointed them (he was a member of Los Solidarios and had demonstrated his excellent driving skills during the Gijón bank robbery). Presumably, it was shortly before the King’s arrival, as time pressed upon them, that someone introduced them to the “driver” who would betray them. They were arrested in the morning while leaving their hotel on Legendre Street. A search of the premises revealed the weapons that they had hidden in the room.

The press first published news of their arrest on July 2, although it did not mention the date of their detention. Durruti clarifies this in a letter that he sent to his family while incarcerated: “I was arrested on June 25, on the occasion of the King of Spain’s trip to Paris, and implicated in a plot against him.... After my arrest, they took me to La Santé.”

CHAPTER XV. The plot against Alfonso XIII

Alfonso XIII couldn’t take a step without inspiring some Spaniard to try to kill him. He was the target of at least a dozen alleged assassination attempts and yet somehow always emerged unharmed. The attempt on May 17, 1902, on the day of the coronation, failed. What was being prepared for him in Paris on May 31, 1905 was discovered in time. Exactly one year later Mateo Morral killed twenty-six people and injured 107 with a bomb on the King’s Wedding day and still couldn’t get to his target. Other men who tried to take out Alfonso XIII also had their hopes dispelled. It seemed written that this monarch would die of old age in bed.

Mindful of such threats against the King, the Spanish embassy in Paris took stringent security precautions and also asked French police to imprison any Spanish exile who might be tempted to execute the monarch. The French police consented to this request and launched a raid on the morning of June 25, 1926. Some two hundred Spaniards were taken in, including Durruti, Ascaso, and Jover, from whom an appreciable quantity of arms were seized.

The French government wanted to receive Alfonso XIII and his Prime Minister-dictator, Primo de Rivera, without any conflicts. It ordered the police to protect the Spanish King and the press to behave respectably with the guest. One newspaper that did not agree to this was Le Libertaire. Judge Villette deemed an editorial that it ran insulting and ordered authorities to shut it down. They charged its manager, Giradin, with being an “instigator to assassination.”

The public didn’t know anything about the government crackdown until July 2, by the time Alfonso XIII was already in London. That day the press published a short comment from the police declaring that they had discovered a plot to assassinate the King of Spain and had arrested three Spanish exiles in connection with the case.

On the same date, Le Libertaire reproduced the substance of the article for which it had been suspended on June 25. The full-page headline was: “The Republic At The Orders Of Alfonso Xiii. More Than Two Hundred Arrests. Le Libertaire Seized And Persecuted.”

Last week, Le Libertaire ran a piece from the Anarcho-Communist Union calling militants from the Paris area to demonstrate their disgust with the regal assassin in the Orsay station. It was nothing monstrous; barely ten lines remembering Ferrer, the assassins of Vera, and the torture inflicted on Spanish militants.... Le Libertaire was seized by judicial order on the pretext that the tract was an “instigation to assassination.” ... But things didn’t end there: all the Spanish and even French militants found themselves endowed with a police escort. No well-known comrade could do anything without being followed by a pair of police.... Later, on Monday, we learned that authorities had foiled a conspiracy against the Spanish King. It seems that someone had decided to give the monarch the punishment he deserves.... Not only did the French police, and even the Spanish police, arrest hundreds of comrades known for their revolutionary ideas and send them to the Dépôt, but they also plan to take them to the Spanish border. ... You must immediately raise your voices in protest and make it clear to the leftwing government [Socialists and Radicals-Socialists) that we will never allow the French police to deliver the political refugees to their executioners.

The Spanish Embassy released a statement to the press on the same day:

Now that the royal couple is in London, it can be made public in Spain.... that an attack against them had been planned in France. This plot was discovered very much in time and its presumed perpetrators were arrested, thanks to the diligence of the French police and excellent information from our embassy [the emphasis is ours].

A gang of expatriates with clear criminal tendencies, some of whom were awaiting trials for crimes committed in Spain, had acquired precious resources with which they purchased an expensive automobile, automatic weapons, and abundant ammunition. They intended to machine-gun the car carrying the royal couple at one of the stops on its itinerary. French police discovered the conspiracy hours before Their Majesties were to leave. Thanks to their good work, the bandits were already imprisoned and their car and arms confiscated by the time the royal couple departed for France. The King thus left Madrid without the burden of this danger and even unaware of it, since the French government had wisely decided not to publicize the matter until he reached London. The Spanish government had maintained equal reserve.

.... Some of the criminals detained in Paris had committed scandalous crimes here. The government quickly expressed its gratitude to French authorities and trusts that the regal trip will have a happy conclusion. These events will not cause a loss of serenity: they have precedents in all times, and fortunately the effective organization of the security services ensured that they were discovered and thwarted in the present instance.

The Spanish embassy in Paris was aware of Durruti and his friends’ time in South America when it released this communiqué. When it denounced them (without naming them) as the alleged perpetrators of the supposed assassination attempt, it was trying to lay the foundation for the extradition demand that it would soon make for the four defendants. The government planned to ask France to return them to Spain as culprits in a common law criminal offense. But Spain’s ambassador, Quiñones de León, had some concerns about the viability of the extradition demand. The Spanish regime enjoyed scarce popular support in France and although authorities had consented to Spain’s request to raid the refugees, it did so with hesitation. The Spanish ambassador must have held talks with Argentine ambassador Alvarez de Toledo to convince him that his country should also initiate extradition proceedings against the four anarchists, given that Argentina would have a greater chance of success. Thus, as soon as the Argentine government learned that Francisco Ascaso, Buenaventura Durruti, and Gregorio Jover had been arrested—and, for what reason we do not know, José Alamarcha was connected to them—it solicited information about their case from Paris. This is how the Argentines learned that Durruti, Ascaso, and Jover had arrived in France on April 30 with Uruguayan passports issued in Buenos Aires in the names of Roberto Cotelo for Durruti, Salvador Arévalo for Ascaso, and Luis Victorio Rejetto for Jover.

Roberto Cotelo was a well-known anarchist in both Argentina and Uruguay. He was active in the Argentine Libertarian Alliance and one of the best writers of El Libertario. The other names also belonged to prominent anarchists. Of the three, Roberto Cotelo was the only one that the Buenos Aires police could find. When questioned about his passport, he stated that he had indeed obtained a Uruguayan passport in his name on April 1 in the Uruguayan consulate in Buenos Aires, but that he had lost it a few hours later, perhaps because it fell from his pocket. This glib explanation angered the police. They threatened Cotelo—telling him that he was going to take the rap for Durruti and his friends in Argentina if he didn’t say what really happened—but he stuck to his statement. After many interrogations and two months in jail, a judge released him due to the absence of proof. The country’s press took note of the judge’s decision; pointing to contradictory statements from the police, it concluded that the Durruti-Cotelo issue was nothing more than a police conspiracy designed to damage the Argentine anarchist movement.

Nevertheless, and in spite of public sentiment, Argentine police held firm to their attempt to secure the extradition of Durruti and his friends. High-level police functionaries pressured Argentina’s president, Doctor Alvear, to pull string among his old connections in Paris. The President consented and the police, thinking that the matter would be resolved shortly, sent three of its best men to Paris to speed up the process. The policemen were Fernando Baza, Romero, and Carrasco.

We mentioned that the Argentine press condemned the police’s anti-anarchist schemes. This was not only the anarchist press but also the so-called “sensationalist” papers. For example, Crítica printed the following on July 7, 1926, while Cotelo was locked up in the Brigada Social: “We can’t believe the rumors spread by the police. This is nothing but a ploy; the result of the mysterious meetings they have held in recent days.... This is where we find the thread of the actions that necessarily had to lead to the detention of men known for their advanced ideas.”

“The police chief,” the Argentine newspaper continued, “told the press: ‘Given the absence of proof, it’s possible that the French government will not authorize the extradition. However, we feel confident, considering its strong ties with our government, that it will agree to our request. They can be sure that we’ll be ready to reciprocate when the time comes.’” The matter couldn’t have been clearer: the police had no proof demonstrating that Durruti and his friends robbed the bank in San Martín, but that was just a minor detail. The state’s needs alone were enough to justify shipping the three anarchists off to Buenos Aires.

The Crítica and La República newspapers raised the topic again, in more or less the same terms, on July 8. The first wrote: “Police comments led one to think that they had evidence against Robert Cotelo, Jaime Rotger [who ran El Libertario], and the well-known libertarian Dadivorich that demonstrated their complicity in the armed robberies. But the strange activity of the police proves that they neither had evidence against them nor even knew who the perpetrators were.... Their machinations were so transparent that Rotger and Cotelo had to be released.” Indeed, they were freed, but detained again, and then freed once more, only to be detained another time. The judge, under pressure from the public, had to intervene to put an end to Cotelo and Rotger’s comings and goings.

In Paris, the legal process continued to follow its course. Durruti and Jover named their respective lawyers and their trial took place in the Palace of Justice. Le Libertaire reported on the affair in its October 15 issue:

On Thursday, October 7, 1926, our Spanish comrades Durruti, Ascaso, and Jover appeared in court in Correctional Courtroom number eleven under the following charges: Ascaso, possession of prohibited weapons, use of a false passport, and rebellion; Durruti, possession of prohibited weapons and use of a false passport; and Jover, use of a false passport. Many comrades wanted to attend the trial to show their support for the accused, but a band of informers were already occupying the part of the courtroom reserved for the public when the trial began. Our comrades had to stand in the hallway due to the lack of space inside. The defendants were dignified, calm, and energetic. Thanks to his good French, Durruti spoke for the group. He stated that they had planned to follow the King on his trip, adduct him on the border, and hold him for a time. This would make rumors of his death circulate in Spain and thereby provoke a revolution.

The accused frankly admitted that they purchased a number of weapons (carbines and automatic pistols) and used false passports. “We are Spanish revolutionaries,” Durruti declared, “and we’ve gone into exile because of the odious regime that Alfonso XIII and Primo de Rivera have imposed on our country. We are political exiles, but we intend to return to Spain.

“Our comrades in Spain, our brothers in ideas,” he continued, “endure the hardest and most persistent repression that any government has ever inflicted on the working class. They passionately want to free themselves from that oppressive regime and of course we share their desire. That is why we declare, conscious of the responsibility that we incur, that we will not stop until we smash the dictatorship. We are also convinced that we’re close to achieving our goal: other than the clique that supports the government, the vast majority of the country is against Primo de Rivera. The discontent is widespread and an armed insurrection could erupt at any moment. The weapons that we bought were for sustaining and defending our country’s revolutionary movement. With respect to the false passports, how else could we have evaded the Spanish government’s thick web of informers in France? Obviously we used false names for that reason.”

The French police who arrested our comrades also made a statement at the trial. They tried to present the accused as extremely dangerous figures, but didn’t convince anyone. Under pressure from the defense lawyers, they had to admit that the Spanish Embassy had given them the names of the accused, whom they described as “dangerous anarchists and recalcitrant bandits.” They also stated that all their information about the detainees had come from the same source, the Spanish Embassy. Lawyers Henry Torres and Berthon, with the assistance of their secretaries, Mr. Joly and Mr. Garçon, took on the responsibility of defending our comrades.

The defense lawyer’s speech was restrained, but precise and moving: “Gentlemen of the Tribunal, my colleagues and I have the honor of defending men who represent the most advanced sector of the Spanish opposition” Berthon said. His exposition made it seem like something solemn and grandiose was occurring. That sentiment was only reinforced by the presence of numerous marshals and armed guards in the courtroom (who looked like they were ready for war, although that didn’t frighten Durruti, Ascaso, and Jover at all). [172]

Ascaso was sentenced to six months in prison, Durruti to three, and Gregorio Jover to two. Of the three, only Francisco Ascaso would have to remain in jail (his sentence would end on December 25). For their part, Durruti and Jover had already exceeded their sentences with the time that they had spent in “preventive detention.”

What was going to happen? The French government considered the extradition demands from Argentina and Spain and finally awarded it to the first of the two countries. Given the ambiguity of French legislation on extraditions at the time, this meant that the lawyers and defendants had to work quickly to ensure that the police did not hand them over to Argentina or Spain whenever they wanted (which they could do, legally). The defense’s strategy was to appeal their convictions in the Supreme Court, which would be a way of gaining time and would also prevent the police from acting on their own. They sent the appeal to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the government moved Durruti and Jover to the Conciergerie in the Palace of Justice. Ascaso continued serving his sentence in La Santé. Le Libertaire wrote: “We must protest energetically! The public has to know about the warped machinations of the Argentine and Spanish police and stop the French State magistrate from granting the extradition.” [173] In other words, it didn’t matter if Durruti and his comrades were innocent or guilty of the charges against them: their actions were not common crimes, but rather political acts committed in the course of their revolutionary efforts (as they themselves had declared). According to French law, this meant that they could not be extradited.

Durruti gives an account of his travails in a letter sent to his family on December 17, 1926:

I was sentenced to three months. I signed for my freedom in La Santé on October 8 but since the Spanish government wants me, French police moved me to the Palace of Justice. That’s where I am now, not as a French prisoner, but in the custody of the international police.

I didn’t work in La Santé. Hard labor is only for those sentenced to more than six months and for more matters more serious than mine. Here, in the Palace of Justice, they don’t make anyone work, certainly not those of us requested by a foreign country, since French law has nothing to do with us. You can see that those gentlemen from the Diario de León and La Democracia don’t know what they’re talking about.

They didn’t allow me write in Spanish when I was in La Santé because they said that the judge hadn’t authorized it. Now, as you can see, I’m able to write in Spanish. This is the most palpable proof that I’m not doing hard labor, despite what those stupid journalists say.

Everything they write is designed to make it look like the French government gave me one of the harshest sentences. But you should laugh in their faces. They don’t deserve anything but contempt.

Don’t worry about the confirmation of the three months in prison. All of this is simply a ploy between the lawyer and I to prevent the police from sending me to Spain (which they can’t do while I finish the sentence in France). I’ve also appealed to the Supreme Court about the sentence and I’ll have to go to court for this once again. All these things are ways to gain time and fight the extradition demands lodged by foreign governments. I tell you this to calm mother and so that she ignores everything those idiotic journalists write.

The newspaper clipping that you sent just affirms what I already suspected: clearly our trial was a real scandal.

All the speeches and charges in the trial revolved around the King of Spain, but you already have an idea of what it was like. There’s no need to say more.

Regarding father’s question about my remaining prison time, he should know that I’ve already finished with the French. There’s still the question of the Americas (but I hope it will be resolved soon).

Our comrades are working hard, and so are the lawyers and the League of the Rights of Man. They held a rally demanding our release on Tuesday, December 14 and promise that many more will follow if we’re not freed. Militants in Buenos Aires are also doing everything they can to stop us from being taken there.

I don’t want to say anything about Spain, since you’re better informed than I. There’s not much that I can tell you about my life here. I spend my time reading, painting, or writing. They come to see me twice every week and, on Sundays, bring clean clothes and money so that I can eat in the restaurant.

You can see that everything happening here is the opposite of what the papers say there. I’m also not short on reading material, since there’s a library and they give me the books that I ask for. There are some books in Spanish, but I’ve read all of them by now.

The warden authorized me to buy illustrated magazines, which a woman responsible for the detainees’ requests brings me. Illustrated magazines are the only ones allowed. Newspapers are prohibited. Rosa says that Benedicto doesn’t write me because it makes him ashamed, but that he thinks of me. I don’t distinguish between my brothers, since I remember all of them, whether or not they write me.

Perico sends a few words to console my sorrows. Thanks, Perico! I’m grateful for your consolations, but you should know something: I endure my sorrows with my convictions, which are stronger than all of this human vileness.

My convictions are deep. They were born in the bosom of this unjust society and represent love and liberty. They’re as solid as steel. They’re what console me, because I’m convinced that they’re good. My dear Perico, don’t pity me; I’m not unhappy at all. These chains that stop me from being free are rotten and won’t hold me for long.

I’m waiting for your letter in French. Tell me how you’re doing with your mechanics. I suggest that you to apply yourself to studying it, since it’ll be useful to you when you’re older. Clateo tells me that she’s sad that I couldn’t be with you over Christmas. I’m sorry too, Clateo, but don’t worry about that. I’m not the only one who will spend it behind bars. There are countless others. And how many poor will have nothing to eat that day or a place to sleep! That is how this society works: a lot for the few and nothing for the rest.

Christmas is only for the rich, who celebrate it with the workers’ sweat, turning it into champagne, and who make laughter from the cries in the homes of the dispossessed. The parties of the rich are daughters of the miseries of the poor. But this will end soon. The revolution will put an end to this social disorder.[174]

CHAPTER XVI. The International Anarchist Defense Committee

Parisian Anarchists first campaigned to save Sacco and Vanzetti through the International Anarchist Defense Committee (IADC) and latter through the Freedom for Sacco and Vanzetti Committee. This permitted the IADC to retain a broader focus. There was an unmistakable need for the IADC, given the oppression of anarchists in Russia under the Bolsheviks, in Italy under Mussolini, and in Spain under Primo de Rivera.

They defended Sacco and Vanzetti as victims of North American capitalism imprisoned because of their revolutionary activism among Italian exiles in the United States. Of course the American legal system tried to conceal its function as a tool of the ruling class and thus obscured the social and political content of the trial; it charged the Italian anarchists with armed robbery as a way to deceive American and world opinion. The goal of Paris’s Freedom for Sacco and Vanzetti Committee was to expose that deceit. The AnarchoCommunist Union (ACU) sponsored the group and two of ACU militants, Louis Lecoin and Severino Ferrandel, led it.

The Ascaso, Durruti, and Jover affair required a new initiative from the ACU and thus it created the Durruti-Ascaso-Jover Asylum Support Committee. Like Sacco and Vanzetti, the three Spaniards were charged with a common crime. Should the ACU defend the “illegalist” anarchists? They debated the question and ultimately took a much clearer stance than Argentina’s La Protesta. On April 2, 1926, the ACU publicized its views on “illegalism”:

Meeting on March 28, 1926, the International Anarchist Defense Committee, which is an extension of the ACU, declares its position on the core issue in the articles on “illegalism” recently published in Le Libertaire. We declare that “illegalism” is not synonymous with anarchism. Anarchism and illegalism represent two completely distinct systems of ideas and action. Only anarchism’s detractors would try to confuse the two, although their insidious purposes are easy to discern.

An illegalist act is not an anarchist act in itself: someone who is totally ignorant of and even antagonistic to our ideas can carry it out. Even if an anarchist or someone with anarchist sympathies commits it, the “illegalist” act does not immediately become an anarchist act because of the circumstances that provoke it, the spirit that animates it, or even how its proceeds are expended.

The International Anarchist Defense Committee states that the practice of “illegalism” has not materially contributed to the spread of anarchist ideas in France, except in a very weak measure. It has been exceedingly detrimental to our idea and, as a whole, more damaging than beneficial to the expansion and diffusion of anarchism.

Far from encouraging our comrades to become “illegalists,” the IADC calls their attention, particularly the youth’s attention, to the material and moral consequences implied by “illegalism:”

1. Those who refuse to work for a boss and try to support themselves through “illegalism” almost always pay with prison, deportation, or violent death as a result. Indeed, from an individual point of view, instead of enabling the individual to “live his life,” “illegalism” almost always leads him to sacrifice it.

2. Also, the “illegalist,” even the so-called anarchist “illegalist,” almost always slips down the slippery slope toward the adoption of bourgeois ways and slowly becomes an exploiter and parasite.

3. The comrade who supports himself through “illegalism” is forced to give up active propaganda and separate himself from all productive work, depreciating it and being disgusted by it, in such a way that he lives—because he doesn’t produce anything himself—by exploiting the work of others. Of course this is the “classical” form of capitalism.

We have clearly explained our position on “illegalism” in this statement, but also feel the need, and thus the obligation, to add that we do not condemn “illegalism” absolutely and without exception:

1. On the one hand, we are sympathetic to workers who, being reduced to the insufficient salaries they receive, break the law (there is no point in getting into details, since this is a matter for each individual, but this is caused by the need to survive, to feed one’s family, and perhaps also to support anarchist propaganda).

2. On the other hand, we approve of the “illegalism” practiced by certain individuals who selflessly carry out their acts for the purposes of propaganda. These men rob banks, transport companies, large industrial and commercial firms, and the very rich (for example, Pini, Duval, Ravachol, and many of our foreign comrades, particularly Spaniards, Italians, and Russians.) After committing what we call individual expropriation (a prelude to collective expropriation) they dedicate the benefits of their acts to propaganda, instead of keeping it for themselves and becoming parasites.

In conclusion, as members of ACU’s International Anarchist Defense Committee, and always faithful to the precedents set by other comrades, we declare that when Le Libertaire speaks of “honesty” and “work,” it does not invest those terms with the significance attributed to them by the bourgeois spirit and official morality.

We will not exalt those that the official morality and bourgeois mentality deem “honest workers;” those filled with the respect for property and who submissively and passively accept the conditions imposed upon them. Those workers are not anarchists, but totally the opposite, given their obedience to the rules of conduct that bourgeois morality assigns to the world of work. Anarchists oppose that type of “honesty,” which represents nothing but submission to the social iniquity forced upon the productive class. Anarchists advocate, encourage, and dutifully practice a different type of honesty. It is one that inspires the revolutionary passion among the workers, who will explode one day and usher in the Social Revolution. The working man will be liberated and, on the basis of free accord, will create a society made up of free individuals, equal and fraternal, in which “illegalism” will no longer exist because, with the state and capital abolished, there will be no more laws.[175]

The following individuals signed this resolution: Sebastián Faure, Duquelzar (Northern Federation), Le Meillour, Pedro Odeon, Louis Lecoin, L. Oreal, Marchal, Champrenoft, Jeanne Gavard, J. Giradin, Even, G. Bastien, Chazoff, Bouche, Broussel, F. Maldes, Darras, Lacroix, Delecourt, and Lily Ferré.

The above statement makes it clear what French anarchists meant when they said that Sacco and Vanzetti were “innocent,” just as Lecoin’s insistence on Durruti, Ascaso, and Jover’s “innocence” will also be clear. Unlike La Protesta, Le Libertaire did not appeal to bourgeois concepts of “honesty” but rather insisted on the right and obligation to revolt.

Lecoin commented on the origin of the campaign for the Spaniards:

I came home one evening in October 1926 and found a telegram urgently requesting my presence at the office of the Anarcho-Communist Union. A number of militants were already there when I arrived: Sebastián Faure, Ferrandel, and others. All were visibly shaken. Sacco and Vanzetti were in danger of being electrocuted. A telegram came from America asking us to go into action immediately.

What were we going to do? What could we try that we hadn’t tried already? A comrade proposed that we prepare to bury them honorably and avenge them.

“What I know,” I replied, “is that they still aren’t dead. And, since they’re alive, we should focus on practical measures that might save them. Until now, and for the last five years, we’ve only convinced those who could be convinced that they’re innocent. We’ve built a revolutionary campaign around those two names, instead of fighting to rescue them. Why don’t the liberal bourgeoisie, the CGT, and the Socialist Party join us in demanding freedom for Sacco and Vanzetti?

“What stops that from happening?” they asked me.

“Nothing, of course, except for our own clumsiness. We must reach out to the stragglers, knocking on their doors. It’s not about organizing an anarchist campaign, but about getting these two anarchists out of the electric chair.... That’s it and nothing more. And our role is to convince absolutely everyone that they have to take a stand.”

If nothing else, at least I convinced my comrades, who entrusted me with making all the necessary contacts, and gave me carte blanche to start a broad campaign in the name of the Sacco-Vanzetti Committee. Ferrandel, a big fellow, with a delicious southern accent, took me aside and said:

“It’s also essential that you take charge of Ascaso, Durruti, and Jover’s defense.”[176]

CHAPTER XVII. The Anarcho-Communist Union and the Poincaré government

Louis Lecoin set out to do nothing less than crush French Prime Minister Raymond Poincaré’s foreign policy. Louis Barthou—a faithful servant of the bourgeoisie—was the Minister of Justice—and the veteran socialist Aristides Briand occupied the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The government called itself the “leftwing block” and had won the elections on May 4, 1924 under that name (against the “rightwing block”). The Socialists were well represented in the National Assembly, which had the Radical-Socialist Édouard Herriot as president. However, this leftwing government executed the policies of the right, both internationally as well as domestically. We can find proof of this in its conduct in Morocco, where it helped Alfonso XIII exterminate Abdel-Krim’s guerrillas. The culmination of the government’s friendly policy toward Spain was of course its reception of Alfonso XIII and Miguel Primo de Rivera in June and, as a final touch, its consent to Argentina’s extradition demand for Durruti, Ascaso, and Jover on October 26, 1926. Extraordinary reasons of state must have been at work for the French leftwing government to risk its electorate’s rage by satisfying Alfonso XIII via Buenos Aires. Where to open fire first? Lecoin decided that the best strategy would be to involve the League of the Rights of Man in the campaign and, toward that end, met with an elderly lady named Mrs. Severine, who had publicly defended the Spaniards and denounced Alfonso XIII and his regime on various occasions. As expected, Mrs. Severine reaffirmed her support for Spain’s radical workers and promised Lecoin that she would help him gain access to the League of the Rights of Man. While she did so, the Durruti-Ascaso-Jover Asylum Support Committee began its campaign with a rally on October 25 in “Les Societés Savantes de Paris.” The speakers at the event were: Cané, for the Social Defense Committee; Louis Huart, for the Union fédérative des syndicats autonomes (trans.: Federation of Autonomous Unions); Henry Berthon, one of the Spanish trio’s defense lawyers; Georges Pioch, a writer; Sebastián Faure, for the IADC; and a Spanish member of the League of the Rights of Man.

The rally was a success and Parisian newspapers commented upon it at length. Articles published in papers such as Le Populaire, L’Oeuvre, Era Nouvelle, Le Quotidien, and L’Humanité all suggested that this would be a dynamic campaign.

Meanwhile, bearing a recommendation from Mrs. Severine, Lecoin paid a visit to Mrs. Dorian Mesnard. Dorian then introduced him to the President of the League, Mr. Victor Basch. The meeting between Basch and Louis Lecoin was a disaster. Justice Minister Barthou had already warned Basch against getting mixed up in a common law criminal case and, as a result, Basch told Lecoin that all his efforts were in vain: the defendants were guilty and the League would not take part in campaigns of that nature. Lecoin undiplomatically spoke his mind to the president of the League and stormed out of the premises. He concluded that his attempt to enlist the League was a failure.

To his surprise, Lecoin received a telephone call later that afternoon from Mr. Guernut, the League’s secretary, who asked him for a complete file on the detained Spaniards. What caused Victor Basch to change his mind? It must have been Mrs. Severine or perhaps even Mrs. Dorian Mesnard. However it occurred, the important thing was that the League was going to take on the case. Lecoin realized that it wasn’t going to be easy to force Poincaré to capitulate, but new possibilities were emerging. [177]

On November 5, 1926, Le Libertaire commented on the French government’s willingness to deliver Durruti and his friends to Argentine police. “Will it dare send them to their deaths?” it asked. The following week Le Libertaire announced that there would be another protest rally in “Les Societés Savantes” on November 15 and that Sebastián Faure and writer Han Ryner would address the audience. It added: “Jover, Alamarcha, Durruti, and Ascaso could be handed over to the Argentine government at any moment. Workers of Paris, we will stop the extradition!” The same issue also contained a statement from the League of the Rights of Man protesting the extradition and a letter from Ascaso and Durruti to the Anarcho-Communist Union, which they had sent eight days earlier from the Conciergerie. They wrote:

Dear comrades: Even if the courts prove that we were going to kill Alfonso XIII, in hopes that his death would lead to a positive change in Spain, would that be enough reason for Republican France to take the side of our enemies and deliver us to their class vengeance?

And yet that is what is happening: we have been officially notified that we will be handed over to Argentine police.

While that news may surprise us, it doesn’t weaken our spirit. It was long ago that we offered our lives to our beautiful and just cause.

It is unfortunate that there is such a nasty campaign against us, and that we’re accused of acts for which we bear no responsibility, but we won’t flinch before the vengefulness of the Argentine and Spanish governments.

However, our comrade Jover has two children; one is three years old and the other only eighteen months. He loves both deeply and it’s imperative that he isn’t separated from them, either through execution or because he is sent to prison for life.

We hope that the French Republican government—which offers us so willingly to the Spanish tyrants—will think before it turns Jover’s children into orphans.

If we are extradited, so be it! But we ask for a new investigation of Jover’s case and that justice be declared without regard for diplomatic considerations.

Fraternally yours: F. Ascaso and B. Durruti.[178]

Le Libertaire commented on the letter:

We don’t know if this letter had any impact in governmental circles, but presumably it didn’t mitigate the “reasons of state.” However, large numbers of French proletarians that belong to the CGT pressured its general secretary Jouhaux, who was obliged to intervene directly in the government. If Ministers Briand and Barthou’s responses to Jouhaux were unsatisfactory, they did leave open the possibility that the trial might be reviewed.... Clearly the ministers in question are sensitive to the protests that have come to them from all quarters.... But police department superiors can change the situation: simply to please their Argentine colleagues, they could hand over Durruti and his friends without waiting for the French government’s decision. With respect to that possibility, defense lawyer Henry Torres just reminded the courts that his clients have made an appeal and that they expect French law to follow its normal course.[179]

The same day that he spoke with French legal authorities, Torres wrote the Argentine ambassador and set up a meeting with him, various lawyers, and several French deputies. The later group was on a list that Louis Lecoin was drawing up: he had set out to gather the support of more than fifty percent of National Assembly representatives and then to present the list of supporters to the Prime Minister with a statement demanding freedom for Durruti, Ascaso, and Jover. If Lecoin managed to collect these signatures, Poincaré would be obliged to release the Spaniards or resign. In either case, the antiparliamentarian Lecoin would defeat Prime Minister Poincaré.

The situation was desperate for the French government. On the one hand, it was under serious pressure from Spain, which passionately wanted Durruti, Ascaso, and Jover to be extradited, whether to Spain or Argentina. The result would be the same in either case, because the Spaniards would ultimately obtain their prisoners from Argentina if they were sent there. But, on the other hand, if the French government extradited them, it would be making a mockery of the Rights of Man—the foundation of the French Republic itself—and could outrage the French proletariat, which was well informed about the case. How could it extract itself from the impasse? Its solution was to secretly deliver one of the four defendants to the Spanish government: José Alamarcha. His delivery might have a remained a secret had it not been reported by Le Libertaire. The newspaper wrote:

When we learned that the French government had refused to hand over Ascaso, Durruti, and Jover, we assumed that José Alamarcha would also be safe. There were no serious charges against him and he was the least “guilty” of the four. At the most, he might have faced expulsion.

But, then, eight days ago, Alamarcha’s jailors took him from his cell, saying that they were going to bring him to the Belgian border. And now we have found out that they delivered Alamarcha to the Spanish police. Shame on the French government, which kneels before the Spanish dictator! Shame on Poincaré’s false Republicans, who send an innocent man to the garrote just to please that bloodthirsty rascal Alfonso XIII! Now we fear for Ascaso, Durruti, and Jover. We cannot trust anything the authorities say.... Revolutionary comrades, we must save our comrades! Go to the rally on November 30, 1926![180]

Days later, on December 3, 1926, Le Libertaire printed the following note:

The French Government just informed the secretary of the League of the Rights of Man that Argentine police now acknowledge that the fingerprints that they gave French authorities were not taken at the scene of the robbery in San Martín. The Argentines admit that they received the fingerprints from a foreign government.

Why hasn’t the French Government released its three hostages? Will it continue to detain these men who rise above our poor humanity with their courage and moral energy? Will it do this for reasons of pride, when there is no legal justification whatsoever?

Despite everything, France stuck to its October 26 decision to extradite the anarchists, although it did not dare deliver the three men languishing in the Conciergerie to the Argentine policemen waiting for them in Paris. In the street, the Anarcho-Communist Union continued organizing rallies to galvanize public sentiment, adding the protests for the three Spaniards to those organized against the scheduled execution of Sacco and Vanzetti. The campaigns were vigorous. The leftwing press played a role, but it was militants from the International Anarchist Defense Committee who bore most of the weight of the mobilization and who were the only ones who genuinely wanted to extract the five anarchists from the hands of the respective governments.

On December 10, Le Libertaire announced that another rally would be held four days later and printed a letter from Argentine comrades about the case. It said: “Our Argentine friends tell us that they are carrying out the same campaign in their country as the one that we’re carrying out in France. And they warn that if Ascaso, Durruti, and Jover are handed over to the Argentine police, that they will try to make them pay for all the terrorist acts attributed to Argentine anarchists in recent years. They haven’t forgiven the anarchists for the death of Police Chief Colonel Falcón.”

On November 21, 1926, Buenos Aires’s Crítica newspaper noted the contradictions in the French government’s position and also that Argentine police never really thought that France would agree to extradite them. It wrote:

But the unthinkable occurred: France accepted the extradition request, although it really should have rejected it, since there were only suppositions against the defendants. Indeed, there was nothing more than a vague statement from a witness who said he recognized them after seeing their photograph.

Furthermore, anarchists are not bandits. Indeed, Argentine and French police have acknowledged on several occasions that Durruti, Ascaso, and Jover are militant anarchists. If they really are anarchists, as a leader of our country’s Security forces has also declared, they could not have committed common law offenses.

Revolutionaries do not carry out such crimes. Had Ascaso, Durruti, or Jover done so, their comrades would have been the first to eject them from their ranks.

These comments in Crítica reflected views expressed in a survey organized by the newspaper, in which numerous workers defended Ascaso, Durruti, and Jover as authentic revolutionaries with the right to struggle for freedom in Spain.

But public opinion and the press mattered little to Argentine police: for them the issue had become a matter of pride. The police defiantly continued to push Argentina’s President to secure the delivery of the three Spaniards. However, as the police were ready to seize their prey, Argentine anarchists were prepared to snatch them away from them. The Ascaso, Durruti, and Jover issue was the order of the day at workers’ meetings and rallies, which police did their best to stop. Osvaldo Bayer describes the spirited perseverance of the Argentine anarchists:

La Antorcha, the Social Prisoner Support Committee, and the autonomous unions of bakers, plasterers, painters, drivers, carpenters, shoe makers, car washers, bronze polishers, the Committee of Relations between the Italian Groups (which Severino di Giovanni and Aldo Aguzzi lead) and the Bulgarian Group, are not daunted by police threats and organize “lightning” rallies. In this respect, the anarchists are quite eccentric and use truly unusual methods. For example, they plan a meeting in Once Plaza and then announce it publicly. Authorities order the mounted police to surround the site and disperse the small group there. Then an anarchist comes out of the subway and leans on the railing of the tunnel exit that opens into the plaza, while another two, from the staircase, immediately chain him to the railing.[181] They bind their comrade to the rails and then he begins to speak with one of those booming voices that has been exercised at hundreds of assemblies and meetings where neither amplifiers nor electric systems are used:

“Here, come listen! Here we are! The anarchists! Shouting the truth about comrades Ascaso, Durruti, and Jover!”

The police run toward his voice and discover the incredible spectacle of a man crucified with chains and speaking rapid-fire. While they react, asking for orders and talking among themselves, the anarchist delivers a lengthy sermon to pedestrians, whose responses range from fear to stupefaction.

At first the police try to shut him up with a club blow, but the anarchist continues speechifying and the event becomes even more of a spectacle. Clearly that strategy would not work: hitting a tied up, defenseless man turns anyone’s stomach. Then they try to cover his mouth, but that doesn’t work either, because the anarchist pushes the gag aside and chokes out more words, which only heightens the grotesqueness of the scene. More curious bystanders gather around. Ultimately, the police have to hold back and wait for a locksmith from the Central Department, who takes about an hour to cut the chains. Of course, in the meantime, the orator gives three or four additional speeches that touch on every topic: Ascaso, Durruti, and Jover, Sacco and Vanzetti, Radowitzky, the prisoners of Viedma, Alvear (whom the anarchist calls “the petty thief ” or “one hundred kilos of fat”), the police (“donkey kickers” and “savage soldiers”), Carlés (“the honorable swine”), members of the Patriotic League (“rich kids,” “homosexual reprobates”) ... communism (“authoritarian cretinism”), soldiers (“idiot orangutans”), etc. No one was spared![182]

While authorities continued wrestling with whether to give Durruti, Ascaso, and Jover to Buenos Aires, the issue, as well as Alamarcha’s delivery to Spain, created a deep strain in the French Parliament. Several Socialists began to reconsider the thorny matter.

“At the time, police had complete control over the destiny of any foreigner demanded by another government. They decided without hearing or appeal. Only the government could stop an extradition. The situation was particularly bleak with Poincaré as Prime Minister and Barthou in the Ministry of Justice. They simply had no heart.” [183]

France’s confusing stance on extradition demands became an issue in the Parliament and several parliamentarians proposed legislation on the topic that would end the police’s arbitrary control. The Senate approved the new legislation on December 9, 1926. Senator Vallier described it in these terms: “Previously we did not have clear laws on extraditions in France. This is surprising in a country that has made great efforts to secure individual liberty for more than a century.”

There was a clear need to prevent the police’s arbitrariness and abuse. From then on, the Supreme Court had to authorize extraditions and in each case would conduct an in-depth investigation of the matter, with the participation of the accused, their interpreters, and their lawyers. Furthermore, article 5, section 2 of the law specified that “extradition will not be granted when the crime is political in nature or results from political circumstances of the state soliciting the extradition.” [184]

This law’s only shortcoming for the case that concerns us was that it wasn’t retroactive and therefore would not apply to Durruti and his comrades. Nevertheless, the existence of this legislation was positive and their lawyers could lodge an appeal to make it retroactive.

CHAPTER XVIII. The anti-parliamentarianism of Louis Lecoin

The French Justice Minister was committed to sending the Spaniards to Argentina. In the National Assembly, a deputy asked Barthou if the government would give them to Spain. The minister replied categorically: “To Spain, no.” The contradiction was glaring: Alfonso XIII said that they had killed the Cardinal Archbishop of Zaragoza and robbed the Gijón bank, which French law recognized as political acts. Then why did France recognize crimes of the same nature supposedly committed in Argentina as common law offenses? Why two weights and two measures? As an Argentine worker said in the Crítica newspaper’s survey, France and Argentina were “playing a diplomatic game that will ultimately lead to Argentina shipping Ascaso, Durruti, and Jover to Spain.” But the battle wasn’t over and both Argentine and French workers were determined to do everything in their power to stop Alfonso XIII from garroting the three anarchists.

On January 7, 1927, the Durruti-Ascaso-Jover Asylum Support Committee held an important rally in Paris’s Wagram Hall. When the building opened at 8:00 pm, it was clear that it would be too small to accommodate the large crowd that wanted to enter, despite its capacity for ten thousand people. Many attendees had to stay outside on Wagram Avenue, under the watchful eye of the police assigned to the meeting by the Prefecture of Paris. This rally was the most significant of those organized thus far. The speakers were Victor Basch, for the League of the Rights of Man; Miguel de Unamuno, a Spanish exile; Frossard, editor of the Soir evening newspaper; Savoie, for the CGT; Henri Sellier, a Paris city councilman; Sebastián Faure, representing the Anarcho-Communist Union; and defense lawyers Henry Torres and Henry Berthon.

This rally unanimously endorsed a statement demanding the immediate release of the three Spanish anarchists. All the Parisian papers noted and commented upon the event.

By that time, one hundred deputies had declared their support for Lecoin’s motion insisting that the government free Jover, Ascaso, and Durruti. Additional adhesions had been gathered in the National Assembly by deputies René Richard (Radical-Socialist); Moro-de-Giaferri (Republican-Socialist); Pierre Renaudel (Socialist); Ernest Laffont (Social-Communist), and André Berthon (Communist).

How did the French government respond to the growing movement to liberate these men? Amazingly, Poincaré and his ministers remained firmly committed to handing them over to Argentina. Heavy political pressure must have weighed on Poincaré, who knew that his stance jeopardized his position as Prime Minister.

However, Le Libertaire sensed that something was beginning to break the government’s will and, since you have to strike while the iron is hot, it promptly organized another rally. This one occurred on February 11 in Bullier Hall. The paper wrote: “This impressive demonstration should eliminate the need for a hunger strike, which could have fatal consequences for our three comrades.” [185] Indeed, they also printed a letter from Durruti, Ascaso, and Jover in which they reported their decision to declare such a hunger strike. They said: We’re grateful to all of you, to the organizations, to the newspapers, and those who have supported our defense even if you don’t embrace our ideas. However, we think you’re wasting your time and that the energy you use to support us could be expended more efficiently on other causes. No one except those who take their class hatred to the extreme doubts our right to life. But, for reasons of state, they want to hand us over to Argentina. Although those who made the President of the Republic sign our extradition decree could be disavowed, everything done on our behalf will be in vain when faced with an irresponsible but powerful bureaucracy. We once began a hunger strike and then ended it at your insistence. Now we are going to begin it again and ask that you don’t do anything to break our resolve.

We embrace our fate. Should we be afraid to die? Signed: Ascaso, Durruti, Jover.

Several newspapers reproduced and commented on this letter. They started their hunger strike on February 13.

Three days later the Council of Ministers published a note declaring that it had annulled the decision to extradite the Spaniards and imparted instructions for the law on extraditions approved by the Senate to be submitted to the Chamber of Deputies for a vote as soon as possible. It added that the law would be retroactive.

The French public also began to learn about some of the behind-thescenes, diplomatic maneuvering. Apparently something had not gone well between the Argentine and French governments. Parisian newspapers published a diplomatic communiqué from a French source saying that “the French government had ordered its representative in Buenos Aires to explain to the Argentine government why France might delay the extradition of the anarchists. Argentine authorities expressed some displeasure at the delay in settling a matter that they thought had been resolved. Argentina instructed its man in Paris, Mr. Alvarez de Toledo, to put pressure on the French Foreign Affairs Ministry.” The French government published the following statement in response to the Argentine ambassador’s efforts: “Argentina claims three Spanish anarchists residing in France as perpetrators of common law offenses, such as robbery, murder, and bank robbery. The Argentine government promises to discount all political concerns and not send the anarchists to Spain. The French government, respectful of its obligations, prefers to wait for the vote on the law on extraditions. The goal of that law is to make extradition pass from administrative to judicial control, which will make the Supreme Court the only body capable of authorizing an extradition.” [186]

On February 28, the Chamber of Deputies ratified the law on extraditions without debate. The law was retroactive and thus Ascaso, Durruti, and Jover were ipso facto its beneficiaries. Their case had to be brought before the Supreme Court immediately. This was to occur on March 27, 1927. A few days before the hearing, newspapers reported that police had discovered a plot to free the three Spanish anarchists on March 9. This was clearly a Spanish conspiracy to confuse the public. Jover, Ascaso, and Durruti had requested a revision of the trial and now they were apparently planning an escape, just when their case was going to be reopened with full judicial guarantees. Wasn’t this exactly the type of thing that made the anarchists deserve extradition? Le Libertaire printed an immediate response to the ploy:

Last Friday, the French press announced that police had discovered a plot in which friends of Ascaso, Durruti, and Jover were planning to help them escape.

We can declare without hesitation that no friend of these Spanish anarchists was even remotely mixed up in this supposed conspiracy, which appears to be an attempt to influence the Supreme Court on the eve of Ascaso, Durruti, and Jover’s appearance before it.

Indeed, these three men will appear in that jurisdiction on Tuesday. Their lawyers, Henry Torres, Henry Berthon, and Henry Guernut will defend them.

With this note, we publicly protest against these despicable tactics used at the last moment to impose on the Supreme Court what the “dossier” held by the Argentine government does not support. Signing the communiqué: Durruti-Ascaso-Jover Asylum Support Committee.[187]

Durruti sent a long letter to his family on April 25. He first excused himself for his long silence, which was due to the fact that he still did not know what fate awaited him. His life, he said, was in the hands of the French Minister of Justice. In no way does this letter show his spirit flagging. On the contrary, he was optimistic and tried to reassure his family. His love for his mother was also very clear. To his sister, he said: “Rosa, you not only have to be her daughter, but also her comrade.... I ask all of you to be as supportive as possible, to counteract the pain that I’m causing her against my will.” [188] Two days after Durruti wrote this letter, the French government informed the Argentine ambassador in Paris that Argentina could now take the detainees. Alvarez de Toledo told French authorities that his government had sent a ship, the Bahía Blanca, which would arrive in Le Havre to pick up the prisoners.

According to law, Argentina had four weeks to take possession of the three anarchists, but the extradition would be revoked if it did not do so within the allotted time. That legal period ended on May 27. Would Argentina, its police, and its ruling class deprive themselves of the pleasure of judging and condemning these three men? Impossible. Buenos Aires’s La Antorcha wrote the following, after divulging the news that they would soon be shipped to South America: “Meat to the beasts, those gentlemen leaders of the stultifying French who traffic in human lives.” It described Argentina as “a barbaric country, uncivil, without individual or collective security, exposed to all the abuses and violence from above, which have an easy and immediate hold on it, that is Argentina.... It is an immensely stupid country, without moral conscience, without even the most basic attribute or sense of justice. Here there is only a despicable fear that governs and, even worse, a despicable fear that obeys. We are only assured that there is a cowardly environment, a lying environment, a dissolute environment.”

But the anarchists were not going to give up. “Bring them!” they challenged Alvear’s government. “The Social Prisoner Support Committee is ready to defend the three Spaniards as soon as they set foot on Argentine soil.” [189]

In Paris, Louis Lecoin went from deputy to deputy as he labored to gather the support of a simple majority of the National Assembly in order to make his interpellation, which could not only make the government totter but also fall. He tirelessly collected signatures and even installed himself in the National Assembly so as to do his work more efficiently.

Meanwhile, the days continued passing and the Argentine ship still hadn’t reached French shores. But article 18 of the March 10, 1927 law was categorical: if a month passed and the plaintiff government had not taken custody of its defendants, they had to be freed. And the unimaginable occurred: May 27 came and the promised Argentine steamship was nowhere to be found. According to law, the government had to release Ascaso, Durruti, and Jover, which is exactly what they asserted in a letter to the Justice Minister. Despite this, Barthou continued to hold them in prison and wait for the Argentine vessel.

Why hadn’t the ship from Buenos Aires arrived? According to Osvaldo Bayer, President Alvear took a step back at the last moment. “Agitation for Ascaso, Durruti, and Jover grows continually more intense and joins the campaign for Sacco and Vanzetti. Alvear realizes that when the three Spaniards are lowered onto land it will be another disruptive factor in the already strained environment of 1927. Would it be useful to bring them? Toward what end? Simply to satisfy the police? Alvear is smarter than those Americans who let themselves get stuck in the Sacco and Vanzetti mire and earned the rage of the whole civilized world. Is it worth bringing the three “Galicians” to try them here? No, obviously not. There are already enough problems with Radowitzky in Ushaia. Why give the anarchists a new excuse to throw bombs, hold demonstrations, and declare strikes?” [190]

This analysis makes some of the related events comprehensible, such as the supposed accident that the Bahía Blanca suffered, which prevented it from continuing the trip, and also that Alvear later demanded that French police bring the three anarchists to Buenos Aires. All of these things were too much not to ruin the good intentions of Poincaré and his ministers.

While the Argentine government retreated, Louis Lecoin acquired enough signatures to make his interpellation to the government on July 7, 1927 at 2:00 pm. Poincaré suddenly recovered his political sense and sent his right-hand man, Louis Malvy, to deal with Lecoin two hours before the public debate in the National Assembly was scheduled to begin: “Do you know,” Malvy asked, “that your interpellation could cause Poincaré’s government to collapse? Do you hate him that much?” No, Lecoin didn’t hate Poincaré personally, but politics in general and those who make a profession of it. Why should he care if Poincaré’s government falls? What he wanted—and this is what he told Poincaré’s “terranova”—was freedom for Ascaso, Durruti, and Jover. “So be it!” Malvy said. “Ascaso, Durruti, and Jover will be freed tomorrow.” [191]

The crisis was averted. There was no interpellation that afternoon and the next morning the three Spaniards were released to their comrades and a sizable handful of journalists. The combined action of the Argentine and French workers had made two governments give way and sent a resounding No! to Alfonso XIII and his dictator, Miguel Primo de Rivera.

La Antorcha celebrated the victory in an article that it titled “The Rescue”: “It’s the joy of recovery, the return to action, and the defeat of the reactionaries.”

At 6:00 pm that day Francisco Ascaso had the pleasure of embracing his mother and sister María, who had entered France secretly. Gregorio Jover’s compañera and their two children were also there. They had an improvised dinner that night in a modest third floor apartment on Du Repos Street, next to the Père Lachaise cemetery. Nothing was lacking except Durruti’s mother. Perhaps it was because of her absence that Durruti replied, when a journalist asked him about his next steps: “Now? Now we’re going to continue the struggle with even greater intensity than before.” [192]

CHAPTER XIX. Emilienne, Berthe, and Nestor Makhno

Although the French government freed the three anarchists, it also ruled that they had to leave the country within fifteen days. Where should they go? The Asylum Support Committee frantically began trying to get them an entrance visa for any European country. None of the embassies refused their request outright, but none replied affirmatively either. During the trying wait for a positive response, Durruti, Ascaso, and Jover talked about the possibility of living in some corner of the earth, beyond the law, as they were accustomed. But Gregorio Jover had a family to think about and needed to find a solution that would keep his compañera and two children at his side. He resolved the problem with some false documents, which enabled him to settle in Béziers, where he supported himself as a cabinetmaker. Unemployed, Durruti and Ascaso spent their afternoons in the Anarchist Bookstore, located on Prairies Street in the Menilmontant neighborhood of Paris’s district XX. They became close with two French anarchists there, with whom they later formed free unions. These young women were Emilienne Morin, who became Durruti’s compañera, and Berthe Favert, who began a relationship with Ascaso.

They also met Nestor Makhno during this time. Makhno was a prominent militant among Russian anarchists and a figure of the first order in the revolution that occurred in his country in 1917. His activity in the Ukraine up to August 1921 is deeply troubling for both left and rightwing historians, who typically share a desire to conceal any information relevant to this taboo topic.

In the history of proletarian struggles, Nestor Makhno is perhaps the only anarchist to trigger a revolutionary movement that realized the anarchist vision of a society without political authority. He fought a life and death struggle against the “whites” and the “reds” for four years, while the Ukraine, although immersed in war, lived out a dramatic experiment in libertarian social development.

Beginning with only a handful of men, Makhno built a powerful peasant army that resisted the German invaders who entered the Ukraine after Trotsky signed a peace agreement with Germany. Makhno’s twenty-five thousand man army was the only force fighting for the Russian Revolution in the region from then until the Germans’ defeat in November 1918. After the German invaders were crushed, the Bolsheviks sent the Red Army into the Ukraine and feigned a deal with Makhno agreeing to respect the anti-authoritarian structure of the soviets in the area. But in reality neither Trotsky, the Commissioner of War, nor Lenin, leader of the new Soviet state, would tolerate this anarchist experiment, especially when its successes sharply accentuated the arbitrariness and despotism of Bolshevik rule in Russia. The movement in the Ukraine, and also the one among the Kronstandt sailors, was destined to be the swan song of the Russian Revolution. The Ukrainian denouement began in the final months of 1920 when the Bolshevik government set a trap for a group of leaders from the “makhnovichina.” Using an invitation to participate in a Military Council as a pretext, they were summoned to a specific location and then arrested and executed by the Cheka (Soviet secret police). The Bolsheviks used a similar ploy against the detachments fighting the “Whites” in Crimea. Parallel to these two attacks on the “makhnovichina,” Trotsky sent an army of 150,000 men to crush Makhno’s army in the Ukraine. Makhno’s dual struggle against the Red Army and the “Whites” lasted for nine months. Ultimately, in August 1921, Makhno and a handful of his comrades had to abandon the struggle and fled to Romania, where they were imprisoned. After escaping from Romania, Makhno went to Poland, where he was tried but absolved. Thanks to the efforts of Rudolf Rocker, Voline, and Emma Goldman, he was able to enter Germany in 1924. He finally settled in Paris in 1925.

Exile for a man of action like Makhno was death. He was only thirty-five, but already exhausted by war and the multiple injuries he had suffered. His most painful wound was the defeat of the movement that he led and also the endless torrent of lies poured upon him and the Ukraine by the Bolsheviks. This, as well as his authentically Russian character, made it difficult for him to adapt to France and its customs.

Makhno had heard talk of Durruti and Ascaso and their adventures and had followed their trial in Paris. When he learned that they wanted to meet him, he agreed to receive them in the modest hotel room he shared with his daughter and compañera. As soon as the three men were face-to-face, Durruti said:

“In your person, we come to greet all the Russian revolutionaries who fought to realize our libertarian ideas and to pay homage to your struggle in the Ukraine, which has meant so much to all of us.” Durruti’s words [Ascaso wrote later] had a profound effect on the despondent warrior. The small but burly man seemed to feel revived. The penetrating stare of his oblique eyes demonstrated there was still a vigorous spirit hidden in his sick body. “Conditions are better in Spain than in Russia,” Makhno said, “for carrying out a revolution with a strong anarchist content, given that there is a peasantry and proletariat with a great revolutionary tradition. Perhaps your revolution will arrive early enough for me to have the pleasure of seeing a living anarchism inspired by the Russian Revolution! You have a sense of organization in Spain that our movement lacked; organization is the foundation of the revolution. That’s why I not only admire the Iberian anarchist movement but also think that it’s the only one presently capable of making a deeper revolution than the Bolsheviks’ while also avoiding the bureaucratism that threatened theirs from the outset. But you have to work hard to preserve that sense of organization and don’t let those who think that anarchism is a theory closed to life destroy it. Anarchism is neither sectarian nor dogmatic. It’s theory in action. It doesn’t have a pre-determined worldview. It’s a fact that anarchism is manifest historically in all of man’s attitudes, individually or collectively. It’s a force in the march of history itself: the force that pushes it forward.”

The conversation was tiring for Makhno, particularly because of the language difficulties. His friend Dowinsky provided a simultaneous translation, but he still lost the thread of his thoughts. He did his best to follow the exchange and scrutinized the Spaniards’ faces to see how they responded to his comments.

Over the course of several hours, Makhno shared details of the struggle in the Ukraine with Durruti and Ascaso. He spoke about the nuances of their communal experiences and the nature of the soviets in that libertarian region during his years of activity. He said:

Our agrarian commune in the Ukraine was active, in the economic as much as political terrain, and within the federal and mutually supportive system that we’d created. There was no personal egoism in the communes; they relied on solidarity, at the local as well as regional level. Our successes made it clear that there were different solutions to the peasant problem than those imposed by the Bolsheviks. There wouldn’t have been the tragic divide between the countryside and city if the rest of the country had practiced our methods. We would have saved the Russian people years of hunger and prevented the pointless conflicts between workers and peasants. And, most importantly, the revolution would have taken a different route. Critics say that our system was unsustainable and couldn’t grow because of its peasant and artisanal base. That’s not true. Our communes were mixed—agricultural and industrial—and some were even specifically industrial. But it was something else that made our system strong: the revolutionary participation and enthusiasm of everyone, which made sure that a new bureaucracy didn’t emerge. We were all fighters and workers at the same time. In the communes, the assembly was the body that resolved problems and, in military affairs, it was the war committee, in which all the units were represented. What was most important to us was that everyone shared in the collective work: that was a way to stop a ruling caste from monopolizing power. That’s how we united theory and practice. And it’s because we showed that the Bolsheviks’ tactics were unnecessary that Trotsky and Lenin sent the Red Army to fight us. Bolshevism triumphed in the Ukraine and Kronstandt militarily, but history will vindicate us one day and condemn the gravediggers of the Russian Revolution.

Makhno seemed particularly fatigued when discussing events that were painful for him. At one point, he sighed and exclaimed: “I hope that you’ll do better than us when the time comes.” When he said goodbye to the two Spaniards, he said: “Makhno has never refused a fight; if I’m still alive when your revolution begins, I’ll be one fighter among many.” [193]

The time allocated by French authorities was now exhausted and police took Durruti and Ascaso to the Belgian border on July 23, 1927. This was the beginning of a legal comedy that the two men had to endure in all its tiresome development.

When the French police brought the Spaniards to the border, the Belgians refused to admit the “dangerous anarchists” to their country. The police then took Ascaso and Durruti to a French border post and patiently waited for night to fall. Under the cover of darkness, they smuggled the undesirables into Belgium. This is how they ended up in Brussels. A Belgian anarchist named Hem Day received them and put them up in a painting workshop. He had hopes that the government would grant them political asylum. The last week of July passed slowly, while they anxiously waited for their uncertain legal situation to end. It was in late August when Durruti and Ascaso learned of the sad conclusion to the Sacco and Vanzetti affair.

Nothing had deterred the authorities in the United States. The international proletariat rose up in acts of solidarity with the Italian anarchists during the three days preceding their execution, but everything was in vain. They were killed by electric chair in the first minutes of the first hour of August 23, 1927. Nicola Sacco was killed at nineteen minutes and Bartolomé Vanzetti at the twenty-sixth minute. These two men had captured world attention for six years and now remain in history as examples of revolutionary defiance and rectitude.

Ascaso and Durruti were not the type of militants to curtail their radicalism and ask for clemency from a victor after losing a battle. They had never denied their intention to free the Spanish people of Alfonso XIII nor had they asked the French government for mercy or otherwise repented their goals. All they demanded was that the government applies its own laws. Nothing more. And matters were clear, extremely clear, in the case of Sacco and Vanzetti: the dominant class was causing a social war by killing the two men. As far as they were concerned, it would be “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” Severino di Giovanni certainly felt this way: he launched dynamite attacks against Yankee capitalist interests in Argentina.

While Durruti and Ascaso reflected on the turn that their lives had taken, in hopes of extracting something positive, the Belgian police surprised them one day in late August. The police didn’t bother to arrest them for entering the country illegally. Instead, imitating their French colleagues, they brought them to the closest border and forced them back into France. French police were soon alerted to their presence, surely by the Belgians. They immediately searched the homes of all French or Spanish anarchists likely to give them shelter.

Durruti and Ascaso considered living in Paris clandestinely, but the constant risk of arrest made life unbearable there. And if the police detained them again, they could ship them directly and secretly to Spain. What to do? The provisional solution came from someone who found them refuge in Joigny, a small town in the department of Yonne, where a militant pacifist named Emile Bouchet lived. She took them in without hesitation. Bouchet later commented:

I accepted the duty of saving these two Spanish militants who were cornered by the French police. I hid them in my house, where they lived for two months, sharing in our labors and joys.

We were warned on numerous occasions and the gendarmes investigated. They had information about the presence of the two Spaniards in my home. I was able to confuse them several times, but they weren’t convinced. The situation was starting to become dangerous for all of us.

One day I was driving them in a car, with Ascaso and Durruti in back and me at the wheel, and had to stop to attend to an urgent matter at my notary’s office. While leaving his office I had the unpleasant surprise of seeing the captain of the gendarmes standing next to the car. Controlling my concern, I walked toward him and greeted him. He returned my greeting and asked me if I had seen the individuals about whom he had inquired the previous day. I told him that they had returned to my house shortly after he had left and that I’d advised them to go to the Gendarmerie to regularize their work permits. Then I asked:

“Have they come by?”

“No,” he responded, staring at me.

“That’s strange,” I said. “They assured me that they’d do so, but I haven’t seen them since.”

“Yes, it is strange. We’re going to investigate this more thoroughly,” he replied. He shook my hand and walked away looking pensive.

I jumped in the car, took the wheel, and pulled out quickly. We drove past the captain, who was still walking along, perplexed. I looked back and saw my two friends smiling. Ascaso, shaking his right hand, made me understand that they had escaped a close one.

They had tried to stay calm during the conversation that took place two meters from them, but were ready to attack the captain or escape if it occurred to him that the two individuals that he was looking for were the two sitting in the car.

This last incident obliged them to leave my house. At night I took them to a secure location and from there they went Paris.[194]

Paris was no better this time around: life was simply untenable for them there. (The recently formed Revolutionary Alliance Committee [195] advised them to go to Lyon. The Solidarios had joined this Committee to participate in an insurrectional project that was going to extend across Spain and Italy.) The Committee said they would be more useful to the revolutionary efforts there.

CHAPTER XX. Lyon, and in prison again

Even though Lyon was a large city, police control was so lax there that it was hardly evident when Durruti and Ascaso arrived in early November 1927. Using false identity papers, it wouldn’t be hard for Durruti and his friend to find work and live tranquilly while waiting for the right moment to return to Spain. They would simply have to avoid hotels and be cautious. They found housing, work, a discreet daily routine, but not tranquility. These men of action, restless by temperament, could not sit on the sidelines and passively watch the days go by. They began to inform themselves about the state of the exiled anarchist movement in France and also about the movement’s development in Spain. During the fifteen days they spent in Paris after their release from prison, they found out about the underground conference held in Valencia on July 24 and 25. They also learned that participants at the event had forged the statutes of the Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI), thereby uniting all the activities of anarchist groups throughout the peninsula. Spanish speaking anarchist groups in France played an important role in the creation of the FAI. A first step in that direction occurred when a national anarchist conference held in April 1925 in Barcelona entrusted activists in France with the difficult mission of coordinating anarchist activities inside Spain from abroad.

The militants who created the FAI also formed its Peninsular Committee—which was made up by Spanish and Portuguese anarchists—and decided that the organization’s base would be in Sevilla. The FAI simply built upon and revitalized the patterns of anarchist organization that had existed in Spain since organized anarchism first made its presence felt in the country: the affinity group was the basic unit, which linked with other groups for the purposes of collective action. What was new was the formation of Regional Commissions of Anarchist Relations; entities that coordinated the activities of all the groups in a geographic area. These Regional Commissions appointed members to the Peninsular Committee, which in turn selected the FAI’s secretary. The secretary’s role was to maintain contact with anarchist groups throughout the peninsula and the world between the organizational meetings.

Why had the Iberian anarchists created a specifically anarchist organization? There were several reasons for this, but ultimately it reflected the original sin of the Spanish anarchist movement, which was a product of the Alliance for Social Democracy. The Alliance had been formed in Spain under the inspiration of Michael Bakunin. Its purpose was to protect the First International against state harassment and also ensure that it did not descend into a species of corporate syndicalism that simply fought to improve the workers’ material circumstances. It advocated an unambiguously revolutionary struggle against capitalism and the state. This has always been the stance of the anarchists within the workers’ movement, who were direct heirs of the International.

In the early period from 1869 to 1872, the Alliance for Social Democracy and the International’s Spanish Regional Federation were interpenetrated with one another, but they were two distinct bodies. Although Bakunin had warned Spanish Alliance members about the problems that this could cause, the pattern had already been established. Thus, the existence of a separate anarchist group undermined Bakunin’s hopes of making the International in Spain fully anarchist, even though anarchists would always have a powerful influence on workers’ groups.

This is how the labor movement unfolded, with the CNT inspired by the anarchists, who maintained independent groups and carried out specifically anarchist activities on the theoretical and practical realms. And they would have continued in this way, if not for the phenomenal development of the CNT and all the unique problems that such growth presented to the workers’ movement.

It wasn’t possible to clarify the complicated relationship between the anarchist and workers’ movements during the period of violent strikes and bourgeois pistolerismo (from 1919 to 1923), but this changed when the movements entered a period of relative calm after the establishment of Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship in September 1923. The CNT then had to face a new problem: should it submit to the new government’s labor legislation (which presumed that the CNT would stop using direct action)? Or should it go underground (which entailed the loss of broad contact with the workers)? In addition to this issue, which was difficult enough on its own, there was another one that was no less significant: exactly how should they fight the dictatorship? The government could crush the CNT and the anarchists if they stood aloof from the other oppositional forces and of course that they could not overthrow the dictatorship alone.

Everything suggested that the CNT form an alliance with the other groups fighting the dictatorship. Those forces were democratic-bourgeois and reformist—even the Socialists and the UGT had officially adapted to Primo de Rivera’s regime—and collaborating with them implied a common political platform. In other words, it implied a political compromise. The CNT could potentially extract some practical benefits for the workers with such a strategy, but it would also mean the integration of the CNT into the government that would emerge after the dictatorship fell or, more likely, the CNT helping to destroy the dictatorship and put the reformists in power. Either alternative would disfigure the CNT and tie it directly the state. What really limited the CNT’s room to maneuver was its commitment to libertarian communism, its opposition to government mediation of labor struggles, and its rejection of the state. If the CNT abandoned its anarchism, then it would be free to form alliances with political parties and could push the government to approve laws that might offer material benefits to the proletariat. It was a stark dilemma; so much so that two different attempts to respond to these questions emerged after the military coup. Angel Pestaña and later Juan Peiró inspired one of the responses (their arguments differed, but their goals were the same). They asserted that the CNT should discard its anarchism, since that was the obstacle. That position took the name “professionalization of the unions” which meant, concretely, making them neutral in the class struggle. Pestaña hoped to resolve political issues with the socalled “associations of militants,” embryos or cells of the Anarchist Party. This is would be his response to the anarchist-labor movement duality. Peiró’s reply was less clear, but he essentially sought the same thing as Pestaña. Peiró began from an analysis of the class struggle and took the economic evolution of capitalism as a premise. Capitalists concentrated themselves and established the foundations of what we now call multinational capitalism through their monopolistic trusts and cartels. To fight capitalism effectively, the CNT should use this process as a model and organize itself in the same way, which is to say, by federations of industry at the local, regional, and national levels. It would create two governing bodies at the national level: one would be the National Committee of the National Committees of industries and, the other, a National Council of the Economy, with its respective sections, including the important one of statistics. In addition to the usual bureaucracy, this structure implied CNT’s acceptance of state legislation. Peiró did not speculate about the political representation of the CNT, because he assumed that it would have a political impact derived from its growing strength in the economic realm. Thus, while Pestaña and Peiró disagreed on some details, they coincided in their attempt to erase the anarchist content from the CNT.

How did the anarchists respond? There were also differences in the anarchist replies, although they too agreed in the final analysis. Some favored ending the anarchist-labor movement divide by making anarchism dominant, using the Argentina’s FORA (of the Fifth Congress) as a paradigm. Others focused on what was called the “link” (as it was universally known at the time) between the CNT and the anarchists. They believed that the division of activist tasks that it reflected—between union activists on the one hand and proselytizers on the other—was the best alternative. In any case, both tendencies wanted to maintain the anarchist influence in the workers’ movement.

There was also a third position, which Los Solidarios supported (although, for the time being, it is better that we speak only of Durruti and Ascaso). They began from the historical reality that Spain had only experienced a relative and unequal industrialization and that, as a result, the proletariat and peasantry had equal importance in its class struggle. The country had a population of twenty-five million, an active labor force of nine million, and a total of five million peasants. But the Spanish peasantry was different from the peasantry in other European countries, where agrarian reform had created a peasant middle class. There had been no agrarian reform in Spain. Latifundismo still existed in large parts of Andalusia and Castilla and there was a mini-latifundismo in other regions. As a consequence, there was a proletarianized peasantry with deep connections to the social struggles of the urban proletariat and that had expressed its adherence to libertarian communism or “instinctive socialism,” as Díaz del Moral termed it in his study of Andalusian peasant unrest.

If there was endless conflict between the peasantry and the aristocraticlandowner class in the countryside, in the industrial and mining zones the proletariat had to fight an anachronistic bourgeoisie—that was wedded to the dominant monarchical caste—or against the world capitalists who had asserted themselves in the country’s key industries. The class struggle appeared everywhere, in its most brutal and revolutionary form. The peasantry and the proletariat were equally desperate, in a country where the boundaries between the poor and rich were clear and precise.

And the state? What was its political foundation? The historical formation of the Spanish state rendered it into an unstable institution that could not rely on any type of national consensus. In fact, such a unified nation did not exist: instead, there were multiple regions that pushed toward federalist decentralism if not outright independence.

Ascaso and Durruti felt that it was their task, as anarchist revolutionaries, to exasperate the regime’s contradictions while simultaneously cultivating the revolutionary potential of the proletariat. That was their goal in their daily efforts to trigger the revolution. Regarding the anarchist’s role, they believed that their mission was to work among the masses and encourage their revolutionary consciousness. The CNT, inspired by the anarchists, was a propitious field for such an undertaking, as were the Socialist workers’ circles. But Ascaso and Durruti also knew that anarchists could not limit themselves to fighting for the material betterment of the workers and had to remain perpetually focused on their long-term revolutionary goals. Some of the more orthodox anarchists charged Durruti and Ascaso with anarcho-Bolshevism, but the accusation was unmerited, given their soundly anti-bureaucratic conception of the revolution and also their daily practice.

All of these questions were the order of the day in the activist meetings when our friends arrived in Lyon. It seemed as though the future of the revolution depended on the relations between the CNT and the anarchists. Discussions of these problems were particularly heated, in part, because of the inactivity imposed upon these exiles—who were so far from the scene of the action—and also due to the repression against exiled Spanish anarchists after the failed attack on Alfonso XIII.

To encourage activity among the exiled Spaniards, a group of anarchists advanced the idea of creating CNT sections in France in April 1928. But, since these CNT sections could not undertake public action in the country, they would work through the anarcho-syndicalist Confédération générale du travail-syndicaliste révolutionnaire (CGT-SR). Ascaso and Durruti believed that this distorted the subversive potential of the exiled Spanish anarchists and argued, first in Lyon and later at a meeting in Paris, that it was a way of dodging the anarchist movement’s fundamental problems. They asserted that there was no justification for creating CNT sections in exile, particularly because they couldn’t make demands for salary increases or undertake other activities that might improve workers’ circumstances. What was important, they said, was to continue revolutionary efforts oriented toward Spain, while also working with other exiled anarchists, particularly the Italians. While Durruti and Ascaso articulated this position in Lyon, Joaquín Cortés arrived in Paris after being expelled from Argentina for seditious activities. Ascaso and Durruti were close to Cortés, and had been active in the workers’ movement with him when they were in Buenos Aires. Ricardo Sanz and García Vivancos had also recently come to Paris (from Spain). After exchanging letters with all of them, Ascaso and Durruti decided that they should talk collectively and traveled to Paris in January 1928 for that purpose.

Ricardo Sanz’s reports from Spain were not very encouraging. Pestaña and Peiró had started a debate about the CNT’s future and the anarchist press ( Acción Social Obrera in Sant Feliú de Guíxols [Gerona] and El Despertar in Vigo) oozed with the effects of the polemic. Every meeting seemed to revolve exclusively around the topic, as two conflicted tendencies took shape and partisans forgot that such disputes had already divided the Valencia comrades. To top it off, various political figures were also launching idiosyncratic and futile conspiracies against the regime.

Cortés told them that the campaign for Radowitzky was the priority in Argentina. The FORA was recovering from its old splits and hoped to become the principle workers’ organization in the country. It had around 100,000 members, an extraordinary number given that the FORA focused more on spreading anarchist ideas than recruiting. But Cortés also pointed out that the comrades there seemed unaware of the growing threat of a fascist coup d’etat, which could lead to a bloody crackdown on the movement. Unfortunately Cortés was prescient: on September 6, 1930, General Uriburu carried out the augured coup and violently suppressed the workers’ movement and its leading cadres. He was especially merciless with the combative anarchists.

To all this, Cortés said, one can add the cycle of open violence that erupted in Argentina after the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti. The vicious conflicts between the anarchists of action and those more inclined toward theory did not presage anything good. The figures that polarized this debate were di Giovanni, that blond youth who published Culmine, and Diego Abad de Santillán, who thought all insurrectionalists were nothing more than “anarcho-bandits.”

There was also another matter that brought Durruti and Ascaso to Paris: a meeting called by the Spanish speaking Anarchist Groups in France. Bruno Carreras had represented those exiled in France at the CNT’s national meeting in Barcelona that month and was scheduled to report on the situation in Spain.

Carreras spoke about how difficult it was for the CNT to hold itself together while underground. He also discussed the “link” between the CNT and the anarchists, which ensured the CNT’s independence from the state and the anarchist’s continued influence in the labor movement. “In France,” Carreras said, “we really don’t have that problem, but we should create CNT sections. To study this question, the National Federation of Spanish speaking Anarchist Groups in France has called a meeting in Lyon on February 19.” Carreras asked those present (approximately thirty) for a written statement pledging that they would attend the gathering. There was strong opposition to this proposal; many did not think that the CNT had any role to play in France. Carreras’s principal argument was that many Spaniards exiled in France did not want to be active in the anarchist groups but did want to work with CNT; that sizable group could ultimately be recruited into the anarchist movement. Cortés in a lively way and then Ascaso more calmly refuted Carreras and lined up on the side of the opponents. [196]

The meeting of anarchist groups took place in Lyon as announced and, according to the summary published by Prisma magazine, there was a hearty debate about the role of the CNT in France. We can be quite certain that neither Durruti nor Ascaso participated in the meeting, given the position that they articulated in Paris (and none of the groups listed in the report of the meeting had any connection with them).

Police arrested Ascaso and Durruti shortly afterwards. This time there was no scandal. They were sentenced to six months in prison for infractions of the laws on foreigners. They entered prison in April 1928 and left in early October with the same problem as always; exiled from both Spain and France and without any country willing to give them an entrance visa. [197]

CHAPTER XXI. Clandestine in Europe

While Durruti and Ascaso were imprisoned in Lyon, the Asylum Support Committee inquired at various embassies and consulates in Paris about the possibility of getting them an entrance visa. “Our country cannot give asylum to dangerous anarchists,” was the most common response. There was some hope in the fact that the Soviet Union had replied positively to their query the previous year,[198] but neither Ascaso nor Durruti were very enthusiastic about the idea of going to the USSR and all their comrades, including Makhno, warned them against such a move. Thus, the two didn’t know where to go when they were released, although they did need to leave France immediately. They concluded that perhaps they could hide out in some Central European country once they possessed of Soviet passports.

They went to the Soviet Consulate as soon as they arrived in Brussels to pursue the matter of the Russian entrance visa. The consulate staff told them that they had indeed received a visa but needed fill out the necessary paperwork in Paris, since that was where they had made the application. Once they did that, they would receive the passports. Ascaso and Durruti explained that they were barred from entering France and faced months in prison if they were arrested there again. The Soviet functionaries were unmoved. What could they do? They decided to secretly go to the Soviet Consulate in Paris, although when they arrived, they were told that they had to go to the embassy, not the consulate, to carry out the requisite procedures. At the embassy they had to answer a series of questions in which they were pressed to explain why they wanted to go to Russia and what they intended to do there. Then they had to fill out forms asking them to pledge their commitment to defending the Soviet Union, that they would not participate in any activities that might damage it, and to acknowledge that the Soviet state was the authentic expression of the popular will. They decided that these requests were intolerable and, as a result, their last chance to live legally in a country disappeared.[199]

Germany was the only nation in Europe where the anarchist movement possessed a certain organized strength at the time and thus to Germany they went. They arrived in Berlin at the end of October 1928.

Orobón Fernández had provided them with Agustín Souchy’s address. Forewarned, Souchy took the two anarchists into his home and set out to regularize their situation as foreigners. He spoke with Rudolf Rocker, a distinguished German anarchist who enjoyed great prestige in some intellectual and political circles thanks his prominence in the workers’ movement and his theoretical accomplishments. In order to prevent a disaster—since Germany was not France—they agreed to keep the two Spaniards’ presence a secret and lodge them in a comrade’s home in the suburbs of Berlin.

Rudolf Rocker discussed the two Spaniards’ situation with the libertarian poet Erich Muhsam and both decided that they should to speak with an old comrade by the name of Paul Kampfmeyer. Although Kampfmeyer had grown distant from the anarchist movement over the years and joined the Social Democratic Party, he continued to be good friends with some of the most renowned anarchists. Thanks to the fact that he held a position in the government, he had also been able to help them resolve several tricky bureaucratic problems in the past. For example, Kampfmeyer provided invaluable aid when Nestor Makhno and Emma Goldman were leaving Russia.

They explained Durruti and Ascaso’s case to him and asked if he could help them get residency permits for the two men. “He promised to do his best,” Rocker wrote, “but said that we had to give him some time.” Meanwhile, they planned some activities and tried to make the stressful wait as bearable as possible for the Spaniards. Rocker elaborates:

We often took the exiles to the city at nightfall and spent the evening with them in our home, or perhaps Agustín Souchy’s or Erich Muhsam’s. The police weren’t too worried about foreigners in Berlin then, so we could risk activities that would have been impossible under the Empire. Foreigners were generally left in peace, if there wasn’t a direct complaint against them or pressures from foreign governments. That might have been the case with Durruti and Ascaso, but their situation was particularly dangerous and so we thought it best to try to authorize their residency legally. After a period of fifteen days, Kampfmeyer told me that he could not take another step in the matter. The Prussian Government was then in the hands of a coalition of Social Democrats, Democrats, and the Center Catholic Party, and although the Social Democrats were the strongest party and held the most important ministerial positions, they had to demonstrate their flexibility in order to avoid a governmental crisis and not endanger their position in the Reich. With respect to Durruti and Ascaso, the central problem was that they had killed the arch-reactionary Cardinal Soldevila in Zaragoza. Soldevila was one of the most rabid enemies of the Spanish workers’ movement and had funded the pistoleros, who were responsible for killing many of our best comrades.

“I could have done something for them if they’d murdered the King of Spain,” Kampfmeyer told me, “but the Center Catholic Party will never forgive the death of one of the Church’s highest dignitaries. There’s no way that the government will give them asylum.”

The situation was desperate. If Ascaso and Durruti somehow fell into the police’s hands, they would be shipped to Spain immediately. Rudolf Rocker didn’t want them to have false hopes, so he updated them on the matter:

When Souchy and I explained the situation and asked them what they thought we should do, they reflected for a moment and then said that perhaps they should go to Mexico. Of course they couldn’t live there under their own names, but it would be easier to pass unnoticed and find work in a country where they spoke the language. We decided that this was the best option. They would first have to enter Belgium secretly, where trusted comrades would get them the necessary documents, and then they would set sail for Mexico in Antwerp.

For our part, we had to raise the money to cover the costs of the trip, which were by no means insignificant. We didn’t tell them anything about this, given that they would not have accepted such a sacrifice. The movement (FSA-German Anarchist Unions) demanded huge outlays from each of us then, as we were in the midst of constant industrial struggles and also in a period of latent economic crisis.

But we had to get the money as soon as possible. I spoke with Muhsam about the issue and he suggested that we visit the well-known actor Alexander Granach, who might be able to help out. I explained the object of our visit [to Granach], without giving him any real details.

“You’ve come at a good time,” he said, almost shouting. “Here’s what I earned this morning!” And he took three or four hundred marks out of his pocket and threw them on the table. We really hadn’t expected so much and were extremely pleased. This was an auspicious beginning! The good Granach never knew who he helped with his money. All he needed to know was that we required his help for a good cause. The rest wasn’t his concern. They finally raised the money necessary to finance the trip and the two Spaniards took off for Belgium. Rocker writes: After a long time without hearing anything from Durruti and Ascaso, we suddenly received a letter from them out of the blue. They returned the greater part of the money that we’d given them and told us that they had decided against going to Mexico. They had resolved to return to Spain as soon as possible. As for the money, they held onto only what they needed to cover the costs of the trip to their country.[200]

The Belgium that Ascaso and Durruti found in early 1929 had more relaxed policies on foreigners, which made Hem Day think that it might be possible to regularize the residency status of these two “fearsome Spaniards.” It turned out that the Belgian police agreed to their request, but only if Ascaso and Durruti changed their names. This astounded our perennial “illegalists.” Ascaso later exclaimed: “What happened in Belgium was the strangest thing that happened to me in my entire life!”[201]

Durruti and Ascaso had countless friends there. That, plus the ease of gaining residency and the encouraging news from Spain, made them completely rule out moving to Mexico.

Liberto Callejas describes the environment in Brussels at the time:

The Casa del Pueblo was near the end of Route Haute Street. This was home for the political refugees and the socialist workers of the country. Vandervelde, after finishing his ministerial chores, would occupy a table in the large parlor-restaurant and leisurely have coffee with cake.[202] All the comrades gathered there to conspire, write, and struggle against Spain’s dictatorial regime, symbolized by the hated figure of General Primo de Rivera. The first outlines of the “conspiracy of Garraf ” were drawn up in a corner of the Casa del Pueblo. The anarchist weekly Tiempos Nuevos was produced there. Francisco Ascaso and two other exiles painted the building’s exterior. His brother Domingo sold handkerchiefs and stationary. Durruti found a job as a metalworker. I was a sawyer in a cork and dishwasher factory in the hotel where Francesc Macià stayed. Salvador Ocaña built tables and wardrobes. Each one did what he could in that almost provincial environment.[203]

For his part, Leo Campion wrote the following:

I got know Ascaso before Durruti. We worked in the same automobile parts workshop. When we first met we spoke about social issues and, within a few minutes, he told me: “No man has the right to govern another man.” With that declaration, we discovered that we had friends in common. Those who lived in Brussels in 1930 will remember the large number of Spanish and Italian refugees, especially the Spaniards. They will also recall the refuge they found at Hem Day’s “Mont des Arts” bookstore, which was a center of permanent conspiracy against all established orders. There were two residents of the first floor: the Barasco firm and Leo Campion. The Barasco firm made articles for “hawkers” and sold them without intermediaries. The factory occupied one room, which also functioned as a living room, smoking room, dinning room, kitchen, and bedroom or, more accurately, bedrooms, considering the endless number of lodgers. At least a half dozen leaseholders responded to the name Barasco, including Ascaso and Durruti.[204]

Ida Mett completes the picture for us:

When Durruti and Ascaso arrived, Belgium, like the rest of Europe, was suffering the effects of the world economic crisis. But conditions were worse there than in France. It was extraordinarily difficult for a Belgian to find work and, needless to say, nearly impossible for a foreigner, especially Ascaso, who didn’t have a trade. Like so many other foreign political refugees at the time, Ascaso got a job as a painter in construction. As always, the professionals initiated the new ones and when someone found work he told the others.

Despite the difficulty getting a job—something worth holding onto once you had it—Ascaso didn’t make concessions to the foremen or bosses, which meant that he immediately lost the hard-to-find positions. I later worked in a factory in which Ascaso had been employed for a short time. It was a subsidiary of a French small mechanics firm.... The customs were so archaic—paternalism, non-unionized workers, and tremendous fear of the management and owners—that comrades could barely work there for more than a few days. That was the case with Ascaso and an anti-fascist doctor comrade. After the manager fired me, the first thing he did was mention Ascaso and the doctor. He acknowledged that our demands were just but said that agreeing to them would only encourage the other employees to rebel.

One of Ascaso’s qualities was an absolute inability to yield to authority. Although police were constantly watching him, he came to all our meetings and rallies and, without speaking to the group, always participated actively in the work.

Ascaso belonged to that advanced sector of the proletariat of the time (the Spanish proletariat, in particular) that actively cultivated its hatred for the bourgeoisie. Destroying the bourgeoisie was the essence of their very lives. They didn’t know what would emerge after the revolution, but that was the least of their concerns; the important thing was the character of the struggle, because that was what gave meaning to their existences. During that period, I met other political refugees who, like Ascaso, endured the material and legal difficulties of their lives without complaint. Such hardships seemed inherent in being a revolutionary to them. Even death in the struggle felt “natural,” something in keeping with the style of life that they had freely chosen.

To speak of Ascaso is also to speak of Durruti. The two names were always pronounced together. And yet what a difference between the two! Not only in their physical aspects, but also in their temperaments. While Ascaso looked typically Spanish, that was not the case with Durruti. He was big, strong, and had green eyes. He was also an excellent mechanic and even found work in a Belgium shaken by the economic crisis. I remember that he once saw a strange “help wanted” ad in a newspaper after he had been out of work for a while. He and several unemployed Belgian mechanics went to the factory together. The manager subjected them to a professional test and it turned out that Durruti scored the best marks. The manager then asked his nationality. Durruti told him that he was a mechanic. The manager, thinking that he was a foreigner and probably hadn’t understood the question, stated it once more. Durruti’s reply was the same. This time the manager asked it more slowly. Durruti’s response was: “I believe you’re looking for a mechanic. I’m a mechanic.” The manager realized that Durruti was mocking him and, with that, the possibility of getting this job came to an end.[205]

These statements offer an image of daily life in Brussels at the time, but the atmosphere was not quite as peaceful as Liberto Callejas suggests. The police followed all the prominent refugees step by step and were always ready to intervene (just slightly less brutally than the French). On December 26, 1929, Madrid’s Informaciones reprinted information from L’Indépendance Belge that made it clear that police were stilling watching the anarchists closely:

The Rumored Plot Against Belgium’s Royal Couple

L’Indépendance Belge reports that police knew that the militant anarchist Camilo Berneri had been in Belgium for some time. It also says that they had carried out surveillance of anarchists thought to be in contact with him, principally of an anarchist from Douai, whose name still hasn’t been released.

This matter has been kept in the greatest confidence, but it has been revealed that Prime Minister Jaspar, Justice Minister Janson, and Defense Minister Broqueville have received letters threatening violence against the Royal Family if they consent to the marriage of Princess María José and Italian Prince Umberto of Piedmont. Authorities assert that these letters came from Berneri and gave strict orders to arrest the Italian anarchist at all cost. Italian police are also aware of this planned attack against the Belgian Royal couple.

L’Indépendance Belge says that the regicides intended to take the train leaving Brussels immediately after the Italian royal train left at 10:00 pm on January 3. The royal train was going to follow a special schedule, so as to not arrive in Rome until the morning of Sunday, January 5. The train on which the anarchists intended to travel would catch up to it en route and their plan was to throw several bombs at it while they passed it in Milan. Ascaso and Durruti, two Spanish anarchists who allegedly killed the Archbishop of Zaragoza, have been implicated in the conspiracy.

And later, under the headline “Berneri Was Carrying Four Portraits In His Pocket When Arrested,” it says:

When he was arrested he was carrying four portraits of the Italian Minister of Justice in his pocket, whom they were attempting to assassinate. These portraits were doubtlessly destined for his accomplices, who are thought to be Ascaso and Durruti and the Dutch anarchist Maurice Stevens. Police state that Berneri paid 428 franks to purchase a high caliber pistol from a well-known gun manufacturer in Brussels.

The second arrest, about which great reserve has been maintained, was carried out at the same time as Berneri’s. The detainee’s name is Pascuale Rusconi and he lives in Lacken, under the protection of a Socialist politician from Brussels who is a strong supporter of the theory of violence. The politician had intervened to prevent the government from expelling him once before. Police also found a pistol in Rusconi’s residence.

L’Indépendance Belge adds that Mr. Rocco, the Italian minister of Justice, canceled his trip to Brussels due to the discovery of this plot.

The same newspaper printed other news related to the plot:

On the basis of official reports, the Belgian news agency says that there was not a plan to attack their majesties. Police arrested the two Italians for carrying false passports.

And:

Berneri Has Been Released . Officials deny that the two Italians participated in a plot against the Belgian Royal family.

Berneri has been freed. He told police that a member of the anti-fascist group in Paris had come to Belgium to organize plots that were to be executed in Italy. He carried a false passport.

The above makes it clear that Mussolini’s agents—who worked closely with Primo de Rivera’s government—were trying to undermine the anti-fascist movement. Camilo Berneri played an important role in that movement and, to justify persecuting him (while also implicating Durruti and Ascaso), they invented the “plot against Belgian’s royal couple.” On the other hand, the press also noted the unsuccessful attempt to kill the Italian Minister of Justice, which probably wasn’t a fabrication. It would not be strange to find Berneri, Ascaso, and Durruti working together, given that the three had previously attempted to organize a rebellion that would reach across Spain, Italy, and Portugal.

While Spanish refugees in Belgium had their sights set on Spain, it was becoming increasingly clear that the monarchy would soon collapse. Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship sank into discredit, financial scandals proliferated, and international capitalists brazenly exploited the national wealth. Everyone—except Alfonso XIII—knew that when Primo de Rivera fell, the monarchy would be swept away with him.

CHAPTER XXII. The fall of Primo de Rivera

The only thing revealed by Ascaso and Durruti’s interrogation and Camilo Berneri’s arrest was Mussolini’s obsession with inventing conspiracies and assassination plots. Perhaps the Italian dictator was yearning for those that he couldn’t carry out when he was active in Socialist ranks and tried to pass for a “professional revolutionary” in Switzerland.

Authorities verified the links between Durruti, Ascaso, and Berneri and then deported the latter for entering the country with a false passport. However, they did not expel Ascaso or Durruti, which suggests that members of the Belgian Socialist Party had made efforts on their behalf or that the government simply dismissed the matter as an Italian concern. Both things were probably true, although what is important is that police didn’t bother Ascaso or Durruti any further and that our friends were able to continue their activities in Brussels.

Ascaso and Durruti were always at the center of subversive campaigns. For example, in Brussels, they and exiled Catalanist Colonel Francesc Macià participated in some of the preparations for the plot organized by the Spanish politician José Sánchez Guerra in January 1929. That conspiracy, like all those organized against Primo de Rivera, ended in failure.

The Sánchez Guerra affair was important for the mobilization of CNT and anarchist forces. On February 6, 1929, shortly after the failed uprising, there was an important meeting of anarchist groups in Paris. The central topic of discussion was “The role of the anarchists in light of present events in Spain.” Participants decided that Spanish anarchists living in France should be prepared to cross the border and intervene directly in any rebellion that might break out. They would have to be armed to do so and they entrusted anarchist Erguido Blanco with getting them weapons. We know that Blanco contacted Nestor Makhno, among others, to discuss military questions. While no sources indicate that Blanco went to Brussels, the comrades there must have been informed about the matter. The connections between the militants in the two cities were simply too strong for that not to happen. For example, anarchists in Paris had turned La Voz Libertaria over to their comrades in Brussels due to police harassment in France. Those comrades—Liberto Callejas, Ascaso, and others—published a single issue, the magazine’s third, on September 30, 1929.

Hem Day’s “Mont des Arts” bookstore received anarchist publications from around the world. Ascaso and Durruti visited the shop regularly and of course they paid special attention to literature from Spain. One can imagine how startled they must have been to read the following in Vigo’s Despertar in December 1929: “The Death Certificate Of The CNT.” This was the name of a report from the CNT National Committee, signed by Angel Pestaña and Juan López. It was a pessimistic statement that raised the following question: Why should a National Committee exist if the CNT’s regional committees are so inactive? Militants in Spain immediately sent letters condemning the newspaper for publishing that “vile document.” The debate, which ultimately served to revive the militants, had no source other than Pestaña’s tendency to start debilitating controversies. Ascaso and Durruti probably wrote Ricardo Sanz in Barcelona, asking him for information about the matter and to mobilize the Andalusian immigrants living there. Most of these were working on the construction of the subway and the fact that the Construction Union made Sanz its president suggests that Los Solidarios continued to have an impact in Catalonia’s labor and activist circles, even if many were in exile or imprisoned.

By the end of 1929, it was clear that the dictatorship’s fall was imminent. It would fall not because of popular pressure, but due to internal disintegration and because it had been abandoned by organizations and individuals that once supported it. Indeed, the monarchy itself entered into terminal crisis and the remedies prescribed by the wisest “doctors in politics” only accelerated its demise. Miguel Primo de Rivera’s ridiculous activities, his contradictory policies, and especially his belief in his own popularity precipitated his fall. On January 28, 1930, the dictator gambled his future and lost. The King replaced him with another officer, General Berenguer, and Primo de Rivera fled to Paris.

Everyone thought that this personnel shakeup was extremely significant, but little had changed: the dictatorship still existed, the state’s repressive apparatus continued to operate, and all the suffocating laws remained in force. Spain is a paradoxical country and its complex history has confused more than a few historians, who are often unable to appreciate the deeper context of its political transformations. It is impossible to understand Spanish developments by applying the rules that govern other countries; they are inapplicable because the lower class’s eruption into history always pushes events in unanticipated directions. That constant particular to Spain repeated itself when Miguel Primo de Rivera’s powers were transferred to Dámaso Berenguer. What did Alfonso XIII tell his new Prime Minister? Of course he ordered him to save the monarchy and, when necessary, apply the heavy hand of the state. Anything else, particularly an orientation that suggested tolerance, would contradict the dominant regime. And yet that is exactly what happened. All the passions that the monarchy had suppressed for decades suddenly poured out onto the Hispanic homeland.

Alfonso XIII suspended the 1876 constitution when he handed power to Miguel Primo de Rivera. During the seven years of the dictatorship, the government crushed the freedom of association, the freedom of the press, and numerous individual rights. Could Dámaso Berenguer abruptly reconstruct Spanish society on liberal and democratic bases? Surprisingly, that is what he attempted to do: General Berenguer wanted the country to slowly return to the constitutional norms that had governed it before 1923. But, while pushing the country in that direction, he lost control of events and the reins of power were rung from his hands. The fear previously felt by the working masses now began to haunt government leaders.

We will analyze the effect that the movement of fear on the social scale had on the CNT in order to examine its consequences for Durruti’s life. The Barcelona CNT’s first step after Primo de Rivera fell from power was to publish a newspaper to establish direct contact with the working class. The first issue of the weekly Acción appeared on February 15, 1930. The CNT also held a national meeting, which groups from Asturias, León, Palencia, Aragón, Rioja, Navarre, Catalonia, and Levante attended. There was only one important issue on the agenda: “The reorganization of the CNT and reopening its unions.” Participants knew that it was urgent to rebuild the CNT, although they would have been well-advised to address some of the Confederation’s important internal differences before throwing themselves blindly into the task. Indeed, parallel to the reorganization efforts, there was a conflict between the CNT’s base and its leadership. The National Committee prompted this clash when it established the CNT’s position in that highly politicized moment. It declared:

The CNT will support:

1. All efforts tending toward the convocation of a constituent assembly.

2. The reestablishment of constitutional guarantees and all citizens’ rights.

3. Absolute and rigorous union freedom.

4. Respect for the eight-hour workday and all prior labor victories.

5. Freedom for all social political prisoners and review of their trials.[206]

The CNT, as an organization, had not determined its position on these five issues and yet the National Committee was already defining the body’s stance. Pestaña’s hand was present there.

Activists promptly criticized the National Committee for abusing its power. Although the National Committee tried to explain itself, it was unable to erase the impression of bad-faith maneuvering. This led to yet another series of written debates, which naturally weakened the CNT at a time when it needed all its strength for the enormous tasks of reorganization. The politicians also went into action and Republicans with truly monarchical souls rose to the surface. Miguel Maura and Niceto Alcalá Zamora were the two principle monarchists who passed seamlessly to the Republican camp. Likewise, the celebrated politician José Sánchez Guerra declared his opposition to Alfonso XIII. The liberal Republicans and Socialist Republicans then proclaimed their support for a Republic.

It was a chaotic political moment. Politicians addressed the world and made promises as if they really represented a popular force. The political and ideological madness even infected some of the CNT’s leading men, like Juan Peiró and Pere Foix (Delaville). They signed the “Manifesto of the Catalan Intelligentsia,” a document in which leaders of almost all the Catalan political parties stated that they wanted Spain to become a Republic.

The second issue of the anarchist weekly Tierra y Libertad appeared on April 19, 1930. It depicted the political scene with a satire titled “There are thirty-six parties in Spain.” After listing them, it said: “Thirty-six parties and not one less. We have made a list and see that we presently have thirty- six programs, drafted by figures from the Left, Right, and Center. One needs approximately four and a half hours daily to read the manifestos and proclamations from these political groupings, with the aggravating circumstance that we hardly learn anything. All the appeals and harangues neglect to mention the principal issue: that their authors want to rule us.” [207] Eight days after this article appeared, the CNT held a rally in Barcelona’s Teatro Nuevo on the Paralelo in which two of the orators—Juan Peiró and Angel Pestaña—had been stripped of their right to speak in the CNT’s name. Peiró responded to the sanction quickly. He sent an open letter to Acción resigning from all CNT positions and, shortly thereafter, withdrew his signature from the manifesto. Pestaña’s case was more complex, given his habit of saying one thing and doing another. Nevertheless, he decided to come to the rally. The audience was very large, capable of filling the theater two times over, and attendees affirmed their commitment to completing the reconstruction of the CNT begun in February. Sebastián Clará and Pedro Massoni spoke. The crowd heard Clará and Massoni enthusiastically, Pestaña with less enthusiasm, and there were murmurs of opposition to Juan Peiró’s address. The latter professed his faith in anarcho-syndicalism from the podium and announced that he had retracted his signature from the manifesto. Swept up by the excitement of the moment, the audience cheered Peiró, as if wanting to forgive his blunder in order to focus wholeheartedly on rebuilding the Confederation.

CHAPTER XXIII. The Murder of Fermín Galán

The CNT would soon become the country’s most important proletarian organization, thanks to the dramatic reorganization of its unions, the impact of its rallies on the workers, and the widespread distribution of publications. The renewal of the anarcho-syndicalist movement began not only to fill the monarchy’s ruling classes with fear, but also the politicians conspiring against it. For their part, the exiles in France and Belgium were brimming with excitement, thinking that the hardships of the past were justified by the new turn of events. It was harvest time and the harvest looked good. Indeed, many of these refugees were so excited by the developments in Spain that they did not wait for the declaration of the Republic—and, with it, political amnesty—but decided to return to Spain secretly. Juan Manuel Molina, head of Tierra y Libertad and its press Etyl, was among those who made such a determination in Paris. He later became famous under the pseudonym “Juanel” after enduing multiple trials for “crimes of the press.”

The CNT and anarchist resurgence in Spain was also tantalizing for the exiles in Brussels and they too were tempted to rush back into the country. The more prudent comrades, like Liberto Callejas or Emeterio de la Orden, had to curb Ascaso and Durruti’s immediate impulses. Indeed, their hour still had not arrived. The old order still stood and its judicial apparatus could still go after them, if Martínez Anido’s assassins didn’t riddle them with bullets first. They had to wait. And the wait was not only long, but also laden with doubts and worries. The CNT’s reorganization was going well and the anarchist movement was recovering, but there were also contradictory tendencies at work. The two antagonistic forces that were pestañaism and anarchism each pulled in their own direction, hindering the CNT’s progress.

But the news from Spain was quite good: the CNT rebuilt itself quickly in Valencia, was gaining ground in Aragón, and opened way (with difficulty) in Madrid. It was only faltering in Sevilla, thanks to the Stalinist schemes of ex-CNT members José Díaz and Manuel Adame, who wanted to make the local CNT an appendix of the Communist Party. The CNT reached its greatest level of growth in Catalonia, especially Barcelona. The Construction Union, with its forty-two thousand members, made Ricardo Sanz president and the Metalworkers’ Union, which had also recovered, declared its opposition to Pestaña as CNT secretary. Barcelona’s powerful Industrial Art and Textile workers joined the CNT in a decision made in a general assembly held on April 29, 1930 in the Meridiana Cinema in the El Clot district. Two thousand workers representing the diverse sides of the textile industry approved their entrance into the CNT with acclaim.

The other Catalan provinces were not lagging behind the capital. A CNT regional meeting took place on May 17 and participants discussed the need to publish a Confederal newspaper. Representatives from twenty-two localities participated in another regional meeting on July 6 and set August 1 as the date that they would release of the first issue of Solidaridad Obrera. The CNT National Committee was named on June 27 without Pestaña. Progreso Alfarache became the organization’s secretary and another National Committee member, Manuel Sirvent, also belonged to the Peninsular Committee of the FAI. [208]

While the CNT reorganized, anarchist groups were busy planning an uprising with Captain Alejandro Sancho, a close ally of the FAI. The plan was to instigate riots and strikes in several large cities and then provoke rebellions in Bilbao, Logroño, Zaragoza, Calatayud, Teruel, Sagunto, Valencia, and throughout Andalusia. The government would have to respond to many areas simultaneously and, with Catalonia isolated from the rest of Spain, the revolutionaries would only have to arm the people. They would do so by storming the Barcelona Armory and Artillery Park, where there were abundant rifles, ammunition, and other instruments of war. [209] They formed a Revolutionary Committee in Catalonia to lead the rebellion, which would operate in conjunction with the CNT’s Catalan Regional Committee. Its members were Captain Alejandro Sancho, Ricardo Escrig for the students linked to the FAI, Manuel Hernández, for the FAI Peninsular Committee, and Bernardo Pou and J. R. Magriñá for the CNT’s Regional Committee.

The resurgence of the anarcho-syndicalist movement was an aspect of the social process that began when Dámaso Berenguer took the reigns of government. But, at the same time, there were also very troubling tendencies; specifically, counterrevolutionary forces that disguised themselves as revolutionary.

The counterrevolution found its ideal man, who managed to make both the Republican opposition and the monarchy revolve around him. His name was Miguel Maura, son of Antonio Maura. As they say, “like father, like son.”

A monarchist to the bone, Miguel Maura saw from the outset that the best way to defend the interests of the privileged classes, and even the Monarchy, was by going over to the opposition and declaring himself a Republican. He told the King as much before proclaiming his “modestly liberal, Republican right-wing faith.” “If the others in our party follow my path,” he said, “we will not only create a ‘cushion’ that will protect the Monarchy when it falls,

The Murder of Fermín Galánbut also effect a political change that will be little more than make-up on the royal shield.” [210] However, the other members of Miguel Maura’s party, lazy to the bone, thought that everything would simply fall into place if they gave him a free hand. Only one of Maura’s friends, the assistant to the Count of Romanones, declared himself Republican. That was Niceto Alcalá Zamora, Alfonso XIII’s ex-minister of War, who made his own proclamation—even more modestly than Maura—in April 1930.

The CNT’s resurgence horrified Miguel Maura and Niceto Alcalá Zamora. Its increasing ability to impose its will on Catalan employers was an outrage to the two politicians. For Maura, the revolutionary process was like a wild horse that Dámaso Berenguer had freed but could no longer control. “If we let this process unfold without direction or restraint,” said Maura, “then there will be a deep revolution and nothing of the old monarchical state will remain: the popular wave will sweep everything away and Spain will become an immense ‘soviet’ and anarchist, no less.”

How could he guide the course of events and with what forces? How could he impose a direction on the popular movement against the Monarchy and compel it to obey his commands? It was no longer enough for Maura to be a Republican; he had to become a “revolutionary.” But relying on whom and on what?

Only the Socialist Party and its union, the UGT, could help Maura. During the last days of the Monarchy, these two forces had control over their members and nearly intact organizational structures, thanks to the fact that their subservience to the dictatorship had saved them from government persecution. Maura’s position would be particularly good if he could secure the support of Socialist Leader Indalecio Prieto: he had opposed the PSOE’s capitulation to Primo de Rivera and was thus more popular than Largo Caballero, who had been an advisor to the state.

Time was of the essence. He held talks with Prieto, the two came to an agreement, and together they crossed the Rubicon by calling the meeting of political “leaders” held on August 17, 1930 in San Sebastián. It was here that they would “cook up” the so-called Pact of San Sebastián.

The following individuals were in attendance: Alejandro Lerroux, Marcelino Domingo, Alvaro de Albornoz, Angel Galarza, Manuel Azaña, Santiago Casares Quiroga, Manuel Carrasco i Formiguera, Matías Mallol, Jaume Aiguader, Niceto Alcalá Zamora, Miguel Maura, Indalecio Prieto, and Fernando de los Ríos. This handful of men claimed to represent the following political abominations: Alianza Republicana, Partido Radical Socialista, Izquierda Republicana, Federación Republicana Gallega, Acció Catalana, Acció Republicana de Catalunya, Estat Català, and Derecha Liberal Republicana. Indalecio Prieto and de los Ríos represented themselves. Also present, as guests of honor, were Felipe Sánchez Román (jurist), Eduardo Ortega y Gasset (jurist), and Gregorio Marañón (doctor). These political representatives professions were: undefined (2), School teacher (1), Historian (1), Departmental head in Literature (1), Lawyer-writer, with a fondness for war themes in times of peace (1), Lawyers (3), Economists (2), Doctor (1), Undefined, but with journalistic pretensions and some education as an economist (1).

What did they discuss? “The preparation of a revolutionary uprising,” Miguel Maura explains, “in which few, very few, had any faith, but which we thought was necessary as a challenge to the dominant regime. We created an Executive Revolutionary Committee to define Republican policy and lead the rebellion. Alcalá Zamora presided over the Committee and Indalecio Prieto, Manuel Azaña, Fernando de los Ríos, Marcelino Domingo, Alvaro de Albornoz, and myself were members.” [211]

The committee’s first step was to make a deal with the Socialist Party, which endorsed the “pact” on the condition that they would receive four Ministries in the new Republican government. The Socialists pledged to declare a general strike (through the UGT) if the rebellion exploded, but only after troops sympathetic to the Executive Revolutionary Committee were in the street and taking up arms against the monarchists.

Miguel Maura had planned out the defeat the Monarchy like a good lawyer, but there were still two groups with which he had neither dealt nor implicated in anything: the CNT and FAI. Furthermore, there were soldiers sympathetic to these organizations, like Captain Alejandro Sancho and Captain Fermín Galán, who were planning rebellions that had to be taken seriously. How to stop the anarchist plots and prevent the CNT from disrupting the transfer of power to the “Republicans”? Miguel Maura was at a loss. Perhaps they could have tried to control the CNT through the Pestaña faction, but the FAI’s influence in the Confederation rendered any attempt of the sort illusory. Given the circumstances, the best solution was the truncheon, which was in the hands of a very monarchical general and good friend of Maura by the name of Emilio Mola, the General Director of Security. With Mola’s skillful use of the club, and a dose of diplomacy from the Executive Revolutionary Committee, they could ruin the anarchist captains’ subversive plans, imprison the most rebellious workers, and disorganize the CNT. That was exactly what Maura and Mola set out to do. As a first step, Mola sent a circular to all the governors asking them to raid CNT and FAI circles on October 22. Police arrested Alejandro Sancho, who died in a military prison, as well as Ramón Franco, Ricardo Escrig, Angel Pestaña, Manuel Sirvent, Pere Foix, Sebastián Clará, and many members of union committees. These committees lost their organizational coherence after they were forced underground.

This raid on the anarchists and insurrectional soldiers helped the San Sebastián conspirators. It cleared the field for their political maneuvers and also attracted many of the troops under Mola’s orders to their camp. Miguel Maura was behind all of this, directing the action. Even Mola was among of his puppets.

History is often made and unmade by chance and on November 12 a fortuitous event occurred that would have an important impact on the course of events. There was a terrible accident that day in a poorly built house on Madrid’s Alonso Cano Street and four men working there died in the collapse. The entire country—already hypersensitive due to the recent politically instability—shuddered. Madrid’s construction workers declared a strike and held a massive public funeral for their comrades. Police tried to disperse them and shot two men to death in the process. Madrid’s proletariat declared a general strike and Barcelona expressed its solidarity by declaring one as well. The police repression in Madrid was tepid, but it was fierce in Barcelona: authorities shut down all the CNT’s unions and filled the prisons with militants once again. This harsh persecution practically shattered the CNT and dealt a heavy blow to Barcelona’s proletariat, the driving force of the Spanish workers’ movement.

General Mola struggled to contain all the discontent and disruptions, including the escape of air force Commander Ramón Franco [212] on November 25, who had been arrested the previous month for conspiring with the anarchists. Would Ramón Franco join Fermín Galán, [213] who was zealously carrying out preparations for the rebellion against the Monarchy? Mola felt a deep bond with Fermín Galán, dating from when they both served in Morocco. General Mola knew that the conspiracy plotted by Niceto Alcalá Zamora and the Executive Revolutionary Committee was a tall tale and that Fermín Galán would launch an uprising alone. How to stop him? Mola’s only recourse was the pen. He wrote Fermín Galán a letter on November 27, 1930. He said:

The government and I know that you intend to revolt with the garrison troops. The matter is serious and could cause irreparable damage.... I beg you to think about what I’m saying and let your conscience guide you, not fleeting passions, when you make your decision.

Was Fermín Galán simply looking to die? We will never know. The fact was that Galán had resolved himself in conscience and gave himself the right to think—at the cost of his life—that there were genuine revolutionaries among the members of the Executive Revolutionary Committee in Madrid. “Galán, as he expressly stated during those feverish days, was fed up with the failures of 1926 and doesn’t want to rely on pseudo-revolutionary generals in the style of Blázquez, or on the opportunistic politicians that, for him, make up practically all the “telephoners” [i.e., the members of the Executive Revolutionary Committee]. The majority of the Jaca soldiers adored him and would follow him wherever he led. He had the support of enough officers, and even conservative and Catholic men like machine-gun Captain Angel García Hernández. Others opposed his quixotic actions, but at least sixty officers and sub-officers in Jaca were with him.” [214]

Galán lost his most important source of support when authorities arrested Alejandro Sancho and the anarchist’s Revolutionary Committee, but he was still determined to go forward. That was the most open and frank way to put all the conspirators to the test. If they abandoned him, the working class would have to draw its own conclusions about the traitors from Madrid’s Executive Revolutionary Committee. Galán knew that his life hung in the balance.

The general strike declared by the Barcelona CNT in solidarity with Madrid lasted from November 16 to November 22. The repression came later. And it was in the middle of this clampdown that Madrid’s Executive Revolutionary Committee first made contact with the CNT. Miguel Maura and Angel Galarza went to Barcelona and met with Peiró. They asked him: “if there is a revolutionary uprising, will the CNT support it by declaring a general strike?” [215] Peiró said that he would relay the matter to the National Committee. The National Committee did not have the authority to decide on the issue and thus called a national meeting. Participants at the meeting decided that the CNT should “come to an agreement with the political elements in order to make a revolutionary movement.” [216] This was a clear step backwards. Until then the CNT’s position had been to conspire without forming alliances with political figures. What had happened? We believe that recent bitter strikes and also the government’s October 11 raid, which crushed the anarchist’s Revolutionary Committee, had weakened the CNT and also the FAI’s influence within it. With the more radical elements incapacitated, a more accommodating position rose to the surface. Both Peiró and Pestaña supported an entente with the politicos as a way of deflecting the persecution bearing down upon the CNT, but that was unrealistic: it was totally out of the question for General Mola, who thought Spain had no worse enemy than the CNT, whether Pestaña or Alfarache was at its head. Miguel Maura shared his view, which he did not hesitate to repeat in the work he wrote years later about the events. [217]

The Executive Revolutionary Committee set an ambiguous date for its rebellion: “toward the middle” of December, although it had previously set December 12. Clearly Niceto Alcalá Zamora and the Executive Revolutionary Committee hoped that no one would rise up. After all, with vague instructions like theirs, individual conspirators could select the date that seemed best to them or simply not select one at all and do nothing. Fermín Galán opted for the first date—December 12—and prepared to launch the uprising at dawn that day.

Galán began to worry as the moment drew closer because his liaison with Madrid, the journalist Graco Marsá, had not come to Jaca. He sent a telegram to Madrid in the early hours of December 11 saying: “Friday, December 12, send books.” In the agreed upon code, that meant: “I’m going to revolt on December 12.” The Executive Revolutionary Committee received the telegram on the morning of December 11, although by that time it had set December 15 as the date of the rising. What did the Executive Revolutionary Committee do with Galán’s telegram? The “telephoners” simply ignored it and, instead of telling him that they had changed the date to December 15, sent Graco Marsá and Casares Quiroga to Jaca to “dissuade that lunatic from doing anything crazy.” They left Madrid at 11:00 am on December 11 and reached Zaragoza seven hours later. What did they do in Zaragoza? A mystery! All we know is that they finally got to Jaca at 1:00 am on December 12 and immediately sought out a hotel. Galán was staying in the Mur hotel, but the emissaries from Madrid decided to take a room in the La Palma hotel on Mayor Street, just a stone’s throw away from the Jaca “lunatic.” “Marsá suggested contacting Galán, but Casares Quiroga dissuaded him: they were exhausted and the best thing was to go to sleep.” [218]

While Graco Marsá and Casares Quiroga slept soundly, several of the officers committed to the rebellion assembled in Galán’s room in the Mur hotel. They put the final touches on their battle plan, finishing around four in the morning. Galán then took off for the Victoria barracks and woke the soldiers up with a shout of “Viva the Republic!” The soldiers applauded him and the revolt began. The “Republicans” from Madrid slept for several hours more, dead to the world.

Bernardo Pou and J. R. Magriñá contacted the engaged soldiers in Barcelona on behalf of the CNT’s Catalan Regional Committee and urged them not to abandon the Jaca rebels. They shrugged their shoulders and did nothing. Pou and Magriñá reached out to the Lérida garrison as well, and the men there replied in the same way. [219] At dawn on December 13, the rebels began the fight in Cillas against the soldiers from the Huesca garrison and were soundly defeated. Fermín Galán told some of his comrades to flee while they had the chance. He could have done so himself, but choose to surrender instead. He and seven of his companions went before a court-martial several hours after the fighting had ended. Two of the eight defendants were condemned to death: Fermín Galán and his good friend Captain García Hernández. The sentences were carried out at 2:00 in the afternoon on December 14, 1930.

García Hernández asked for spiritual aid, whereas Fermín Galán respectfully rebuffed the chaplain. “You’ll understand,” he said, “that I’m not going to suddenly abandon views that I’ve held for a lifetime, especially now.” The two captains asked to die while facing the firing squad and without blindfolds. Just before they shot him down, Galán waved to his executioners and said “Until Never!” [220] García Hernández died moments later. On December 15, 1930, as expected, Niceto Alcalá Zamora’s uprising did not occur. The members of the Executive Revolutionary Committee, authors of the celebrated “Why We Rebel” manifesto, slept peacefully in their homes on the night of December 14. Police arrested them while they showered or ate breakfast on December 15. Authorities, with great consideration, brought them to Madrid’s Modelo prison, where the prison warden had prepared to incarcerate them in luxury.

While the members of the Executive Revolutionary Committee meekly entered prison, there were general strikes in Madrid and Barcelona, but they were pacific and barely evident. The workers’ movement was too depleted, and too confused about what had happened in Jaca, for it to do otherwise. There was an attempt to attack the Prat de Llobregat airfield, but it failed because the officers involved pulled back at the last moment. It was only in Asturias, particularly in Gijón, where the proletarian presence made itself felt through hard conflicts with the police.

The conclusion that the working class had to draw was the same one it drew after the August 1917 general strike, when it severed its ties opposition political parties. Presumably it would do the same on this occasion, after a period of reflection, and try to determine its own fate in independently. Antonio Elorza wrote the following about the consequences of the December rebellion for the CNT: “The unions, which had just begun functioning normally in Barcelona after the November strike, were closed on December 30 during the general political strike. And this time the Confederation gave Mola the pretext that he needed to crush the revolutionary syndicalists. He stated as much in a December 7 governor’s conference: ‘we used the CNT’s revolutionary posture to dissolve its unions, which was a great necessity.’” [221] Those who supported forming an alliance with the political parties at the CNT’s national meeting in December would now suffer for their decision: several of them, including Angel Pestaña and members of the National Committee, were among the hundred militants locked in the Modelo prison from December 1930 to March 24, 1931.

“In the first three months of 1931,” writes Elorza, “the primary concern in Confederal circles was once again reopening the closed unions. Except for the diminished efficiency of the oppressive apparatus, everything reminded one of the dictatorship, even the government’s orders to persecute those who collected dues.” [222]

”In the trimester before the proclamation of the Republic there were three prominent Monarchists who, consciously or unconsciously, worked for it: the Count of Romanones, Emilio Mola, and José Sánchez Guerra. The tripartite action of these figures was perfectly complimentary: Mola silenced the CNT through repression; the Count of Romanones provoked the February crisis and, with it, General Dámaso Berenguer’s fall and the entrance of Admiral Aznar; and, finally, Sánchez Guerra’s refusal to form a government on February 17 without the members of the Executive Revolutionary Committee, who were still incarcerated. With a Monarchy lacking real power, only two things were possible: either a popular revolt, whose consequences were unforeseeable, or the proclamation of a Republic, in which power was delivered to a team of men who had “sworn to remain united in order to proclaim a Republic that would in no way alter the social and economic foundations of Spain.” It was the latter that took place on April 13, 1931.

We can justly describe the political events between January and April 12, 1931 as a “comic opera.” The cowardice among monarchists is particularly notable (with the Count of Romanones leading the pack). This became manifest in February when he provoked the crisis that caused Berenguer’s collapse.

Berenguer and Alfonso XIII concluded that the only way to save the Monarchy was by calling general elections. It was a smart move, despite the Socialist Party’s announcement that it would abstain. What happened in the electoral campaigns? How did the “radical” politicians behave? What did they seek and what means did they use? Of course, we can take it for granted that the means were not revolutionary: opposition politicians always try to present themselves as “good brothers,” winking at the whole world to get the greatest number of votes. The only ones who could have upset the electoral campaign were the anarchists and Mola had pushed them to the margins. The results of the April 12 municipal elections were: 22,150 monarchist councilmen and 5,875 Republican councilmen. [223]

The Count of Romanones freed the men that would compose the future Republican provisional government and thus made possible the advent of the Republic. Miguel Maura himself makes it clear in his book that the opposition did not want a social or even political revolution and didn’t think that the proclamation of the Republic was imminent. He wrote:

Near dawn [on April 13], around five in the morning, Largo Caballero, Fernando de los Ríos, and I left the Casa del Pueblo. [224]

Fatigued and silent, we went out on foot, walking slowly toward Recoletos Avenue. Suddenly, Fernando said:

“Today’s victory permits us to go to the general elections in October. Our success there will bring us the Republic.” I looked at Largo and was astonished to see that he agreed with that strange argument. Apparently, neither of them had considered the inevitable consequences of what had taken place during the day.

Miguel Maura told them that they “would be governing within forty-eight hours.”

They called me naïve, and we said goodbye, arranging to meet a few hours later in my house, which had been the headquarters of the Committee since the beginning.[225]

CHAPTER XXIV. “Viva Macià! Death to Cambó!”

Everything started around 1:00 pm on April 14, 1931 to a backdrop of the tricolored flag flying in the street. It was spontaneous, sincere, and enthusiastic.

Workers made flags out of scraps of fabric in the textile factories. “To Barcelona!” was the shout in the factories. One by one the looms and other machines shut down; the stores, businesses, and restaurants closed. With the factories at a standstill and workers flooding the streets, it seemed like an enormous festival was taking place in the city. The joyous and contagious racket reminded some older workers of July 1909 or 1917, but of course without the violence or barricades. The youngsters chanted the same slogans as the older ones: “Viva the Republic! Viva Macià! Death to Cambó!” [226]

It also seemed to be the day of the woman. Women stood out, frenzied and passionate, in all the groups. At first it was the factory workers who made up these groups, then the store employees joined them after they left their shops, next it was waiters who poured out of the restaurants... The crowds steadily grew in size and diversity.

From Barcelona’s workers’ districts, such as Sant Martí, Poble Nou, Sant Andreu, Gracia, Horta, Sants, Santa Eulàlia, and from places near Barcelona, like Badalona and La Torrass, everyone went towards the center of the Catalan capital. They converged on the Plaza de Catalunya or in the Plaza de la Generalitat, cheering the Republic and Macià and denouncing the King and Cambó. Few knew what was happening in Madrid at the moment or even elsewhere in Barcelona.

Lluís Companys entered City Hall at 1:35 to raise the Republican flag on the balcony. It was flying by 1:42. The workers who left their jobs at 1:00 inundated the Plaza de la Generalitat and adjacent streets by 2:00 pm. Lluís Companys hoisted the flag at 1:42, but the people had proclaimed the Republic at 1:00 pm exactly. Given that politicians always take the moving train, we will see a little of what was happening in Barcelona shortly before Companys hopped aboard.

The CNT men were in the street. It was they who took the initiative, particularly in Barcelona. The prisons, the Civil Government, the General Captaincy, City Hall, the Palace of Justice: they swept everything away. A political thug had been comfortably installed in the Civil Government: Alejandro Lerroux’s “second in command,” Emiliano Iglesias.

The CNT forced him out and put Lluís Companys in his place. Jaume Aiguader was put in City Hall and General López Ochoa in the Captaincy General. No official center of importance was left untouched. The CNT was everywhere. Everywhere it cleared the path of those who no longer mattered.[227]

The people of Eibar were the first to proclaim the Republic, which they did at six in the morning on April 14. Other proclamations followed Eibar’s: Valencia, Sevilla, Oviedo, Gijón, Zaragoza, Huesca, and later Barcelona. The workers were also demonstrating in the streets of Madrid. Republican flags flew above the crowd. But no official announcements were forthcoming, as those in the two centers of power—Miguel Maura’s house and the Royal Palace—watched the events unfold. There was news of desertions from the latter and adhesions to the former. General Sanjurjo, the leader of the Civil Guard, declared himself for the Republic and put himself at Miguel Maura’s orders, who would become the interior minister in a matter of hours. Sanjurjo’s adhesion cleared away the last unknown. The King began packing his bags. The Count of Romanones had been going around in circles since nine in the morning trying to decide how to carry out the transfer of power. In agreement with the King, he arranged for the transfer to take place in Dr. Marañón’s house. There, on neutral ground, the Count of Romanones would deliver the abdication of Alfonso XIII to his assistant, Niceto Alcalá Zamora.

The Provisional Government decided to meet in its entirety shortly after the Civil Guard went over to the Republic. All the future leaders were assembled in Miguel Maura’s house, except for the future Minister of War, Manuel Azaña, who was the only one among them who had avoided going to the Modelo prison (he was tried for rebellion in absentia on March 24, 1931). None of Azaña’s colleagues had had a clue about his whereabouts since the police raid on December 15, when he had hid “somewhere in Madrid.” But now, on the afternoon of April 14, they urgently needed to find him so that the government could present itself fully. Miguel Maura set out to locate him:

It wasn’t easy to find him, since his intimates jealously guarded the secret of his hiding place. They finally directed me to the home of his brother-in-law, Cipriano Rivas Cherif. I went there to find him. After more than a few formalities, and having to give my name and wait a good while, I was led into back room. There was Manuel Azaña, pallid, pale as marble, doubtlessly because he had been shut in there for more than four months.

I explained the purpose of my visit and ordered him to immediately come with me to my house. He refused categorically, claiming that we had already been convicted and practically absolved, but that he continued in rebellion and that anyone, even a simple guard, could arrest and imprison him. I was absolutely astonished! I told him about the people’s euphoria, Sanjurjo’s visit and offer, and how much he could stimulate the more spineless spirits, but all without managing to change his decision to remain in hiding. I was getting ready to leave him there when his brother-in-law Rivas Cherif appeared, returning from the street in a state of excitement and enthusiasm shared all Republicans at the time. He confirmed everything that I had been saying and Azaña finally reluctantly decided to follow me. He was muttering I don’t know what as we drove in my car to my house. He was clearly in a foul mood. We entered the library and he greeted the comrades one by one. I was then shocked to realize that he hadn’t seen any of them since December 13, four months ago. Nobody had had any contact with him or even known where he was. This confirmed what I already suspected: Azaña, a man of extraordinary intelligence and lofty qualities, was suffering from an insurmountable physical fear.... It was stronger than he, although he was doing his best to conceal it.[228]

Such was the man who would run the Ministry of War in the first government of the Second Republic.

The meeting between the Count of Romanones and Niceto Alcalá Zamora took place at 2:00 in the afternoon in Dr. Marañón’s house. The Count relates the events as follows:

Alcalá Zamora: “There is no solution other than the King’s immediate departure and renunciation of the throne.... He has to leave this very afternoon, before sunset.”

Alcalá Zamora made use of a supreme argument: “Shortly before coming here, we received the adhesion of General Sanjurjo, leader of the Civil Guard.” [The Count of Romanones said:] I turned pale when I heard him and didn’t say any more. The battle was hopelessly lost.[229]

The Count of Romanones spent two hours in discussions and held talks with the King at 5:00 pm. Alfonso XIII signed a proclamation to the country drafted by the Duke of Maura:

I do not renounce any of my rights, because more than mine they are a deposit accumulated by history, of whose custody I will have to give a rigorous account one day.

I hope to understand the authentic expression of the collective conscience, and while the nation speaks, I deliberately suspend the exercise of Royal Power and withdraw from Spain, thus recognizing it as the only master of its destiny.[230]

Power truly did not exist between 5:00 and 10:30 pm. This vacuum of authority made Miguel Maura impatient and he convinced the rest of his colleagues that they had to occupy the Interior Ministry at once and put the machinery of the new Republican government into motion. Miguel Maura had conceived of this government as the “cushion” born of the Pact of San Sebastián. It would save many, very many, things on that April 14, 1931. [231]

CHAPTER XXV. The new government and its political program

The April 15 issue of the Gaceta Oficial reported on the composition of the new government, as well as all the appointments and administrative orders. A new group now controlled the state. The ministries were distributed among those who had cooked up the Pact of San Sebastián and in accordance with their commitment to unity. There were three ministries for the Socialists:

Fernando de los Ríos, in the Ministry of Justice.

Francisco Largo Caballero, in the Ministry of Labor.

Indalecio Prieto, in the Treasury Ministry

The Radical Socialists followed the Socialists in importance, with two ministries:

Alvaro de Albornoz, in the Ministry of Public Works.

Marcelino Domingo, in the Ministry of Public Education.

Then, with the same number of ministries, the Radicals:

Alejandro Lerroux, in the Ministry of the State.

Martínez Barrio, in the Ministry of Communication.

For Manuel Azaña’s Republican Action, one: Manuel Azaña, in the Ministry of War. For Casares Quiroga’s Galician Republicans, one: Santiago Casares Quiroga, in the Ministry of the Navy.

The Ministry of the Economy was reserved for a Catalan: Nicolau d’Olwer.

Miguel Maura, the ex-monarchist who wanted a law and order Republic, ran the Interior Ministry. His support for the Republic rested on the following observation: “The monarchy committed suicide and, therefore, either we joined the nascent revolution and defended legitimate conservative principles within it or we left the field open for the Leftists and workers’ associations.” [232] The Presidency went to Niceto Alcalá Zamora, an ex-monarchist who also ruminated on the demands of the moment: “A viable Republic, governmental, conservative, with the mesocracy and Spanish intelligentsia’s consequent deference toward it; I serve it, I govern it, I propose it, and I defend it.

A convulsive Republic, epileptic, full of enthusiasm, idealism, but lacking in reason; I will not play the role of a Kerensky to implant it in my homeland.” [233]

What was the government’s political program? For all the twists and turns that we give to the texts that formed the foundation of the state, we do not find anything resembling a program. The only thing we come across is the commitment to unity in confronting the popular explosion and “cushioning” the Monarchy during its crisis and collapse.

What were the central ideas around which these men formed their pact in San Sebastián? To defend “legitimate conservative principles.” With what forces? With the “mesocracy and the Spanish intelligentsia.” What are these “legitimate conservative principles”? The right to private property. What was the right to property? The abuse of that right with anachronistic economic structures imposed by Fernando de Aragón and Isabel de Castilla through conquest and pillage; a war booty distributed among their captains in the form of countships, dukedoms, and marquisates that established the land-ownership system based on large estates in Andalusia and part of New Castile.

Rural caciquism was part of the “legitimate conservative principles” of the aristocracy and its appendages. The Church, despite all the attempts at reform, continued to be an economic power and to monopolize education and the country’s cultural and intellectual life. The army, with almost as many officers as soldiers, and a statist bureaucracy that suffocated the country’s economy, formed part of the “legitimate conservative principles” and functioned like a parasitic caste that gobbled up taxes.

With whom did they intend to defend those conservative and legitimate principles? With the “Spanish intelligentsia and the mesocracy;” that is, with the bourgeoisie. The “intelligentsia” smelled of vestry and was chained to the Church. State bureaucrats made up the “mesocracy” and the bourgeoisie was inexistent as a political force, given that the Monarchy had impeded its development and fostered the supremacy of rural oligarchs over industrialists.

With that political program, if we can call it a program, the new government intended to leave everything just as it found it and to ignore the social and political problems that had, at base, caused the Monarchy to crumble. They would maintain the social relations of the Monarchy under the cloak of a Republic. Was that program viable? Could such a Republic survive while they completely disregarded the working class and the peasantry who, in reality, had proclaimed it? Like it or not, Alcalá Zamora was going to be the Spanish Kerensky.

Front page article in the Heraldo de Aragón on the murder of Cardinal Soldevila (June 5, 1923).

Front page of Tiempos Nuevos; Paris, April 2, 1925. The article discusses the life and death of Cardinal Soldevila as well as the various investigation into his murder.

Above: in 1900, Buenaventura Durruti and his older brother Santiago began to attend the school on Misericordia Street run by Manuel Fernández. Buenaventura is the third from the right and his older brother Santiago is sixth from the right.

Top: the murder of anarchists in Barcelona after the Tragic Week. Although educator Francisco Ferrer y Guardia did not participate in the popular revolt, authorities accused him of being its instigator. He was sentenced to death and executed.

Middle (left and right): Durruti’s membership card in the Metalworkers’ Society of León.

Bottom: the building in which Durruti was born.

León, 1915. Durruti, standing and in the center, surrounded by coworkers in Antonio Mijé’s metal shop, which specialized in machinery used to wash minerals in mines.

Above: Durruti, during his first exile in France (1917 -1920).

Above and following page: in Paris, accompanied by a group of French anarchists.

Below: in Vals-les-Bains (Ardeche) on September 1, 1918.

Right: Durruti comments satirically on his situation in Belgium in a postcard to his family.

Above, left: the Barcelona press reports on the assassination of Salvador Seguí (alias “sugar boy”), Secretary of the CNT National Committee. Languía, the right-hand man of Sales, perpetrated the crime on March 10, 1923 on Cadena Street. Graupera, the president of the Employers’ Federation, paid Languía and other gunmen a large sum of money to carry out the killing.

Right: Severiano Martínez Anido became the civil governor of Barcelona on November 8, 1920. He was infamous for his tireless oppression of the proletariat and created the “ley de fugas,” whose purpose was to sow terror among radical workers.

Below: the body of Salvador Seguí spread out on the operating table in the Hospital Clínico after doctors conducted the autopsy.

Above: Durruti in a mug shot taken after his detention in March 1923.

Below, left: a photo from Heraldo de Aragón showing the car in which the Cardinal Soldevila was traveling when he was killed. The bullet holes are visible in the picture.

Below, right: Cardinal Soldevila in the Heraldo de Aragón on June 5, 1923.

Barcelona. November 12, 1930. Standing, left: Acrato Lluly. Seated: De Souza, father of Germinal of Souza (Portuguese) is on the left; Sebastián Clara is on the right. There are reasons to believe that they were members of the Peninsular Committee of the FAI at this moment.

Le Libertaire, Friday, December 31, 1926. The anarcho-communist periodical rallies to the defense of Ascaso, Durruti, and Jover against the imminent danger of their extradition to Spain. Miguel de Unamuno was among the orators that participated in the rally demanding political asylum that is announced in the paper. There is also news of the Sacco and Vanzetti trial in the United States.

While waiting for the Supreme Court to decide on the Ascaso, Durruti, and Jover case, Le Libertaire calls for support for Sacco and Vanzetti (April 8, 1927)

Violating article 18 of the law on extradition, the French government decided that it would hand over Ascaso, Durruti, and Jove to the Argentine police. Meanwhile, to stop this from happening, they threaten to go on a hunger strike. Le Libertaire publishes that news and comments on the “martyrdom” of Sacco and Vanzetti (July 8, 1927)

Le Libertaire announces the liberation of Ascaso, Durruti, and Jover. It also prints a desperate call on behalf of Sacco and Vanzetti (July 15, 1927).

Marking the death of Nestor Makhno, the July 31, 1934 issue of Solidaridad Obrera published a brief biography of this great fighter for human freedom, who was constantly defamed and vilified in the bourgeois press.

Second Part: The Militant

CHAPTER I. April 14, 1931

Durruti, Ascaso, Liberto Callejas, Joaquín Cortés, and other exiles in Brussels were among the first militants to arrive in Barcelona. García Oliver, Aurelio Fernández, Torres Escartín, and other Solidarios who had been in prison or exiled elsewhere followed closely on their heels.

Echoes of the previous day’s popular celebration were still in the air when Ascaso and Durruti met with Ricardo Sanz on April 15, who had experienced the Monarchy’s last moments and the proclamation of the Second Republic.

Ricardo Sanz enthusiastically told them about the heroic deeds of the CNT, which had expelled the Lerrouxist Emiliano Iglesias from the Civil Government and put Lluís Companys in his place. Durruti and Ascaso were not impressed and must have lamented the contradiction between the CNT’s activity and its public stance. Indeed, the perspective that should have guided its action had been stated clearly in the April 1 issue of Solidaridad Obrera:

Elections, elections, and more elections; this seems to be the supreme solution to all the country’s problems.

We aren’t surprised in the least by this political comedy. We take it for granted that the people’s revolutionary spirit will soften somewhat when they are permitted to play at being councilors and deputies.... The CNT will have to draw useful lessons for the present and not too distant future about the bankruptcy of our supposedly revolutionary politicians.

There is nothing in the events of April 14 that would lead one to conclude that Companys was more revolutionary than Iglesias; both were little more than efficient instruments of the counterrevolution. The fact that some CNT men supported Companys and others of his ilk made it clear there were still contradictory tendencies within the CNT and also an imperious need for political clarification within the organization. It was urgent for the CNT to return to its core mission and, in that context, mark out a clear response to the country’s political and social problems, while ensuring that the new government could not steady itself. This is the framework that will guide a new, decisive stage in Durruti’s life as a revolutionary. From this moment on, his activity will be of a much larger scope and more directly linked to the radicalization of the working class and peasantry.

It was a unique juncture for the anarchist movement. The Republic emerged from a profound crisis that could not be resolved with merely formal solutions. The men who took power were ignorant of the dialectic of history and confused superficial phenomena with the essence of popular sentiment; this is why they erroneously supposed that they could shape the country’s future with simple demagoguery. They thought: “after six years of dictatorship, the working people and peasants now give us this proof of ‘civic-mindedness’ by peacefully accepting the regime change. This shows that they trust us and have forsaken their violent methods from the past. To guarantee stability, all the government has to do is control a half dozen anarchist agitators.” This argument was convincing for Miguel Maura and Niceto Alcalá Zamora; as far as they were concerned, the country’s economic and political structures were fundamentally sound. These men were lawyers, not sociologists or historians, and thus assumed that the solution lay in making the state’s laws and the Civil Guard’s rifles effective. Surprisingly, among the members of the new government, there was a Socialist worker leader, two historians, and Marcelino Domingo may have had a rudimentary knowledge of sociology, whereas Nicolau d’Olwer’s had been educated as an economist. Nonetheless, all of these men willingly accepted Maura and Alcalá Zamora’s “logic.”

Durruti, Ascaso, and García Oliver immediately understood the Republican government’s great error and also what role the anarchists should play. There was no chance that the state would greet the explosion of popular enthusiasm that accompanied the Republic’s birth with measures designed to encourage that excitement and confront the country’s problems radically. On the contrary, the state would allow Spain’s deep economic and social problems to discourage the people and strip them of hope. And gradually they would become enraged at the demagogues who had assumed power. The anarchist’s responsibility, then, was to channel this discontent, make it conscious, and give an ideal to the most desperate. Then the revolution would be a real possibility.

The Left, even the Marxists, regarded their extreme anarchist position as a form of revolutionary infantilism. And, likewise, some members of the CNT derisively described them as anarcho-Bolsheviks. The dialectic of history would formulate its verdict on the validity of their stance. To understand what inspired the Solidarios and the FAI to embrace such a radical position, and also to contextualize the dramatic mistakes made by the Republican government, it is necessary to examine the socio-economic state in which the Monarchy left Spain.

According to statistics from 1930, 26 percent of the country’s twenty-four million inhabitants did not know how to read or write. Women suffered this blight most acutely: 32 percent were totally illiterate, although the 19.5 percent illiteracy rate among men was also not very encouraging. Illiteracy was more common in the countryside than the city: 70 percent of the country’s six million agricultural workers could not read or write. [234] We will now see how the agricultural sector broke down, how agricultural workers lived, and the distribution of the land. Lacking more specific data, we will use the averages from the 1930–1935 period, [235] which put the Republic’s meager efforts to remedy the situation inherited from the Monarchy into stark relief. Our point of departure is the population of eleven million active workers among the country’s twenty-seven million inhabitants at the time. With respect to the agricultural sector, we can define that active working population in the following way: 2,300,000 salaried workers (that is, without any land), two million small or medium seized property owners, and one million well-off property owners. These figures reveal that the peasant proletariat was as numerous as the mining-industrial proletariat (2,300,000). Spain remained a predominantly agricultural country, although this observation alone means little without considering the distribution of land.

Steppes of limited agricultural productivity presently cover half the country; 10 percent of the surface is infertile. Rain is rare in thirty-two of the forty-eight provinces; the dry lands (drained) cover seventeen million hectares, and they barely produce 9.3 quintals of durum wheat per hectare, which is half of what the irrigated fields produce. Seven million hectares are not cultivated regularly and the absence of livestock prevents the arable land from being renewed. In some regions the soil is so poor that peasants have to bring humus from afar to the river’s vicinity. It is estimated that 40 percent of the surface is not sufficiently cultivated. Only the provinces bordering on the Atlantic and Portugal are irrigated well enough to support cattle.

As one can see, irrigation is the most urgent problem. The four great river systems of the territory contribute enough water to irrigate approximately three or four million hectares, but less than half of the government’s development projects are complete. In hopes of serving agriculture and the unemployed but without clashing with the capitalists, Primo de Rivera launched great public works. However, monopolist societies and the landowners control water distribution and sell it at prices that are inaccessible to the peasants. The land remains infertile, and only enriches speculators, who rent it out without granting the right to the precious liquid. Peasants are obliged to buy water bills at any price that they demand. It is only in Valencia where farmers have retained the old institutions of water use and where the Water Judges, peasants themselves, gather in the cathedral’s atrium every Friday to distribute it among the region’s inhabitants and hear complaints from those concerned.[236]

Rabasseire describes land distribution in the following way:

In 1932–33, the Agrarian Reform Institute conducted an investigation in seven provinces: Badajoz, Cáceres, Sevilla, Ciudad Real, Huelva, Jaén, and Toledo. (It excluded Cádiz, the land of the large estates.) Of 2,434,268 agricultural operations, 1,460,160 occupied less than a hectare; 785,810 farms had one to five hectares; 98,794 had an area of six to ten hectares; and 61,971 encompassed fifty hectares. When the land is not irrigated, fifty hectares is very little, especially because the lack of modern equipment imposes a three-year regime of rotating cultivation (many peasants still used the Roman plow). But if we count the farms of less than fifty hectares, we will see that they make up nine tenths of the total rural establishments in these regions. Only 19,400 farms run from fifty to one hundred hectares and only this twelfth of the total has enough land to support those who work it. Of the rest, 7,508 establishments are large domains, among which fifty-five occupy 5,000 hectares each. The area held by these rural properties of more than 250 hectares adds up to 6,500,000 hectares, as the total extension of the 2,426,000 farms of less than 250 hectares does not amount to 4,256,000 hectares.... In the north, in Galicia and Asturias, small farms of less than one hectare are most common.... Many northerners have to emigrate, because the south has enough space to receive the thousands and even hundreds of thousands of colonos[237] ... if the landowners allow it. The property regime in the agricultural sector can be calculated at: some 50,000 landowners own 50 percent of the land; 700,000 well-off peasants possess 35 percent; one million middling peasants own 11 percent; 1,250,000 small peasants 2 percent, and 2,000,000 workers—40 percent of the rural population—have nothing.[238]

How did people in this rural world live? Eduardo Aunós, a government minister during Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship, states: “While they live in misery, the majority of the agricultural workers will not be able to participate in politics; this misery is the foundation of caciquismo.” [239] Altamira, the celebrated historian of the Spanish economy, points out that “in many small valleys, the limited productivity of the land has forced the peasants to preserve a rural communism up to the present. It has proven efficient and is deeply rooted in the people’s psychology.” [240] Costa thinks that almost all of Spain’s problems have their origin in the iniquitous distribution of wealth, especially the land. [241] Flores Estrada, the great early nineteenth century economist and reformer, shows that the seizure of the land by certain individuals prevents the majority of humankind from working. “In provinces where there’s a land registry, it has been tallied that 84 percent of the small property owners earn less than one peseta daily,” writes Rabasseire. Likewise, Gonzalo de Reparaz bemoans the misery in Andalusia: “From Cartagena to Almería, we are witnessing one of the most appalling European tragedies. Hundreds of thousands of human beings are dying in slow agony.” [242] “Others declared that it was impossible to build housing unless salaries were increased; in the countryside, and even in the small villages, people use huts, caves, and caverns for shelter. In a word: almost the entire rural population is forced to live in conditions unworthy of a human being.” [243] Just as we see the Monarchy’s hand in the origin and maintenance of feudal structures in the rural world, we also see its presence in the government’s orientation toward industry. Carlos I, after crushing the nascent bourgeoisie in the Comunidades de Castilla (1522), concluded that he needed to stop the emergence of an industrial and commercial bourgeoisie at all cost in order to sustain monarchical absolutism. The alliance between the Monarchy and the rural and military aristocracy dates from that period, as does Spain’s resultant impoverishment and decline. Rather than encourage the development of a strong and cultured bourgeoisie, Carlos I preferred to buy the products needed to support the colonization of the Americas and Spain itself in France, Belgium, or wherever else he could find them. This policy necessarily produced a disregard for manual labor and an increased taste for military, ecclesiastic, and literary careers. Scientific and mechanical studies were erased from the curriculums of Spanish universities. The Bourbons rigorously observed this political line drawn by the Hapsburgs, with the brief exception of Carlos III. [244] The political course that Spain followed since the sixteenth century could have only one result for its economic-industrial structure: it yielded an unequal and capricious industrial development, structured around the interests of the Kings and their favorites, and ensured that foreign capitalists would have the exclusive right to exploit mines, industry, electricity, railways, and telephone lines. The state gave to foreign capitalists what it denied Spanish capitalists, whose industrial initiative was asphyxiated by the iron corset of state monopolies.

“The Bank of Spain is organized in such a way that all the country’s profits end up in the pockets of those holding power. The big firms, banks, large industry, and transportation serve the state as an instrument of its plunder. The big firms hold the state captive and the state has imprisoned the nation. The economy is atrophied and the state hyper-atrophied; these are the factors that determine the country’s situation. The state absorbs a third of the national income, 60 percent of which—that is to say, two-ninths of the national revenue—is used to maintain the state’s repressive apparatus.” [245] With small and medium-sized industry controlled by the monopolies and strangled by excessive customs taxes and transport fares (true shackles of all development), the Spanish population’s standard of living could not improve, especially when more than half—its agrarian and peasant sector—fell outside the circuit of consumption. As a result, “Spain is disastrously backward in relation to other countries. Of the four thousand lead mines, only three hundred operate, and only a quarter of the rainfall is utilized. In Spain, 5,000 or 6,000 million tons of coal lay under thin layers of sand and yet not more than six to nine million are extracted each year. And the mineral riches do not stay in the country. Of the 2,700,000 tons of iron mineral extracted, England buys a million and other foreign countries an equal quantity. “Altogether, mining production reaches levels on the order of 1,000 million gold pesetas; industrial production approaches 7,000 million, of which 2,000 million come from the textile industry; and agrarian production reaches 9,000 million. This indicates that more than half of national production is agricultural. The same proportions are also evident in the workforce: there are four to five million people working in industry and the mines, and five to six million (three million peasants and two million salaried workers) in agriculture.” [246] We must now ask: who were arrayed against those eleven million laborers who consumed so little and lived so poorly in the countryside as well as the city? The ten thousand landowners who owned half of Spain’s agricultural property; the financial-political oligarchy; the speculators (commercial intermediaries); the large industrialists, with their retinue of caciques; a military and ecclesiastical caste; and other parasites who lived in idleness thanks to interest and monopolies.

Between these classes—one quite small and the other enormous—there was an abyss. No common project could unite them. Alcalá Zamora had been mistaken: there was no mesocracy to soften the contrast between the few who made hunger exist and the majority who suffered it. “The middle term between what?” asked Miguel de Unamuno. “Spain has never known the middle class.” [247]

In this mosaic of so-called social classes, there was also the intellectual.

The clergy was by far the most numerous of the group, with its approximately 100,000 people who lived at the country’s expense in one way or another and constituted its most reactionary sector. After the church intellectuals, there was the teaching corps, with its bosses and subordinates. The bosses (the mandarins) were the ardent Catholics, as Menéndez Pelayo described them. The “subordinates” came from that petty bourgeois population of store keepers, pharmacists, and small manufacturers who partially filled the ranks of the leftwing Esquerra Catalana and Manuel Azaña’s Republican Left. We must finally add the students, the promise of the future, whose prospects were ambiguous and who could as easily opt for socialism as fascism. The latter movement began to make its appearance in Spain through the theorists Ramiro Ledesma Ramos, Ernesto Giménez Caballero, and Onésimo Redondo, who were articulating their views in early 1931 in the periodical La Conquista del Estado. [248] The only part of the population that really enjoyed life was made up by one million people, between the bureaucrats, priests, soldiers, intellectuals, large bourgeoisie, and landowners. The rest was the “rabble.” When Miguel Maura spoke of defending “legitimate conservative principles,” he meant the preservation of those feudal structures that impeded the country’s economic development. To maintain and defend them was to subject the peasant to a slow death, with salaries that went from 1.5 to three pesetas for a workday lasting from sunrise to sunset, which is to say, for twelve to fourteen hours of labor (and only for a quarter of the year). The anarchists were prepared to respond to these contradictions and use them to their advantage. They were not idealists. They had a realistic view of the situation and had many reasons to believe that they could trigger a revolution and guide it with a libertarian communist program adapted to the radical spirit of the working class and peasantry.

But naturally they could not unleash the revolution overnight. They had to organize it and make the workers and peasants conscious of its necessity. Written propaganda would play a very important role in this, because it enabled anarchists to elucidate how a libertarian communist society could function. The masses needed to be able to envision a new economy, new work relationships, and a federation of internally autonomous neighborhoods. The high rates of illiteracy made such propaganda very difficult and so they set out to end that social blight. They intended to do so with “rationalist” day schools for the youngsters—which practiced what today is called “anti-authoritarian pedagogy”—and night schools for the adults, which were installed in the unions and libertarian ateneos and actively encouraged. As a result of this, the CNT’s unions and the libertarian ateneos became not only instruments of struggle, but also centers of proletarian education and cultural development.

Opponents both inside and outside the CNT criticized the FAI anarchists. Some called them “impatient revolutionaries.” Others, the Marxists, accused them of being ignorant of history and told them that it was impossible to skip stages of historical development. “Spain’s revolution,” they said, “has to be political not social; that is, it has to be democratic-bourgeois.” Anarchists replied to this outlandish argument by saying that the Spanish bourgeoisie had already had its chance to make a democratic-bourgeois revolution and it failed. It was now the proletariat’s turn to make its revolution. [249]

CHAPTER II. Before May 1: the Forces in Play

Durruti mailed his first letter to his family since returning to Spain on May 6, 1931. He wrote:

Please excuse me for not writing earlier, but I’ve had a lot of work to do. And, on top of everything, I’ve had to look after two French comrades who have come to Barcelona to report on our movement. I have a double responsibility, as their friend and comrade [he is referring to Louis Lecoin and Odeón, representatives from the French Anarchist Federation].

I spoke at a rally that we organized on May 1. When I got off the platform, a fellow from León introduced himself to me and told me that he’s thinking of heading there. I pleaded with him to go see you and tell you the details of my life here.

With regard to your trip to Barcelona, I have to tell you something: my life is completely abnormal and it would be impossible for me to attend to you in the way that you deserve. It’s better that you wait. On Monday Mimi [Emilienne] will arrive from Paris and when she’s here and we get a house, we’ll tell you to come and spend some time with us.[250]

As we will see, the change in the political regime created problems that the CNT had to confront immediately, as early as April 15. One dilemma was the issue of the prisoners. They were freed quickly in places like Barcelona, where the workers themselves opened the jail doors, but it was much more complicated with the convicts in the penitentiaries. The provisional Republican government gave amnesty to political and social prisoners and, in that category, had included political party militants and radical workers imprisoned for crimes deriving from their activism. But the situation was different for the CNT and FAI. Many of their men had been locked up under the discriminatory policies of the dictatorship, which classified their offenses as common crimes (they were imprisoned for things like killing authorities, setting off bombs, shoot-outs with the police, attacks on employers, sabotage, etc.) What policy would the new government adopt toward these prisoners? Would it treat them as social prisoners and give them amnesty? The new government began to send signals indicating that it wanted to review each trial, which would amount to leaving a large numbers of anarchist militants in prison. Solidaridad Obrera quickly denounced the new government’s position on the prisoners and demanded their immediate release. It also drew the government’s attention to the peasant question: “We are unaware of the provisional government’s intentions relative to this distressing problem, but we are sure that it will continue if the Republic keeps employing the Monarchy’s methods. That is something that our peasant comrades will not tolerate.” [251]

The CNT and FAI were very preoccupied by the matter of the prisoners. This was also an important concern for the freed Solidarios, who had a number of comrades wasting away in the penitentiaries: Aurelio Fernández was in Cartagena, García Oliver was in Burgos, and Rafael Torres Escartín, Esteban Euterio Salamero, and Juliana López were in the Dueso penitentiary. Durruti and Ascaso began working assiduously to arrange the immediate release of these militants as well as many others. But, in addition to this, there was also the complete reorganization of the CNT in Catalonia and throughout Spain. Rallies and public lectures took place almost without interruption in union halls or other rented sites. Durruti soon showed himself to be a popular orator and excellent agitator. He was asked to speak with such frequency that sometimes he had to participate in two different events on the same day.

When Durruti arrived in Barcelona, he stayed with Luis Riera (María Ascaso’s compañero) at his home at 12 Pasaje Montal in the Sant Martí de Provençals district. Durruti remained with Riera until the Ascaso brothers found him housing at 117 Taulat Street in Poble Nou. This house was rented in the name of Emilia Abadía, which suggests that Ascaso’s mother was in Barcelona at the time.

Times were hard for everyone. Neither the Ascaso brothers nor Durruti had found work: “I can’t go to León right now,” Durruti wrote. “The economic situation is not very bright.... I also have a lot of responsibilities in Barcelona and, since the political situation isn’t very clear, I can’t afford to waste any time.” [252]

He sent another letter to his family on May 11, in which he said that Mimi had just come from Paris. He also told them not to write again until he sent them a new address, because “I’m thinking of going to live in another house.” He also added: “I started working today and hope that I can live comfortably in Barcelona.... Political life here is somewhat complicated. We [the CNT] are fighting hard and hope that our efforts will be crowned with good success.” [253]

Durruti’s allusions to the political situation make sense in the context of the activities undertaken by the Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya [Catalan Republican Left]. Hours before the proclamation of the Republic, Francesc Macià decided that the time had come to proclaim the Free Catalan Republic. He did exactly that, without waiting for the provisional government to call elections or approve a constitution conceding such autonomy to the region. This upset the new leaders in Madrid and Alcalá Zamora came to Barcelona to convince “Avi” (grandfather) that he should wait. However, the real source of the CNT’s difficulties lay in the Esquerra’s desperate effort to get CNT militants to abandon anarcho-syndicalism and join their party. Their propaganda did influence some CNT members.

There were additional problems as well. For example, Socialist Labor Minister Largo Caballero used his ministerial position to privilege the UGT (his organization) over the CNT (its rival). As a whole, his labor policies simply mirrored those advanced by social democrats in countries where they had some degree of governmental power: their goal was to improve workers’ conditions through legislation, which naturally led to class collaboration not class struggle. However, this social reformism was inapplicable in Spain, because a bourgeoisie did not exist as a political force, industry was not sufficiently developed, and the state lacked the necessary institutional coherence to apply the reforms. The class struggle had to take place in its purest state in Spain, although that did not stop Largo Caballero from persevering with his reformist tactics which, in turn, prompted the radicalization of CNT strategies.

We will examine all of this below and only mention it here for the sake of background. But we should add that the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) was not an entirely homogeneous body and that rivalries among its leading cadre had grown more acute since the Pact of San Sebastián. These divisions revealed deeply rooted differences within the SP. Julián Besteiro, Trifón Gómez, Andrés Saborit, and others thought the party should not join the provisional government and, instead, to wait to compete in the forthcoming elections. Largo Caballero and Indalecio Prieto believed that it should join the government. The opportunistic stance of the latter two prevailed within the SP. Joining the government, they argued, would be the best way to consolidate the party. The easiest way to win elections is from power.

We should also note the presence of Joaquín Maurín’s Bloc Obrer i Camperol (Peasant Worker Block), which was always in conflict with the CNT. There was the Communist Party as well, an alien force whose life support came from Communist International representative Humbert Droz, who controlled the finances used to publish Mundo Obrero and also crafted the political slogans steering the “Spanish cadre.”

Centrist parties usually have some ideological convictions in other countries, but that wasn’t the case in Spain. The Radical Party occupied the center and its leader, Alejandro Lerroux, was the prototype of the professional politician. His disciples, who frequently exceeded their master in the arts of opportunism, made up his general staff. Speaking of his youthful activity in the anarchist movement, Lerrouxist Diego Martínez Barrio [254] once said that he had decided that he felt more comfortable in parliament than prison. This party’s electorate was a mishmash of those nostalgic for the anti-clericalism of early Lerrouxism, to bureaucrats, to those living off investments and looking for the best place to invest their capital.

The left, including Manuel Azaña and his Republican Party, lined up along the Socialist Party. It drew its members from the small population of liberal bourgeoisie with intellectual inclinations, but did little more than pontificate about the earthly and divine in café discussion circles, often with deep ignorance of both.

We will end this list by mentioning Marcelino Domingo’s Radical Socialists, who navigated the events without radicalism in the socialist sense of the word.

The Right, which took refuge under Maura and Niceto Alcalá Zamora’s flag, was largely inactive, except when its members were shipping their capital abroad or stopping the cultivation of the land on their large estates.

Solidaridad Obrera continued warning the working class about the country’s unresolved problems and the need to address them as soon as possible, since it’s best to “strike the iron when it’s hot.” For their part, the workers poured into CNT unions en masse and participated in the nightly meetings organized throughout Barcelona. Orators at all these events urged the workers not to trust the new leaders: of course they were not revolutionaries and if they did institute some reforms, it was only because of proletarian pressure. Massive activist gatherings followed one another almost without interruption. There was a lot of work and little discussion, as propagandists were sent throughout Catalonia to support the CNT’s reorganization. News from the rest of Spain was positive: the CNT was being reborn from its ashes. Militants believed that the CNT could play a role of the first magnitude in the country’s political and social life and that its influence could exceed that of the UGT, which would naturally accept the social truce that the Socialist ministers were asking from the workers. The CNT needed to go beyond the Socialist’s reformism and draw the UGT workers into their ranks, so that together they could impose grassroots solutions to the country’s problems. The CNT’s Catalan Regional Committee called a meeting on Saturday, April 18 to draw up plans for an agitation campaign in Catalonia that would lay the foundation for the complete re-organization of the region.

The following day there were scores of workers’ rallies in Barcelona and other major Catalan cities and towns. The central topics were: freedom for the prisoners; worker and peasant demands, including an immediate increase in salaries, improvements in working conditions, and a forty hour workweek without a decrease in salaries; the dissolution of the Civil Guard; cleansing the army and eliminating the statist bureaucracy; real educational reform, with separation of the church and state; and numerous other closely related issues.

The halls were so packed that Sunday morning that they were unable to hold all those who came to hear the voice of the CNT and FAI. Teatro Proyecciones in the Montjuich Park was overflowing with people, who poured out onto the street and milled around outside. The same thing occurred in the Teatro Romea in the Sants district, in Gracia, in El Clot’s Cine Meridiana, where Federica Montseny spoke for the first time, in Poble Nou, and in the Teatro Triunfo.

Durruti spoke on the rostrum of the Teatro Proyecciones for the first time that day. He told the crowd: “If we were Republicans, we would say that the government is incapable of recognizing the victory that the people gave it. But we aren’t Republicans; we are authentic workers and in their name we call the government’s attention to the dangerous route that it has embarked upon and which, if unchanged, will bring the country to the brink of civil war. The Republic doesn’t interest us as a political regime. If we’ve accepted it for now, it’s merely as a starting point for a process of social democratization. But, naturally, this happens only on the condition that it ensures that liberty and justice are not reduced to empty words. If the Republic forgets all this and disregards the workers and peasants’ demands, then it will not satisfy the hopes that the workers invested in it on April 14 and what little interest we have in it will be lost.” [255]

The subject was the same in the rest of the rallies and the workers’ reply made it clear that if the government didn’t rapidly institute social and political reforms, the people would solve their problems on their own. “As anarchists,” a speaker said at another assembly, “our activities have not been and will never be subordinated to the political line of any cabinet, political party, or state. We anarchists and militant CNT workers—revolutionaries, all of us—have to apply pressure from the street to force the men in the provisional government to carry out their promises.” [256]

For Los Solidarios, this contact with the working masses was decisively important for the development of their revolutionary practice. From a personal point of view, Francisco Ascaso revealed himself to be an excellent speaker, simultaneously serene and dynamic. García Oliver (recently freed from the Burgos prison) also showed a notable mastery of the rostrum and would become one of the fiercest tribunes of the revolution. As for Durruti, a listener of his offered the following account: “He improvised short sentences, which were more like ax blows than words. From the very beginning he established a connection with the audience that remained unbroken throughout the duration of his talk. It seemed as if he and his listeners formed one body.

His powerful voice and physical presence—gesturing roughly with a closed fist—made him a devastating speaker. These qualities were complemented by his personal modesty. He occupied the stage only while speaking and, as soon as he finished, left to mix with those present. While standing outside after the ceremony, he continued talking with the groups of comrades on the sidewalks or in the plaza. He treated the workers like he had known them for his entire life.” [257]

The next week was also very intense. The CNT planned to celebrate May 1 with a large workers’ rally. It wanted to mobilize the country’s proletariat and warn the government that it couldn’t do as it pleased without taking the working class’s needs into account. That gesture was extremely opportune, given important political developments that were unfolding at the time. Indeed, three momentous events had just occurred. Francesc Macià had proclaimed the Free Catalan Republic, without waiting for the approval of the central government. He thus resolved the problem of Catalan nationalism in radical terms, to the great satisfaction of most Catalans. From a theoretical point of view, the CNT could stand aloof from this matter but, tactically speaking, Catalonia’s independence benefited the CNT because it weakened the central government.

Another development pertained to Manuel Azaña’s new military policy. Azaña had studied how to reform the Spanish army for years and concluded that it was necessary to readjust it in such a way that would allow modernization through specialization and significantly reduce the military high command. This would end the disproportions in the Army, which had almost as many officers as soldiers. Azaña was correct, technically speaking, but would fail while attempting to institute his policy. His reform immediately put him at odds with his own government comrades, particularly Miguel Maura and Alcalá Zamora. How would Manuel Azaña apply his plan without rupturing the government’s unity? Through “wishy-washy” politics, as we will see. Spain now had a new regime and military leaders ought to swear their fidelity to it, thought Azaña. However, the Republic shouldn’t ask for a declaration of loyalty from those who do not support it and thus army higher-ups who do not embrace the new government should leave the army. In compensation, they would receive their full salaries for life. This second part of the measure did not resolve anything and, in a certain way, contradicted the primary purpose of the reform. The policy’s immediate consequences were the opposite of what Azaña had wanted: genuinely Republican officers left the Armed Forces and dedicated themselves to political activities, whereas those who were still monarchists (more than 10,000 among the officers and high command) rejected the Republican oath, refused to leave the army, and immediately formed the National Action party. Spain’s most reactionary civilians—large property owners, industrialists, financiers, aristocrats, and retired soldiers—also joined the party. Angel Herrera, the editor of the catholic newspaper El Debate, directed it politically.

Interior Minister Miguel Maura carried out the third important act of the period by legally recognizing the National Action party. Now officially sanctioned, the party began a slander campaign against the Republic and ordered its supporters to withdraw their capital from the country in order to cripple industry and stop the land from being cultivated. They also organized public demonstrations demanding “Death to the Republic” and “Viva Christ the King.” There were no casualties at their rallies in Madrid, but there were deaths at those held in the provinces. The deeply monarchist Civil Guard shot at the proletarian counter-demonstrators and the number of victims began to grow. The Republic was now firing on Republicans and protecting monarchists: the unity pact sealed in San Sebastián began to bear fruit. These are, succinctly, the events that occurred on the eve of May Day 1931, just fifteen days after the proclamation of the Second Republic. In addition to multiple organizational and propaganda tasks, Durruti and Ascaso also had to accompany the groups of foreign anarchists sent to Barcelona for the May 1 celebration. The following foreign militants attended: Agustín Souchy, for the German Anarchist Federation; Voline and Ida Mett, for the exiled Russian anarchists; Camilo Berneri, for the exiled Italian anarchists; Rudiger, for the SAC (Swedish anarcho-syndicalists); Alberto de Jong, for the Dutch anarcho-syndicalists; Hem Day, for the Belgian anarchists; and Louis Lecoin and Pierret (Odeón) for the French Anarcho-Communist Union.

An important meeting of CNT militants and anarchist groups occurred on Monday, April 27 in the Construction Workers Union at 25 Mercaders Street. Its purpose was to plan the May Day events. One issue that they had to address was under what flag to march. This was not merely a symbolic question: it also had theoretical roots in a 1919 debate between the “Red Flag” and “Black Flag” anarchist groups. The former were anarchists—the idea of forming an Iberian Anarchist Communist Federation was first advanced in their newspaper in 1919—but put greater emphasis on labor issues; the second group, in which García Oliver was active, was purely anarchist and therefore more distant (at the time) from economic questions. There was a strenuous debate between the two groups, which lasted almost until 1930. The issue was meaningless now, with the proclamation of the Republic and the tremendous opportunities for mass mobilization. Nonetheless, it was necessary to put a mutual agreement on record. García Oliver proposed that they give material expression to the accord by making the two flags into one: the black and red flag. For the first time in history the red and black flag flew over a CNT-FAI rally. [258]

CHAPTER III. May 1, 1931

April 14 and May 1 were dates with deep social meaning and their proximity only highlighted the difference between the two: one had a political content and the other was for the workers. In fact, this May Day was going to be the Spanish proletariat’s April 14. The fate of the Second Republic hung on the confrontation between these dates.

The UGT and the Socialist Party organized the May Day workers’ parade in Madrid. Three Socialist ministers presided over the event, making it an almost governmental ceremony. A small number of Communists joined in for propagandistic purposes. They photographed strategically placed militants as they posed with CP banners. The party then distributed copies of the photos abroad and printed them in La Correspondencia Comunista in order to demonstrate the party’s influence on the Spanish working class. [259] Other than this, the rally unfolded like a day of popular revelry.

Things were very different in Barcelona and events there would evoke the tragic 1886 day in Chicago when the working class was once again aggrieved for demanding the right to life. [260]

The CNT wanted to make the May Day celebration a massive expression of proletarian militancy. Although they had planned a rally, the city’s walls did not look like those in other countries on similar occasions, where large posters attract the attention of pedestrians and invite them to demonstrate or attend an event.

Louis Lecoin complained bitterly about the CNT’s lack of organization and for neglecting what he called “advertising.” Indeed, the CNT was always very impoverished, although perhaps its economic poverty was actually a strength; with more money, it might have tried to be the “perfect” organization, with the “perfect” union apparatus.” Lecoin writes:

After the fall of the Monarchy, I paid a visit to my friends Durruti, Ascaso, and Jover in Barcelona. On the eve of May Day, the Communists announced an assembly and covered the walls with large posters. From the CNT and FAI: nothing. Had these organizations dismissed the opportunity to demonstrate in that festival? I was worried and communicated my concern to Durruti. He reassured me:

“Contrary to what you think, the CNT and the FAI are not going to pass this proletarian celebration in silence. Quite the opposite: we’ve organized a large demonstration for tomorrow and expect more than 100,000 to attend. “But the advertising?” I asked.

“A few lines in Solidaridad Obrera will suffice.”

.... This time the confidence of the “three musketeers” was vindicated. More than 100,000 people came to the rally.[261]

Tierra y Libertad printed an extensive account of the sorrowful day that transpired. On its front page it ran a five column article under the following headline: “ A Tragic May 1. Police Attack The FAI And CNT Demonstration.

Given the incidents that occurred on the morning of Friday, May 1, we cannot shirk the duty of reflecting the whole truth of the events in our pages. Those responsible must be held accountable for the cowardly aggression that we, the demonstrators in the Plaza de la República, were victims of. We will try to order our memories and record them impartially but firmly. We will not permit anyone to accuse us of having ungainly political motives.

The Rally. The Palacio de Bellas Artes was totally full and thus many thousand comrades hoping to hear the orators were unable to enter. Another rostrum was set up on a truck in the Salón de Galán, so that the comrades who spoke inside could do so again there.[262]

All the speeches were enthusiastic, energetic, and filled with the greatest serenity of spirit. The speeches were delivered by comrades Castillo, Bilbao, Martínez, Cortés, Lecoin, Parera, and a Portuguese émigré in the name of his exiled comrades. Comrade Sanmartín presided over the event. Here, below, are summaries of the speeches from the local press. “We have to expropriate the businesses closed by the bourgeoisie. The workers can run them on their own.”

“We can’t forget the intellectual formation of the youth. It’s imperative to stop the state from controlling education. The state always tends to create soldiers and slaves.”

“When Minister Alvaro de Albornoz was in the opposition, he said that the 1873 Republic failed because it lacked courage and didn’t guillotine the large landowners. Clearly the government’s current policy doesn’t correspond to that sentiment.”

“All new conquests are impossible once the people abandon revolutionary action and try to intervene in social affairs by means of universal suffrage. We can’t wait for the Parliament to resolve the social problem. The ‘representatives of the people’ don’t have any creative power; they’re nothing but demagogues.”

“There can be no revolution but the working class’s revolution. The workers with the CNT are fully capable of making a deep social revolution.” “It’s not only the workers here who desperately need a revolution in Spain. We also have to make it so it can be an example for proletarians around the world who are subject to the yoke of capitalism, the reaction, and the fascist dictatorships.”

“The CNT has to advance a practical and concrete program.”

“It isn’t time to entertain yourself by reading history. It’s time to make it.”

“Workers and peasants, beyond the Parliament, our duty is to march energetically toward the future.”[263]

The immense workers’ gathering voted unanimously to support the following demands and nominated a group to deliver them to the Catalan government:

  • Dissolve the police and the Civil Guard. The defense of the people must be carried out by the people themselves.

  • Expropriate the large landowners, without compensation and immediate delivery of their belongings to the peasants for their collective use. Immediately expropriate factories and businesses closed by capitalists to protest the Republic.

  • Expropriate foreign companies, which exploit our country’s mines, telephones, railroads, etc., without compensation and immediately deliver their possessions to the workers for their collective use.

  • Dissolve the army and immediately withdraw from Morocco.[264]

When the delegation left the Palacio de Bellas Artes, the area was so crowded that it was impossible to take a step in some places. Workers filled Triunfo Avenue and adjacent streets. Black and red, Republican, and black flags were flying over the tumult. Huge white canvas banners read: “We demand the dissolution of the Civil Guard”; “Down with the exploitation of man by man”; and “The factory to the workers, the land to the peasants.” [265] Tierra y Libertad continues:

The rally. The rally in the Salón de Galán was organized immediately. Three trucks were at its head. They were full of youths waiving black and red and black flags.

The audience became an impressive, formidable mass: there were approximately 150,000 people there [in a city of one million]. The march set off in perfect order toward the Arco del Triunfo, passing the Ronda de San Pedro, Plaza de Cataluña, Ramblas, and Fernando Street.

The tip of the demonstration arrived at the Plaza de la República just after 12:30. The three trucks entered and the delegation stopped some ten meters from the Generalitat’s door.[266] The commission that was to deliver the rally’s demands to authorities stood in the middle of the crowd. The palace door had been closed, but it was opened to allow the delegation to enter. At this moment there was no one at the door except some members of the Generalitat’s autonomous police. We did not see any agent provocateur, despite all the biased statements of the authorities and the bourgeoisie press of every hue.

Comrade Louis Lecoin followed the delegation as it entered. This comrade was carrying the black and red flag, since it is customary that commissions bear their flags when they address authorities....

The Generalitat’s brutal police, the terrible Catalan Civil Guard, committed the first outrage. When Lecoin was about to enter the Generalitat with the delegation, various henchmen pounced on him and fought with him and tried to snatch the flag from his hands. They failed, because our brave comrade heroically defended the flag. Police broke the flagpole during the struggle, but the flag remained in his hands.

No one can disprove the events that we will relate, because we were among the hundreds that witnessed them, despite everything said by the perpetrators of this shameful incident and all the statements issued by the Generalitat. Neither Macià nor Governor Companys saw what we saw. They weren’t there. We were at the scene of the event, first mistreated by the Generalitat’s police and later fired upon.

Shots. Before continuing we should correct the statement made by the comrades from the delegation. They were already inside the Generalitat when the episode with the flag began and thus could not see what took place outside, although before entering they had verified that there was no agent provocateur at the door; only the Generalitat’s police.

But we’ll get to the central matter. At almost exactly the same time as the Generalitat’s police assaulted our flag, a shot rang out from the entrance of the Generalitat. We do not know if one of their policemen fired the shot or if it was someone entrenched behind them, but we guarantee and repeat that the shot rang out from the Generalitat’s entrance.

We were more shocked than frightened. The police who had knocked over Lecoin fled into the Generalitat when they heard the gunfire. They closed the doors behind them, while our flag flew triumphantly in the air. If the police didn’t fire the shot, they probably know who did, since it came from within the building.

As if the shot was an order, shooting immediately rang out from the corner of San Severo Street, directed at the flags and at the trucks, which were then occupied by women.

There was enormous confusion. The frightened crowd fled in all directions. Some brave comrades got ready to confront the attackers. Durruti was still on top of the truck and averted a disaster. With a strong, booming voice, he called upon those running wildly to be calm, so that they wouldn’t crush the others while fleeing. He also stopped the armed comrades from responding without thinking. However he did it, he was able to control the panic and prevent something terrible from occurring.[267]

When calm was restored, the plaza once again filled with people. But five minutes did not pass before there was more gunfire from side streets near the Generalitat. There was also the roar of shotguns, fired before the people could leave the plaza and take shelter somewhere safe.

Those with helmets fire. It was “those of the helmet,” the terrible security guards, who came from the Regomir Delegation. Posted on the corners of City Hall, they were preparing to shoot at the crowd and cut them down at close range. The decisiveness and bravery of our comrades stopped a great tragedy, because they made the guards retreat by going toward the side streets where they were about to machine-gun the unarmed demonstrators and, taking the corners, held them back so that they couldn’t enter the plaza. Shots also rang out from other side streets. Someone was shooting at the demonstrators with a rifle from a building in the Plaza. Various well-dressed youths were seen on San Severo Street, carrying pistols and slipping through doorways. They later fled through the alleys surrounding the Generalitat Palace. The same thing occurred on Obispo Street.

If the agent provocateurs were old “libreños,” there were doubtlessly those from other organizations as well. It is incumbent upon authorities to find out who they were and punish them.

The shootout continues. The shooting was now widespread. Our comrades had taken the street corners, but some were injured. There was enormous panic throughout the area. All the doors were closed and anguished cries mixed with the crackle of gunfire.

The battle lasted about three quarters of an hour. When it reached its most deadly pitch, a group of comrades in streets surrounding the Plaza de la República went to the Artillery barracks on Comercio Street to ask them to help stop those still in the plaza from being massacred.

Here we have to say more. Despite all the official and unofficial statements, this was not a Communist provocation. Perhaps some old “libreños” were mixed up in it, but if one of them initiated the incident, he was certainly protected by the Generalitat. Furthermore, it was not accidental that the dreadful helmeted riflemen intervened. They didn’t come from City Hall, since had they been there they could have easily machine-gunned the people from the windows that open onto the Plaza de la República. They came from the Regomir Delegation. And they had to have come from there with concrete orders. It isn’t our concern whether or not they received these orders from Governor Companys or Lieutenant Cabezas, who says he solicited help. The fact is that the Security Guards were called to machine-gun the people and the cowards carried out their orders, assaulting without being assaulted.

Brother Soldiers. There is no need to state that the Capitan General ordered the troops to go to the Plaza de la República and end the battle. We don’t doubt it. And we also know that the soldiers, our brother soldiers, with their officers at the head, didn’t hesitate to grab their weapons and rush to defend the oppressed in the Plaza after our comrades asked for their help.

Our soldier brothers, sons of the people like ourselves, generous and valiant like anonymous heroes, elicited vigorous applause and deafening cheers in their wake. There were happy smiles on their faces because they were being useful to their brothers, because they were flying to their aid and stopping them from being murdered.

A detachment of troops commanded by an officer [Captain Miranda] raced to subdue the guards that were attacking the people. Other detachments arrived, and they cordoned off the Plaza and calm was restored. Resounding cheers and applause replaced the clamor of gunfire.

Our soldier brothers deserve our most sincere gratitude and our most cordial embrace. They are the people in arms, disposed to avoid crimes not commit them. They, our soldier brothers, haven’t made the rifle a trade. They don’t bear arms to kill their fathers and brothers, to machine-gun the people. Soldier brothers, Salud!

The Civil Guard. When the savior troops took their position in the Plaza de la República, a section of the Civil Guard cavalry arrived at a gallop. Doubtlessly someone had ordered them to come to the Plaza. And we know that the Civil Guard came to charge and shoot, not to protect the assaulted citizens. We want to know who sent them. The act of sending them is very significant. They planned to attack those who were defending their lives and honor in the Plaza.

The people received the Civil Guard with catcalls louder than we have ever heard before. Immediately upon arriving, they drew their sabers and got ready to charge against the people voicing their displeasure at seeing them there.

The leader of the troops, of our brother soldiers, who is a soldier and brother as well, gave an order to the Commander of the Civil Guard. We know that he did not obey that order, because we saw the soldiers load their rifles. This convinced the Civil Guard that it would be better to withdraw....

Now, without the fear of being machine-gunned, the people poured into the Plaza once again. Flags flew and enthusiastic cheers sounded out. The tragedy was over and the balance was painful: there were many injured comrades and one guard had been killed and two injured.... The dead guard had been shot numerous times. According to official statements, which we deny categorically, ‘the rebels finished him off.’ That’s a lie! A loathsome and rotten lie! A scoundrel’s lie! He fell during the shootout, his comrades left him there, and then he was riddled with ricocheting and poorly aimed bullets. No human being could have entered the area to finish off the guard, because he would have been annihilated immediately by the shotgun fire. The official statements are full of shameful, cowardly, and despicable lies. There were no murderers in the Plaza de la República. The real assassins were posted behind the corners; they were the aggressors and would have slaughtered many of us if our brother soldiers had not intervened. We left the Plaza de la República. Macià came later and lamented the events from the Generalitat’s balcony. We lament it much more, because we were the victims. And we have no use for emotional apologies. We want justice. We demand it. And, to begin, we demand that no one defame us with villainous accusations.

What fanaticism can do. In an attempt to justify the disgraceful conduct of the Generalitat’s police and the gunman with pistols and rifles, some circulated the story that there was an attempt to assault the Generalitat Palace. Only fanatics could devise such nonsense.

To be clear, we believe this stupid fable came from young Macià supporters who worried that such events in front of the Generalitat could harm the cause of Catalan independence. To play it safe, they invented the excuse before the accusation was made. We do not charge Macià’s people with the aggression nor do we hold him directly or indirectly responsible for now. We limit ourselves to affirming that the first shot came from the Generalitat. The interested parties will have to clarify things, but they must stop making up ridiculous fabrications.

As an example. The events on Friday immediately aroused the rage of all the zealots against us; against the anarchists and militant workers and anyone with advanced social views. Thus, when a small group of Communist demonstrators passed the Plaza de Cataluña, the Civil Guard charged and dispersed them. The public—the Catalanist middle class—thought these were demonstrators coming from the Plaza de la República and applauded the guards when they tried to lynch two of the Communists.

It is repugnant enough to cheer those who trample the people—the Communists are people too, even though we are anti-communist—but to try to lynch defenseless men is an act of cowardice only conceivable in rogues, asexuals, and eunuchs.

The politicians who profess their concern for the suffering masses will not earn our sympathy with such attitudes. On the contrary, they will provoke a deep rupture, whose distressing consequences will not be our responsibility.[268]

CHAPTER IV. The Nosotros group faces the CNT and the Republic

The CNT and FAI both called meetings to decide how to respond to the restrictive policy that the new Catalanist leaders would surely try to impose on them.

Speeches and statements that Macià made after the May Day tragedy indicated that he was afraid of falling out with the CNT workers and hoped that they would help him pass the Catalan Autonomy Statute in the referendum due to be held shortly. Also, some militants supported a “truce” and thought that the CNT should give the Catalan politicians an opportunity to exercise their new power in peace: in other words, they wanted the CNT to strike a deal with the governing Catalanists. Others countered that authorities would see any expression of good will as a sign of CNT weakness and a disavowal of the anarchist groups who fought with the police. It would suggest a rupture between the CNT and the FAI, which the politicians would take as a “green light” to act against the anarchists. Furthermore, such an entente implied compromises and those compromises would empty the Catalan CNT of its anarcho-syndicalism and make it an appendix of the Generalitat.

In essence, there were forces within the CNT that framed events in diametrically opposed ways. This became clear at the CNT’s meeting. In fact, the problems were so deeply rooted that everyone thought the organization might have to split. It would be disastrous for such a schism to occur while the CNT was trying to rebuild itself. Also, this would stop it from responding clearly to the transparent aims of the new Minister of labor, Francisco Largo Caballero. His goal was to undermine the CNT by promulgating laws designated to mediate and regulate class conflict (for example, using Mixed Juries to prevent strikes and requiring eight days notice before they could occur). The CNT could not back down against the reformists; that would mean renouncing its anarcho-syndicalist content and allowing its integration into the state. The CNT needed to advance a concrete, coherent, and decisive position against the new government. The militants knew that they were facing a crucial juncture, and the looming threat of division made their discussions particularly tense. The CNT’s internal unity was clearly very fragile. Those present at the CNT meeting did their best to reconcile the contradictory perspectives and reduce the dangers of a split. Ultimately they decided to refer matters to a CNT Congress, where they could define a response to the new political conditions created by the establishment of the Republic.

The anarchist groups also met and had similar concerns as well. Barcelona’s Local Federation of Groups had called the meeting and delegates from more than thirty groups attended. Many militants had joined the movement during the difficult years of dictatorship; some had entered through the unions and others through the cultural centers, ateneos, and literary associations.

The CNT’s reappearance in 1930, and the new discussions within it, was a call to action for some and a renewal of commitment for others. The FAI was younger and more dynamic, and had greater theoretical coherence than during the underground years.

There were many new faces for Los Solidarios at the meeting. Indeed, when the groups announced their presence by stating their names (as was customary), the Solidarios were surprised to learn that “one of the recently created groups had selected ‘ Los Solidarios’ as its appellation. The men from the old group didn’t say anything about the issue; there was no patent on the name and, besides, that wasn’t what mattered.” [269]

As a whole, those present believed that if the FAI let the CNT give in to the Catalan politicians’ blackmail—the provocation was clear—then the CNT’s moderate faction would succeed in erasing the anarchist influence in the CNT and, accordingly, isolate the anarchists from the workers. This would prompt the CNT to accommodate itself to Largo Caballero’s labor legislation and integrate itself into the state. The social revolution would be deferred indefinitely. The ex- Solidarios—who were now the Nosotros group—articulated an important response to the dilemma. They argued that Largo Caballero would be unable to prevent the radicalization of the class struggle, because neither the bourgeoisie nor the state was capable of instituting his reforms, due to the bourgeoisie’s backwardness and Spain’s lack of industrial development. But, while the reformists had no chance of success, the Republican government could try to suppress worker discontent, if the state to grew stronger. Here the experience of Primo de Rivera’s tyranny was instructive: such a strengthening of the Republican state would be an unmistakable setback for the revolution. In such conditions—they said—it is imperative to prevent the Republican state from fortifying itself and, to do so, they must maintain a state of constant pre-revolutionary ferment by practicing what the Nosotros group called “revolutionary gymnastics.” The CNT would be the revolutionary vanguard of the political and social struggle in this process. Through perpetual “revolutionary gymnastics,” workers and peasants will make contact with revolutionary theory and their practice will shape their theory. It will be a dialectical give and take in which theory and practice inform one another. Obstacles will disappear, the sacred “truths” of bourgeoisie ideology will shatter, and taboos will dissipate. Workers will start to envision the future society and assimilate that vision into their beings as a tangible, accessible reality.

The anarchist groups were not indifferent to the possibility of a split within the CNT, but they had a different response to the threat than the CNT activists. They believed that an organization has to have a coherent perspective for its practice to be coherent. If there are divisions within the organization, and tendencies pulling in contradictory directions, then those tendencies will counteract one another and render the organization inert. If there is no other solution—if a split has to occur for the sake of the revolutionary process—then at least it should take place in a way that causes minimal disruption. [270]

Responding to rank and file pressure, the CNT National Committee called a Congress—the CNT’s third—which it schedule for June 1931. The FAI called an anarchist conference for the same dates and both events took place in Madrid. During the time, CNT and FAI militants were so intensely active that every spare moment seemed to be occupied by meetings. This was particularly true for Durruti, Ascaso, and García Oliver, who not only had to attend to normal activist responsibilities but also spoke frequently at rallies and meetings. Indeed, the presence of these three comrades on a rostrum was enough to guarantee a rally’s success, which is why they were asked to speak all over Spain and traveled constantly. If we also recall that each one had to work in a factory to earn his bread and support his family, it is easy to imagine what their lives were like. Emilienne Morin states that “I didn’t see Durruti for entire weeks, as he went from meetings directly to work.” [271] While the CNT was trying to resolve its internal disagreements and prepare for its Third Congress, the provisional government anxiously watched over it, hoping that the Confederation would admit its legitimacy. The government also had to resolve the Catalan question raised by Macià. The new leaders in Madrid, particularly Miguel Maura, could not accept the assault on the central government’s power represented by Macià’s abrupt declaration of Catalan autonomy. Although they knew that they would inevitably have to accept some degree of Catalan independence, they wanted to do so through established legal and constitutional processes and not be forced to accept it in Francesc Macià’s “guerrilla” style. The government dispatched several ministers to Barcelona to try to convince Macià to utilize the sanctioned mechanisms. He didn’t agree, and so they tried to find a modus vivendi that could endure until Catalonia’s autonomy was formally instituted in the 1932 referendum.

In addition to the Macià dilemma, the government also had to address problems created by a very different man: Mr. Pedro Segura, the Cardinal Primate of Spain, whom Miguel Maura described as a “guerrilla of Christ the King.” [272] On May 1, Cardinal Segura released a pastoral letter to the clergy and faithful of the Toledo archbishopric that discussed “the country’s serious problems.” The letter was extensive and what interests us is its political part, toward the end, in which he reminded the devotees of their obligations in the next Parliamentary elections (which the provisional government had scheduled for June and which would be a decisive step in the configuration of the new Republic). “In the present circumstances,” Segura wrote, “it is imperative that Catholics ... come together in a serious and effective way to secure the election of candidates to the Parliament that will defend the rights of the Church and the social order.” [273] This amounted to a declaration of war on the new regime. Cardinal Segura became a true boss of party politics and constantly called for resistance to any government measure that might “undermine the historic foundations of the nation.” Among his suggestions, he urged his followers to withdraw all economic support from the regime. National Action was seen as Cardinal Segura’s party and its first public act on May 10 incited people to set fire to 150 churches and convents throughout Spain. According to Maura, the events in Madrid occurred like this:

The crowd gathered on Alcalá Street, between la Cibeles and Independencia Plaza, in front of the Bailén Palace, hurling insults and threats. A police truck waited for I don’t know what in front of one of the building’s tightly sealed doors. Some infantry security guards and others on horseback surrounded the demonstrators, without making the slightest attempt to use their weapons, or even their bodies and horses, to clear the streets.

I approached on foot and asked the leader of the force about the cause of the disturbance.

I found out that in the morning some monarchist youths had assembled on the building’s third floor, which was apparently the party’s new center. When the public was returning from a concert in the Retiro—and when there was the most people passing by—the ill-advised young men placed a gramophone in the window and played the Royal March through an amplifier.

The public had continued to stop in front of the building and soon there was a sizable, hostile crowd there. They repeatedly tried to force open the building’s door, but it had been shut from inside. They shouted, demanding that those inside open the door, so that they could teach them a lesson. The guards, called by telephone from within the building, came to prevent an attack on the premises.[274]

Maura says that he didn’t know what to do and thus returned to the Interior Ministry and spoke with the General Director of Security, General Carlos Blanco, who had been appointed to his post at Alcalá Zamora’s request. This officer “neither supported the Republic nor had the slightest spiritual or ideological contact with us” says Maura. Indeed, Carlos Blanco continued to be 100 percent monarchist. Meanwhile, the workers remained concentrated on Alcalá Street. They knew that Juan Ignacio Luca de Tena, editor and owner of the ABC newspaper, was the perpetrator of the monarchist provocation and so they went to attack the newspaper’s office on Serrano Street. Another group of demonstrators went to the Puerta del Sol to rally in front of the Interior Ministry.

The demonstrators shouted for the Interior Minister’s head and also for the dissolution of the Civil Guard, whom they called assassins. Given the situation, and with the government gathered in the Interior Ministry building, Maura asked for authorization to clear the demonstrators with the Civil Guard, after “the requisite formal warnings.” [275] Manuel Azaña objected, saying that he would do anything but “put the Civil Guard on the street against the people.” The rest of the ministers agreed with Azaña, except for Socialists Largo Caballero and Indalecio Prieto, who were on Maura’s side. [276] At six in the afternoon, a group of demonstrators asked to speak with Manuel Azaña, who met with them in the Interior Ministry. They told him that he should go to the balcony and assure the demonstrators that will be justice had. Azaña did so, but immediately after he addressed the crowd, one of the demonstrators meeting with him also spoke. He “demanded the resignation of the Interior Minister, punishment of the monarchists responsible for the morning’s incidents, and the dissolution of the Civil Guard. And that,” writes Maura, “from the very balcony of the Interior Ministry, without my knowledge and with the Civil Guard troops in the courtyard, hearing everything that he said and shouted.” [277]

In his account, Maura relates his discussion with Azaña in detail, as well as Azaña’s apologies, who said that everything he promised to the crowd was “nothing more than a ruse” to get them to leave. Then the already delicate situation became volatile. The demonstrators on Serrano Street tried to attack the ABC building and the Civil Guard, sent by Maura to protect the monarchist newspaper, fired on the assailants, killing two and injuring several others. News of this reached those in the Puerta del Sol and a standoff began between the government and the infuriated protesters. The impasse dragged on until Maura ordered Security Guards to clear the Plaza around six in the morning. Maura had no choice but to use Security Guards, given that the government had denied him the right to use the Civil Guard for the purpose.

The arson of churches began at 10:00 am on May 11. It started with the burning of the Jesuits’ Residence on Flor Street, with ten more acts of arson following, between schools, churches, and convents. The government still hadn’t called out the Civil Guard and decided to use the army to pacify Madrid. General Captain Gonzalo Queipo de Llano declared a state of emergency, ordered the troops to patrol the streets, and put an end to the arsons.

Miguel Maura was depressed by the “government’s lack of decisiveness” and retired to his home with the intention of drawing up his resignation (which he later did). Panic spread among government ministers when they learned that he was going to quit and they reconsidered their attitude toward public order. They all agreed that it would be best to accede and give Miguel Maura the powers that he wanted. They granted him such vast authority that he was even entitled to declare a state of emergency if he wished. Maura, in other words, would exercise a dictatorial power. He soon began to use his “rights” at whim.

It was in the midst of this social and political turmoil that the CNT prepared its Third National Congress, with workers’ assemblies and rallies following one after the other. The activity was particularly frenetic in Barcelona.

This was a supremely important moment for the anarchists, with respect to their presence on the Peninsula and also their potential impact on the worldwide anarchist movement. Earlier we noted the anarchist’s international crisis after the defeats in Russia, Italy, and France. Indeed, organized anarchism seemed to withdraw into itself after these blows and succumb to a sort of inferiority complex in relation to the more dominant bolshevism. One of the first issues anarchists had to confront was the efficacy or non-efficacy of organization. The debate on this topic paralyzed anarchists, from a combative point of view, and the Communist parties grew stronger in their absence. The Spaniards were conscious of this phenomenon and thought that they could have a positive impact on kindred anarchist movements around the world if they built a mass organization that was inspired by anarchism. The secretariat of the AIT (International Association of Workers) shared this view and, accordingly, decided that the organization’s International Congress would occur in Spain shortly after the CNT Congress. For several days, Madrid was going to be the global capital of anarcho-syndicalism. Rudolf Rocker was the secretary of the AIT. Below is his account of his arrival in Spain:

Our large group began the trip in the beginning of the last week of May. Augustín Souchy and I went as representatives of the AIT International Secretariat. Orobón Fernández and two Swedish comrades who had come to Berlin also traveled with us. As for the FAUD[278] delegates, Helmut Rudiger had already been in Spain for some time and Carlo Windhoff, who lived in Dusseldorf, made the trip to Madrid from there. Delegates from Holland and France awaited us in Paris. After meeting with them at nighttime, we immediately continued on to Barcelona.

We reached the city at 8:00 in the morning and went directly from the train station to the CNT’s administrative office. We found Juan Peiró there, the editor of our newspaper Solidaridad Obrera, and approximately a dozen additional Spanish comrades, all of whom greeted us warmly. The comrades were in excellent spirits; the monarchy’s collapse had excited them all. They told us about the movement’s astonishing growth over recent months. The CNT had more than one million members and its influence extended beyond its membership and made itself felt in other circles.[279]

The foreign delegates were hosted at the CNT’s expense. Rocker recounts his favorable impression of his time in Barcelona:

There were large posters everywhere in which three letters stood out powerfully: CNT. They were calls to popular meetings, announced for the following Sunday. This, and the presence of Solidaridad Obrera on all the magazine stands, made it clear that we were in the center of Spain’s libertarian movement.

Durruti and Ascaso were waiting for us when we returned to the hotel that evening. Durruti asked about a pair of comrades he had known in Berlin and especially about Erich Mühsam and the good comrades of Obersee- Honeweide, in whose house he had to hide at the time.

We talked about the new situation in Spain and the perspectives for the movement’s future. Both had great hopes, although they knew that it still had to overcome many obstacles before it could victoriously impose new patterns of social development. That was totally understandable; the Monarchy left Spain in tremendous chaos and it couldn’t be repaired overnight. They would have to confront the challenges with constructive and tenacious work, on new foundations. Ascaso believed that the terrible pains preceding the birth of the Republic were worse than the birth itself. He saw a certain disadvantage in this, because decisive changes in social and economic life, such as the resolution of agrarian problem, which was so important in Spain, had to be carried out over a long revolutionary period, which would need to create new conditions and couldn’t be delegated to any government. Nevertheless, he thought the situation would become clearer after the June elections and that the CNT was destined to play a great role.[280]

The CNT had organized a welcome rally for the foreign delegates on the day following this conversation. It occurred in the Exposición’s Palace of Communications. Rocker and the other internationals were quite shocked to see such a massive assembly, which was not the norm in their respective countries. More than fifteen thousand people attended the rally according to the bourgeois press. The Palace was incapable of accommodating that many and so organizers placed amplifiers at the building’s entrance so that people could follow the rally from its terrace.

Rocker noted that the audience did not emphatically applaud the speakers. He communicated his surprise to Durruti when Durruti had finished his speech and sat down at his side. Rocker’s question took Durruti aback. In reply, he said: “But Rocker, you know perfectly well that we, the anarchists, don’t worship personalities. Applause and ovations are simply tacky music that encourages vanity and leaderism. A comrade’s capacity should be recognized and nothing more. The audience shows its interest by following the speech.”

Rocker concludes his discussion of the rally in the following way: “That memorable event was surely one of the most vigorous ceremonies that I have ever attended. At mass meetings called by socialist parties in Germany, the orators generally didn’t do more than hurl endless insults at their political opponents, completely unaware, in their blindness, of the danger hovering over all of them. By contrast, that spirited rally of Barcelona’s working class was deeply gratifying. There were men there with a clear objective in mind, looking optimistically toward a new future and feeling confident in their own strength.... If many lost heart in Germany during the grave internal struggles, and some of the strongest comrades bordered on depression when faced with the proletariat’s disintegration, a gigantic ceremony such as this one was a regenerator. One felt renewed and inspired to look boldly into the future.”

CHAPTER V. The FAI and the CNT meet

There was no doubt that the FAI had a significant influence on the CNT, but the relationship between the two organizations was unclear. That is why the FAI’s Tierra y Libertad emphasized disagreements in the brief article that it ran about the international rally that we discussed in the previous chapter.

“The voice of the FAI was not heard there, which would have been the voice of Iberian anarchism. It was absent, and quite absent. In Spain, the anarchist voice has more right than any to be heard at these meetings of the CNT and AIT.” [281]

On June 10, one day before the CNT Congress was due to begin, the FAI held its first Peninsular Conference in Madrid. One hundred twenty county representatives were present. The Conference resolved to do the following:

  1. Conduct a propaganda tour throughout the Peninsula, beginning on August 1.

  2. Make the weekly Tierra y Libertad into the daily newspaper of the FAI, coming out of Madrid.

  3. Affirm anarchism within the CNT. [282]

Conference participants also discussed the prior behavior of the Peninsular Committee. Their declaration on the matter stated:

After a discussion of the flawed conduct of the FAI’s Peninsular Committee between October 1930 and January 1931, we have drawn the following conclusions:

That comrades Elizalde, Hernández, and Sirvent assumed powers exceeding those assigned to them as members of the commission for revolutionary preparation and did not respect the resolution adopted at the Valencia meeting against collaboration with politicians from any camp. We recognize that it would be excessive to enumerate all the details that make up the matter; it is enough to extract the real essence of the event.

Here we announce the applicable sanctions, which will be the beginning of the solution that we will try to give to this irritating incident: We resolve that we will not tolerate another divergence from the paths agreed to by the FAI at the whim of any of its members, whatever his situation within the organization may be. Likewise, anyone who dares to repeat this offense will be removed from their posts and will have to wait, in accordance with their future behavior, for the collective to return the trust in them that they violated.

Regarding the comrades that have created this circumstance, whom we have named, we believe it fitting that they cease to occupy posts in the anarchist organization for some time.

The additional details of the intimate contact that they had with the political elements, while censurable, are a part of the collaboration that we reject. We also cannot accept any attempt to justify their error by pointing to aggravating circumstances. They acted against a decision of the organization that they represent. Furthermore, a prior consultation with the anarchist bodies would have prevented the unfavorable national and international sensation that the collectivity has had to suffer.[283]

By purifying its organization in this way, the FAI put closure on the confusing period of political conspiracies that took place during the Monarchy’s last moments and renewed the possibility of a broad affirmation of anarchism. The matter that the FAI discussed and resolved would also be central to the debates at the CNT’s Third Congress, which occurred between June 11 and June 16 in Madrid’s Conservatorio.

The last time that the CNT had been able to hold a Congress was in 1919. During the intervening years, meetings or national conferences governed the Confederation’s organizational life, which could in no way substitute for a Congress. By 1931, the CNT was suffering greatly from the lack of regular Congresses. The need to make decisions while underground had created undemocratic and destructive vices within the organization. Indeed, the greenhouse of the underground had incubated the CNT’s internal crisis.

While clarifying the organization’s political stance was already a very complex task for the Congress, additional factors made its work still more difficult and even jeopardized the Confederation itself. We have seen how the CNT grew to have one million members after only two months of public activity. Among these members, there were workers who were sincerely impressed by the CNT’s heroic legend. But there were also some who were highly politicized and intended to mine the organization for recruits for their own political groups. Given that, and the debate between the anarchists and union activists that had unfolded for more than four years, it was easy to anticipate a negative and divided Congress. The fact that it was neither of these things, but rather a constructive workers’ event, affirmed the strength of the working class and rebuffed the political parties who hoped to lead it. The Congress had to consider a lengthy agenda that included many important points: the National Committee’s Report, which would review a long period of activities; the Reorganization Plan, based on the Federations of Industries counter-posed to the Sindicatos Unicos [industrial union groups]; national propaganda campaigns and attracting the working class and peasantry to the unions; salary demands, shortening the workday, rejection of income taxes, and ways to fight forced unemployment; CNT publications and how to improve their coordination with other efforts and make them more effective propaganda tools; formulation of reports for the AIT’s Fourth Congress; and the CNT’s position on the convocation of the Constituent Assembly and the politico-legal-economic demands to present to it. A total of 511 delegates representing unions from 219 localities discussed the agenda. Although it is difficult to calculate the total number represented, given irregularities in the payment of dues and the inexperience of many of the recently organized unions, it is not an exaggeration to say that 800,000 workers and peasants were represented there. One important characteristic was that delegates carried a mandate from their unions, which recorded the number of members represented and topics to advance for consideration at the Congress. Angel Pestaña opened the ceremony in the name of the National Committee. He gave a short speech on the importance of the Congress and the CNT’s trajectory since its Second Congress in 1919. As AIT secretary, Rudolf Rocker greeted the Congress in the name of the anarcho-syndicalist workers of the world:

The greatest danger facing the CNT today is the democratic danger. The Republic offers workers the promise of improvements that are impossible to obtain within the capitalist regime. And there is the risk that the masses will accept its promises. But you already know that democracies only sustain the old capitalist apparatus, not destroy it. They plan to improve capitalism and, when the workers accept their pledges, they are diverted from their real path. Therefore, the danger for Spanish anarcho-syndicalists is the likely diversion of workers toward Republican democracy.

Possibilities unsuspected until now are opening up daily before the global proletariat. But we have to work quickly, energetically, and courageously to seize them. The workers have to fight for the realization of their aspirations, which are nothing other than establishing libertarian communism through social revolution.

Francesc Isgleas as well as Juan Ramón and Gabriel González (the latter two were secretaries of the Sevilla Unions) presided over the Congress Committee. Once the agenda was passed, the Asturian delegates asked the body to send a group to the Ministry of Labor in support of their effort to secure a seven-hour workday in the mines as well as a salary increase. “The goal,” they stated, “is to put pressure on Largo Caballero, who is the enemy of the CNT’s mining union in Asturias and the protector of the armed Socialist scabs. If the meeting is a failure, the CNT will take radical measures.

The striking miners must not be defeated.” The conference voted to make Miguel Abos, Ramón Acín, José López, José G. Trabal, and Angel Pestaña members of the commission.

There was a debate in the third session about whether or not to accept the FAI as an optional entity at the Congress. FAI members in the Catalan Regional Committee preferred to withdraw their motion before having the FAI accepted with limited rights. [284] There were strong differences of opinions about the matter and participants failed to come to a conclusion.

The National Committee’s report was extensive and took up part of the third and fourth sessions. Speaking for the National Committee, Francisco Arin stated that “the National Committee was appointed in June 1930 and that all its actions prior to April 12, 1931 with respect to parties or political figures were authorized by national conferences or meetings. Furthermore, let it be understood that the National Committee never surpassed its authority with regard to CNT decisions and was always faithful to the Confederation’s revolutionary and anti-political stance in its relations with political elements.”

“Delegates criticized the National Committee harshly [after its report]. They accused it of political collaboration, although it was evident that the Confederals and FAIistas had had good revolutionary intentions in their dealings with political figures. The National Committee roundly denied any participation in the Pact of San Sebastián [285] and asserted that certain contacts were maintained only because they had been established by the previous National Committee.”

The discussion continued in the fourth session. There was a debate about whether the CNT had collaborated with the political sector and what agreements had been made with Lluís Companys. Juan Peiró responded to insinuations made regarding the latter issue by saying that “Companys did not ask for three months of peace from the Confederation [during which it would not strike], but a half year. We made no compromises with him. On the contrary, we explicitly rejected his request.” Several Catalans asserted that their unions had held protest strikes in the early days of the new Republic, “without any CNT committee or any of the new rulers—such as Companys—claiming that they were breaking a deal.” Arin, Peiró, and Pestaña also spoke. Delegates ultimately concluded that the National Committee had not abused its power, and they ratified that later, but they also appointed a new National Committee, which “Pestaña interpreted as a rebuke.”

Angel Pestaña inopportunely presented an important proposal during the fourth session, whose significance escaped the Congress due to the prevailing excitement. His proposed that the CNT “ask the Republic (when it becomes federal) to declare Spanish Morocco a region with the same rights as the peninsular regions.” The Congress rejected this, although the issue was a source of contention. The anarchists at the Congress saw Pestaña’s initiative as a clear attempt to negotiate a sort of truce with the Republican government. To even suggest contact with the government was like mentioning “rope in the house of a hanged man” and only increased suspicions about Pestaña’s collaborationism. For the anarchists, it was inconceivable to accept asking the federal Republican government to consider Spanish Morocco another region. To ask for was to negotiate and Spanish was to accept the government’s colonialist policies. The anarchists who replied to Pestaña (including García Oliver, who was representing the Reus unions) rejected both of these things. The oppression suffered by Rifis [286] was identical to that of other peoples subject to capitalism and colonialism: the Spanish working class was colonized and exploited by the same forces that dominate the Rifis.

What was important was uniting the workers of the world in a joint struggle against the state and capitalism. The CNT would take this struggle to the Rif not to insert the Rifi into Spain’s authoritarian structures but to work with them to make a social revolution. [287]

The agrarian question was another important issue at the Congress. In fact, representatives from many peasant unions attended and the Andalusians had even come in their work clothes in order to illustrate the miserable conditions that they had to endure. The CNT’s Peasant Federation would advance the following program:

  1. Expropriate all large estates, reserves, and arable lands without compensation and declare them social property.

  2. Confiscate reserve livestock, seeds, implements, and machinery, which is the wrongful property of the landowners.

  3. Proportional and free delivery in usufruct of these lands and effects to the peasant unions, for their use and direct administration.

  4. Abolish contributions, taxes, debts, and mortgage charges that burden small landowners who do not exploit manual labor beyond the family unit.

  5. Suppression of income in money or kind that small tenant farmers, colonos, leased tenants, etc. must pay to owner parasites or their intermediaries.

The Congress is committed to and emphasizes the revolutionary preparation of the peasant masses as well as their capacity to manage agricultural production themselves.

The presentation on the CNT’s Reorganization Plan was read during the eighth session. The reorganization would take place on the basis of Federations of Industry. The plan’s author was Juan Peiró and, as noted earlier, he premised his argument on the national and international evolution capitalism.

Trades would federate at local, county, provincial, regional, and national levels and there would be a National Federation of each respective industry. The national committees of the trades would form a National Committee of the Economy and the CNT National Committee would operate above all of them. We have already mentioned this plan’s bureaucratic character. We now enter the debate more fully.

The most important speeches in this debate were made by: García Oliver (Reus), against; Peiró (Mataró), in favor; Alberola (Gironella), against; San Agustín (Zaragoza), in favor; Santander, against; and Emilio Mira (Alcoy’s Oficios Varios), in favor.

Here are their arguments:

Santander: “If Spain is more agricultural than industrial, why should there be Federations of Industry? We are undeveloped, industrially speaking. With the exception of the Public Service monopolies, there is no industrial development in Spain.... And, even if that type of capitalist concentration does exists, should we, who have followed a different trajectory than the Marxists, different because we apply our philosophy to all things; should we now abandon our principles and give in so easily simply because the bourgeoisie economy develops in that way?”

Juan Peiró: “If the bourgeoisie of a particular industry unites to defend itself, not as industrialists but as a class, shouldn’t the workers also concentrate themselves and form a united front against the bourgeoisie? My reply is categorical, and perhaps that’s my sin.”

José Alberola: “The supporters of the Federations of Industry embrace it because they’ve lost confidence in our ultimate goals and only have faith in the gears of the machinery. That machine doesn’t cultivate strength but consumes it, and in that sense we’ll create a mentality opposed to everything implied by individual initiative.... We defend the Confederation; we work in accordance with its basic principles. We have an ideal, which will sooner or later overwhelm the capitalist system. We do not accept anything resembling statism, because all forms of statism invariably become acts of coercion.” Emilio Mira: “Capitalism has political-economic as well as militaristic institutions. It can say to us: ‘So, you want to abolish the state, private property, and the exploitation of man; what body, what organization, what ideal of social life do you counter-pose to our system that would be so much better?’ Against the supposed economic harmony of capitalist production, we have to assert the economic harmony of workers’ production through Industrial Federations and, for their defense in the political and social terrains, the Confederation.”

García Oliver: “... we cannot accept the Federations of Industry because they carry the germ of disintegration within themselves. They kill the spirit of the masses, who we have ready to go into action against the state. CNT hasn’t failed at all or, if it has, it is only because of the lack of revolutionary intelligence among its most distinguished militants.... The Confederation has an extremely important role to play right now. The revolution has been strangled and the Confederation would have to be prepared... [the speaker was interrupted for exceeding his allocated time to comment].” Participants voted on the matter and the CNT accepted the National Federations of Industry by 302,000 in favor against 90,671 against.

During the twelfth session, attendees approved a protest against the state of emergency in Andalusia and also unanimously ratified the CNT’s principles and aims (which had been approved at 1919 Congress). They also had to consider “The position of the CNT toward the convocation of the Constituent Assembly.” The Congress resolved “... the CNT must always practice direct action, push the people on a clearly revolutionary path toward libertarian communism, and convert the political event that has occurred in Spain into a revolutionary event that is fundamentally transformative of all political and economic values.... To do so, the CNT will immediately and energetically devote itself to organizing its revolutionary forces and to imminent, anti-electoral action.” [288]

CHAPTER VI. The republic’s social policy and the CNT

The Congress’s decision to embrace the Federations of Industry would seem to indicate that the CNT’s moderate tendency had seized control of the organization. However, the exact opposite would occur: ultimately, it will be the more radial wing that will impose its revolutionary line on the anarcho- syndicalist confederation.

Shortly after Congress attendees had returned home, the most important labor conflict during the Republic’s five years erupted: the telephone workers’ strike.

After the proclamation of the Republic, the majority of telephone workers unionized with the CNT and formed the National Telephone Workers’ Union. Previously they had not been unionized and thus at the management’s mercy, but after unionizing they began to make demands on the company. The company was intransigent and the workers went on strike. Only CNT workers supported the strike at first, but that changed after there was violence against the strikers and Miguel Maura ordered police to shoot without warning. The rest of the workers then declared their solidarity and joined the CNT men. The Socialists were drawn into the dispute against their will: SP member Fernando de los Ríos was the Communications Minister and it was decided that he would arbitrate the conflict on the government’s behalf. After numerous meetings, he announced a ruling that was quite beneficial to the company but that did recognize the workers’ right to a labor contract. However, the company did not abide by his ruling and the strike dragged on for several more months. Finally, the Prime Minister signed a decree on March 15, 1932 undermining the Communications Minister’s ruling and, with it, the workers’ right to a contract. No one could explain Manuel Azaña’s strange intervention in this matter. [289] Of course the CNT did not accept his arbitration and the strike continued. There were more shootings and acts of sabotage in this strike than any other in Spain’s history.

A reader unfamiliar with Spain’s recent past will wonder why a Prime Minister would annul the ruling of one of his own ministers, particularly in a conflict between Spanish workers and a foreign company. However, the Telephone Company of Spain was Spanish in name alone: it was actually a “branch” of the North American International Telephone and Telegraph Company (IT&T). The English may have occupied Gibraltar but the Yankees had their own Rock of Gibraltar in the heart of Madrid.

Spain’s contract with IT&T dated back to the dictatorship. Gumersindo Rico, Melquíades Alvarez, Primo de Rivera, and Alfonso XIII all played a role in drafting it and of course each one had extracted his “take” from the deal. [290] When this contract mortgaging Spanish telephone communications to IT&T was signed, two types of shares were put into circulation: some were “preferential” and others were “ordinary.” Spanish capitalist owned the first—represented by the Urquijo Bank, which did nothing but take a percentage of the profits—and foreign shareholders held the second. The latter were the only ones with “a voice and a vote” in shareholder meetings. Furthermore, the contract exempted the telephone company from the obligation to pay any taxes or tributes to the state.

The Socialist leader Indalecio Prieto condemned this contract in a talk at the Ateneo de Madrid: [291] “If the Spanish State wants to rescue ... telephone services valued at around 600,000,000 pesetas in 1928 by handing over something slightly smaller than a Spanish province to North America, it should know that we will continue being shackled to this company. That’s because the telephones installed in Spain use apparatuses and systems patented by IT&T member groups, and we will continue paying for them until the patent expires [in fifty years]. Communications are the most delicate and sensitive part of the state’s nervous system; indeed, the security of the state itself can depend on them at times. And yet they’ve been handed over to a foreign business.” [292]

Spaniards were well-informed about this travesty (and others like it). The workers had hoped that the government would annul the contract once the Republic was proclaimed, particularly since one of its strongest critics was a government minister. No one understood why the government did the opposite and used its repressive forces in the interests of a foreign company and against the Spanish working class. However, the reality was that the men of the new regime not only supported the contract, but also replaced its beneficiaries under the dictatorship with Republicans. The deception and theft continued, only now with different people. This was so clear that IT&T’s best known representative in Spain, Captain Roe, publicly stated: “Deals made in the Republic have been much better for my company than under the Monarchy.... You don’t know the power of a blank check in this type of Republic!” [293]

The fishermen of Puerto Pasajes (in San Sebastián) declared a strike in late May 1931. The employers were intractable and the workers organized a demonstration to pressure San Sebastián’s Republican authorities, taking their wives and children with them. The governor of San Sebastián asked Madrid what to do and Maura called in the Civil Guard. “Sixteen Civil Guards were to be positioned at the access point to San Sebastián, the Mira Cruz Bridge, which is a narrow but necessary passage for anyone entering the city on the road from Pasajes. All things considered, it was an ideal place to stop the demonstrators,” said Miguel Maura. He continues:

The mob reached the Civil Guards. I was told that there were more than a thousand of them, including women, and they were armed with sticks, shotguns, and other improvised weapons. They were irate, and their shouting and angry gestures showed that they had been stirred up by outside agitators. These people had never been prone to violence before.

The Guards blocked the road and spread out across it in two lines. The cornet player gave the first call to attention as the throng drew closer. The masses kept advancing. He sounded a second call, which also had no effect on the crowd. And then he finally made the third call, which sparked the demonstrators’ furious assault on the Guards. The Guards were kneeling on the ground now and got ready to fire.

They had to do it—fire the volley—to stop the avalanche of people falling upon them. There were eight deaths and more than a few injuries.... Hours later police arrested the four Galician CNT leaders who had provoked these sad events.[294]

Miguel Maura was not any Minister but a senior minister with nearly absolute power to apply his own brand of “justice.” That is what he told the journalists who gathered in his office to hear about the deaths among the Pasajes fishermen: “I reminded them that as far as the press was concerned, they were in the presence of a minister who had full powers over public order.... I didn’t tell them to conceal the news, but rather pleaded with them to do so meticulously and truthfully. I wanted Spain to know that it had a government that was not to be played with.” [295] None of the newspapers except La Voz commented on the events. The other ministers, seeing that Maura had frightened the press into silence, applauded the good work of Antonio Maura’s son.

Maura accomplished another feat in Sevilla. We previously noted that the government had declared a state of emergency in Andalusia. Of course it wasn’t the landowners who let the harvest rot or refused to plant that worried the Republican government, but rather the hungry peasants. It was against them that it declared the state of emergency.

Elections had been called for June 28. In Sevilla and throughout Andalusia, Ramón Franco’s electoral campaign had strong socialist hues. He was clearly popular, like another candidate, Dr. Cayetano Bolívar, who leaned toward communism but didn’t declare himself a member of the Communist Party. Both later became deputies, and their popularity indicates that many workers believed that the country’s continued problems were due to the government’s novelty and that things would improve once national elections were held. The results of the elections seemed to justify that hope.

The Socialists elected 116 deputies and the rest of the seats in the Parliament went to the Left. The right-wing was eclipsed; the Monarchists only elected one deputy; la Lliga Catalana, three; and the more moderate “Al Servicio de la República,” fourteen. The Left, including the Socialists, was victorious across the board. With 116 Socialist deputies, the peasants thought the government would institute agrarian reform and urban workers thought it would confront the work stoppage that was spreading across the country like an oil stain.

Although it looked like the Socialists had achieved a lot, that was not the case and Interior Minister Maura was there to prove it. Miguel Maura’s black beasts were the CNT and the anarchists, who had been rebuilding themselves throughout Spain. In Andalusia, the CNT was displacing the UGT as the predominant labor organization, which must have felt like a sharp blow to the UGT’s General Secretary, who was also the Minister of Labor. We don’t believe that there was a deal between Maura and Largo Caballero, but simply that Maura hoped that his relentless persecution of the CNT (in Andalusia and elsewhere) would strengthen the UGT. This was why this he devised the “Tablada conspiracy,” for which he hoped Ramón Franco would take the fall and lose his deputy’s certificate. [296]When that conspiracy unraveled, Maura plotted another, more notorious one: “the bloody week of Sevilla” (July 18 to the July 25).

According to Maura, an anarchist doctor by the name of Pedro Vallina was organizing an insurrection in Andalusia that would be centered in Sevilla but break out into a general revolutionary strike throughout the region. Just like with the Pasajes fishermen, Maura needed to crush the rebellion and teach its organizers a lesson. We will see how he did so, drawing on Maura’s previously cited work as well as Pedro Vallina’s memoirs, written forty years after the events.

“When I arrived in Sevilla,” Vallina writes, “I received a confidential letter from some completely trustworthy comrades in Madrid. They told me that Interior Minister Miguel Maura had called the Governor of Sevilla, Antonio Montaner, to his office to propose something despicable to him. Montaner behaved himself well: he immediately rejected Maura’s overture and resigned from his Governor position. Maura’s plan was to provoke a general revolutionary strike in Sevilla, arrest the leading militants, dissolve the workers’ organizations, and blame all this on me; trying to destroy me forever. What a dignified man like Montaner did not accept, a vile man accepted fully: Mr. Bastos. He was appointed Governor and went to Sevilla to occupy his post and carry out his mission.” [297]

Here is Maura’s version: “When the Republic was proclaimed, the UGT—that is, the Socialist Party—was preponderant in Sevilla. That labor federation and party were so strong that they were considered the only ones really organized there....” Later, while discussing Ramón Franco, he states:

“I watched his adventures closely and learned that in the Andalusian countryside a doctor named Vallina, an anarchist who was very popular among the region’s peasants, had made a deal with Franco and other soldier friends of his to assault the city of Sevilla on the eve of the elections, that is, on Saturday, June 27.”

Maura continues: “Mr. Montaner began his efforts to destroy the UGT and Socialist Party as soon as he arrived in Sevilla, giving the CNT every chance to surpass its rival.... In reality, when Bastos occupied his post, the UGT had practically disappeared from the scene and the CNT had enlisted almost all the province’s worker and peasant masses, who were armed and ready not only for a general strike in the capital but also for the assault on it that Dr. Vallina would lead.”[298]

Vallina writes: “The new Governor Bastos arrived a few days later and the most reactionary and dangerous figures in the area came to see him. My Madrid friends told me to sound the alarm to the militant workers in Sevilla, so that the agent provocateurs wouldn’t dupe them. I told them what was happening, but my meeting with them gave me with such a bad impression that I was upset when I went to the city. It wasn’t that there was any complicity with the enemy, but simply a state of great excitement prompted by the ungainly conduct of the Republican leaders.”

Vallina went to Alcalá de Guadaira, where he lived, and the next day received a militant from Sevilla who, he says, “told him that it looked probable that the revolutionary general strike would occur.” Vallina immediately informed local workers about Maura’s ploys: “After listening to me attentively, they said that they were also worried about strange things happening in relation to a strike that they had called. The employer himself had told them that he would have settled it already, but was being pressured from above to prolong it.”[299]

Nonetheless, the provocation was stronger than Vallina’s warning and the workers went on strike: “I was sleeping peacefully at home, unaware that the strike had been declared that day, when a mob of Civil Guards showed up, under the command of an officer. They smashed into my house and arrested me. They later arrested four workers, whom they described as my ‘general staff.’”[300] Authorities took them to Sevilla by car and from there to Cádiz, where they were held incommunicado in the Santa Catalina Castle. Several days later Rodrigo Soriano, a Republican deputy and friend of Vallina’s, used the prerogatives of his position to find Vallina and tell him what had occurred: 234 The republic’s social policy and the CNT“The general strike had exploded, as Maura had hoped, with the collaboration of unthinking and provocative elements. The Civil Guard was ordered to shoot without warning, which is what happened in the province’s towns and capital. There were many deaths: thirty-nine in Sevilla and one hundred in the rest of the province.” “The most repugnant act was the murder of four defenseless workers in María Luisa Park, on the edge of the Guadalquivir, and the most stupid was the bombing of the ‘Casa Cornelio’ in La Macarena, because the café had been a meeting place for revolutionary workers.”[301] Vallina spent three months in prison. Authorities finally freed him after being unable to find any evidence against him. This is Maura’s account of the events:

The revolt became more intense between July 19 and 21. Three Civil Guardsmen died in the street on July 20 after being fired at from the balconies and four workers fell after the police shot them.... Bastos and I had decided that we wouldn’t relinquish military command except in the last instance ... their offensive became even more severe on the morning of July 22, thanks to reinforcements that the rebels had apparently called in. This occurred despite the fact that Dr. Vallina had been arrested and imprisoned when the march on the city began, led by a caravan of trucks that were full of rebels [so ferocious that they let authorities peacefully arrest their leader!].... It was necessary for the military authorities to take control. General Ruiz Trillo led the Division of Andalusia. He took over the command and proclaimed the state of emergency.... The struggle continued throughout July 22. In the early morning, when the prisoners were being transferred from Sevilla to the port, where they were going to be taken to the prison in Cádiz, they were changing vans in the middle of María Luisa Park and several of the detainees tried to escape. The soldiers fired on them and killed four. [As always, the Ley de Fugas!][302]

The Parliament’s sessions had begun on July 14 and news from Sevilla made them contentious. The government formed a commission to investigate the events and one of its members, Antonio Jaén, a deputy from Málaga, declared: “The Andalusian peasants voted against the Monarchy on April 12; on May 12, with the events in Madrid and Málaga, they affirmed their radical sense, and on July 22, they showed their social disposition. There is no civil war in Andalusia but rather a social war whose roots can be traced to the beginnings of the Reconquest; a social war whose echo can be heard in all the rebellions and is even perceptible in ballads and popular folk songs. I’ll cite a folksong from Andalusia that perfectly indicates the feeling in our land:

God in heaven wants

Justice to return

And the poor to eat bread

And rich to eat ... grass *

A vote of confidence in the provisional government, which would ratify the government and confirm the ministers in their posts, was scheduled to occur on July 29. Lluís Companys, who gave up his position as Barcelona governor to be a deputy (he was replaced by Anguera de Sojo) suggested that the government should only be made up by Republicans. Miguel Maura felt like Companys had plunged a spear into him. Maura swore his republican faith and then audaciously declared the following in front of four Socialist ministers and 116 Socialist deputies:

“Is the CNT somehow exempt from legal obligations and duties and yet entitled to all the rights conceded to Spanish citizens?” This was the real question and, to concretize it, I took a stand in the government: “My duty is to say to the CNT and FAI, and also to the SS.SS, that Spanish law forms a whole. If they are exempt from duties within the law—given that they do not accept the laws that regulate work, do not recognize the parity committees, mixed tribunals, and, above all, governmental authority—then they will also be exempt from their rights, and the laws of assembly, association, or any of the others that protect them won’t exist for them. If they honor the laws of work and those regulating commerce, then they’ll have the right to a normal relation with the government. The Chamber ratified my position with a prolonged round of applause and the dispute [with Companys] was over.[303]

—————————

(* The final word of this popular folksong is “shit” [mierda], but the deputy used the euphemism “grass” [hierba] out of respect for the Chamber.[304])

CHAPTER VII. In the middle of a storm without a compass

Miguel Maura’s boasting was a challenge to the CNT. To take the blow without reacting would only encourage his authoritarianism, yet there was no point in protesting benignly with a long document in the workers’ press. What to do? The only solution was to continue the struggle in the street. The Nosotros group was destined to play an important role in the new period that the CNT was entering at this time. As we will see later, CNT “moderates” will derisively label them “Blanquists” and say that they had a “simplistic” analysis of the country’s social conditions. [305] History would determine the value of the respective theses in play.

Shortly after the proclamation of the Republic, the Nosotros group met to define its strategy: “They studied the political and social problem from every angle. A Republic based on individuals like Alcalá Zamora, Queipo de Llano (head of the President’s military staff), General Sanjurjo (leader of the Civil Guard), and Miguel Maura could not effect any important reform in the political—much less in the social—sphere, given that the Republic was held hostage by a team of men intimately linked to the Monarchy, who had been members of the dominant class before April 13 and still retained all their privileges.” [306] It was that perspective that framed the Nosotros group’s confrontation with the circumstances at hand.

Conditions were increasingly turbulent in the rural as well as urban areas. Indeed, the preconditions of a revolution seemed to be emerging quickly. There was practically no divide between the UGT workers and the CNT men, as Maura himself recognized. He wrote:

There was a series of attacks on large landowners’ estates and farms in the Córdoba mountain range, and they were beginning to become dangerous. With their mayors leading the way, the residents of eighteen towns burst in on the region’s large country estates and grabbed everything they found. They took the plunder to the town and the mayors divided it among the citizens in the respective City Halls.

I had to concentrate all the Civil Guardsmen at my disposal in the area... to put an end to that dangerous peasant orgy. I also urged Largo Caballero to restrain the revolutionism of his colleagues, given that fourteen of the eighteen towns in question had Socialist mayors, as well as a Socialist majority in the City Halls. My comrade in government was unable to accomplish this task and the attacks on the country estates became more frequent and more intense. It was necessary to intervene decisively.

I first suspended all the mayors and city councilmen in those towns and formed administrative committees made up by the largest local taxpayers. I also put as many Civil Guardsmen in them as I could and, after publishing and distributing a severe warning, imprisoned the first who committed any excess. The problem was cut at its root and peace returned to the Córdoba mountain range.[307]

Put bluntly, Maura’s solution was to imprison the Socialist mayors and the most well-known militants, put the large landowners and caciques in charge of local governments, and protect them with the Civil Guard.

The Nosotros group was well aware of the revolutionary workers’ agitation sweeping Spain. Its members were extraordinarily active; some traveled to speak at rallies, conferences, or informational meetings, and others on missions to organize groups and accumulate means of combat for the immediate future.

It was imperative to use time well, since the situation tended to get worse daily. On one occasion Francisco Ascaso and Ricardo Sanz had to go to Bilbao, where they took part in a rally with José María Martínez, a militant anarchist miner from Gijón. The event occurred in the Frontón Euskalduna. It was an unprecedented success in every sense and left the impression that the CNT was serious and responsible, which greatly benefited the organization, particularly in Vizcaya, where the Confederation was beginning to establish itself. The comrades also went to Eibar, where they visited the Gárate and Anitua manufacturer. They discussed delivering the arms—the thousand rifles—still being held by the company.[308]

The gunsmith knew the men and received them well. He also allowed them to inspect the rifles and see that they were in good condition, but he said that he could not supply the weapons without authorization from the governor.

The following day, Ascaso and Sanz went to the Civil Government to meet with Mr. Aldasoro, the provincial governor. They explained the matter to him and he responded by saying that he could not allow the weapons to be released without the express and written consent of Mr. Maura, the Minister of the Interior.

Ascaso left for Madrid and met with Maura, whom he asked to authorize the shipment of the arms to the unions. Maura responded that he could not do so, but would allow the rifles to be sent to the Catalan government once the Generalitat’s power was formalized in Catalonia.

The Nosotros group met to discuss the issue and decided that their only option was to cede the arms to the Generalitat. At least the rifles might someday get to the workers. The Generalitat created an un-uniformed, armed militia called the “Escamots,” which was an assault force that replaced the Somatén.[309] It armed the Escamots with rifles that the Nosotros group had purchased with money expropriated from the bank in Gijón. Ultimately, the workers—their rightful owners—did get control of those weapons.[310] The labor movement absorbed the Nosotros group. Its members were frequently asked to participate in public events throughout Spain. The majority of them were locked-out from their trades and obliged to concentrate themselves in the “Ramo del Agua”[311] of Barcelona’s Manufacturing and Textile Union, which had a job listing service recognized by employers. In other words, when an owner in that sector needed workers, he had to request them from the union through factory representatives. Under no circumstance were non-unionized workers admitted to the job.[312]

The long quote helps us grasp the Nosotros group’s strategy. The succession of events since the Republic was proclaimed had only confirmed their judgment about the essence of the new regime.

The unrest in those eighteen Cordobian towns described by Maura extended throughout Andalusia and even to the bordering provinces in New Castile, where latifundismo was also the norm. Driven by hunger and despair, the peasants launched consistent revolts, but desperation can only lead to rebellion, never revolution. The hopeless had to have an ideal, possess a program, and make their instinctive revolt a conscious, reflective undertaking. That is the only way that an insurrection can become a revolution. The Nosotros group patiently devoted itself to making that happen. It was not only a question of fomenting uprisings, but also of provoking uprisings that would lead to a collective expropriation of the means of production and the creation of new forms of human sociability. It was thus necessary to elaborate the general contours of the libertarian communist society. The Nosotros group articulated this idea within the FAI and at workers’ meetings and rallies. It was accepted broadly and Isaac Puente wrote a simple but comprehensible outline of libertarian communism.

The situation in Barcelona had deteriorated since Josep Oriol Anguera de Sojo became the governor. He and Barcelona’s Police Chief Arturo Menéndez faithfully carried out the orders of his boss Miguel Maura who, as noted, was fighting a bitter war against the CNT. His instructions were categorical: make the CNT “toe the line.” The Modelo prison began to fill with “governmental” prisoners. The authorities shut down unions and declared workers’ gatherings “clandestine meetings” at will. The proletariat replied by calling a general strike in August. However, this general strike, called specifically to demand the release of prisoners, was not genuinely supported by Solidaridad Obrera, whose editor was Juan Peiró, and was even ignored by the CNT National Committee, which was then under the control of men from the moderate faction. Upset with the results of the general strike, Barcelona’s 20,000 metalworkers continued striking independently. The 42,000 members of the Construction Workers’ Union (in which Ricardo Sanz was active) joined the metalworkers. These events put the CNT’s internal crisis into sharp relief. The situation seemed to grow more confused and desperate daily, thanks to pressures from the Esquerra Republicana and also the Catalan bourgeoisie, which was closing factories and cutting staff punitively. The work stoppage was spreading and circumstances in the city threatened to become explosive, as they had among the peasants. The FAI met in Barcelona to try to orient the discontent and transform it into a conscious force. They created an Economic Defense Commission to organize a rent and electricity strike and also called large popular meetings to mobilize the population. One of these occurred on August 2 in Barcelona’s Bellas Artes Hall. Durruti, García Oliver, Tomás Cano Ruiz, Vicente Corbi and Arturo Parera spoke at the event, all of whom were FAI activists.

Durruti sent the following note to his family around this time: “I’ll have to respond quickly to the letter that I received from you today. I understand your eagerness to embrace me; that’s something I want deeply too, but it’s impossible for me to leave Barcelona at the moment. I have a lot of work. I participate in rallies and meetings daily and must also attend to my union responsibilities. Unfortunately I’m not going to be able to visit León any time soon, but you can send me the railroad passes and I’ll use them the first chance that I get.” [313] These comments indicate the intensity of Durruti’s life in Barcelona. Indeed, he had returned to Spain on April 15 and still hadn’t been able to hug his mother.

The metalworkers went back to work, but the construction workers continued their strike, and there was a good deal of sabotage. Anguera de Sojo ordered to the Police Chief to seize the Construction Workers Union at 25 Mercaders Street, not far from Police Headquarters. This occurred on September 4, 1931. The brand-new Assault Guard[314] cordoned off the premises and a captain ordered his troops to attack the building. However, when he yelled “Forward,” a shot “rang out from within the union ... while a half dozen guards threw themselves against the building’s door. There was a shootout that lasted for several hours, although the intrepid libertarians finally exhausted their limited ammunition and had to surrender. Ninety- four comrades were arrested and many others risked their lives to escape the siege of the union hall. The champions of liberty wrote a heroic chapter in the annals of Spain’s revolutionary history that day.” There was a proud and arrogant young man among the detainees, who was convinced that he had done his duty. It was Marianet. [315] “Menaced by bayonets and machine-guns, authorities took our comrades to the holds of the Antonio López steamship, which in days bygone had been the site of innumerable crimes against black slaves brought from Africa to the New Continent.” [316]

The workers had been in the midst of a meeting when authorities attacked the union and the topic of discussion was the construction workers’ strike. The mood was impassioned: authorities had attacked other unions and dragged militants out of their homes and to prison in the middle of the night. The construction workers defended themselves with arms because they didn’t want to go to jail simply to satisfy one of Maura’s whims. In any case, when the entrenched construction workers finally agreed to surrender, they said that they would only turn themselves over to army soldiers. Authorities accepted this condition and sent a squad of troops under the command by Captain Medrano. As promised, the workers surrendered. However, the Assault Guards were not happy to see their prey escape them and used the pretext that they had to interview some of those involved at Police Headquarters to justify bringing a dozen detainees there. The Assault Guards machine-gunned the workers once they reached the building’s door.

In late August, in that climate of bloody class war, a manifesto appeared in the bourgeois press that was said to speak for the “sensible” side of the CNT. The document, signed by thirty well-known CNT activists, will always be known as the “Manifesto of the Thirty.” While it acknowledged that the situation in Spain was genuinely revolutionary, it argued that it was “necessary to consider that revolution scientifically” and therefore enjoy a period of social peace during which the working class could attract technicians and intellectuals to its cause, who would help it devise an economic structure (the Federations of Industry) capable of replacing the capitalist order. They also denounced—without mentioning it—the FAI’s strategy, which they said was “inspired by the Blanquist theory of the daring minority.” They accused the FAI of wanting to “bolshevize the CNT” and impose its dictatorship on the Confederation. Juan Peiró and Angel Pestaña were among the signers. [317] The bourgeois press took this document as a sign of division within the CNT and went on the attack against the “horrific FAI” led by the “three bandits” named Ascaso, Durruti, and García Oliver.

In the midst of this storm, when bourgeois newspapers spoke of Durruti in the same terms used by the press under the dictatorship, Durruti’s mother prompted his sister to visit him in Barcelona (given that he was unable to go to León). She noted her impressions of the trip in a letter to a friend: “My brother and sister-in-law live in conditions that make me ashamed. His house on Freser Street has been bereft of belongings since they moved in.

They barely have the basics: a couple of chairs, a table, and a bed without a mattress, on whose box springs my pregnant sister-in-law Mimi sleeps.... I shouted at him for not having told us about his situation, so that we could send him money and he could at least buy a mattress for Mimi. What do you think he did? He shrugged his shoulders. Treating me like a little girl, he said: ‘Look, Rosita, Mimi gets by very well and the pregnancy is going fine. You’ll see that she’ll have a beautiful child.’ What could I do? My brother will always be an incurable optimist.” [318]

The CNT had lost its direction in the storm. The National Committee actually restrained CNT militants instead of encouraging their spontaneous action. For its part, Solidaridad Obrera took a partisan stance and published an editorial defending the “sensible men” grouped around “the thirty.” Only the anarchist weekly El Luchador was willing to defend the “terrible FAI.” It published the following article by Federica Montseny titled “The Confederation’s Internal and External Crisis:”

A series of events have occurred between the publication of my article “A Circular and its Consequences” and the present. In the first place, a group of militants—which the bourgeois press, Macià, and Companys describe as the “sensible part” of the Confederation—published a manifesto. Second, there was the strike in Barcelona, which Governor Anguera de Sojo, a creature of Maura, caused with his unspeakable attitude toward the prisoners. Third, there is the editorial in Solidaridad Obrera, which is a historic document that will make its author blush some day, if he still has any virility and shame. These events have unfolded in the modest space of ten or twelve days, dizzying events that indicate the intensity our times. All of this has resulted in the beginning of a violent campaign against all well-known FAI members and the start of the disarticulation of the Confederation, a process that some hope will make the anarchists—those terrible “extremists”—into “responsibles,” when it is actually the “responsibles” who have caused the political actions of the Barcelona leaders and their attitude toward anarchist opinion in the CNT.

We must now speak of these same events in relation to the authorities, the bourgeoisie, and public opinion in general, all of whom gaze at and applaud the struggle between the CNT’s left and rightwing, between those inclined to make the Confederation an appendage of the Generalitat and the Esquerra Republicana, and those who represent the Confederation’s libertarian spirit, who aren’t the FAI, the gentlemen politicians, or union functionaries, but the “real Confederation.” It is the spirit that spoke at the Madrid Congress, articulated by all the delegates from the counties, towns, and unions. It is the authentic Confederation, that of the workers who labor, that of the men who believe, who feel, who struggle, who sacrifice, who die when necessary, who have never lived nor will live from liberalism or union professionalism.

This internal crisis occurs at a time when we need unity most, during these grave and dangerous moments. This divisionist crisis has undermined the Barcelona proletariat twice already and renders us defenseless against the public powers and the fishers in the rough seas of communism. It is an internal crisis, a process of decomposition, in which some have succumbed to the political disease, in a workers’ movement so strong and dynamic that it has intoxicated those put in the lead by circumstance.

We saw it coming long ago, as we now see the series of consequences that the National Committee circular, as well as its poor response to the Barcelona strike, will trigger. The events in Barcelona, the killings at the doorstep of Police Headquarters, the Governor’s intransigence and insanity, when he didn’t find the entire proletariat on combat footing in an unanimous protest (a protest that could have been made, responding to the masses); all of this gives ample space to the oppressive acts of the Republican authorities, who defend capitalist interests and are embodied in Maura, that despot and future dictator. This, after the tragedy of Andalusia, the repression that the Andalusian peasants are suffering, who did not hear an echo of protest or solidarity from the rest of Spain; all this eliminates any opposition to and hesitation in the government, which self-confidently believes that it isn’t facing a worthy opponent. Finally, the compromises that labor leaders have made with Maura, hoping to facilitate the approval of the famous Catalan Autonomy Statute; all of this ends the outline of our panorama. When Catalonia is self-governing, the government will have a tolerant policy towards the CNT’s “good boys,” but it will “tighten the screws”—Companys’ phrase—on the FAI, on the famous “extremists,” on those qualified as extremists because they are not ready to let the Confederation be in Barcelona what the UGT is in Madrid. And in relation to the Republican and Catalan governments, the Catalanized CNT, with its National Committee installed for life here, will feign ignorance of the rest of Spain, as it feigned ignorance of the strikes in Sevilla and Zaragoza, which were fought out with more honor and intelligence than one finds around here. The Spanish proletariat will be easy to control, as the persecution of anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists divides it, breaks it up, reduces it to sporadic rebellions, undermines its capacity for collective action, and bleeds it of its most active elements, bravery, and spiritual dynamism. It will be easy for the dog trainer that is the Interior Ministry to manage. Each meeting will be a scandal, each strike an embarrassing display of cowardice and incoherence; each day the consummation of a new shame for us and the imposition of a new governmental iniquity. The Republic, consolidated and organized; the Republic, shamelessly at the service of the bourgeoisie; the Republic, managed by the bullying hand imposed on all the ministers and the entire sheep-like Parliament; the Republic, the social-democracy, the owner and master of Spain, obstructing, as I said in my first article written after April 14, the social and political evolution of Iberia!

And here, in the oasis of the Catalan autonomy, in the paradise that Macià’s good faith promises—assuming he’s capable of good faith—there is a Confederation that has been converted into the “fourth hand” on the new Consell de Cent de Catalunya;[319] a domesticated Confederation, governmentalized, with a olive branch policy of “harmony” between capital and labor; a labor confederation in the English style. It will be a worker-democracy, manufactured in Barcelona but for export everywhere, to be used by the humanitarian governments underpinning totally worm-eaten, bourgeois orders. With respect to the FAI, to the frightening, terrible FAI; which that herd of ambitious idiots see personified in two men that, if nothing else, at least aren’t cowards; with respect to the FAI as envisioned by the donkeys of Mirador... Oh, people, citizens, brothers of the Iberian people! They will tighten the screws on everyone, even the last volunteer at Soli! There will be a harsh turn from Maura and Companys, not to mention the ineffable Lluhí i Vallescá and poor Mr. Macià!... They have turned the FAI into a mythological monster—a minotaur or dragon—against which neither Theseus nor Saint George are useful....[320]

CHAPTER VIII. Durruti and García Oliver respond to “The Thirty”

Durruti was never very fond of the press. In his view, paid journalists wrote simply to please their employers and although they received a salary, they lacked a “workers’ conscience.” Most workers, despite being paid, could refuse to produce something that they considered detrimental to their class. “For example, Barcelona’s bricklayers and forgers,” he said, “refused to build the Modelo Prison because they knew that they were constructing their own tombs. I can’t think of any journalist who has done something similar.” [321] With opinions like these, Durruti was unlikely to seek out journalists to comment publicly on the manifesto released by “The Thirty.” The fact that he did make a statement in the press was due to the efforts of Eduardo de Guzmán, editor of La Tierra (an independent newspaper that was objective enough on CNT and FAI matters). De Guzmán asked him for his thoughts on the document published by the “reformist syndicalists.” His comments were unequivocal:

We anarchists will respond in an energetic but noble way to the attack made upon us by some members of the Confederation. I hope it’s clear that this is a direct attack on García Oliver and me. That’s natural; I clashed with these figures when I arrived in Barcelona and, after we spoke for several hours, it became obvious that we had two different positions, which are only becoming more and more distinct.

We, the men of the FAI, are nothing like what many people think. Indeed, there’s an aura around us that’s unmerited and that we need to dispel as soon as possible. Anarchism isn’t what many pusillanimous spirits suppose. To be fair, our ideas are much more widespread than the privileged classes believe and they are a serious danger to capital and even for the proletariat’s pseudo-defenders in high positions. Of course the manifesto that Pestaña, Peiró, Arin, Alfarache, Clarà, and others recently published pleases many of the bourgeois leaders and labor activists in Catalonia, but the FAI has no solidarity at all with these men’s mea culpa and will continue along its path, which we believe is the best.

How can they expect us to support the present government, which allowed four workers to be killed in the streets of Sevilla four days ago, which revived Martínez Anido’s shameful practices, after they were updated by Mr. Maura, the Interior Minister? How can they expect us to embrace a government that fails to sanction the parties from the dictatorship and allows them to conspire openly in Lasarte? How can they think that we’d support a government formed in part by men who worked with the dictatorship? We are absolutely apolitical. We are convinced that politics is a system of artificial government and completely against nature. Many men succumb to it so that they can continue occupying their positions, sacrificing whatever they think might help them, particularly the humble classes. What’s happening now is simply what had to happen, because a revolution wasn’t carried out on April 14. The changes needed to be much more far-reaching than they were and now the workers are paying the price. We, the anarchists, are the only ones defending the principles of the Confederation; libertarian principles which the others seem to have forgotten. Proof of this can be found in the fact that they abandoned the struggle precisely when it should have been waged more strongly. Clearly Pestaña and Peiró have made moral compromises that hamper their libertarian action.

The Republic, as presently constituted, is a real danger for libertarians. We will descend into social democracy if the anarchists don’t act energetically. We have to make the revolution and to make it as soon as possible, since the Republic offers the people no security, either political or economic. We can’t wait for the Republic to finish consolidating itself. Right now, General Sanjurjo is asking for eight thousand more Civil Guard. Naturally, the Republicans have the Russian experience in mind. They see what happened to Kerensky’s government, which was nothing more than a preparatory stage for the real revolution. That’s exactly what they want to avoid.

The Republic can’t resolve the religious question. The bourgeoisie also doesn’t dare do battle against the workers, although they have taken positions. They have a dilemma: either support social democracy, like in Germany or Belgium, or the organized working masses will expropriate them. They aren’t fools and have chosen the path that’s most comfortable for them: social democracy.

Macià, a man of infinite goodness, so pure and upright, is one of those responsible for the anguishing situation of the workers [in Catalonia] today. Instead of positioning himself between capital and labor, as he has done, if he had leaned definitively towards the workers’ side, the libertarian movement in Catalonia would have spread throughout all Spain and Europe, and would have even found adepts in Latin America. Macià has tried to make a little Catalonia, while we would have made Barcelona the spiritual capital of the world.

Spanish industry can’t compete with foreign industry and yet the workers are much more advanced here. If Spain’s industry is going to modernize and compete with that in other countries, we the workers will have to take a step back. We’re not going to do that.

It’s necessary, indispensable, to resolve the problem of the unemployed, whose numbers grow daily. We workers have to provide the solution. How? With social revolution. It’s time to make way for the workers. Although it seems paradoxical, the workers and only the workers have to defend Spain’s wealth.

Getting back to the manifesto, I should mention that during one of our meetings I suggested to Pestaña and Peiró that they be theorists and that we, the youth, be the dynamic part of the organization. That is, that they come after us, reconstructing. As members of the Confederation, those of us in the FAI have only 2000 members, but we have a total of some 400,000 workers [in Catalonia], considering that at the last meeting we obtained sixty-three votes against twenty-two. It’s a question of whether or not to give a revolutionary response to the first provocation of the present government.

The first meeting of the Local Federation will be held on Sunday and we’ll articulate our protest against the published document there.... We know that our organization [the FAI] causes great fear in the Catalan bourgeoisie, but we’ll never take a step backward as far as the workers’ demands are concerned.[322]

The same day that La Tierra published Durruti’s comments, Solidaridad Obrera ran an editorial by Juan Peiró defending the views of “the thirty.” “It’s very easy,” wrote Peiró, “to summon the workers to protest, so that they can be mocked and shot at.... But those who do so aren’t revolutionaries; they are moral assassins. The difficult thing—and perhaps this is why it concerns so few—is to ignite the masses with a coherent plan that concretely determines the three phases of any revolutionary movement.”

Peiró expounded on the question that obsessed him: the Federations of Industry, which he thought would attract technicians and petty bourgeoisie to the CNT. For him, not having a plan for economic reconstruction meant being unprepared for the revolution: “The proletariat has to understand completely that the organization of the economy is the base upon which the whole revolutionary movement—at root, essentially socialist—rests and upon which political liberty and social and economic equality have to be built. To argue anything else, however you dress it up, is to be messianic and Bolshevik, which is always tyrannical in form and content and therefore completely incompatible with anarchism and revolutionary syndicalism.” [323] García Oliver also made some comments about “the Thirty” and the problem of revolution while speaking to the same journalist from La Tierra.

De Guzmán began his article with a few words about the circumstances of his meeting with García Oliver and an appreciation of the latter’s personality:

García Oliver gave a lecture at a union hall in the El Clot district to an exclusively worker audience on the parallels between Socrates and Christ’s lives. He was extremely eloquent and expounded original ideas as he shared his knowledge of the Socratic philosophy with the workers. And if the speaker is admirable—this young man who gave himself an exceptional education in hours robbed from sleep and during long years spent in prison—the same can be said of the audience. Silently, thoughtfully, the listeners strained to grasp the full depth of the orator’s words, whose meaning was complex despite their apparent simplicity.

We talked after he finished his lecture. García Oliver is one of the most outstanding men of the FAI and the fiercest opponent—conscious, serene, and revolutionary—of the men who signed the infamous August manifesto. García speaks logically, dispassionately, and advances his ideas after a moment of reflection.

The differences between the manifesto’s signers and the FAI “It’s difficult for those who don’t live in our circles to understand why they’re attacking the FAI. The manifesto’s signers are angry at us because the anarchist groups have shaken off their tutelage. But the battle isn’t really from today. It began in 1923 when the anarchists saw that Pestaña, Peiró, and the majority of the men who signed the document were unable to confront the difficult times that Spain was going through, in which there was a tangible possibility of a military coup. We even argued at a Congress that there would be a coup within three months and, regrettably, our fears were confirmed. “That, the poor leadership of the transportation strike, and their clear inability to deal with the problem of terrorism prompted the anarchists to rebel. We didn’t do so to divide the CNT, but to get the organization to give a revolutionary solution to Spain’s problems. “The anarchists didn’t distance themselves from the Confederation at the time—we’ve always been its most active element—but from men like Pestaña, Peiró, etc., who had a disproportionate influence over the organization.

“The same thing is happening today. Two months ago, Pestaña and Peiró looked at the Republican reality in Spain and concluded that Parliament is an effective tool for social change; the anarchists, on the other hand, knew that the dictatorship fell not because of pressure from political parties, but because the Spanish economy had stretched to its limit. We disagreed with them and asserted that social problems can only be resolved by a revolutionary movement that transforms the economy while also destroying bourgeois political institutions.”

Revolution is not a question of preparation, but of will “Without setting a date, we advocate revolution and don’t worry about whether or not we’re prepared to make it. We know that revolution is not a matter of preparation but of will; of wanting it.

“We don’t disregard revolutionary preparation, but simply consign it to secondary importance. After the experience of Mussolini in Italy and Hitler in Germany, it’s clear that preparing for and advocating the revolution also propels the fascists into action.

“Revolutionaries previously assumed that the revolution would triumph by necessity when it’s time for the people to make it, whether or not the opposing elements in the dominant regime want it. We could accept that theory before the fascist victory in Italy, because until then the bourgeoisie believed that the democratic state was its last refuge. But after Mussolini’s coup, capitalists are now convinced that when the democratic state fails they can still find the necessary forces to overthrow liberalism and crush the revolutionary movement.”

The FAI, revolutionary ferment “The signers of the manifesto say that the FAI wants to make a Marxist revolution, but unfortunately they’re confusing the revolutionary technique—which is the same for all those who intend to rebel—with anarchism and Marxism’s very different principles. At present, the FAI represents the revolutionary ferment; the element of social decomposition that our country needs in order to make the revolution.

“Ideologically, the FAI embraces anarchism and aspires to the realization of libertarian communism. As such, if a new regime is installed in Spain after the revolution that is similar to the one in Russia or the dictatorial syndicalism advocated by Peiró, Arin, and Piñón, then the FAI would immediately begin fighting against that order, not to destroy it in a reactionary sense but to push it to go further in order to implant libertarian communism.” The dictatorship of the proletariat sterilizes the revolution He is quiet for a moment. I ask a question. García reflects, and then replies calmly but firmly: “We don’t like to make judgments about what may or may not be possible in the future. Indeed, those who use hypotheses to establish dictatorial theories only reveal their own ideological confusion.”

“All revolutions are violent. But the dictatorship of the proletariat, as understood by the Communists and the syndicalist signers of the manifesto, has nothing to do with the violence of the revolution as such. In essence, they want to make violence into a practical form of government. Their dictatorship naturally and necessarily creates classes and privileges. And, given that the revolution has been made to destroy those privileges and classes, the effort would be in vain and it would be necessary to begin again. The dictatorship of the proletariat sterilizes the revolution. It’s a waste of time and energy.

“The FAI does not want to imitate the Russian Revolution. We want to make a real revolution; the violent event that frees people from their burdens and sets authentic social values aloft. That’s why we don’t prejudge Spain’s revolutionary future. But if we were to do so, we would have to affirm that libertarian communism is possible here. Certainly our people are at least potentially anarchist, in the cases when they lack the ideology. “Furthermore, we can’t forget that Spain and Russia are located at Europe’s two extremes. And not only are there geographic differences between the two countries; there are psychological differences as well. We want to prove this by making a revolution that doesn’t resemble Russia’s in the slightest.”

The signers of the manifesto do not believe in the revolution García Oliver becomes pensive again and, after reflecting briefly, says: “Those who put their names on the manifesto never believed in the Spanish revolution. They participated in revolutionary propaganda in the distant past but their fictions have been shattered today, now that the hour of truth has arrived.

“The signers of the manifesto see that they’ve been overwhelmed by events and declare their faith in the revolution, but they absurdly postpone the event to two or more years in the future, as if that were possible with the current crisis of the economy. Furthermore, in two years the revolution would be unnecessary for the workers: between Maura, Galarza, and hunger not a single worker will still be alive. Or, if there is one, he will be oppressed by a military dictatorship—whether it’s monarchical or Republican—that will necessarily arise, given the failure of the Spanish Parliament.” The CNT does not need to waste time preparing anything Then what course of action should the Confederation take?

“The CNT doesn’t need to waste time and prepare the two aspects of the revolution: destructive first and later constructive. The CNT is the only solid thing in Spain, a country in which everything is pulverized. It is a national reality that all the politicians combined can’t overcome. The CNT should not postpone the social revolution for any reason, because everything that can be prepared is already prepared. No one would suppose that the factories will function completely immediately after the revolution, just as no one would imagine that the peasants will work the plows with their feet. “Workers will have to do the same thing after the revolution as they did before it. In essence, a revolution implies a new concept of morality, or making morality itself effective. After the revolution, the workers must have the freedom to live according to their needs and society will satisfy those needs according to its economic capacities. “No preparation is necessary for this. The only thing required is that today’s revolutionaries defend the working class sincerely and don’t try to become little tyrants under the pretense of a more or less proletarian dictatorship.”

García Oliver becomes quiet. An unwavering faith in victory shines in his eyes, and also the belief that it is already near. [324]

CHAPTER IX. Two paradoxical processes: Alfonso XIII and the Gijón bank

Given these statements from Durruti and García Oliver, and the opposing comments from Juan Peiró and his friends, it was inevitable that the manifesto would become a subject of debate within CNT unions, particularly those in Catalonia. The fact that “the Thirty” had used the bourgeois press as a vehicle to voice their disagreements was one of the things that most upset militants. That, and the timing of their statement, made it harder for the CNT and anarchists to effectively confront the government’s persecution as well as the criticisms that Socialists and Communists were lodging against them. In this context, it is worth quoting a letter that Durruti sent to his brother Manolín, who was active among the Socialists in León:

I’m just sending a few lines to tell you that the Sevilla comrades haven’t gone along with anyone, neither the bourgeoisie nor the Communists. The CNT doesn’t accept anyone’s tutelage and we refuse to take part in rebellions that aren’t inspired by the workers or sponsored by their unions. Political movements, especially those of the Communists, respond only to the party’s needs, without taking into account the workers’ general interest. But the Communists go further: the imperatives of the Soviet state shape all their activities. Moscow directs the Communist parties like pawns, who advance or retreat according to its political strategy and international goals, which are always determined by the needs of the state.

So don’t pay attention to what the Communists say in Frente Rojo.... The CNT will respond in due time to all the slanders being spread against it. Right now the CNT needs all its energy to clarify its own positions and confront the repression constantly bearing down upon its militants.[325]

The CNT’s Catalan Regional Committee called a regional meeting for October 11, 1931 to clarify the internal conflicts. Between the call for the meeting and the meeting itself, there were endless union gatherings, strikes, acts of sabotage, and clashes—which were almost always bloody—between the workers and the police (whether it was those answering to Madrid or the Generalitat).

On September 30, Barcelona’s Local Federation met to talk about the bankagenda of the regional gathering. Instituting the Federations of Industry was the contentious point and the antagonisms between the two tendencies in the organization came to a head. The moderates accused the radicals of wanting to control the CNT (the infamous “dictatorship of the FAI”), who in turn objected to the moderates’ attempt to integrate the revolutionary workers’ movement into the state by means of the CNT’s “industrial” bureaucratization. They resolved the matter with a vote: sixteen unions declared themselves in favor of the Federations of Industry and three against (Woodworkers, Construction Workers, and Liberal Professions). Nonetheless, as if to underscore how conflicted they were about the issue, two of the three men nominated to represent Barcelona’s unions at the regional meeting—Francisco Ascaso and José Canela—were FAI members. Their appointment produced its first consequence the following day when Juan Peiró resigned as the editor of Solidaridad Obrera, before the regional meeting had even occurred.

The seats of the Teatro Proyecciones in Barcelona’s Exposición were full of delegates on October 11. Assault Guards watched the surrounding areas closely and, as if hoping to provoke a confrontation, constantly demanded identification from anyone heading toward the meeting. The harassment, and the thorny matters to discuss, created an extremely tense environment: activists entered the theater as friends but feared that they would leave it as enemies. The debate about Federations of Industry consumed a total of sixteen hours of passionate discussion spread out over four sessions. Although meeting participants ultimately accepted the CNT’s national decision on the Federations of Industry, they asserted their right to apply or not apply the decision, in accordance with the autonomy enjoyed by the CNT’s regional confederations (and the unions within them). This was a blow to the moderate faction. Likewise, meeting participants also decided not to reaffirm the Solidaridad Obrera team (Sebastián Clarà, Ricardo Fornells, and Agustín Gibanel, all of whom signed the manifesto). This tore the powerful informational weapon from the moderate’s hands. Meeting attendees voted to put it under the control of Felipe Alaiz, who was a well-known supporter of “anarchism’s advanced extreme,” as he liked to say. Alaiz describes how Francisco Ascaso told him about his nomination:

One morning, he came to my home in Sants:

“You have to be the editor of Soli, starting right now, as a professional and a comrade.

Ascaso seemed to be a militant in a rush.

“The Catalan unions have elected you. You have more votes than Macià.”

García Oliver came by after Ascaso had left. García and I went to the meeting in the Teatro Proyecciones, where the matter had been decided. It turned out that I was something like a half millionaire in votes.

That day I had coffee with Ascaso in La Tranquilidad, which was the most un-tranquil café on the Paralelo and in Catalonia.[326]

La Tranquilidad was a café located in the middle of the Brecha de San Pablo on the Paralelo and its owner, Martí, was sympathetic to the militant anarchists. [327] FAI members and supporters liked to gather there. In opposition to the La Tranquilidad, there was the Pay-Pay café on San Pablo Street, almost at the Brecha, where militant syndicalists met. They led what were called “confederal groups,” which were syndicalist action groups that formed the CNT’s underground, defensive shield. The police occasionally arrested everyone inside these cafés on the pretext that they needed to verify their identities. Of course authorities always prolonged the detentions of those they had been watching by charging them with sabotage or some other “criminal” infraction of bourgeois law. Nonetheless, despite the constant police raids, these cafés were always full of people.

It was in La Tranquilidad where Russian writer Ilya Ehrenburg first met Durruti, shortly after the proclamation of the Republic. There, surrounded by many well-known militants, Ehrenburg tried to convince Durruti that bolshevism was superior to anarchism. Durruti ending up “cutting up” the Russian writer with his brutal responses. Among other things, he reminded Ehrenburg that the Soviet Union, the “homeland of the proletariat,” had slammed the door in his face when he found himself in a Europe with nowhere to go.

Alaiz and García Oliver found Durruti and Ascaso at La Tranquilidad, who had been passing the time talking about the news from León. Durruti’s sister Rosa had just informed him that León police had come to her house looking for him. This was a response, she said, to a “search and capture” order for Durruti and “el Toto” [328] printed in the Boletín Oficial. When the new arrivals told them that the CNT meeting had voted to make Alaiz editor of Solidaridad Obrera, Durruti replied:

“Your news isn’t new, but mine is. Apparently the police are trying to find Toto and me, so that they can charge us with the holdup of the bank in Gijón.” “And you can consider yourself lucky if it’s only for that, but I don’t think things will end there,” Alaiz responded. “I imagine that they’ll also try to lock you up for the action against Alfonso XIII.”

“And why not for the attack on Cardinal Soldevila as well?” Ascaso asked.[329]

While the CNT’s radical faction continued to win ground and weaken the moderates, the bourgeois press inveighed against the Republic’s three greatest enemies—Durruti, Ascaso, and García Oliver—whom they described as “public enemies” as well bank robbers and bandits. Catalanist papers also tried to depict the FAI militants as “murcianos.” [330] They were trying to incite public opinion against the “horrific FAI,” but instead of diminishing the FAI’s impact on the CNT, this propaganda actually increased it. The fact that Francisco Ascaso’s fellow workers went on strike to demand his release immediately after he was arrested made this clear.

When Felipe Alaiz took over Soli on October 13, he also had to immediately begin organizing a campaign to free Ascaso. Police accused Ascaso of having “killed Alexander the Great” and also gave him a serious beating. [331] The CNT’s Catalan Regional Committee organized rallies throughout the region to protest Ascaso’s arrest. Durruti spoke frequently on the topic and the content of his speeches was always the same: “We’re living just like we lived under the dictatorship. Nothing has changed: the same bureaucracy, the same military bosses, the same police and, therefore, the same oppression, now exercised by a police force made up by Socialists. I’m referring to the Assault Guard.... Complaints aren’t useful; we have to react, and soon, to demonstrate our opposition to the rulers and the death of Republican hopes. The working class has the obligation—if it doesn’t want to deny itself—to seek its well-being beyond all these political tricks and political parties, which are nothing more than bureaucratic schools of power. The working class has no parliament but the street, the factory, and the workplace, and no path other than social revolution, which it can only make through constant revolutionary struggle.” [332]

Authorities charged Durruti with “insults against authority” after a speech he gave at a rally held on Ascaso’s behalf in which he denounced the Republican government’s repressive policy against the workers. The press reported on his arrest although, in reality, it was no more than a bureaucratic matter in which he was “informed.” But it worried Durruti to think of the concern that his mother would feel when she learned the news. He hastened to send some calming words, and he also replied to a letter from his family in which they urged him to leave the movement and return to León. It was not the first time that Durruti had received letters of this nature (we have already noted the comments he made to his brother Pedro about the same issue while imprisoned in Paris). Although Durruti’s response on this occasion was similar to those that he gave at other times, his letter merits reproduction because it contains valuable biographical information:

I suspect you’ve read about my arrest in Madrid’s La Tierra. I don’t know who communicated the news, but the fact is that that no one has bothered me. I go about my life as always. I haven’t stopped working for a moment and continue to go to the unions...

It’s Ascaso who has been arrested, but we hope that he’ll get out soon... The police detained him because they found him in the company of people they were looking for and decided to arrest everyone. But the situation isn’t serious.

Now, to address the letter from Perico and in which, he says, he expresses all of your views.

Perico tells me to give up the life that I‘m living and return to León, to work in the Machinery Warehouse. One of his reasons is the severity of the approaching economic crisis, whose consequences I’ll be the first to suffer. Likewise, I should abandon the life of the fighter because everyone, he says, should “get themselves out of trouble.”

I don’t take your suggestions in a bad way, because I know they reflect your concern for me and desire to have me at your side. But you’ll never understand what makes me different from the other brothers. When I lived at home, I don’t think it would have taken you much to see that there’s an enormous distance between us in our ways of thinking and acting.

From my earliest years, the first thing that I saw was suffering. And if I couldn’t rebel when I was a child, it was only because I was an unaware being then. But the sorrows of my grandparents and parents were recorded in my memory during those years of unawareness. How many times did I see our mother cry because she couldn’t give us the bread that we asked for! And yet our father worked without resting for a minute. Why couldn’t we eat the bread that we needed if our father worked so hard? That was the first question whose answer I found in social injustice. And, since that same injustice still exists today, thirty years later, I don’t see why, now that I’m conscious of this, that I should stop fighting to abolish it.

I don’t want to remind you of the hardships suffered by our parents until we got older and could help out the family. But then we had to serve the so-called fatherland. The first was Santiago. I still remember mother weeping. But even more strongly etched in my memory are the words of our sick grandfather, who sat there, disabled and next to the heater, punching his legs in anger as he watched his grandson go off to Morocco, while the rich bought workers’ sons to take their children’s place in Africa...

Don’t you see why I’ll continue fighting as long as these social injustices exist?[333]

Durruti, consumed as he was by the revolution, barely noticed that Emilienne was a stone’s throw from becoming a mother. She entered the hospital maternity ward in early December 1931 and a child, whose eyes would always invoke Durruti, came into the world on the fourth day of that month.

They named the girl Colette, surely by Mimi’s express desire. Her birth had a powerful impact on Durruti. He could barely conceal his delight to his sister Rosa:

Mimi is absolutely enchanted with her girl and is in good health. We’ve enclosed a bit of her hair. She’s dark, like you, and all our friends say she’s very pretty. I suggest that you come to Barcelona for a few days, which you’ll enjoy a lot. I have many friends here, some are in prison, but they’ll get out sooner or later. I also have a lot of work, since we’re organizing large rallies in support of the prisoners....

I want you to know that yesterday I charged 2,600 pesetas as an indemnity against my dismissal by the Railroad Company during the general strike in August 1917. That money has served us well. Yesterday Mimi went out for the first time [since the birth] with some friends and bought countless needed items, including all the essentials for Colette.

Regarding the hundred pesetas that you said you’re going to send, don’t send them now, if you haven’t already done so. I’m not short on money at the moment. [334]

Durruti sent this letter on December 8, 1931. The Republic had been proclaimed on April 14 and it had been necessary to wait eight months for them to begin to apply the amnesty decree. That is how slowly things went!

Six days later Durruti sent his family another letter in which he acknowledged that he had received the one hundred pesetas and spoke of Colette:

She’s begun to laugh and is a delight to all our friends. Mimi is quite well and treats Colette like a princess. She has a lot of milk and a good appetite.... We bought endless things: a closet, buffet, mattress, blankets, sheets, crib, shoes.... Many things.... I didn’t go to work today because all my friends were released from prison, including Ascaso. I’ve been very busy organizing on their behalf recently. I’ve caused quite a scandal in Barcelona and it looks like I won’t escape going to jail.

You shouldn’t worry about the Boletín from Asturias, since I have a letter from Oviedo and they tell me that it’s nothing.... Rosita, get yourself to come to Barcelona.... I’ll even prepare a bed for you, since we now have a mattress.

[Mimi included some lines:]

My dear Colette is sleeping in my arms. I never tire of looking at her. [335]

Durruti’s premonition about going to prison was partially confirmed a few days later. He was scheduled to speak at a rally in Gerona and the police, who were waiting for him at the railroad station, arrested him when he got off the train. They took him to the police station, where an inspector accused him of “having organized an attack against Alfonso XIII in Paris.” Durruti knew that the purpose of the charade was simply to hold him for several hours in order to prevent him from addressing the rally. He warned the inspector that his game could cost him dearly, since the workers wouldn’t accept an arrest made under the pretext of an attack on a King deposed and condemned by the Republic. Meanwhile, as Durruti argued with the inspector, a call came in from the Civil Governor ordering them to release the detainee. The inspector apologized and Durruti left the police station. Of course the Governor didn’t free Durruti out of the goodness of his heart; he was acting under pressure from a group of workers who went to the Civil Government and demanded an explanation when they learned about Durruti’s detention. The Governor didn’t want to make the ridiculous announcement that they were holding Durruti because of a conspiracy against the dethroned King and told them that they were simply verifying his identity, but that he would be freed immediately and the rally could go on.

Durruti’s speeches were never short of attacks on the Republic and this police harassment simply gave him another reason to go on the offensive at the Gerona rally: “If I needed one more example to convince you that we’re still living under the Monarchy, our Civil Governor has given me a good one by trying to arrest me for revolutionary activity designed to eliminate Spain’s most disastrous King.” The government agent assigned to the meeting had to endure the defiant ovations and cheers from the Gerona workers.

Durruti couldn’t resist telling his sister about the machinations of Gerona’s Civil Governor when he got back to Barcelona: “See, Rosita, how my instinct didn’t deceive me! The Republican authorities tried to imprison me for plotting against the Monarchy. I can’t imagine anything more outrageous! But, moving on to more serious matters: this time it’s true that Mimi, Colette, and your ingrate brother are coming to León.” [336]

Durruti hadn’t set foot in León since August 1917. By December 1931, it had been more than fourteen years since he had seen his family or conversed with his friends, youthful playmates who were now militant anarchists or CNTistas.

This was not to be a pleasure trip for Durruti, but one full of sadness. His sister had informed him that “your father is extremely sick, and you should do anything you can to be at his side and give him the satisfaction of seeing you before it’s too late.” His sister’s urgency was not misplaced: their father died while Durruti was on his way to León. Old Santiago Durruti’s funeral was an important event for the workers of León. The local UGT and the CNT hoped that it would not only celebrate the old Socialist but also express support for his son, who was “cursed by León’s Church and bourgeoisie.”

After the funeral ended, the León CNT asked Durruti to prolong his stay for a few days so that he could speak at a rally scheduled to be held in the city’s bullring.

We possess a photo of the event that shows a particularly well-dressed Durruti, which was doubtlessly the result of his family’s efforts. As Anastasia liked to say: “Every time he comes to León, I have to dress him from head to toe and pay for the return trip.”

The CNT wanted this to be a large rally and invited workers from all the province’s coalfields. For their part, local caciques and Church leaders pressed the Civil Guard commander to find an excuse to stop the ceremony. The pretext he found was charging Durruti with the robbing the bank in Gijón and, under the accusation, prepared to send Durruti to Oviedo with an armed escort.

Durruti was accustomed to being charged with crimes and nothing could surprise him in this respect after his experience in Gerona. When the Commander explained the accusation, Durruti stared at him and indignantly replied: “Do you know what that money was spent on? On bringing you the Republic on a platter! Commander, don’t you think that it would be better if we left things as they are and that I speak in the bullring tomorrow? Would you rather have an outburst in León?” [337]

As expected, León’s bullring was packed the following day. Workers had come not only from the province of León but also from surrounding areas, such as Galicia, Gijón, and even Valladolid. Laureano Tejerina, the local secretary of the CNT, presided over the event. Durruti, the only orator, was speaking in his native León, to people that he knew. That rally was not just any rally, but rather a broad conversation in a familiar environment. Durruti did his best to avoid grandiloquent phrases and maintained a serene, thoughtful tone. “In simple terms, but reinforcing each of his statements with an energetic gesture, he discussed the Republic’s failures and explained why it had been unable to solve the country’s social and political problems. After this reasoned examination, he pointed out that Spain was living in a pre-revolutionary period; that the revolution was growing in the proletarian world, and that when the revolution explodes it will not be a riot or a brawl, but an authentic and profound revolution that will cause the whole bourgeois, religious, statist, and capitalist order to fall. After its liquidation and total destruction, the working class and peasantry will make a new world rise, without privileged classes or parasites, that will guarantee bread and liberty for all, because bread without liberty is tyranny and liberty without bread is a deceit. But for the revolution to occur, he argued that absolutely all the workers must fight for unity in the true class sense of the word and that their activities must lead toward a single goal, the only one permitted for the working class: to break the chains of their slavery and be dignified in liberty. And don’t forget that no revolution can be made in slavery, but only in and with liberty. Forward, then, to the liberating revolution! Forward to the permanent and never ending social revolution!”[338]

Durruti’s revolutionary enthusiasm overwhelmed him and spread to the people of León. However, this was not a new thing for him. He had always been an optimist and had an almost religious faith in the revolution. For him, the revolution was inevitable, although it was necessary to prepare for it through a daily struggle that would give rise to the new man. While reflecting on the difficulties that the CNT faced after the insurrection of December 8, 1933, a friend of his, Pablo Portas, offers a depiction of Durruti’s hopefulness. During those harsh days, when the government was filling the prisons with workers and persecuting the CNT and anarchists, Durruti told Portas that “the revolution has to be thought of as a long process, marked by advances and retreats. Militants shouldn’t let themselves be demoralized.... In times like these, we have to be courageous, learn from the past, and prepare ourselves to attack more forcefully in the future. You’ll see, as things continue to deteriorate, the working class will shake off its fear and occupy its rightful place in history. For now, we have to maintain ourselves in the breach and not let pessimism dominate us. I know that our best comrades are falling one by one, but those losses are logical and necessary; without them there is no harvest, they are to the revolution what the sun and the water are to plants.”

“Many of us thought Durruti was a fanatic of the revolution,” Portas says. “It’s just that wherever we looked we only saw comrades cornered like animals by the state, while the workers who filled the soccer fields or bullrings didn’t concern themselves in the least with that anarchist bloodletting.”[339]

CHAPTER X. The insurrection in Alto Llobregat

While social conditions continued to deteriorate, deputies and ministers were busy drafting the constitution of the Second Republic. The discussion of article 26, which treated the separation of the church and state and limited the church’s activity in public life, shattered the political unity in the government. This article was approved on October 13 by 178 votes against fifty-nine, with the abstention of the Radical-Socialists (who supported an even stronger text). Miguel Maura and Alcalá Zamora saw this as a betrayal of the Pact of San Sebastián and resigned from the government. The Socialists and Republicans overcame the crisis by forming a new government without the Rightwing. Manuel Azaña continued to hold the purse strings of the Ministry of War and stood in for Alcalá Zamora as Prime Minister. Santiago Casares Quiroga replaced Maura in the Interior Ministry and José Giral (also from Azaña’s party) took on the Ministry of the Navy. This ministerial readjustment produced a Republican-Socialist government that could govern without the obstacle of the high bourgeoisie and the Church’s representatives. There was nothing to stop it from instituting sweeping reforms and addressing urgent problems such as unemployment and the agrarian crisis. That was what the people hoped it would do, but the Republican leaders disappointed them once again. Instead of tackling those issues, they simply aggravated things by approving the Law for the Defense of the Republic on October 20. They heavily strengthened the powers of the Interior Ministry, so much so that Miguel Maura couldn’t help by exclaim: “That would make being Interior Minister a pleasure!”

On December 9, 1931 the Parliament reached its maximum incongruence when 362 members voted to make Alcalá Zamora President of the Republic. Alcalá Zamora, who had resigned because he disagreed with article 26, only heightened the contradiction by agreeing to be the faithful guardian of the Constitution.

The President swore his fidelity to his post two days later and, to render the act more solemn, the government made the day a national holiday. This ostentation stood in frank contradiction to the situation on the street: there was a general strike in Zaragoza and workers had occupied factories in the Asturian mining region, only to be dislodged by the Civil Guard. It was not a peaceful affair; one was killed and eleven injured by gunfire that day in Gijón.

Significant events occurred on December 31 in Castilblanco, a small town in the Badajoz province. Peasants there had been on strike for several weeks and Casares Quiroga ordered the Civil Guard to impose order. The Civil Guard’s entrance into Castilblanco shook the locals and they, in reply, surrounded the Civil Guard’s post and killed those inside. The Civil Guard responded by unleashing a wave of terror in numerous villages, including Almarcha, Jeresa, Calzada de Calatrava, Puertollano, and Arnedo. There were six deaths and more than thirty injured in the last site alone, where authorities fired upon a peasant demonstration demanding bread and work. The FAI’s Tierra y Libertad published a lengthy article about the incident under the following headline: “Spain is kidnapped by the Civil Guard.” It printed a number of graphics depicting what had happened.

Circumstances were even worse in Catalonia. In the coalfields of Alto Llobregat and Cardoner, conditions for the potash miners had deteriorated sharply since June 1931. The mining company was English and treated the miners like they were colonial subjects. The Civil Guard was at the company’s beck and call and arrested those it considered disobedient. Unions were attacked, it was illegal to sell workers’ publications, and police constantly frisked laborers in the street. The workers, most of whom had migrated from the Cartagena mining region, began to reach the limits of their patience: some wanted to return to their home towns and others looked toward violence. Militant CNTistas and anarchists met to devise a plan that would to channel the popular discontent into positive acts of proletarian affirmation, raise the workers’ combative spirit, and encourage their confidence in their strength and revolutionary potential.

The idea of launching an insurrection and proclaiming libertarian communism took root. They decided to lay the foundation for the rebellion with a propagandistic speaking tour. Vicente Pérez, “Combina,” Arturo Parera, and Durruti began the tour in early 1932. Durruti was truly explosive at the rally in Sallent: “He told the workers that it was time to renew the revolution left hanging by the Republicans and Socialists, that bourgeois democracy had failed, and that the emancipation of the working class could only be achieved by expropriating the bourgeoisie and abolishing the state. He urged the Fígols miners to prepare themselves for the final struggle and showed them how to make bombs with tin cans and dynamite.” [340]

Durruti’s aggressive tone reflected the spirit of the moment. Felipe Alaiz urged the people to revolt in articles that he sent to Tierra y Libertad from prison in Barcelona:

It isn’t time to brandish pens in this country that shudders meekly before the big landowners and lacks the strength to truly react against the public affront.

No, it isn’t time for rhetorical protests or to call for vigorous demonstrations. We’ve done that more than enough already. Some are even saying that those who tolerate the abuse deserve it.

Conventional wisdom reaches tragic extremes when it states that a dictatorship is brewing in Spain, even though dictatorial forces have already been acting in full uncontested vigor for several weeks thanks to the Socialists and Republicans. What can you expect from the Socialists, who have justly been treated as traitors for fifteen or twenty years? And what do you expect from the Republicans, a group of halfwits who now raise arms and announce that democracy is bankrupt? Democracy has always been a poison, a whip, and a gag.

The Spanish people have never been as docile as now and never massacred as frequently as now. We don’t need to spell out the moral of the story; but it must be said that if there isn’t a real response to the ignominious absence of even the most elemental liberties and right to life; if the docility continues disguising itself with words, which are simply pages to the wind; if we fail to energetically attack the origin of these problems; then we will continue to build warehouses of smoke and perhaps write a page in the martyrology, but we won’t be anarchists.[341]

Several days after the Sallent rally, a rebellion erupted throughout the coalfields of Alto Llobregat and Cardoner and the villagers proclaimed libertarian communism (January 18, 1932). The rebellion spread to Manresa, where armed workers took over and abolished money, private property, and state authority. Fígols was the last town to surrender to the army. The revolutionaries held it for five days, during which they lived out a profound experiment in libertarian communism. The correspondent sent there by La Tierra wrote the following:

Men of all types work the coalfield where the rebellion triumphed. They are men who have always felt the weight of exploitation and it was against their demands—just as they were—that the regime was erected that always denies the workers the right to live. Revolutionaries, and union activists in their majority, these fighting workers were wholly rebels; eternally persecuted by all injustices, they are all too familiar with the mine and the prison, the ship, and the Civil Guard.

It seemed logical that these men, once victorious and thinking that they had overthrown the bourgeoisie, would avenge the years of oppression that they had suffered, that driven by hate they would throw themselves on the state’s representatives—guards, judges, and priests, etc.—and mercilessly tear them to shreds.

But after proclaiming the social revolution, these men—idealistic and generous beings—did not think of retaliation: they did not want to spill blood and didn’t even consider humiliating those who had humiliated them so many times before. They seized the weapons to prevent their adversaries from attacking. They secured the area to protect themselves against surprises.

And—leaving the whole world in absolute liberty—they continued working just like the day before, without imagining for an instant that their revolutionary victory freed them from the grueling task of tearing coal from the bowels of the earth.

And that is exactly what the anarchists did; men who are beyond all laws and who are constantly treated like murderers, thieves, and professional criminals. At their head, teaching by example, were the leaders of the rebellion, the revolutionaries who—according to the Muñoz Seca brothers, the Piesa, the Parliament, and even the government—had unspeakable motives and rebelled merely to fulfill their most turbid appetites. The revolutionaries controlled the situation for several days in Sallent, Súria, Berga, Fígols, and Cardona. There were no robberies, murders, or rapes anywhere. There was not even one death to suggest cruelty in those eternally persecuted men; not one robbery to demonstrate the desire for profit; not one rape to mark the urge to satisfy craven desires.

It was the same in all the towns. The workers greeted the victory of the social revolution with enthusiasm. They seized the town halls, flew red or black flags, abolished money, and made purchases with vouchers. But there was no looting or barbarities. Nowhere, not even in one small village, did the workers think that their victory liberated them from their hard daily labors...

That is how the revolutionaries of Cardoner and Llobregat thought and acted....

And that is why the rebellion is so significant. For the first time libertarian communism was a broad and lived reality. And utopian anarchism’s generous and noble ideas shined brightly in all those places, above all hatred, resentment, and conflict.

The events in those towns have such capital importance that they will surely have a decisive influence on the progress of the Spanish revolution and merit thorough study as a sociological phenomenon by our intellectuals, leaders, and politicians. For the workers there is no doubt, and they will know how to extract positive lessons from their brothers, the miners of Sallent and Fígols.[342]

How did the government respond to that bloodless worker uprising? In the Chamber of Deputies, Prime Minister Manuel Azaña spoke about a revolutionary movement that was led from abroad and said that it was imperative to crush it immediately. He requested and received a vote confidence from the chamber. Azaña ordered Catalonia’s General Captain to suppress the movement at once. Troops first occupied Manresa and later, after three days of struggle, the coalfields were pacified when Fígols finally surrendered. The libertarian communist dream had barely lasted a week. The dreamers, or those who did not pay with their lives, were imprisoned or deported to Spanish Guinea.

Counterrevolutionary forces seized the day and the government rigorously applied the Law for the Defense of the Republic. Authorities in Barcelona, Valencia, Sevilla and Cádiz received orders to launch a raid on anarchist circles that would ensnare leading CNT and FAI members.

The manhunt began at dawn on January 20 with assaults on the homes of pre-identified individuals in Barcelona. The libertarian professor Tomás Cano Ruiz was one of the first to be captured: “I was arrested and held incommunicado in the basements of Police Headquarters. I quickly came to appreciate the meaning of a raid in the style of Martínez Anido.” [343]

Authorities filled the prison cells with suspects, and then selected them either for deportation or incarceration.

Police arrested Durruti in the morning of January 21 and seized the Ascaso brothers (Francisco and Domingo) around noon that day. In the afternoon of January 22, those destined to be deported were transferred to the port and loaded onto the Buenos Aires, a steamship that the Transatlantic Company had freely put at the government’s disposal.

The Cánovas gunboat maneuvered its canons while the men were hauled onboard. The sailors on the Buenos Aires watched with their fingers on the trigger as the detainees were sent to the ship’s hold, where there was neither straw nor blankets nor anything even remotely resembling shelter or bedding. The men were constantly watched and had no freedom other than airing themselves under the ship’s skylights. There was very little water or food. This human cargo evoked the slave trade: the Republic had become a slaver. In addition to these already difficult conditions, there was a prohibition on receiving visitors, food packages, and correspondence. The detainees would have to live like this until February 11 when the government ordered the Buenos Aires to set sail.

CHAPTER XI. The steamship Buenos Aires

The militants who hadn’t been captured during the January 20 raid—such as Ortiz, Sanz, and García Oliver—met and decided that they would pressure their respective unions to push the CNT National Committee to declare a general strike throughout the country. They believed that this was the only way to stop the government from deporting their comrades.

The Manufacturing and Textile Workers’ Union held an emergency meeting and voted to support the general strike. It sent García Oliver, as its representative, to a meeting of the National Committee, which was based in Barcelona and led by Angel Pestaña at the time. García Oliver drafted the following report for his union:

The National Committee met on the evening of February 9. García Oliver, the secretary, and other delegates were present. He [Pestaña] read the notes sent by the various regions in response to the circular distributed to them which, at the behest of the regional of Aragón, Rioja, and Navarre, asked if they supported the declaration of a general strike throughout Spain or carrying out similar activities designed to prevent the announced deportations.

Levante answered affirmatively, declaring itself for the general strike; Galicia, despite the fact that government repression had weakened it considerably, also supported the strike and promised to do everything it could to make it general in its region; Asturias accepted as well and suggested immediately beginning a propaganda campaign to make the strike as complete as it could be; Aragón, Rioja, and Navarre say they have met with the counties and are prepared for the general strike; the Center regional, due to its limited influence, will organize protests when the National Committee delegation meets with the government to stop the deportations.

Pestaña claimed that Catalonia, Andalusia, the Balearics, and Norte had not responded. He added that “the day before yesterday, Sunday, I wrote all the regionals saying that, from the consultation about whether or not to declare a general strike against the deportations, it turns out that the majority of the regional organizations agree on the need for a massive propaganda campaign, without detriment to other activities that may be deemed appropriate later. I sent the letter in question without the National Committee, because it wasn’t a matter of importance and also to speed things up.”

García Oliver told Pestaña that he had made several important mistakes: First: behind the back of the National Committee, Pestaña has abused his authority and the trust invested in him, due to his possession of the National Committee stamp.

Second: he altered the regionals’ responses, given that the Center regional was the only one that suggested a propaganda campaign. All the others supported the general strike.

Third: Pestaña implied that the majority of regionals rejected the general strike, when in fact the opposite was the case. This is a deliberate and premeditated deception of the Confederal proletariat, which prevented us from stopping the deportations. From all of this, one can deduce that the government’s hurry to order the departure of the Buenos Aires results from the fact that it knew that Pestaña’s actions prevented any effective protest by the CNT. One can also deduce that the deportees would not have departed without his actions and also understand why, despite the considerable time between now and the Fígols rebellion, authorities suddenly ordered the ship to set sail.

García Oliver was unable to do more than submit his report to his union in writing because police arrested him and threw him in the Modelo prison a few days after he wrote it. He told the other prison inmates about the matter and, after hearing his comments, one hundred of them sent a statement to the anarchist press. It asked for “Angel Pestaña’s expulsion from the CNT, in the event that what is said by García Oliver is true. Or, if García Oliver is lying, that he be expelled.” [344]

While all this was happening, the detainees in the Buenos Aires were held incommunicado and impatiently waited to find out what destination the government had in store for them.

The Buenos Aires steamship left the port of Barcelona at 4:45 am on February 10. No one knew where it was going, but most presumed that it was heading for Guinea in Africa. That day Emilienne sent a very expressive letter to the French Anarchist Federation, informing them about the deportation of Durruti and the others:

There is despair at home. The Buenos Aires left Barcelona at four this morning in the direction of Guinea, probably Bata. There are 110 detainees on the ship now and it will stop in Valencia and Cádiz to pick up other militants awaiting exile on those shores. They haven’t allowed us to go onboard and say goodbye to them. Only some children, escorted by the sailors, have been able to bid their parents farewell. Our little Colette, two and half months old, was brought onboard in this way and Durruti could at least give her a kiss. We haven’t been able to see or speak with any of them since they were arrested approximately three weeks ago.

Durruti and some comrades started a hunger strike while the ship was anchored in the port. That’s why Durruti, Ascaso, Pérez Feliu, and Masana were separated from the rest.

The country’s press—with the exception of La Tierra—has slavishly endorsed the actions of the Interior Minister. It bases itself on the most absurd lies and despicable slanders to justify this abominable deportation. Solidaridad Obrera is banned.

Here is the paradox of the Spanish Republic: while it deports 110 prisoners without trial (and most didn’t participate in the Fígols events), the monarchists conspire openly, large rural landowners leave their lands barren, and the peasants die of hunger. It won’t apply the infamous “Law for the Defense of the Republic” against its enemies, but rather against the workers, whose only crime is being conscious of and faithful to their class.

How could it be that the Socialists, who collaborated with Primo de Rivera, are now suddenly concerned with the workers’ demands? An eye for eye, a tooth for tooth; that should be our maxim. Despite the fact that our loved ones are leaving and we don’t know if we’ll ever see them again, we are not declaring defeat and won’t bow our heads. We will continue in the breach.[345]

The deportees used Ascaso’s pen and little Colette’s diapers to send their own message:

Dear friends: it looks like they’ve begun to dust off the compass. We are leaving. That is a word that says many things: to leave—according to the poet—is to die a little. But we aren’t poets, and for us this parting has always been a sign of life. We are in constant movement, on a perennial journey like Jews without a homeland; we are outside of a society in which we find nowhere to live; we are members of an exploited class, still without a place in the world. The departure was always a symbol of vitality. What does it matter if we leave, if we also stay here in our exploited brothers’ ideas and action? It isn’t us that they want to exile but our ideas and there’s no doubt that they will remain. And it’s those ideas that give us strength to live and that will make it possible for us return one day.

What a pathetic bourgeoisie that needs to resort to such things to survive! But we aren’t surprised. It’s in struggle against us and of course it defends itself. It torments, exiles, and murders. After all, nothing dies without at least throwing a punch. Beasts and men are similar in this. It’s unfortunate that its blows cause victims, especially when it is our brothers who fall, but it’s unavoidable and we have to accept the burden. Let us hope that the bourgeoisie’s death throes will be brief! Steel plates are not enough to contain our joy when we realize that our suffering marks the beginning of its end. It collapses and dies, but its death is our life, our liberation. To suffer like this is not to suffer. On the contrary, it is to live a dream cherished for millennia; it is to be present in the actualization and development of an idea that nourishes our thought and fills the vacuum of our lives. To leave is to live! That is our salutation when we say not goodbye but see you soon![346]

The January 18 revolutionary uprising in Alto Llobregat was the detonator needed to set off the revolutionary process that had been incubating in Spain. The miners had had the audacity to turn theory into practice and that theory expressed in practice was going to inspire social struggles across the country. The government hoped that deporting these men would put a break on this, but it only stirred the revolutionary cauldron. Indeed, four days after the ship set sail anarchist groups in Tarrasa occupied Town Hall, flew the black and red flag, and proclaimed libertarian communism. The state crushed this rebellion brutally, just like in Alto Llobregat, but such defeats are really victories in the history of the proletarian struggle because they help the workers free themselves from fear and, when that occurs, the revolution spreads its wings. This important psychological phenomenon generally escapes the myopic historians and salaried journalists.

Emilienne Morin was right to demand an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Francisco Ascaso shared her views when he accepted exile as the bourgeoisie’s inevitable and logical response to its own desperation. The struggle was clearly becoming self-conscious. García Oliver protested from prison when, in the name of the inmates, some tried to justify collaboration with political figures:

Those of us in prison are on the frontlines of this great struggle for the social revolution on the Iberian Peninsula and we are shocked, saddened, and depressed to read so frequently about meetings between anarchist orators and politicians from the parliamentarian minority....

Of course the political minority will try to improve its position with pretenses of revolutionism, but it’s unacceptable for anarchists to justify these politician’s deceitful promises with their presence and support. Anarchists must refuse all collaboration with politicians and have the duty to resist them tirelessly and warn the masses about the hidden dangers that politics hold for them.

We can’t allow such things, even when they occur under the pretext of our imprisonment and deportation. Our duty as anarchists should be enough for our defense.... All paths are closed except the path of proletarian revolution. Parliamentary action, for our post-World War generation, is something old and useless, like Christianity was for the children of the French Revolution.

For our part, we have never had more faith in the realization of our anarchist ideals than now. Our hearts are flooded with enthusiasm after the libertarian communist experiment in Alto Llobregat. Indeed, we are far from those times when being an anarchist meant sacrificing one’s freedom for a society that only future generations could bring into existence. Anything is possible today. Now we fight for ourselves. And, since we’re at war, we’re prepared to defend ourselves. We won’t complain if the enemy wounds us. We’ll simply think of the best way to hit back and bring it down.[347]

CHAPTER XII. Guinea — Fernando Poo – The Canaries

The government gathered the Andalusian detainees in Cádiz and loaded them onto the Buenos Aires as soon as it anchored outside the port. The ship then set off into the Atlantic toward the Canaries, leaving behind a Spain in chaos. The militants from Valencia went on the Sánchez Barcáiztegui destroyer and met the others in Las Palmas.

As previously noted, anarchists in Tarrasa took over Town Hall and proclaimed libertarian communism on February 14 as a protest against the deportations. There were more clashes with the Civil Guard and more deaths. There were general or partial strikes in large cities. Bombs tore down telephone poles and demolished electrical installations.

The government did everything it could to make matters worse by provoking the Rightwing with demagoguery. Although the government really had no intention of attacking, the Right took the bravado as a real threat and conspired against the Republic.

The working class didn’t understand the parliamentarian’s rhetoric and, having received nothing but bullets from the government, also declared war on the regime.

The government didn’t really govern but wanted to stay in power. What could it do? Put a wall of lead between the ruled and the rulers. That is exactly what Azaña’s team did, while also turning the Spanish government into a gigantic discussion circle.

In one of the tranquil sessions of the Parliament, the Interior Minister told its honorable members that the government knew quite well where to send the “dreamers of libertarian communism.” “We choose Guinea,” he said, “because its climate is more healthy and attractive than Fuerteventura. In fact, I’m even thinking of making a trip there myself to spend a few days in the company of the deportees.” No one protested, but did anyone know what Guinea was really like? If they did, so much the worse, given what the reader will appreciate after digesting the following:

Spain’s possessions in the Gulf of Guinea have been justly regarded as unhealthy for some time now. The funeral legend of the deported politician still floats over its hot beaches. Any exile lucky enough to return often came back consumed by cachexia and bearing germs of death in his blood.

And this is quite natural. In an absolutely sweltering region, covered by leafy vegetation and bathed by the misty and humid atmosphere, the environment is a dense microbial nursery. It is a promised land for every pathogen, particularly the group of protozoa that provoke sleep sickness, nagana in cattle, amoebic dysentery, and the most severe and rebellious varieties of malaria.

Guinea’s gentle beauty is obscured by the threatening presence of these germs of death and bearers of disease, which are true obstacles to the development of European culture.

This tropical environment overwhelms, exhausts, and destroys organic and spiritual life.[348]

That was the “gentle paradise” that the government had reserved for those sailing the through the Atlantic. While the Buenos Aires traveled to an “unknown” destination, there was widespread turmoil on the peninsula. In addition to the tumultuous wake left by that phantom boat, the rebellion in Alto Llobregat had made libertarian communism an increasingly pressing concern for bourgeois intellectuals. Salvador de Madariaga tried to elevate the debate: “In January 1932, the Fígols miners rose up against the state and proclaimed libertarian communism, which they celebrated with a general strike in the industrious Llobregat valley. How, the reader will ask, does one eat in the world of libertarian communism? Exactly: how does one eat? Here those most distinguished by their ignorance of the Spanish working class normally insert a stilted disclaimer about Spanish illiteracy and working class ignorance. Those libertarians, those Quixotes of social emancipation, who, like the Man from La Mancha, tried to impose the dream that inspires them onto a hard reality, are not illiterate at all and are just as capable of reading as those who accuse them of such things. It is just that they have a much more developed creative faculty than the journalists who criticize them. Instead of reading books, they prefer to create their own categories and hopes, and live their lives with a serenity and an attachment to a mode of thought that many in the erudite world would envy from the comfortable shelter of their libraries. More education is needed, they tell us. Indeed, it will take a tremendous amount of education to extinguish the faith of these visionaries.” [349] That quote was really worthwhile. The Buenos Aires stopped in the Canary Islands only long enough to pick up more coal and the detainees from Valencia. It then continued toward the Gulf of Guinea. It stocked up on bananas in Dakar, the sole source of nourishment for the deportees piled up in the ship’s hold. The inadequate food, unhygienic conditions, and poor ventilation caused several cases of blood poisoning. The sickest had to be taken to the hospital when the ship anchored in Santa Isabel in Fernando Poo. The captain of the Buenos Aires, a cousin of General Franco, then telegraphed Madrid and asked where they should go. Navy Minister José Giral directed him to Bata. The sick were immediately reloaded onto the ship and the Buenos Aires took off for Bata. Its perpetual escort, the Cánovas gunboat, followed.

The orders, counter-orders, bad food, and everything that “pleasure trip” entailed put the deportees on edge. They ended up declaring a mutiny and took over the bridge. The captain was as disoriented as the mutineers and quickly realized that it would be best to make some concessions and negotiate an end to the rebellion. Thanks to their action, bunks were distributed, the food improved, and deck access permitted for fresh air. All this could have been practiced from the outset, but they had to revolt, to show their teeth, to secure it. Direct action is not an empty term.

Since they decided that they should not to leave the sick in Bata, the ship retraced its path toward the Canaries, where they were interned in the hospital in Fuerteventura. Then they set off for Río de Oro. The military commander there was the son of José Regueral and he refused to accept the detainees because Durruti was among them, whom he held responsible for his father’s murder. What to do? There was another consultation with Giral and another trip to Fuerteventura to drop off Durruti and six additional men there. The ship then sailed toward Africa once again. After coming and going across the Atlantic for months, the Buenos Aires finally reached Villa Cisneros, which seemed to be its final destination. The government had thought of everything when it planned the “Atlantic excursion” and even sent along a journalist to chronicle the odyssey for the Spanish public. Of course his articles were picturesque tales of a carefree jaunt and it was surely their influence that led Tuñón de Lara to describe the expedition as a “round trip voyage, without a stop in Guinea.” [350] And his articles must have entertained very few, given the commotion sweeping Spain at the time. There were things of much greater interest, such as the general strike in Orense, where armed workers rose against the governor in late March and told his compatriot Casares Quiroga to go to hell with his Civil Guard. They promised to “tear him to shreds” [351] if he set foot in Galicia. While Spain drifted inexorably toward civil war, Durruti and his friends counted the days in Fuerteventura, just as the deportees in Villa Cisneros counted them with clocks of sand. The tireless conspirator Ramón Franco visited the deportees in Villa Cisneros and urged them to try to escape on a sailboat that he had prepared for the purpose. Francisco Ascaso told him that it would be better if he focused on counteracting the stories of the “government chronicler” with a real account of their lives there. [352]

For his part, Durruti left a vivid statement about the experience in a letter that he sent to his family as soon as their comings and goings had stopped: Cabras Port, April 18, 1932.

My pilgrimage on these seas has finally come to an end and now, as a resident of this lost island, I’m able to send you a note.

Yesterday was the first time that I received any mail since leaving Barcelona. It’s letters from Mimi, Perico, and other friends. I was cut off from the world until then, not knowing anything about you all. The Republican government isn’t content with this criminal deportation and has to vent itself on us by subjecting us to the most extreme isolation. Those gentlemen are so small-minded that they think we lack the feeling of love simply because we are revolutionaries and that those dear to us are insensitive beings who are unconcerned about our welfare.

I’m sure you’ve read about our trek in the press. I would need a lot of paper and even more calm to fully explain the tragedy of our deportation. We’ve suffered greatly and experienced several tragic moments. We were nearly executed by some poor sailors, who almost gunned us down after a drunk officers’ corps incited them.

I later spoke with one of those sailors, who was extremely ashamed of his conduct. The young fellow told me that “we pointed our rifles at you because the officers said that you wanted to kill us. I was on the war ship and they told me that you wanted to murder my comrades, the sailors. It would have been an act of cowardice on our part to let them be assassinated. It was under that intoxication of words and alcohol that we left the Cánovas and boarded the Buenos Aires... You know the rest.”

I’ll be certain to explain that “rest” to the Spanish workers when I set foot on the Peninsula again.

My health is good. My separation from the other deportees is a government matter. It turns out that the military man in charge of Río de Oro is Regueral’s son and, once he found out that I was onboard the Buenos Aires, he threatened to resign if I disembarked there. That’s why I am in Fuerteventura. There are six other comrades with me, who were sick when we got off the ship but are now better or getting better.

This island is a miserable place and quite neglected by all the governments that have non-governed Spain. We live in a barracks and they give us 1.75 pesetas to cover our daily costs. The government men think that we have thousands with which to buy our food. Surely they are confusing us with Unamuno and Rodrigo Soriano. We’ve complained to Madrid and are waiting for a reply. We can’t live in the barracks and much less on 1.75 pesetas a day.

The island’s residents were afraid of us at first. They had been led to believe that we eat children raw, but calmed down after interacting with us.

They even let their kids play with us now...

Yesterday, Sunday, a man who was previously very aloof came by with his wife. She wanted to meet me, since she’s from León as well (the province, not the capital). They’re good people. They brought me books and, perhaps as a mere courtesy, also offered me their home.

I don’t know how long this exile will last and they haven’t told me its reason. They arrested me under the pretext of fining me for making some scandalous comments at the International Rally. They put me in a cell at Police Headquarters and then on the Buenos Aires. I hope the Interior Minister will explain the matter of the fine to me and also how long he intends to keep me on this island.

I’m thinking of going to León as soon as I leave here and asking Deputy Nistal why he supported my deportation. I’m also thinking of asking him if the Republic is at war with geography and has burned all the maps. It turns out that they sent us to Bata, without knowing where Bata was. From Bata to Fernando Poo, also unaware of where it was. From Fernando Poo to Villa Cisneros to load coal, when there’s nothing but sand there....

When I get back to the Peninsula, those Socialist gentlemen who have forgotten socialism will have to tell the working class why they approved our banishment. And, to me, they’ll have to clarify their collaboration with the monarchists and where those millions are that they say I’ve received.... The Republicans and Socialists are mistaken if they think they’ll save the Republic like this. One day, we, the agitators who have to get up every morning and enter the factory like slaves will embrace the working class’s true identity: the sole producer of social wealth. [353] We also possess a statement from a witness about Durruti’s time in Fuerteventura. He writes:

It’s true that we knew each other and that I loaned him books, which he was very fond of, although I never heard from him again after he left. Durruti had the deep makings of an anarchist and I was his antagonist in all our discussions about our respective ideologies. But, when my brother arrived in Barcelona on the Villa de Madrid on July 20, 1936 and one of the ship stewards accused him of being a fascist, he remembered that he had seen us speak and went to Durruti, telling him that he was my brother. That was enough for Durruti to put him in a secure place and thus prevent his execution....

I remember that this daring anarchist of action was also very sentimental. Once he read me a paragraph from a letter sent by his compañera, in which she told him that their little daughter was very sick. He was overwhelmed with emotion and could barely finish reading it.

Durruti lived an orderly and contemplative life here. He asked me for books and spent hours on the breakwater of the pier. He was quite fond of the women, with whom he had certain successes... He was always squabbling with his exiled comrades. He told them that they were a bunch of idiots, didn’t understand things, and hardly knew how to read. “How do you expect to succeed in life?” he’d say.[354]

The situation on the Peninsula was deteriorating daily. During the early days of the Republic, politicians had been able to accuse prominent FAI men like Ascaso, Durruti, and García Oliver of being “provocateurs.” But who was provoking the disturbances now, a year later, when two of them were banished and another imprisoned? It was the Republican government itself that was causing the disruptions, as it carried on without knowing what to do in a Spain in revolt. If the workers weren’t rising up in arms in Barcelona, the peasants were invading the estates and seizing food warehouses in Andalusia, or the masses in Orense, Zaragoza, or Logroño were rebelling against their unbearable conditions. The government’s remedy for those ills was always the Civil Guard, which savagely machine-gunned the people, including women and children. But for the rulers, the “FAIistas” were the instigators of the conflicts. They made these claims, in part, because they still hoped to incorporate the CNT into the state. Indeed a handful of CNT men continued to be sympathetic to that goal. Progreso Fernández denounced this in a May 12, 1932 article in El Desierto del Sahara:

I must protest—now as a deportee, just like when I was free—against these activities and repudiate any politician who tries to speak in my name. I also reject the support of “the Thirty,” the “moderates,” and the “responsibles” of the Confederation, which would injure my dignity. In the last analysis, it is they who bear the greatest responsibility for the incarcerations, deportations, and persecution.

Today, more than ever, we have to stop the spread of confusion among the workers. Instead of being more tolerant, which the rascals always exploit, we must discredit the politicians and everything that they represent. We can’t stand aloof from political parties: we have to fight them all. Today, more than ever, we have to be openly and constantly at war with them.

The Confederation, anarchism, and the revolution are much more than the deportees and the prisoners. The principles that shape our struggles are bigger than all of us and all the victims of the battle against the authoritarian system. If that weren’t the case, we wouldn’t find our ideas affirmed in social life and the comprehensive revolution that we anarchists advocate would be impossible.

Our liberation—the liberation of all the deportees and prisoners—has to be accomplished without whimpers or capitulations, with dignity, and without help from political factions that are hostile to our ideas. Only the forceful action of the CNT, Iberian Anarchist Federation, and revolutionary workers can achieve our freedom: and it must be achieved because it is a duty. Any departure from that principle would not only be inconsistent with the tactics of direct action and our anarchist doctrines, but also an unpardonable error that would undermine the possibilities for social transformation offered by the present historical moment.[355]

This article, and García Oliver’s report to his union, point to the confusion in libertarian circles. The FAI tried to radicalize the CNT but the “moderate” faction was still ensconced in its committees and not only opposed the FAI’s efforts but also continued to advance an ambiguous, collaborationist position. This prevented the movement from offering a coherent, revolutionary strategy that would enable the workers to reach their objectives. And the government exasperated internal conflicts by protecting certain CNT leaders from persecution while acting harshly against the FAI and, indirectly, all workers’ protests. Clearly the CNT would be unable to play its true historical role as long as it was trapped in that paralyzing confusion, even if the number of its members happened to increase. Durruti, Ascaso, and García Oliver all understood that, despite the geographic distances that separated them.

The repression had to stop for the movement to address its difficulties, yet it was growing increasingly more severe. It is enough to take a look at the anarchist press to be convinced of this. After each article there is a name and then: Prison of Sevilla, Modelo Prison of Barcelona, Puerto of Santa María, Zaragoza Prison, Sahara Desert, etc. Almost all the well-known “FAIistas” were incarcerated. So, who was placing the bombs? Who “ordered” the workers to rebel? Who led the strikes, like the Public Services strike that had turned Barcelona into an immense garbage dump? It was nothing more and nothing less than the working class, which was becoming conscious of its historical mission.

The rank and file pressured the CNT National Committee to offer a radical reply to the hellish conditions. Ultimately it had to consent and called a general strike for May 29. The May 27 editorial in Tierra y Libertad explained the FAI’s view of the strike:

We have reached an extreme in which there are two possibilities: either the repression stops or the CNT collapses. Since it is impossible to exterminate the CNT, which lives in all proletarian hearts, the repression must end, even if that means that the very regime that supports and encourages it has to crumble.

For the last time, the CNT will give the government a chance to respond to popular sentiment and rectify itself. It will put its forces in motion, not in a revolutionary sense, but as a last-ditch protest against the authorities’ terrorist methods. The government’s behavior on May 29 will determine whether or not more serious and transcendent events will follow. The workers, if necessary, will answer violence with violence.

And if the government does not grant what the people demand after this date, on which the whole Spanish proletariat must demonstrate, the people will know how to take it themselves through revolutionary action. [The demands included freedom for the prisoners, opening the closed unions, and the free circulation of the CNT’s publications, etc.]

Now the workers know it: if the government does not yield after May 29, we will forcibly seize what it denies us against all reason. There must be an immediate attack on all the government’s coercive practices. The people must destroy the prisons and free the inmates. They must re-open the unions. The slogan is: either Fascism or the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo! Either Republican oppression or libertarian communism!

As expected, the government did not cede. On the contrary, it mobilized the Assault Guard and Civil Guard and deliberately provoked the workers, sending new detainees to prison and new corpses to the cemeteries. The balance of the day of protest was tragic. Did the government think this would pacify, discourage, or intimidate the workers? If so, it was completely mistaken. That very night the anarchist groups of Barcelona pledged their defiance. In a manifesto titled “We demand the right to defend ourselves against government violence,” they wrote:

How can we describe our rulers, who prop themselves up with cannons and militias loaded with arms? Why don’t they tell it to the people? Why don’t they tell the people that they can’t sustain themselves without dynamite and are thus the worst dynamiters of all? Why can’t they live without being armed to the teeth? Why don’t they tell all this to the people? Well, we are saying it now, we who are by nature always ready to speak the truth. And we say more. We say that such tyranny and abuse should frighten no one. We say that the people not only have the right but also the duty to arm themselves and defend themselves like lions. We say that instead of dying of hunger, we should follow history’s lessons. Since everyone else is armed, in order to make the people’s lives impossible, we declare that the people shouldn’t hesitate to use force to achieve their goals. We will preach by example.[356]

In Emilienne Morin’s February letter to the French anarchists, she complained that the Republican government let monarchists conspire openly while it persecuted the workers. At the time, her comment could have been seen as a mere expression of bitterness, but events that occurred on August 10, 1932 confirmed it as prescient. In fact, the Right had been conspiring against the Republic since its proclamation. Without exception, the conspirators held high military and civil posts in the Republican state. The plotters selected a man-guide to lead them: General Sanjurjo, the General Director of the Carabineros [border police]. And they gave the conspiracy an identity, reflecting the forces constituting it: military-aristocratic-landowner.

The basic contours of this conspiracy will reappear later, when General Franco revolts in 1936. Manuel Azaña, the Prime Minister and Minister of War, was aware of everything and let it explode in Madrid on August 10. The attempt to take over the Palace of Communications and the Ministry of War failed because of cowardice among the rebels. The uprising ended in Spain’s capital after a small clash in which two people lost their lives. But the situation was different in Sevilla, where Sanjurjo was serious about the revolt. The conspirators would have been victorious if not for CNT and Communist workers, who defeated them by declaring a general strike and calling the working population to arms. Why did the CNT risk its militants’ lives to save a regime that had imprisoned hundreds of CNT members and closed its unions? The only coherent response points to lessons extracted from Primo de Rivera’s coup; that the Republic, despite its antagonism to the workers, was a weak state and thus easier to fight. Whatever the case, it was the CNT that saved the Republic in Sevilla. Did the Republican-Socialist leaders understand this? The events that followed demonstrate that they clearly did not.

The rebels were judged quickly by a military tribunal on August 24. The ringleader, General Sanjurjo, received a death sentence, although that was simply a matter of decorum: he was immediately pardoned and incarcerated only briefly. The other generals and leaders received light sentences and one hundred were sent to Villa Cisneros, which they escaped from shortly after arriving. All the August conspirators were freely walking the streets of Spain before the year was over.

When the Republican government decided to send the plotters to Villa Cisneros, it first had to remove the anarchists. It sent them to Fuerteventura Island.

In September, the government finally decided that the deported anarchists could return to the Peninsula. The first to make the trip were the “terrible” miners of Llobregat. From Las Palmas to Barcelona, large workers’ rallies greeted their liberation everywhere that the steamship carrying them had to stop. Durruti, Ascaso, Cano Ruiz, Progreso Fernández, Canela, and others made up the last group to leave the Canaries. After seeing the workers’ demonstrations organized in support of the deportees, the government ordered the steamship that picked them up (the Villa de Madrid) to go directly to Barcelona without pausing at any port en route. While authorities managed to prevent mobilizations in Càdiz and Valencia in this way, they could not prevent the immense ceremony held to receive them in Barcelona. In his farewell statement, Ascaso had said that what the government wanted to deport were the ideas, but that they would remain. That was undoubtedly true: in slightly more than a year, the CNT had grown from 800,000 to 1,200,000 members.

CHAPTER XIII. Split in the CNT

The Spanish socio-political situation evolved during the six months that Durruti and his comrades spent in exile. Under pressure from the uprising launched by Sanjurjo and his friends, the Parliament ended up approving the Agrarian Reform Law and as well as the Catalan Autonomy Statute. The latter went into effect in mid-September 1932: from then on Catalonia would have an autonomous government called the Generalitat. It could approve its own laws, institute social reforms, modify educational statutes, and exercise control over public order. Although Madrid was still in change of military matters, there was an understanding between the Catalan and Madrid governments with respect to the appointment of the principle military leaders. When Madrid conferred responsibility for public order to the Generalitat, it also handed over the famous one thousand rifles bought by Los Solidarios in Eibar in 1923.

The situation within the CNT was still as confused as it had been when Durruti was arrested. In response to prodding from some unions, particularly those in Barcelona, a regional meeting of unions was called in April of that year. It took place in Sabadell and 188 unions participated, representing a total of 224,822 members. The CNT’s moderate and radical tendencies fought it out violently at the meeting and participants criticized the Catalan Regional Committee for failing to support the February general strike, which could have prevented the deportations. Attendees also denounced the Committee’s relations with politicians (of the Esquerra Catalana, in particular) and individual Committee members’ participation in rallies alongside parliamentarians. The harsh criticisms of the Regional Committee extended to the National Committee, especially to Pestaña and Francisco Arin, whom they accused of abusing their power in an effort to avoid a conflict with the Madrid government. Faced with these reproaches, Emiliano Mira, the secretary of the Catalan Regional Committee, resigned. Alejandro Gilabert, a noted FAI militant, replaced him. The Sabadell unions withdrew from the meeting to protest Gilabert’s nomination, a move that indicated their intention to leave the CNT.

There was a national CNT meeting in May and attendees decided to make May 29 a day of intense public protest. They also sanctioned Pestaña for abusing his powers and he, knowing perfectly well what such a rebuke meant within Confederal circles, resigned. Francisco Arin left the National Committee in solidarity with Pestaña. Manuel Rivas General, a delegate from the Andalusian region, provisionally became the CNT’s General Secretary. His nomination and a proposal about Confederal cadre, or groups of Confederal action, went to the unions for approval, modification, or rejection.

This meeting had both negative and positive consequences for the CNT. We will first consider the positive results. Pestaña and Arin’s resignations gave the National Committee a greater degree of internal coherence and the proposal on “Confederal defense cadre” created a defensive shield for the CNT. The “Confederal groups” idea was nothing new; they had more or less always existed within the Confederation, parallel to the anarchist groups. During the infamous years of terrorism, they were known as “syndicalist revolutionary action groups” and protected the Confederation with arms. Some militants had suggested creating “Confederal defense cadre” at a national CNT meeting held shortly after the proclamation of the Republic, but confusion caused by the battles between the “FAIistas” and “moderates” prevented the proposal from becoming a reality. The May meeting marked a positive step toward their creation. There was also talk of federating these groups nationally.

The downside of the meeting was that there was no way to avoid a split. It was concretized by Pestaña’s departure and Cultura Libertaria, the moderate faction’s newspaper, immediately heightened its attacks on the FAI, which they claimed wanted to “impose its dictatorship on the CNT.”

When Durruti and Ascaso arrived in Barcelona in September, the dispute between the two tendencies had already begun to transcend the limits of debate and devolve into slanderous propaganda. The actions of the “moderates” only encouraged the bourgeois press’s campaign against the FAI. Barcelona’s L’Opinió newspaper was particularly virulent in this respect.

After spending six months separated from his family, and with a little girl whose birth he had barely been able to witness, there was every reason for Durruti take a rest and dedicate himself to his child and compañera. It was not only a good idea, but also necessary for both he and Mimi. When the government deported Durruti, his compañera was penniless and had a two month old girl in her arms. The union had been unable to help out: everybody had a family member in prison or in hiding. There was pervasive suffering and simply no way that the CNT could attend to all its imprisoned or persecuted activists. The Union of Public Spectacles [trans.: entertainment workers] tried to lighten the burden of various female comrades, including Durruti’s compañera, by getting them jobs as box office employees in the cinemas. But that job was difficult for Mimi. She and her daughter lived alone: who would look after Colette from 2:00 pm until midnight? Teresa Margalef, an activist in the Industrial and Textile Workers’ Union, offered to take care of the girl, but she lived in Horta and thus Colette would have to sleep there. There was no other choice, so Mimi had to accept the solution, although it meant that she only saw her child once a week, on her day off. Durruti and Mimi talked a lot about all these familial challenges, although without being able to resolve them satisfactorily.

There was a rally at 9:00 pm on September 15 in Barcelona’s Palace of Decorative Arts, a building inserted in the circuit that makes up the Exposición.

The announced orators were: Victoriano Gracia, from the Aragón, La Rioja, and Navarre Regional; Félix Valero, from the Levante Regional; Benito Pabón, from the Andalusian Regional; and Durruti and García Oliver. Alejandro Gilabert presided over the event in the name of the CNT’s Catalan Regional Confederation.

We take a description of the rally from the press:

A motley crowd invaded the gardens of the Exposición. An audience of more than 80,000 demonstrated the CNT’s strength and showed that it represented the greater part of the Spanish working class, notwithstanding the oppressive actions of the social-fascist government.

The rally was extremely exciting and an unprecedented success. Thousands of workers were unable to hear the anarchist words of the CNT militants because the magnificent Palace of Decorative Arts was completely full. They waited outside in the Plaza de España, the gardens of the Exposición, and along the Paralelo.

A menacing army of Assault Guards, Civil Guards, and police occupied the area surrounding the Exposición and other strategic places. There was absolute order on the part of the workers, but the same cannot be said for the police, who constantly provoked conflicts with their rudeness and searches. They charged at groups of youths singing revolutionary hymns, etc.[357]

We extract a summary of García Oliver’s speech from the same newspaper:

For the CNT, for the anarchists, for all the militants, the Law of April 8 is like having gold offered by one hand while the other threatens violence. If someone benefits from that law, it won’t be the workers but the labor activists. The government wants to impose mixed commissions and, since there are 1,000 unions in Spain, there would be 5,000 men who—as members of these unions—would charge 150 pesetas or more per week, while the workers would continue receiving their miserable daily wages. The labor activists would forget their duty, betray their brothers, and the possibility of revolution would be lost.

Durruti spoke just before García Oliver. These were his words:

Your presence at this rally, like my presence on this platform, should enable the bourgeoisie to realize that the CNT and FAI are forces that grow when attacked and that adversity only enhances their cohesion.

Despite all the abuse heaped upon the CNT and FAI, these organizations haven’t budged an inch from their revolutionary goals. Tonight’s demonstration will be a warning to the bourgeoisie, to the government, and to the Socialists. They can see that the anarchists aren’t broken when they get out of prison or return from exile. On the contrary, we are firmer in our aims and more secure in our objectives.

The Republican and Socialist leaders thought that the men and women of the CNT and FAI were like a herd, like those that they govern and lead in their parties. And they thought that everything would be taken care of if they only imprisoned some “bosses” and deported some others. The CNT would stop functioning and they could continue calmly living off the trough of the state. But of course they were completely wrong and have once again revealed their ignorance of social reality and anarchism’s raison d’être.

The bourgeoisie and their journalists have tried to discredit us in the most absurd ways. Their accusations have been so outlandish—that we’ve been bought off by the monarchists, that we’re thieves and criminals—that the working class is going to be our best defender. The workers know perfectly well that thieves don’t get up at six in the morning to work their butts off in a factory. And your attendance at this rally dispels the myth of the “FAI bosses” and “anarchist thieves.” Real thieves don’t get up at dawn and their women don’t crawl around on the floors, taking out the rich’s shit just to support their own families, as our compañeras have to do when the bourgeoisie deports, imprisons, or forces us into hiding...

The real thieves are the bourgeoisie, who live by stealing the products of our labor; they are the traffickers of commerce, who speculate with our hunger; they are the great banking financiers who manipulate rates sprinkled with proletarian blood and sweat; they are the politicians who make promises and gorge themselves once they become deputies, accumulating salaries and forgetting everything they pledged as soon as they are in the stable of the state. But you, the workers who hear me, you already know them very well, just as I know them. Need I say more?

When our colleagues, the gentlemen Socialist deputies, voted to deport us they only confirmed what we’ve been saying about them all along; that they suffocate the working class with their parliamentarian socialism... However, they actually helped us by deporting us. For once the money that the state robs from the workers has been worth something; by paying for our trip to the Canaries, they enabled us to carry out anarchist propaganda on those islands...

If any workers believed the Socialists and government men when they said that we’d sold out to the monarchists, our Sevillian comrades’ response to Sanjurjo would have dispelled their doubts. But the Republican and Socialist leaders should pay attention to what happened in Sevilla. Sanjurjo said: “the anarchists will not pass,” and the anarchists, making him choke on his own words, have passed. The CNT said no to Sanjurjo, but it also says no to a Republic like the one that rules us.

The Republican-Socialists need to understand this and so we’ll say it very clearly: either the Republic resolves the peasants and industrial workers’ problems or the people will do so on their own. But can the Republic resolve those and other pressing problems? We don’t want to deceive anyone and will reply firmly, so that the entire working class hears us: neither the Republic nor any political regime of the sort—with or without the Socialists—will ever resolve the workers’ problems. A system based on private property and the authority of power cannot live without slaves. And if the workers want to be dignified, to live freely and control their own destinies, then they shouldn’t wait for the government to give them their liberty. Economic and political freedom is not something given; it has to be taken. It depends on you, the workers listening to me, whether you’ll continue being modern slaves or free men! You must decide![358]

A few days after this rally, the press published the news of Durruti’s arrest: “Terror brews in Barcelona’s Police Headquarters. Eighteen comrades from Tarrasa are still locked in cells. Ascaso and Durruti are being held incommunicado in Police dungeons.” These were the headlines that Tierra y Libertad printed above its report on the September 23 arrests. It also stated:

In the early morning hours on Saturday, police and Assault Guards burst into our editorial office. There were looking for comrade Ascaso. Afterwards, we read in the newspapers that police had arrested comrades Domingo Ascaso and Durruti and that they are being held incommunicado in the foul and humid dungeons on Vía Layetana. The terror is reborn. The offensive against the anarchists has intensified and savagery is on the agenda among the “gold-plated” riffraff. What do they hope to accomplish by detaining Ascaso and Durruti?[359]

Durruti’s new incarceration, justified simply by “motives of governmental order,” lasted for two months, which he spent in Barcelona’s Modelo prison. Mimi had been mistaken if she had thought that her life was going to get easier when Durruti returned to the Peninsula. Now, with him in prison once again, her time and their limited family savings became even more scarce. Coinciding with this new wave of repression, the Sabadell unions published a statement announcing that they were splitting from the CNT and forming an independent organization. While their public declaration created a serious problem for the CNT, particularly during a time of government crackdown, it was also somewhat of a relief: at least militants now knew where things stood and no longer had to watch every meeting descend into a bitter argument.

Tierra y Libertdad drew some conclusions from the statement, which it shared with its readers: “The manifesto from the Sabadell militants shows that anarchists should not be on the margin of the workers’ movement. On the contrary, they should be its vanguard. That is the only way to stop the servants of the bourgeoisie from taking over the workers’ organizations.” The newspaper also saw the “syndicalism” of the Sabadell activists as a creation of the bourgeoisie: “Considering the bankruptcy of Spanish socialism, the capitalist class needed a new syndical monster, not like the Sindicatos Libres [Free Unions] or Sindicatos Unicos [industrial union groups], but one that would restrain the Spanish proletariat’s pressing revolutionary demands. The politicians leading the Sabadell organization have now hatched such an ignominious monster. The Catalan bourgeoisie should be pleased with their new defenders. The right and left Republicans should also be pleased, just like Republican-police newspapers like L’Opinió surely welcome this species of syndicalism that expels anarchists from its heart and calls those who do not yield to injustice “extremists and disruptors.” [360] As a precaution against the now inevitable split, the FAI released an orienting statement to the anarchists, signed by the Peninsular Committee, the Commission of Anarchist Relations of the Groups of Catalonia, and the Local Federation of Groups of Barcelona. The Nosotros group’s perspective is clearly visible in the document, particularly in the paragraphs on the situation created by the Republic and the presence of certain individuals in prominent CNT positions who have obstructed the revolutionary process. This is not surprising, given that García Oliver was a member of the FAI’s Peninsular Committee. The document expresses the desire to limit the schism’s damage:

The CNT, which is the fruit of the creative spirit of the Spanish anarchists, is heading toward a painful and unprecedented split. Our valiant Confederación Nacional del Trabajo had experienced every type of difficulty, without its unity ever being compromised. But now the destructive action of a handful—very few fortunately—of its members means that a rupture will almost certainly occur. When the moment comes ... everyone—anarchists, revolutionary labor activists, and simple workers—must be aware of the hidden intentions inspiring those who plan to divide the organization. This will make the split as painless as possible when it happens. We are firmly convinced that many of those who still haven’t decided between the “extremists” and the “moderates” will remain faithful to the CNT’s revolutionary principles.[361]

The split will be consummated in March 1933 at a union conference held in the Meridiana Cinema. From November 1932 until then, the only thing that Cultura Libertaria criticized was the “FAI’s dictatorship over the CNT.” This reproach was entirely unjust: the FAI didn’t exercise a dictatorship, but simply had an influence within the unions. Didn’t anarchists have the right, as workers, to belong to the CNT? And if they belonged to it, should they conceal their views within it? Francisco Ascaso wrote an article addressing these two questions that he published in Solidaridad Obrera under the title “Union Independence?” He said the following on the topic:

One of the most pressing questions in our organization at the moment pertains to the anarchist’s influence in the unions. I remember past times when anarchists, who shunned rather than sought organizational posts, were seen as the best guarantee of revolutionary success, thanks to their moral solvency and especially their revolutionary intransigence. But apparently things have changed and now it is that very intransigence that is attacked most harshly. “We defend the CNT’s independence,” they tell us, but then carry on about the so-called dictatorship of the FAI. The debates in the last meeting on this topic show how foolish the idea is. A speech was made, there was talk, all in the most purely demagogic terms, but nothing was proved. While this demagogy may make an impression on those uninformed about these matters, when it is examined calmly, it does nothing more than incriminate those who employ it.

In the first place, no militant would participate in union meetings as a representative of the FAI. For example, I work in the textile industry and belong to the Manufacturing Union: I take part in union assemblies as someone exploited by the industry in question and as a member of the union. The same is true for the other militants, whether or not they belong to the FAI. If we acknowledge that the CNT was inspired and built by anarchists and that anarchists act inside it, with the rights accorded to any exploited worker, then the so-called campaign for “union independence” cannot be accepted without renouncing the anarchic origins of our organization, denying its ideological goals, and reducing its efforts to simple struggles for economic defense. But if one agrees with the CNT’s libertarian communist aims, then it is absurd to resist the presence of anarchism within our unions.

If we want to be consistent with our own aspirations and ideas, we should support and encourage any degree of anarchism that manifests itself in the Confederation.

“We accept,” they’ll tell us, “that anarchists belong to the organization, but we can’t permit the Iberian Anarchist Federation to shape the CNT from the outside.” Here the problem is proving that the FAI has ever attempted to influence the CNT from outside, although it would be easy to prove the damage done by the “independents.”

All organizations tow a great deal of dead weight behind them, and that is something that the CNT cannot avoid. That dead weight, due to its natural character, does not have the courage to express itself openly but simply lurks, waiting for the right moment to act.

That is why some CNT members have slipped towards those who raise the flag of independence. They are obstacles to and interfere with the organization’s revolutionary work. Indeed, they are reformist by nature and meekly hope to avoid the dangerous struggle implied by the anarchist influence in the unions. And those raising the flag of CNT independence do not really want independence, but to fight against anarchism inside and outside the CNT. This is undeniably a direct attack on the organization’s principles, which ironically even they claim to embrace at times. Union independence? Yes, but respecting the Confederation’s principles, tactics, and aims. The FAI’s field of action and propaganda is well defined and delimited. The anarchists’ activity within the unions is also well defined. But how can we accept organizations like the Libertarian Syndicalist Federation, which says that its goals are identical to the CNT’s goals and yet exists outside the Confederation, apart from it, and tries to exercise an external influence on it?[362] Clearly anyone who accepts the CNT’s principles and goals would insist on its independence, but it must be from within it, in the respective unions. It is totally unacceptable that those who protest against the so-called dictatorship of the FAI set themselves up as guides to the CNT or that they try, by creating another organization, to impose their dictatorship on it. We have to be logical and consistent, comrades. Otherwise, we will have to assume that anyone demanding union independence is only launching a concealed attack on anarchism and thus the CNT’s ideology. Neither the organization nor its militants will tolerate such affronts.[363]

CHAPTER XIV. The insurrectional cycle

Durruti was released in early December 1932 after nearly three months of governmental detention and would never know why he had been incarcerated. He was again on the street and again with the same problems as always, although it was not difficult for him to get his job back at the textile factory that had employed him on May 11, 1931 (his first work since returning from France).

Mimi immediately worried about how long his freedom would last when, three days after his release, Durruti told her that the whole group would gather that night.

The meeting took place in García Oliver’s house in the Sants district.

The following were present at the designated hour: Antonio Ortiz, Gregorio Jover, Francisco Ascaso and his brother Domingo (who did not belong to the group but everyone trusted), Aurelio Fernández, María Luisa Tejedor (Aurelio’s compañera and a group member), Durruti, Ricardo Sanz, and García Vivancos. The last three arrived together, followed shortly afterwards by Pepita Not and Julia López Maimar.

The goal of the meeting? A CNT regional gathering had asked the Regional Committee to entrust García Oliver with devising an insurrectionary plan that could be put into motion at the right time. He had drafted the plan and the moment to act seemed to have arrived.

Social conditions have become more complicated since the establishment of the autonomous Catalan government (September 1932). An exaggerated nationalism characterizes the Catalan government. The former comrades Francesc Layret, Salvador Seguí, Companys (onetime lawyer for the CNT), Martí Barrera (once the administrator of Solidaridad Obrera), and Jaume Aiguader (ex-workers’ doctor)[364] lead the young party that dominates the regional government. This party cannot accept the existence of two powers in the region: that of the Esquerra Republicana and that of the CNT. Josep Dencàs, Miguel Badia, and Josep Oriol Anguera de Sojo, instruments of Catalan politics and puppets of Maura (of the “108 dead”[365]), hope to crush the CNT by systemically closing its unions, shutting down its press, using governmental detentions, and wielding the terrorism of the police and “escamots.” The Esquerra’s “Casals” [trans.: neighborhood houses] are used as underground dungeons in which kidnapped Confederal workers are held and beaten. These are the origins of the revolutionary movement of January 8, 1933.[366]

When García Oliver explained his revolutionary project, he linked it to the situation created by the Republican government:

As soon as the Republican state put itself at the service of national and foreign capitalists, it was no longer relevant to have partial strikes in the factories, workshops, and businesses. The power of the state can only be defeated by the power of revolution. This explains the revolutionary movements that we have just experienced. It also explains the revolutionary movements that we will doubtlessly see in the future, in which, bourgeois journalists say, Spanish anarchists will play the last card. Naturally bourgeois journalists must refer to the final card of a never-ending game of baraja.[367]

Everyone in the Nosotros group shared García Oliver’s views. But it was lamentable, said Durruti, that so much time had been wasted in internal debates, during which the Republican state had been able to strengthen itself and even create an auxiliary police body (the Assault Guard), which was highly trained and well-armed with modern combat equipment. The principle damage caused by “the Thirty” was precisely that: to delay the workers’ victory. They all agreed that it would have been exceedingly easy to trigger the social revolution during the Republic’s first nine months: the Assault Guard did not exist, the army was undisciplined and even leaned toward the people, and the Civil Guard was disdained by the public and in the midst of a morale crisis. The state’s coercive forces had been nearly annulled and it lacked the ligament of the authority necessary to give them coherence. It was now important for the anarchists to create a pre-revolutionary state that would prevent the government from affirming its authority still further. The miners of Fígols had done more than several tons of propaganda to make the revolution seem feasible to the workers. Psychologically, insurrections like the one in Fígols made the impossible appear possible. What was important was not victory per se, but more long-term gains. Rebellions like the one in Fígols had a profound impact on the working class: it drew strength and inspiration from them, and an increase in the working class’s strength meant a weakening of the power of the bourgeoisie and the state. [368]

It was in the context of this perspective that the Nosotros group accepted García Oliver’s insurrectional plan, although the Catalan CNT would have to adopt it as well.

In mid-December the CNT’s Catalan Regional Committee called a meeting and Garcia Oliver explained the project in detail there. Those assembled divided into two currents on the issue. Their positions were not completely contradictory, but there were differences, and these indicated the continued influence of “the Thirty.”

Some felt the CNT should not precipitate things. Given the turmoil caused in the organization by “the Thirty,” they should first clarify internal matters and then attack later, when conditions are better. Others thought that time was of the essence and that the CNT had to make a show of force in order to get the Catalan and Madrid authorities to understand that they could not govern against the CNT. Furthermore, an insurrection like the one planned could have a strong impact on the working class, including those in the UGT.

The CNT was in a difficult position. Nonetheless, meeting participants ultimately accepted the insurrectional plan. [369] They formed a Revolutionary Committee, which included Durruti, Ascaso, and García Oliver as members, and the CNT National Committee appointed a representative, which also happened to be Durruti. Durruti went to Cádiz, where the CNT’s Andalusian Regional Confederation had called a meeting to discuss how to carry out the revolt.

The meeting took place secretly in Jerez de la Frontera. Informers had told police about the gathering and they mobilized to arrest attendees, but fortunately police did not know the gathering’s exact location. While police patrolled Cádiz’s entrances and exists, the meeting occurred in Jerez de la Frontera without disruption.

Participants decided that Andalusia would go into action as soon as Radio Barcelona announced that revolutionaries had seized the radio station. If the rebellion failed in Barcelona, Andalusia and the rest of the country would not participate.

They formed an Andalusian Revolutionary Committee to lead the rebellion movement there. It consisted of Vicente Ballester (CNT), Rafael Peña (FAI) and Miguel Arcas (Libertarian Youth). The Committee’s principle mission was to orchestrate the revolt from Sevilla, where they would take over the radio transmitter and, with an agreed upon code, use it to maintain contact with the local and provincial committees formed by representatives of the same organizations elsewhere. [370] Barcelona would be the center of the insurrection and all the regions committed to the rebellion would join the struggle once revolutionaries seized the radio transmitter. The operational plan was the following: They divided Barcelona into three areas.

a) Terrassa-Hospitalet, Sants, Hostafrancs, and the Fifth District. Main targets: the Assault Guard barracks, the Plaza de España, the Prat de Llobregat airfield, the Pedralbes Infantry barracks, the Cavalry barracks on Tarragona Street, the Modelo prison, the Atarazanas barracks, and the border police barracks on San Pablo Street. The groups in Poble Sec would take over the main Gas and Electricity offices as well as those of Campsa (petroleum and gasoline warehouses). This sector was García Oliver’s responsibility.

b) Militants in the districts of Poble Nou, Sant Martí, and Sant Andreu were to prevent the departure of military forces from the Artillery Station and Infantry barracks in Sant Andreu and also the Artillery barracks on Icaria Avenue. They would also lay siege to the Infantry barracks of the Parque de la Ciudadela. Francisco Ascaso was in charge of this area.

c) Horta-Carmelo-Gracia sector. Here militants were to attack the Civil Guard barracks on Travessera de Gracia and Navas de Tolosa and the Cavalry barracks on Lepanto Street. This was Durruti’s zone of operation.[371]

The primary goal in these three sectors was to stop the Civil Guard from leaving its barracks and thus support the work of the guerrilla groups operating in the center of the city. Their mission was to occupy the Telephone building, radio transmitters, and official government offices (specifically, the Generalitat, Captaincy, and Police Headquarters).

At first there was no agreed upon date—the rebellion would break out at the moment deemed most opportune—but some undesirable developments changed that. There was an explosion in one of the workshops used to manufacture hand grenades in the El Clot district, which had been under the care of comrades Hilario Esteban and Meler. Alarmed residents called the police, who promptly discovered the armory. This made authorities suspect that the CNT must be preparing something and, as a preventative measure, ordered the arrest of several militants and an investigation into various suspicious places. What to do? Should they wait and let the police destroy their painstakingly developed plan? They opted instead for the most radical solution and set January 8 as the date of the insurrection.

The plan of attack included incapacitating the repressive forces concentrated in Police Headquarters on Vía Layetana and the Civil Guard in the Palacio Plaza (that is, the Civil Government).

The two official buildings would be blown up with dynamite between 9:00 and 10:00 pm. This would be a signal for the strategically placed groups, indicating that they should launch the attack on the previously designated sites.

A revolutionary patrol deployed in taxis. Its task was to confirm that each group was in its place. The arms used would be hand grenades and pistols.

The bombs that were going to explode in the mentioned buildings were made of two tubes of autogenous solder, each 1.20 meters in height and seventy centimeters in diameter.

On January 8, at exactly 8:00 am on Mercaders Street, “two bricklayers and one laborer stopped pulling a small handcart, which was loaded with bricks, cement, and plaster. This camouflaged the devices. They set out to complete the operation.”

Their mission was to slip the two tubes into the sewer, haul them through it, and install them where they would serve their final purpose.

It was difficult to carry the tubes through the sewer, because each one weighed ninety kilos. It was relative easy to place the first one under Police Headquarters, because the sewer vault was two meters high there; but the one that had to be put under the Civil Government was much more challenging. The sewer was only a meter and a half in height between Antonio López Plaza and the Palacio Plaza and the water was nearly sixty centimeters deep. It was very hard for the bomb carriers to cover the distance, and there were only two of them there, due to the limited space for movement. It took some eight hours to place the bombs. Once they did so, they split up to set off the devices at the appropriate time.

A serious problem occurred while the devices were being put in place: police arrested García Oliver and Gregorio Jover while they were driving in a car. They were armed and could have resisted, but decided against it, in order not to jeopardize the operation. They were taken to Police Headquarters, where there were other detainees.

García Oliver and Gregorio Jover must have been astounded by their bad luck, knowing that Police Headquarters was due to blow up at any moment... They accepted their fate, thinking that if they didn’t die in the blast, perhaps it would be useful to be at the center of the occupation of the building. The bomb exploded at 10:00 pm that evening under Police Headquarters, although the one under the Civil Government failed for technical reasons.

The Police building did not collapse, as hoped. The building was set back more than six meters from the others on the street. Although the men placing the bomb took that anomaly into consideration and tried to push the tube as much as possible into the drain’s turn-off, the explosion did not reach the structure’s foundations and the building remained standing. All the witnesses agreed that the eruption was absolutely terrifying. It felt like an earthquake to the detainees. Police raced into the street in pajamas or underwear, thinking that the building was under attack...[372]

As planned, the rebellion began after that blast, with greater or lesser intensity, in Barcelona and its province. However, the revolutionaries were soon convinced that police had taken measures that prevented them from carrying out their operation.

One person who collaborated with Durruti in the attempted assault on the Civil Guard barracks on Travessera de Gracia claimed that the police had mobilized not because they had been informed, but because such mobilization was almost permanent in Barcelona at the time, particularly after their discovery of the armory in El Clot.

Another participant, the student Benjamín Cano Ruiz, says that he went to the site where Durruti was distributing weapons and, swept up by enthusiasm, asked for one so that he could “die for the great cause of the proletariat.” Durruti refused and told him: “It isn’t the time to die but to live. Our struggle is long and we’ll have to do much more than just shoot. The active rearguard is equally or more important than the combatant vanguard. You place isn’t here, but in school.” [373]

The insurrection began at nightfall and was over by the early hours of January 9.

“The immediate arrest of the rebellion’s main leaders reduced it—as far as Barcelona was concerned—to isolated fighting on the Ramblas (Joaquín Blanco was killed in the Gastronomy Union), against some barracks, and in the workers’ districts. There was an attempt to assault the ‘La Panera’ barracks in Lérida. The Confederals Burillo, Gou, Oncinas, and Gesio died in that action. There were also shootouts in Tarrasa. Libertarian communism was proclaimed in Cerdanyola and Ripollet.” [374]

Given the insurrection’s failure in Barcelona, there was nothing to do but try to avoid arrest and save people and weapons (the few pistols and rudimentary hand grenades that some still possessed).

Barcelona residents, particularly those living in the workers’ districts, saw the results of the struggle when they left their homes on Monday. There were two dead Security Guard horses in El Clot and a half barricade raised in the Mercado Plaza. [375] There were similar scenes elsewhere and the city had been subject to police control since the government’s declaration of a state of emergency.

The police stations overflowed with detainees and those in Police Headquarters suffered savage beatings. García Oliver was marked as the ringleader of the revolt and took the worst of it.

José Peirats was both a protagonist and historian of the events. He offers the following assessment: “The January 8 rebellion was organized by the Defense Cadres, a shock group formed by CNT and FAI action groups. These poorly armed groups pinned their hopes on the possibility that some sympathetic troops would go into action and also on popular contagion. The railroad workers’ strike that was commended to the National Federation of railroad workers, a minority compared to the UGT’s National Railroad Workers’ Union, did not happen or even begin.” [376]

In Levante, the insurrection had an impact in rural areas such as Ribarroja, Bétera, Pedralba, and Bugarra. The rebels attacked the Town Halls, disarmed the Civil Guard, burned property registries, and proclaimed libertarian communism.

In Andalusia, the rebellion affected Arcos de la Frontera, Utrera, Málaga, La Rinconada, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Cádiz, Alcalá de los Gazules, Medina Sidonia, and other villages. The conflict took on horrifying dimensions in Casas Viejas, where Assault Guards set fire to peasants’ huts and burned their inhabitants alive on the orders of Captain Rojas. [377] When Captain Rojas was later asked why his forces had been so savage, he replied that Prime Minister Manuel Azaña had ordered him to “take no prisoners.” Francisco Ascaso, who was in hiding with Durruti, responded in an article titled “Not even if they order it, Captain!”

Captain, I’ve seen my comrades fall in slow death throes and then collapse on the ground, blood pouring out of their mouths, while life flees through small holes in their foreheads. These holes of death crush the skulls of their victims and comprehension in those who reflect upon them. Anido and Arlegui ordered it.

I’ve seen kicks destroy teeth, eyebrows, and lips; men fall unconscious only to be revived with pails of water so that the beating can begin again and then drop, shattered, once more. I’ve heard—this is worst—those being tortured shout out in pain. I remember a story that an old friend told me when I was in Chile. “We Spaniards,” he said, “who boast so much about bringing civilization to the Americas deserve the hate that these Latin Americans feel for us.”

Captain, I saw a painting in a museum when I was in Mexico. It was a representation of Hernán Cortés and his followers’ historic achievement: Montezuma and one of his chiefs were being tortured with fire so that they would reveal the location of the Aztec treasure. While Cortés’s bearded men burned those Indians’ feet, the latter smiled contemptuously, knowing that the Spaniards would discover nothing. Captain, in Tacuba [Mexico] I saw the giant and millennial “tree of the sad night,” where Hernán Cortés went to weep in impotence after his inquisitorial achievement. And I also saw in Villa Cisneros—this wasn’t long ago—how a poor black man, a friend of comrade Arcas, was tied to four stakes driven into the ground and given fifty whip lashings for stealing a plate of food from the local air force sergeant. I’ve seen so many things, Captain, that the wickedness of men no longer frightens me. I have suffered terrible things as well, but we don’t need to speak of that. I have seen many things, I repeat, but I never imagined that someone could embody them all. I always thought that each instance belonged to a time, to particular circumstances and latitudes. Never did I dream that you could incarnate them all, Captain!

Casas Viejas! Casas Viejas! You’ve shared out kicks, whippings that tear men’s limbs and elicit horrendous screams of pain and rage. You’ve burned human beings alive, even an eight year old girl.

You shackled them, since it wasn’t enough to rip them from their mothers’ arms, and later crowned them with macabre holes from which life flees, leaving little red flowers, a crown of torment. And all of this, you say, because ‘they were orders.’ Do you have no dignity, sensitivity, or manliness? Do you belong to race that isn’t human? Is that why the pain of others has no echo in you? Have you seen men slowly fall on the ground in death throes, as blood gushes from their mouths? You had the sadism to ask for, to order: “More! More!” Don’t you feel any of the cold steel that pierces the hearts of the tormented?

Because they ordered it... Because that is what they ordered... Not even if they order it, Captain!! Not even if they order it!!

Hernán Cortés found a tree to hear his cries in Tacuba. You, if some day you feel the need to cry, won’t even find a tree that will listen to you.[378]

At first, government pressure ensured that the public did not learn about its crimes in Casas Viejas. All the libertarian newspapers were banned and nothing but the bourgeoisie’s hacks and their Socialist choruses were free to publish. The government drew a veil of silence over that small village of anarchists. But public criticism of the FAI’s attempted putsch grew increasingly strident. Durruti replied to those critiques in the CNT’s underground newspaper, La Voz Confederal:

Our revolutionary attempt was necessary and we won’t cease in our efforts. It is the only way to stop the government from strengthening itself and for the working class to carry out the revolutionary struggle that will lead to its liberation.

Those who say that we wanted to take power and impose a dictatorship are liars. Our revolutionary convictions repudiate such a goal. We want a revolution for the people and by the people, because proletarian liberation is impossible otherwise.... We are neither Blanquists nor Trotskyists, but understand that the journey is long and that it has to be made by moving, by going forward.

Durruti drew his comrades’ attention to the peasantry’s situation in the article:

We must accord primary importance to the countryside, because the peasantry is ripe for revolution: they lacked nothing but an ideal to channel their desperation and now they have found it in libertarian communism. Our revolution will be a deeply human and peasant revolution.

García Oliver advanced the same argument from Barcelona’s Modelo prison. The January 8 rebellion had not been in vain. Had there been victims? Yes, but a Socialist-Republican government that commits atrocities like the one in Casas Viejas inevitably kills bourgeois democracy, even in the hearts of its most generous defenders.

In the street, “the Thirty” and their supporters took the January revolt as an example of the FAI’s dictatorship in the CNT and became even more virulent in their criticisms. The CNT Regional Committee had to confront the avalanche of complaints and called a regional meeting for March 5, 1933. The dispute finally came to an end there: “the Thirty” and their backers were either expelled or voluntarily withdrew from the CNT and formed separate so-called “Opposition Unions.”

What remained of the CNT in Catalonia were twenty counties and three provinces federated among themselves, with 278 unions totaling more than 300,000 members. The only defections from the CNT were in Sabadell and Levante, where the “reformists” had made an impact on the metalworker, woodworker, and transport worker unions. In Andalusia, they had an enclave in Huelva, but that was all. A total of some sixty thousand members had left, with whom Angel Pestaña would try to form the Syndicalist Party several months later.

The conflict with “the Thirty” was now over. In early April, the press broke the news that Ascaso and Durruti had been arrested in Sevilla.

CHAPTER XV. Prisoner in El Puerto de Santa María

Like many of those who participated in the January 8 rebellion, Durruti and Ascaso were able to elude the police and disappear for a time while they waited for the storm to pass.

The Police Chief was then the ex-conspirator Miguel Badía. In 1925, he had planted a bomb on the Garraf coast in an attempt to blow up the train carrying Alfonso XIII to Barcelona. He asked Los Solidarios to help him carry out the attack and they provided him with the dynamite that he needed. Miguel Badía thus had extensive and longstanding knowledge of the anarchists, although that did not stop him from being a much more violent Police Chief with the Confederals than Colonel José Arlegui. Induced by a hatred of anarchism, he took the repression to the extreme, particularly against García Oliver, who escaped death by a pure miracle. With respect to Durruti and Ascaso, he swore that he would beat them to a pulp as soon as he laid a hand on them.

The days passed slowly for the two men hunted by Badía, who were hiding in a house in Horta. Durruti probably saw his daughter and compañera more frequently during the two months that he spent concealed there than at any other time, since he was in the home of the person who cared for Colette when Mimi began working in the cinema box office.

In March 1933, some unions and libertarian ateneos were closed and Soli was banned, but the CNT officially carried on its activity. As previously noted, the CNT’s Regional Committee called a meeting around the time that settled the conflict with “the Thirty.” They and their supporters formally split from the CNT and soon formed “Opposition Unions,” which continued to identify as revolutionary syndicalist and anarcho-syndicalist. While the CNT was breaking in two, there was also a deep crisis in the government as a result of Azaña’s violent campaign in January, which reached new heights of barbarism in Casas Viejas. When the Parliament met in February, Eduardo Ortega y Gasset, a member of the Radical Socialist Left at the time, questioned the government about what had happened in Casas Viejas. Azaña consulted briefly with Carlos Esplà, the sub-secretary of the Interior, and then cynically replied: “Nothing happened in Casas Viejas but what had to happen.” In general, the public was still unaware of the full horror of events there. It also didn’t know that the Civil Guard had seized the town and that a section of Assault Guards arrived later and began a house-to-house raid. In one of these, an old peasant nicknamed “six fingers” had dug himself in with his children, grandchildren, and two neighbors. They refused to surrender. More Assault Guards arrived with machine-guns, who were under the command of Captain Rojas. The siege lasted throughout the night. At dawn, the Assault Guards set fire to the hovel (more of a hut than a home), which collapsed in flames. “Six fingers” was incinerated in the blaze, and Guards machine-gunned those attempting to flee. There was something else that the public didn’t know at the time, but that a judicial summary and parliamentary investigation revealed later: two hours after burning down the hut that “six fingers” lived in, Captain Rojas ordered an attack on the town and executed eleven people in it for no reason whatsoever. Did Azaña know the magnitude of the savagery? If not, he was obliged to find out about it and not reply, as he did, as if the peasants were animals.

The crimes in Casas Viejas were very useful for the Rightwing and its war against the Republican Socialist government. The government was so stupid that it persevered in its repressive conduct, thereby exasperating the CNT and giving more weapons to its political enemies. Azaña and his cabinet lost all their credibility—what little they still had—in the two-month parliamentary debate that followed. The government’s situation became even worse when it came to light that Azaña had told Captain Rojas to “take no prisoners.”

When the parliamentary debate was at its most bitter, the Regional Committee of Andalusia and Extremadura called an Extraordinary Congress of Unions in Sevilla on March 27. Avelino González Mallada represented the CNT National Committee. Local CNT members asked the National Committee to send several orators to speak at the Congress’s closing rally as well as other events that they had planned in Andalusia. It gave this mission to Durruti, Ascaso, and Vicente Pérez Combina, who left Barcelona for Sevilla in late March.

Numerous localities in Andalusia and Extremadura organized rallies and conferences in their respective areas when they learned that Durruti and Ascaso would be passing through. The CNT’s Propaganda Secretary in the region collected seventy-five requests for public events, which he hurried to present to the Civil Government in order to obtain the necessary authorization to hold them. This was a formality: the Governor could only deny such petitions in exceptional cases, such as when declared martial law had been declared, which was not the case in Andalusia at the time.

The April 7 closing rally was a success. The theater where it took place was too small to accommodate all the attendees and organizers had to place amplifiers on the street so that those outside could listen to the speeches.

Durruti, Ascaso, Combina, and several other militants planned to start their propaganda tour through the province of Sevilla on April 8. The night of the rally they met with Avelino González Mallada and Paulino Díez and unsuccessfully tried to convince them to participate in some of the events planned in the 106 villages. Avelino said that he had too many obligations in Madrid and left for the capital in the early morning of the following day. The police showed up at the boarding house where they were all staying shortly after Mallada’s departure. They told them to come to the Police Station, without explaining why. Durruti, Ascaso, and Combina went and the inspector informed them that they were under arrest for “insults to authority and incitation to rebellion,” crimes that they had committed during the previous day’s rally. Authorities sent them to the Sevilla prison under this charge. Paulino Díez joined them shortly afterwards, as a “governmental prisoner.”

The Sevilla prison was packed with men that the police had arrested that day. No one knew why they were being detained.

Vicente Ballester, secretary of the CNT’s Andalusia and Extremadura Regional Committee, met with the Governor, Mr. Labella, and asked him why Durruti, Ascaso, and Combina had been seized. The Governor responded that he “arrested them to expel them from Andalusia [as permitted by the “Law for Defense of the Republic”] because he wasn’t going to tolerate anarchist propaganda in the area.” The governor’s attitude precluded any other attempt to secure their freedom and they had no choice but to try to settle the “insults” charge as soon as possible. As expected, the judge visited them in prison and communicated the charges to Durruti and Combina (Ascaso hadn’t spoken at the rally). He acknowledged that the crime was minor and said that they would be released once they paid one thousand pesetas in bail each. Four days after the visit, Vicente Ballester gave the bail to the judge and signed for the detainees’ freedom. But, just as they were about to be let out, authorities told them that their incarceration would continue: at the Governor’s request they would remain as governmental prisoners. The Madrid papers reported on Durruti’s arrest. The La Voz newspaper stated that “it was because Durruti was organizing an uprising in Andalusia similar to the one that took place in Barcelona on January 8.”

Pío Baroja was in Madrid at that time and decided that he wanted to meet with Durruti when he learned about his detention. He traveled to Sevilla for the purpose and saw him behind bars. About their meeting, Durruti wrote: “When Pío Baroja came to see me in the Sevilla prison he told me: ‘It’s terrible what they do to you all!’ And I asked him: ‘What position, Mr. Pío, do you think we should take toward these arbitrary measures?’ He didn’t know what to say. I later read an article that he published in Ahora which contained the response that he didn’t dare give me through bars.” [379]

We have been unable to locate the article mentioned by Durruti and therefore do not know what Pío Baroja asserted in it. But we do know that Durruti had exercised a strong attraction on the writer since their meeting in Barcelona after the proclamation of the Republic. Baroja compared Durruti to Pablo Iglesias in his memoirs: “Buenaventura Durruti was diametrically opposed to Pablo Iglesias. He was not doctrinaire; he was a condottiero, restless, bold, and valiant. One could see him as the incarnation of the Spanish guerrilla. He had all the traits of the type: courage, shrewdness, generosity, cruelty, barbarity, and a depth of spiritual heart. In another epoch, he would have done very well as a Captain with El Empecinado, with Zurbano, or Prim.... Durruti appeared in the reception room of the hotel on the Rambla, where two or three of his friends and I were. His presence alarmed many of those there, so I suggested that we go to a café on a nearby side street. We sat and chatted in this small café.” Pío Baroja recorded a conversation about Durruti’s adventures—which the reader already knows and we will not repeat—and clearly took pleasure in this literary personage. “Durruti is the type to have a romantic biography, on a sheet of string literature [ literatura de cordel] with a blurry engraving on the front.” [380] Baroja escaped the temptation to make him into a literary character, perhaps because the flesh and blood Durruti was simply too real. The same is true of Ilya Ehrenburg, who also spoke with him around that time.

The qualities that attracted intellectuals to Durruti terrified the politicians that governed Spain. After his arrest, Casares Quiroga hurled the most abject epithets at him; calling him an “idler and delinquent” and other insults of the nature. He was preparing to apply the law on vagrancy approved by the Republican-Socialist government. Naturally, he would not use it for “parasites and idlers” by trade, but for the militant workers of the CNT and FAI.

This time Durruti and his comrades will be imprisoned in terrible conditions from April 2 to October 10, without knowing why.

The Governor of Sevilla ordered the transfer of his four famous detainees—Ascaso, Combina, Durruti, and Díez—to the El Puerto de Santa María penitentiary. In mid-April, they entered what was known as the “Andalusian Montjuich,” which was used for preventative detentions. The prison had two wings: one for those who had been sentenced and the other for those awaiting sentencing, although the prison regime was identical for both types of inmates. It was like this during the Republic and also under General Franco. The climate is bad, the food abysmal, and the unsanitary conditions caused a high rate of tuberculosis among the prisoners.

When the four anarchists entered the penitentiary, they were immediately placed in cells and held incommunicado. Prison regulations indicated that inmates could write family members once weekly and that letters or cards had to be delivered open, so that the censor could read them. Durruti and his comrades protested these restrictions, alleging that they had not been charged with anything and didn’t even know why they were there. Durruti decried these circumstances in letters that he smuggled out and that El Luchador and Madrid’s CNT published. Paulino Díez also denounced (in a letter snuck out) their conditions: “The treatment is repugnant and the food terrible. A man subjected to this is bound to go crazy. This is a factory for making lunatics, as Torhyo said of the insane asylum! The regime of “bread and water” is so common that it’s normal. They forced it on one comrade for ninety-four days.... I asked to see the doctor four days ago and still haven’t seen him. Everyday I tell the clerk that I need medical attention, but nothing happens. My stomach problems are getting worse, and now I produce blood while having bowel movements. But you can’t complain, because they’ll punish you if you do. The threat of “bread and water” forces you to gnaw on your entrails and eat fists of anger.”

In June, Durruti sent his compañera a letter (always by the same route: “the submarine”). He wrote:

Comrades from Sevilla came here on Sunday, but weren’t able to speak with us. When we found out about this, Ascaso and I went to see the warden, so that he would tell us if we’re being held incommunicado. He told us that it’s not his fault, but the police’s doing, since the “Cádiz police come on visiting days to see who asks to speak with you and demand ID from anyone wanting to see Combina, Díez, or you two.” That prevents many comrades from visiting us... We’ve protested against these irregularities, but they don’t do any good, since we’re doing so from inside. It’s the comrades on the street who have to clarify the situation.

Deprived of communication and from reading the newspapers, the prisoners could only follow outside events through the “prison mail;” that is, from what other prisoners heard from family members or friends. That also wasn’t easy for our militants, since they were being held incommunicado (and in “disgusting cells,” according to Durruti).

The situation on the street continued to be extremely onerous for the CNT. Police raided union halls and arrested those inside on the pretext that they were holding “secret meetings.” Such harassment was pervasive in early June in both Madrid and Barcelona. In the first of the two cities, Assault Guards surrounded the Local Federation of Unions building on Flor Street at nightfall, just when union members were coming there to deliver their contributions or take care of other matters. They loaded everyone they found—some 250—onto trucks and took them to the General Office of Security. The local press described the caravan in the following terms:

A truck full of Assault Guards led the way. Two others followed, which were filled with detainees, and another took up the rear, whose occupants pointed their guns at the prisoners.

Their trip through the city streets aroused great curiosity among pedestrians. The Assault Guard occupied the CNT building and had arrested 250 by 10:00 in the evening. The cells were packed and, despite the guard’s requests, the prisoners wouldn’t stop insulting the Director of Security or the government. They later sang The International.

The same thing occurred simultaneously in Barcelona, although there every detainee received a beating and police tore up their CNT membership cards. In Sevilla, the governor ordered police to shut down all the CNT unions and filled the provincial prison with new inmates. There was a generalized offensive against the CNT, and the government didn’t even bother to justify it.

The ship of state was going adrift. The Parliament approved laws and more laws, but the state slowed down any that it considered detrimental to the privileged classes or Church. Although the Parliament had approved the Law on Agrarian Reform, it was stalled in practice. Driven by caciquism, the results of the municipal elections were unfavorable for the government. These results encouraged the Rightwing—now led by José María Gil Robles—to heighten its attacks on the Azaña government. Alejandro Lerroux, who had simply been watching from the sidelines as Azaña and his team made their mistakes, began to feel strong enough to rip into the government in May. Azaña staggered, particularly after the storm of Casas Viejas, but stubbornly continued to maintain the government’s repressive policy against the CNT. The political scenario was extremely complicated and there was a growing threat of fascism, which had set roots in Germany and begun to insinuate itself in Spain through José Antonio Primo de Rivera. The latter founded the Spanish Falange, while Gil Robles created the Confederación Española de las Derechas Autónomas (Spanish Confederation of the Autonomous Right, CEDA).

There was a minor governmental crisis at the time, which was resolved with various ministerial changes on June 14. The new government approved another oppressive law called Public Order on July 26. It seemed like the Socialists and Republicans were in a rush to give the Right all the legal tools necessary to establish fascism.

While these diverse and contradictory events threw the world into confusion, nothing had been sorted out for our four detainees or the rest of the state’s captives in the Puerto de Santa María.

In late May, the CNT’s National Prisoner Support Committee sent Eduardo Barriobero, its most prestigious lawyer, to meet with Casares Quiroga. Barriobero would try to make him listen to reason and end his system of “governmental prisoners,” which had resulted in the incarceration of more than six thousand people. The Minister gave Barriobero his “word of honor”: all governmental prisoners would be released in a few days. When the lawyer mentioned the case of the four most famous inmates in El Puerto de Santa María, Casares Quiroga replied that “they will be the first to get out.” The Minister was so convincing that the Prisoner Support Committee sent a telegram to El Puerto telling the men the good news. A few days later Durruti sent a letter in reply:

“We received your telegram. The comrades hope that the governor of Cádiz will release them soon. I say hope, because it appears that Combina and I will remain in prison. Apparently they don’t feel like letting us out.” Durruti states the reason:

“Moments before receiving your telegram, the local court came to the prison to notify Combina and me that the Court of Sevilla had voided our bail and, as a result, we are still in its custody and will have to respond to that damned charge of “insults and incitation to rebellion.”

Despite the fact that the minister gave his “word of honor,” no one was released and circumstances became even more desperate. A letter that Durruti sent to his family on July 14, 1933 described the situation:

I’m sure you’ve read in the press about the misfortune that haunts this vile prison.... The soldiers, those sons of the people who forget their own mothers once they put on a uniform, murdered a comrade on Monday morning. If you read the article in CNT that I sent, you’ll see the miserable way that they killed this peasant. The man wasn’t approaching the window as they claimed, but was hunted down like a rabbit. I wonder what induced the soldier to shoot that man.... A great uproar broke out when his comrades saw him killed, and it’s not true that they were in the cells, but rather in a crowd of two hundred.... I didn’t realize the monstrosity that had been committed when I first heard the comrades cry out for help. They stared at us with closed fists, as if to say: “What should we do?”... I knew that the Assault Guard would enter the prison at some point and use any pretense to blow us away with rifle fire. It was a horrible moment, and the only thing we could do was stop exactly what the guards were going to provoke; a massacre. I decided to go down to the courtyard, where there were about five hundred men waiting for someone to take the initiative and say: “Forward!” The first thing I saw were the well placed machine-guns. I got up on a bench and yelled out to my comrades. I felt an overwhelming desire to say precisely that: Forward! But that would have been a tragic mistake, something for which I would have never forgiven myself if I had emerged alive, which would have been unlikely. I told them exactly the opposite: to calm down, to recover their serenity, that it still wasn’t time. Some may have cursed me inwardly, thinking that I had “gone soft,” but it doesn’t matter. Everyone withdrew into their groups or cells. They removed the corpse and a heavy silence fell over the prison, terribly heavy, without any of us being able to face one another. That was the first time that Ascaso and I didn’t look one another in the eye.... Assault Guards marched through the prison, and we, after having lost a comrade, are held incommunicado.[381]

On July 1, Solidaridad Obrera published a photograph of five individuals behind bars: Díez, Ascaso, Durruti, Combina, and Lorda. A statement signed by Francisco Ascaso and Paulino Díez framed the photo. It was addressed to “citizen Santiago Casares Quiroga, Minister of the Interior.” The text informed the minister that, with “our patience exhausted, we must resort to the sad weapon of the hunger strike. Seeing that his honor didn’t manage to open the prison doors, we believe that this method will be successful. Santa María Prison, June 28, 1933”

Things were going from bad to worse in the Cabinet presided over by Manuel Azaña. The Rightwing was attacking furiously. Lerroux advanced his candidacy for President of Government and the Socialist Party entered into a deep crisis. Araquistáin, prompted by the experience of the social democrats in Germany, embraced Marxism and the “dictatorship of the proletariat.”

Francisco Largo Caballero watched and worried as the UGT’s unity shattered and its rank and file rebelled against policies made by the Socialists in government. He started to look sympathetically on Araquistáin’s extremist stance. Other Socialist leaders began to recognize the catastrophic effects of the political line that they had followed, as their youth began to turn to the Communist Party. The CP, always led by Moscow, began to reap certain successes at the expense of the Socialists. All of this compromised Indalecio Prieto’s influence, who stubbornly continued working with Manuel Azaña. Alcalá Zamora dissolved Azaña’s Cabinet and on September 12 entrusted Lerroux with forming a new government. But, before resigning and withdrawing from the scene, the Republican-Socialist government took a final swipe at the CNT by applying the “Vagrants Law” to the governmental prisoners, including Durruti and Ascaso. On September 25, Solidaridad Obrera published the following article under the headline “The anarchist’s dignified attitude toward the Vagrants Law”:

Durruti, Ascaso, Combina, Joaquín Valiente, Paulino Díez, and Trabajano are inmates in El Puerto de Santa María penitentiary and the government intends to apply the disgraceful label of “vagrants” to them. Their “special” case has received the natural and dignified response that it merits. These comrades have refused to testify in the prosecution’s inquiry initiated against them for “vagrancy.”

We Confederation members must defend ourselves against these legal machinations—the work of “left” Republicans and especially Socialists!—by saying: “we aren’t vagrants and, as workers, we will not testify in such a wicked, shameful trial!”

The comrades incarcerated in the Andalusian Montjuich sent two letters to the present Minister of Justice, Botella Asensi, which we have published in our newspapers. They told him categorically that they reject the outrageous “vagrants” label and if the malignant matter is not resolved by September 25—today—that they will declare a hunger strike and hold the nation’s top judicial authority responsible for what could occur.

The last Cabinet meeting decided not to apply that shameful law to the fighting workers. Now the Minister of Justice must act.

Durruti sent some words to his family on October 5, 1933:

I hope you’ve read in the press that we decided to end our hunger strike, after eight days without eating, under the promise of our release. According to the most recent information telegraphed to us by the lawyers in Sevilla, we will get out today. One already left last night. I have the impression that all of us will be out by the time you receive this letter.

Durruti, Ascaso, and Combina arrived at the CNT editorial office in Madrid on October 7, after spending six months trapped in the terrible Puerto de Santa María.

They set off for Barcelona the following day, leaving behind a Madrid in turmoil. Indeed, the government that Lerroux presented to the Parliament on October 2 did not gather the votes necessary to assume power. Alcalá Zamora ordered several people to form a new government, but all failed in their attempts. This led to the dissolution of the Parliament and a new electoral referendum, to the Rightwing’s great satisfaction. The President entrusted Diego Martínez Barrio (from Lerroux’s party) with liquidating the Parliament and preparing the elections.

There are two additional matters to include in this summary of the first Republican-Socialist biennium, both of which will weigh heavily on Spain’s immediate future: the first is the great opportunity that the Republic had to do away with the cancer of the Moroccan Protectorate. Instead of seizing the chance, it advanced a policy that was even more destructive than the Monarchy’s Africanist policy. It only deepened the divide between Spain and Morocco and, like the French, made the relationship still more feudal. The second was the trip to Spain that French Prime Minister Edouard Herriot made in the spring of 1932. The government used his visit as a pretext to repress worker and peasant agitation in Andalusia, so that “peace reigns more fully in Casablanca.” [382] Herriot also managed to get Spain to sign a treaty requiring that it purchase arms solely from the French.

CHAPTER XVI. From electoral strike to insurrection

The three “vagrants” released from El Puerto de Santa María arrived in Barcelona just as Alcalá Zamora threw the country into turmoil with the dissolution of the Parliament and call for legislative elections. This was a straightforward political opportunity for the parties, but the elections were a difficult issue for the CNT. Its position on the elections had to be consistent with its absentionist convictions, but also consonant with the new political situation created by the rise of the Rightwing after the failure of the leftwing government. In November 1933, for the first time in its history, the CNT would be the central force determining the political fate of the country. We will explore the CNT’s internal life, but must first place our protagonists in the onerous social conditions existing in Barcelona at the time. The bourgeoisie fired workers readily and often abusively. Although the middle class was struggling economically, in many cases it could have avoided or reduced the scope of such sackings. They were an attempt to create chaos and demoralize the workers, which the bourgeoisie hoped would predispose them to accept any political solution that might end their suffering. Specifically, it was a way to prepare the ground for Gil Robles, who, imitating Hitler, intended to impose a dictatorship through legal means and with worker support. The Barcelona CNT did not lose sight of either the bourgeoisie’s intentions or Gil Robles’s political game, although its militants also had to focus their attentions on short-term survival needs while not forgetting their long-term revolutionary goals.

Unemployed workers did not receive or ask for state subsidies (even if the state had been able to provide them—it was not—activists knew that such subsidies would have diminished the proletariat’s revolutionary militancy). The workers’ first response to the economic crises was the rent, gas, and electricity strike in mid-1933, which the CNT and FAI’s Economic Defense Commission had been laying the foundations for since 1931. Likewise, house, street, and neighborhood committees began to turn out en masse to stop evictions and other coercive acts ordered by the landlords (always with police support). The people were constantly mobilized. Women and youngsters were particularly active; it was they who challenged the police and stopped the endless evictions.

Groups of women and children made purchases on credit in the grocery stores. They bought only the basics, such as potatoes, pastas, oil, rice, and chickpeas. Their debt was recorded, which they would pay back once they began working again. The unions had listing services where workers could sign up for potential jobs, but since the employers were not hiring, the unemployed went to workplaces and occupied them. At first the bourgeoisie responded by saying that they hadn’t asked for workers and tossed them out. But, undeterred, the unemployed sat at the establishments’ entrances and remained there for the entire week, doing their eight hours of sitting daily. On Saturday, payday, they lined up with the firm’s employees and, under their protection, insisted that the company pay them their “weekly sitting wage.” The bourgeoisie ended up compensating them for the week, while telling them not to come back. If the same ones didn’t come back, it was others.

In addition to these actions, a “union of unemployed workers” urged the proletariat to go to restaurants in groups and eat at noon. This practice was quite extensive and always produced positive results.

The point of these actions was to encourage the generalized mobilization of the working class. Linked by solidarity, they were ways to confront the bourgeoisie while building a revolutionary consciousness among the workers (and among youngsters too, which is one of the reasons why so many adolescents played such an important role in the 1936 revolution).

There was a significant conflict with the Streetcar and Bus Company at the time. The company had created the dispute by refusing to recognize union representatives and firing workers known for their activism. The Transport Workers’ Union took on the strike and, when the Streetcar Company refused to meet its demands, it had no choice but to use sabotage. Streetcars and buses were set alight in the late night hours after they had gone to lock- up. There were also acts of sabotage in the central telephone offices, which the telephone workers union had been using defensively since their strike in June 1931.

All of this created an explosive climate in Barcelona. The practice of holdups, in which CNT or FAI workers were often implicated, made it even more volatile.

The arrest of a CNT worker on robbery charges was enough to prompt the bourgeois press to go on the offensive and accuse the FAI of encouraging “banditry.” Instigated by the Generalitat, Catalanist newspapers in Barcelona disseminated Manuel Azaña’s fiction that “anarchists are criminals with an ID card.”

Ascaso and Durruti had to confront the economic situation like the rest of the unemployed workers. They were turned away from the factory where they had worked before being locked up. Ascaso, drawing on his first experiences in the work world, found a waiter’s job in a Barcelona restaurant through García Oliver, who plied the same trade in a café popularly called “La Pansa” in the Plaza de España.

Durruti went to the Metalworkers’ Union and signed up in its job pool. A rare thing happened one day: one of the larger workshops in Barcelona requested three mechanic adjustors through a union representative. The union sent Durruti and two other men. The head of personnel showed some discomfort when they turned up and, after consulting with management, told Durruti that he was very sorry, but that there had been a misunderstanding: the company needed only two—not three—workers. Durruti knew perfectly well that he was being blacklisted. This infuriated his comrades, who were prepared to reject the job themselves and report the incident to the union. Once they left the premises, Durruti convinced them that doing so would be a serious mistake, since it would cause a strike in the workshop and, by extension, the whole industry.

“Don’t tell the union anything about what happened here,” he said. “Strikes are declared when the workers want them, not when the bourgeoisie provokes them. This strike wouldn’t benefit us and would actually be very detrimental. Come to work tomorrow as if nothing happened and wait for better times. The iron still isn’t hot, my friends.” [383]

Durruti met with Ascaso that evening and told him about the incident. His friend approved of his behavior; the truth was that the bourgeoisie was desperately trying to antagonize the workers. It was enough to consult the press—which was daily more venomous on the subject of the “holdups”—to convince oneself of this. One of the newspapers that most abused the topic was La Vanguardia, which was particularly inflammatory because it published graphic photographs of crime scenes. Sometimes it was a “blond” who had carried out the robbery and other times it was simply the “FAI.” Durruti and Ascaso talked about whether or not it might be a good idea to visit the editor of La Vanguardia in the name of the FAI and convince him to end its mistreatment of the acronym. The following day they showed up at the newspaper’s office and, after announcing themselves by their own names, told the editor that they were qualified representatives of the FAI and that the organization had selected his paper to make a public statement. The text of the statement was the following:

The FAI intends to organize a collective expropriation through social revolution in order to establish what we call libertarian communism. Our strategy is mass action and the revolutionary general strike. The FAI rejects and does not practice any other method, like robbing individuals (that is, “banditry”). Such things are in frank opposition to anarchism’s revolutionary approach and, consequently, the FAI denounces them as ineffective. This is the FAI’s statement. And we ask that you, the editor of this newspaper, limit La Vanguardia to presenting the news, without mixing up or mentioning the CNT or FAI when you have to publish an account of a robbery, holdup, or something similar in your “crime report” section. These organizations have nothing to do with acts of that sort. We hope that you will be good enough to censor your frivolous reporters if they introduce the letters in question into their “news.” We wouldn’t want to resurrect the “red censorship” of the Graphic Arts Union.[384]

La Vanguardia didn’t publish the FAI’s statement, but it no longer implicated the CNT and FAI in its reports on “diverse events,” as it had done daily until then. Clearly the “meeting” had been a success.

The CNT National Committee called a national meeting of regionals to establish the organization’s position on the elections. All the participants agreed that the political situation was dire. Led by Gil Robles, the Rightwing had entered the elections as a homogenous group under the CEDA banner. This bloc collected all the reaction into one bundle: aristocrats, soldiers, landowners, bankers, the high and low bourgeoisie, and the Church, with its Popular Action party. The Monarchists also supported this bloc, but without losing their independence, since they were busy conspiring with Mussolini to carry out a military coup in Spain.

The opposition, the left, was divided, thanks to the crisis in the Socialist Party. Azaña’s party was completely disarticulated. The Radical-Socialists had also split into two factions. The Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya was the only party that had a measure of internal unity at the time. It supported the petty bourgeoisie and liberal middle class of Catalonia, including the peasant faction of small and mid-sized landowners.

With a fractured Left standing in the elections, one would imagine that the results would benefit the CEDA. Even if the CNT urged its members to vote, their votes could only go to the Socialist Party and, if that happened, the left would still be a minority, given the diversity of Left candidates. There was something new in the November 19 elections: women voted for the first time. The influence of the Church on women suggested that they might support the Right, but they might just as well go for the Leftwing, particularly the Socialists.

The CNT discussed the situation at its meeting and, after considering the matter from many different perspectives, had to face two unavoidable realities: the division in the Left and Gil Robles’s fascist danger. Whether or not the CNT advised its members to vote, the ultimate political results would not change. Furthermore, the leftists had behaved so badly in power, and the CNT had criticized them so intensely, that even if they tried to tell the workers that a Leftwing government was better than a Rightwing one, the masses would not understand that tangled parliamentary argument in the face of the harsh reality of lived experience.

The CNT’s reply to the impasse that the Socialist-Republican government had forced on Spain and the threat of a “gilroblista” dictatorship was to tell the working class frankly that there was no solution but proletarian revolution. Yet it was not enough to simply announce this: they had to go into action immediately after the anticipated victory of the rightwing. This meant that the CNT had to prepare itself for revolutionary action. The experience in January of that year made it clear that the CNT and FAI could not be victorious alone and that they had to partner with the Socialist workers. It would be impractical to propose a revolutionary alliance to the UGT “from above”—given the extent to which their leaders had degenerated during their two years in government—but it was not utopian to think that the Socialist rank and file could be inspired to enter into action if CNT workers rose up. Socialist and anarchist militants had already carried out joint efforts in Andalusia. Why couldn’t this happen in the rest of Spain, particularly Asturias?

Those attending the meeting decided to carry out an intense agitation campaign that would ruthlessly criticize the parliamentary system and say clearly that revolution is the only reply to fascism.

They made significant plans for this proof of strength: the cadre or Confederal groups would federate at the national level through a secretariat of Defense (led by Antonio Ortiz) linked to the National Committee. They also created a National Revolutionary Committee that would immediately begin to organize the insurrection. Cipriano Mera, Buenaventura Durruti, Antonio Ejarque, and Isaac Puente formed the Committee.

The confederation’s publication, CNT, printed an editorial that summarized the decisions of the national meeting. It emphasized the practical foundations of Libertarian Communism:

The commune is the basic unit of libertarian communism. Four centuries of statist centralism have been unable to destroy the commune, which has deep historical roots in Spain. Our people’s revolutionary aspirations find their expression in the commune and, federated, it provides the basic structure of the new society in all its aspects: administrative, economic, and political. The first step in the social revolution is to take control of Town Hall and proclaim the free commune. Once this occurs, self-management spreads to all areas of life and the people exercise their sovereign executive power through the popular assembly.[385]

The Nosotros group met to discuss the national CNT meeting and the political challenges of the moment. It became clear at the gathering that there were serious differences within the group. García Oliver, drawing on the experience of the January rebellion, thought they should create a paramilitary organization. The FAI’s anarchist groups and the CNT’s Confederal Defense groups would make up the organization and a body dedicated to revolutionary defense would coordinate its actions nationally. However, since they didn’t have enough time or resources to immediately construct an organization of that type, he concluded that it wasn’t the right moment to rise up. The rest of the group, except for Ascaso and Durruti, shared his views.

Ascaso and Durruti weren’t utopians. They recognized the merit of García Oliver’s observations and were well aware of the CNT and FAI’s desperate state since the January rebellion. But they had to confront the situation in one way or another. Durruti believed that a defeat—which wouldn’t really be a defeat when seen as part of the movement’s “revolutionary gymnastics”—was better than being inactive or absent from the country’s political life during the electoral campaign. He also argued that this time they “wouldn’t be working in such cold” as in January and that the Socialist masses “could be inspired to act, given their frustration with their parliamentary leaders.” At the very least, he said, “the insurrection will be a warning to the incoming government and show it that the Spanish working class is not going to bow before a dictator.” There are times, he said, when “revolutionaries aren’t permitted to hesitate and this is one of them.”[386] The electoral campaign opened in an environment of tension and violence. CEDA propaganda had a distinctly fascist slant: “All power to the Chief,” was the slogan attached to the portrait of Gil Robles. The ecclesiastic bodies functioned at full speed and organized the purchase of votes. Rural caciques leaned heavily on the peasantry, promising jobs and distributing clothes and mattresses to the poorest.

The rightwing held its last rally before the election on November 18 in Madrid. They broadcast a speech that Calvo Sotelo had recorded in Paris, where he had lived in exile since the failed rightwing uprising on August 10 of the previous year.

The Socialists tried their best to incite their supporters with impassioned oratory, but the results were less than stellar. Those who spoke in revolutionary tones didn’t believe their own speeches and those who listened had little faith in that last-minute revolutionism.

The Republicans watched with sadness as half of their electorate went over to the ranks of Lerroux’s radicals, when not directly to the CEDA. The CNT organized large rallies in all the major Spanish cities, where it articulated its critique of parliamentarianism and stated that the people had to choose between fascism and revolution.

The CNT held a large rally in Barcelona on Sunday, November 12 in the Plaza de Toros Monumental. Approximately one hundred thousand people attended the event. The orators were Benito Pabón, Durruti, Francisco Isgleas, and Valeriano Orobón Fernández. This rally had the same focus as those held elsewhere, but there were two novelties. First, Francisco Isgleas spoke in Catalan, to demonstrate that not all CNT militants were “Murcianos” (as Esquerra politicians said so often). Second, Orobón Fernández offered a detailed account of Hitler’s rise in Germany and argued that the German Communist Party and Social Democrats were both causes of his victory. He urged the Spanish Socialists to take note and learn from the mistakes of the German colleagues.

The FAI held a rally under the auspices of Tierra y Libertad on the evening of Thursday, November 16. It took place in Barcelona’s Palace of Decorative Arts, which could hold an audience of forty-five thousand. According to the press, an immense crowd had gathered in the gardens and around the premises an hour before the event was to begin. The number of people grew by the minute and began to spill into Lérida Street. Less than half of the audience was able to enter when the building’s doors opened and the rest had to listen to the speeches through amplifiers placed on the street. We will reproduce the entirety of press’s account of the event, given the rally’s importance, and also Durruti and Ascaso’s participation in it.

Comrade Gilabert presided over and opened the event. He said that while Tierra y Libertad had called the meeting, it is the FAI that is appearing before the people and that will speak through the orators. He then read a list of the many adhesions and delegations from throughout Spain, which we have published in another part of the paper. The Orators:

Vicente Pérez (Combina): “Your presence at this event is an emphatic refutation of the politician’s insidious campaign and expresses clear support for the ideals of the Iberian Anarchist Federation.

“Our enemies say that this disinterested and dignified anti-electoral campaign is supported by money from the Monarchists.

“That’s a disgraceful lie that no one believes. We anarchists are as staunchly against the Rightwing as the Left. We won’t betray our principles or the revolution, like “the Thirty” and their supporters did on and before April 14. The only thing that political parties do, whether they’re from the Right or the Left, is make laws against the workers, like the law of April 8, Public Order, and Vagrants.

“We’re the only ones confronting Cambó. The scar tissue still hasn’t formed on the wound caused by that bird of prey in 1919, when he created mercenary bands to kill the most militant anarchists.

“To the Catalan people, we anarchists say that the Lliga and Esquerra’s claim that they’ll make the revolution if they’re defeated is nothing more than impotent bravado. The CNT and FAI will rise above them all. “Workers of all classes! If you want to destroy fascism, join to the ranks of the CNT and FAI, where real revolutionaries fight to create libertarian communism.”

Francisco Ascaso: “I reflected for a long time before taking part in this event. I feared that we would be confused with those shameless politicians who shout from the rooftops these days, asking for the people’s vote so that they can rise to power.

“And I figured that we’d already had enough rallies and that the time to act had arrived.

“But, in these circumstances, it’s imperative that the voice of the anarchists is heard. That’s what made up my mind.

“If one looks at the Republic’s work, one can immediately see that it has failed in every sense. “It passed three laws that are anti-democratic in the most fundamental way. They are a disgrace: the law of April 8, Public Order, and Vagrants. “The first was made exclusively against the CNT, to chain it to the cart of the State and encroach on the workers’ rights; the second, to suppress civil guarantees and legalize arbitrariness; and finally, the Vagrants law was passed specifically to attack the anarchists in an individual, cunning way. These are the Republic’s most outstanding accomplishments.

“The government tells to us about economic crises around the world. They’re simply trying to make excuses for Spain’s problems.

“But we already know all that, which is why we’re anarchists. The state has failed everywhere, and no party can resolve the social problem. The parties are nothing more than diverse forms of capitalism.

“How could the party called “Esquerra” resolve any problem, if before taking power it prostrated itself at the feet of capitalism?

“Some say that the CNT and the anarchists are making things easy for the Rightwing by advocating abstention. That’s not true. We’ve simply discovered the falsehood of all parties, and they, in their impotence, can only defend themselves with slander.

“We’ve made all the political experiments fail and capitalism withdraw into its last refuge, which is fascism.

“While Spain’s unique characteristics may prevent fascism from emerging here in the same way that it emerged in Italy and Germany, we have other dangers known as ‘pronunciamientos.’[387] “While the Right and Left fail, the military is lying in wait to replace them all.

“That’s the real danger. None of the parties are ready to confront the problems of the hour and yet the people, organized in the CNT, are capable F of everything. The military is on guard against the anarchist’s resolve and ‘pronunciamientos’ are a real threat.

“Militarism could be the axe blow that destroys all rights and liberties, but it could also arrive late. The CNT and FAI are prepared and will defeat them all.

“The Republic hasn’t provided a solution to the economic or social problem. It couldn’t and won’t. The choice is either fascism or revolution. Since fascism is impossible, revolution will prevail.

“Everything turns on the economy, and the economy is entirely in our hands. If capitalism has denied its support to the Republic, it won’t be able to deny it to us.

“Everyone threatens that they’re going to rise up. We don’t threaten. If they take to the street, they’ll find us there, fighting back.

“It’s necessary to accept the responsibility of the moment. We are a hope for the world proletariat, which anxiously watches us to see what we’ll do. We are liberty’s final redoubt. Everyone tells us the same thing: you can’t let yourself be crushed.

“Just as Spain carried the cross through the world in the past, today it must carry anarchy, saving the world by saving itself. That’s our mission, and we have to carry it out at any price, even at the cost of life itself. If we have to fall, then we’ll fall”.

Dolores Iturbe. We will extract some paragraphs from the pages read by comrade Dolores Iturbe: “Here is a magnificent and exciting event and, in its splendor and enthusiasm, the voice of anarchist working women had to be present.

“Their voice is one of fervent adherence to the ideals of the Iberian Anarchist Federation and one of energetic protest against all the outrages and crimes committed by the Republican government against our comrades and brothers.

“Comrades: we are living in extremely turbulent times. The bourgeois state is shattered and lost and wonders how it will recover its strength. It looks for the greatest threat to its existence among the various forces that surround it and discovers that threat in the FAI. That is its most powerful enemy and that’s why it puts so much effort into defaming it.

“When the bourgeoisie and the choir of hacks that grovel at their feet speak of the FAI, they do so as if it were an organization made up of wild- eyed murderers.

“Women: the FAI and the CNT are the only organizations fighting for your true and total emancipation. Amidst the waves of authoritarian ideas extolled by the statist communists and fascists, who are competing for the right to dominate the people, the FAI represents the placid and crystalline stream of libertarian communism, in which liberty and mutual aid will prevail. In a libertarian communist society, there will be widespread and generous solidarity in all acts of human association.

“Fortunately, the workers already know what matters. Experience has taught them to listen disdainfully to the political charlatans, who always speculate with their miseries and hunger, those men who have never taken a step to end the working class’s suffering.

“Women of the Anarchist Youth: the ultra-reactionary parties put forward their women cadre, who are ready to support their terrible work. In response, we have to organize ourselves and defend our ideas gallantly. Above all, we must never forget the workers killed by the mercenary bullets of the social-azañists. We must also remember our thousands of imprisoned comrades and the hundreds who are beaten and martyred in the police’s dungeons. And we will always remember that a woman, almost a girl, died in that small village named Casas Viejas, burned to a cinder in that criminal blaze. The memory of Manuela Lago, the martyr of Andalusia, as well as that of the mother and boy killed in Arnedo, will inspire us and incite our avenging wrath on the day of revolutionary justice.”

Domingo Germinal: “Comrades, greetings. This immense rally is the death sentence and coffin of the state.

“I remember working in Bilbao thirty-five years ago for the same ideas that I embrace today. Then, when you’d go to a public event, people shouted: “Kill him!” And yet now, at the end of an anarchist rally in Alicante a few days ago, the children kissed me and called me ‘Father.’ The men and women hugged me.

“I remember the blacks of Cuba, who told me every time I exposed them to my ideas: ‘Don’t put forward so much science. We don’t understand you. Tell us where the rifles are and we’ll go get them!’

“We’re going to get straight to the point, if it’s possible to stick to a topic in a rally.” (He discusses the state, making a devastating critique of it). “Have you thought about what the state is? The state is the anti-thesis of the human; it puts itself before the individual; it’s a repugnant institution; it’s a monster that needs to sacrifice man to live; it stops the beacon of progress from enlightening the people and to exist, like King David, needs to go to bed with two maidens: capitalism and ignorance.

“The state is the vilest of institutions; it can neither teach, nor create, nor enlighten anyone.

“A friend of mine, a hero of the Mexican Revolution, said: ‘no one will obey anyone until we end with all the altars and idols.’ That’s what we have to do if we want to turn our ideals into reality.”

“Work is the only recognized value in the world and the producers are the true artisans and gods of life.

“All ideas that triumph need to be great and anarchism is the most perfect ideal existing today.

“Without right, there can be no liberty; without liberty, man is unhappy. Without liberty, thought stagnates and dies. That’s why the echo of the arts, the desire of the multitudes, tends to break down the chains of slavery. “The cult of the state is a lie, false, and deceitful.

“It’s election time now and they’ll promise you everything, even the moon.”

(With humorous detail, he describes a deputy that offered a bridge to the people. When they told him that there was no river, he promised them a river. Remember the propaganda that Companys made with Aiguader, when he told him that he had everything pawned and, despite that, began promising everything to the city of Rues. Remember Ibsen, who said that politicians promise people plenty of light but began by asking for oil.) “There are only two types of people in politics: the idiot and the rascal. “Man, to live in society, has to be whole to be a man,” he says, while explaining a drama by Grove. “If you want to be men, you have to make the revolution or else you’ll continue in slavery.”

(He sings a political song celebrating anarchist ideas. This elicits great enthusiasm in the audience and cheers for the FAI).

“The FAI is the hope of the world’s dispossessed and is always ready to confront all difficulties. It has cleaned out the degenerates and sanitized the confederal organization, which now doesn’t cower when the government attacks.”

(He says that the FAI isn’t vengeful and will call for universal fraternity when the revolution triumphs, because a drop of blood on the workers’ hands is a terrible stain. He sings a song celebrating the people. It has beautiful lyrics, which prompt the crowd to applaud and cheer.) Buenaventura Durruti. He begins by lamenting that the old master Sebastián Faure couldn’t be with us. Perhaps that comrade’s moral authority would have helped us refute the politicians who accuse us of being unfaithful to anarchist doctrines and shown how those doctrines are really conceived and realized:

“I don’t hope for the dialectic of a Castelar or the persuasiveness of a Kropotkin. I’m a man of the twentieth century. I live among the people and I’ve studied the masters. I know how to act.

“There has been talk of anarchy for many years now. We’ve created a chaotic situation and made life impossible for all the governments and caused all the political parties to fail. We’re going to make the social revolution. The rulers trust only in brute force and lack the people’s support. We saw how Azaña was unable to speak in Alicante, Sagunto, and other cities. We, by contrast, draw crowds that receive us enthusiastically. These audiences tell us that they’ll go with us to the revolution.

“We’ve talked enough already. Now it’s time for action. Lerroux says that we aren’t good for anything except votes, but we won’t cast any vote on November 19. No party represents the Spanish people. To Lerroux we say: forget the threats. The people have the right not to believe. How can one believe in politicians, after the bloody Republican experience?

“We won’t vote. The Catalan Confederation will not vote. More than 50 percent will abstain in the next elections. What good are threats? What good is it to say that we’ll be straightened out? Make all the threats you like, it’s useless: we won’t vote and we’re ready to confront any rash actions from the reactionaries.

“Workers: the socio-political moment in Spain is very dangerous. The whole world is at the ready, with weapons in hand. Many talk about the FAI and all the political parties try to use it as a scapegoat. The FAI that they libel so consistently says, in these decisive hours, that it’s present in the streets, factories, fields, and mines.

“They talk about the FAI; using the slander about the holdups to discredit and undermine it. The slanderers should try to prove that the FAI is responsible for the holdups! They should all take note of the following, especially any bourgeois journalists in the premises: the FAI supports the collective holdup, the expropriating revolution. To go for what belongs to us, to take the mines, the fields, the means of transport, and the factory. All that is ours. It’s the basis of life: our happiness comes from there, not parliament. Say in your papers, bourgeois journalists, that the FAI only supports collective expropriation.

“There’s talk of a dictatorship of the FAI in the Confederation. That is a complete myth: it’s the assemblies that rule in our labor movement. The syndicalists accuse us of such things to justify their own behavior. They say that they can’t accept this dictatorship, but what they don’t say is that they’ve lost faith in libertarian communism and don’t believe in anarchy. Why not have the courage to say so outright, if you don’t believe in anarchist ideas? They’d rather chatter about dictatorship and use slander.

“We tell the workers to stay calm. Each one should take his place in the productive system. The eyes of the world are upon us. The Spanish anarchist movement is the only anarchist movement that’s strong and capable of constructive transformations. The world expects the leveling revolution from us. If we don’t rise to the occasion, the reactionaries will break through the dams and extend across the world.

“Since the CNT controls the factories and the workplaces, the FAI tells the CNT workers not to abandon your posts; stay at the foot of the machines; respond as one, energetically, if there is an attempt at dictatorship or a military pronunciamiento. The technical and factory committees must be on the alert too. A piece of advice to the FAIists: your position is beyond the factory gates. Remember Italy. A complementary action is essential. In response to Gil Robles’s fascism, against any attempted military coup, the workers should immediately seize the factories. The FAI men will go to other sites and complete the revolution initiated with the seizure of the means of production. “Everyone at the ready, like one man. The moment has arrived. We have a concept of responsibility and we apply it in the daily struggle. This isn’t Bolshevik. This isn’t centralist. This is anarchy.

“Thus, as you come today like one man, if the revolution demands you at a given moment, you will respond as one man. Everyone united, if the fascists rise up. Everyone together in the struggle. We will carry out our duty, and no one will say that Spain is repeating the shameful events in Germany and Italy.”

Comrade Gilabert concluded the rally: “Workers: in the name of the Iberian Anarchist Federation, the Peninsular Committee submits the following resolutions to the audience:

“1) In the event of a fascist victory, unleash the social revolution throughout the Peninsula and implant libertarian communism.

“2) Everyone fights until we achieve the definitive disappearance of the state in all its authoritarian ramifications.” (Those present accepted these resolutions with acclaim. The event ended with thunderous shouts of “Viva Anarchy!”)[388]

CHAPTER XVII. Socialism, absent in december 1933

The Right’s electoral victory on November 19, 1933 was a surprise to no one. A divided left, a working class disappointed in the Republicans and Socialists, and the CNT’s abstention campaign made the results easy to anticipate.

The Left won ninety-nine seats (including sixty for the Socialists and one for the Communist Party); the Center, 156 (including 102 for the Radicals); and the Right, 217 (115 went to the CEDA). Comparing this with the outcome of the elections in June 1931 shows a significant defeat: the Left, 263 deputies (including 116 Socialists); the Center, 110 (twenty- two belonging to Maura and Alcalá Zamora), and the Right; forty-four (including twenty-six agrarians). The Socialist Party lost fifty-six seats between 1931 and 1933.

Was Spain turning right? To suggest that would be a sharp misreading of the situation. There were high levels of abstention in areas where the CNT was strong: Sevilla and its province, 50.16 percent; Malaga, 48.37 percent; Cadiz, 62.73 percent; and Barcelona, 40 percent. A deeper study would make the CNT’s role stand out even more, although we insist that the origins of the Left’s defeat lay in popular frustration with the anti- worker policies that it instituted while in power and also in the fact that it entered the election campaign as a divided force.

On November 23, 1933, the CNT and FAI’s National Revolutionary Committee set up base in Zaragoza, which would soon be the city most engaged in the insurrection. Its headquarters were on the second floor of a building on Convertidos Street and it was there that its three principle members—Durruti, Mera, and Isaac Puente—got to work. Aragón delegated Joaquín Ascaso, Ejarque, and the Alcrudo brothers (all from Zaragoza) to the group.

They divided a map of Spain into colored zones, with each color indicating a region’s potential. In the red zones (Aragón, Rioja, and Navarre) the insurrection would be the most aggressive; in the blue zones (Catalonia, in particular) it would begin with a general strike and then become revolutionary; in the green zones (Center and North), where the Socialists dominated, there would be a general strike and an attempt to draw Socialist workers into the struggle. Valencia and Andalusia were marked in red-blue.

The National Revolutionary Committee (NRC) printed pamphlets urging the workers to take immediate control of the means of production by occupying the factories, mines, and workshops. They were to set up Workers Committees in the workplaces, which would federate locally and form the Local Workers’ Council. People in rural areas were to form Free Communes and federate by county. They would seize the large food depots and distribute food products through cooperatives. They would also create an armed workers’ militia that would provide revolutionary security. It would be organized in small and highly mobile guerrilla detachments, using trucks and other vehicles to get around. [389] They sent these pamphlets to the CNT Defense Committees and FAI groups, who reproduced them in large numbers and distributed them in all the villages.

A problem came up at the last moment, just when it seemed like they only had to wait for the revolutionary spark: at a meeting of militants in Zaragoza, some raised doubts about whether their organization should start the rebellion. It had been decided that Zaragoza would rise up first and then the rest of Low and High Aragón would follow immediately after. Their hesitation created an unpleasant situation. Isaac Puente and Joaquín Ascaso made an unsuccessful attempt to get them to commit. Then it was Durruti’s turn to speak to the group. Durruti knew most of them personally and was fully aware of their commitment and courage. Why, then, were these difficulties coming up now? As usual, he spoke frankly: he said that if Aragón backed out then all the CNT’s creditability would go to pieces. No other region in Spain was capable of leading the rebellion that they intended to unleash. Barcelona was exhausted after the January 8 insurrection and the state’s constant crackdowns; conditions were the same in Andalusia. Aragón was the only area that seemed to have kept its forces intact. But, if they thought that they shouldn’t participate, they were free to make that decision, he told them. However, the CNT and FAI had pledged to make a show of force and would do so with or without them. Whatever their decision, they couldn’t afford to lose any more time. “You have to make up your minds and soon,” he said, “so that the National Revolutionary Committee can change its plans if necessary.” Durruti’s straightforward speech impressed the assembly and, after a brief discussion, the Zaragoza militants pledge their willingness to partake in the struggle. [390]

On December 8, there were general strikes in Barcelona, Huesca, Valencia, Sevilla, Cordoba, Granada, Badajoz, Gijón, Zaragoza, Logroño, and La Coruña, and partial strikes in the Socialist areas of the North, Madrid, and Oviedo.

The anarchist and Confederal groups tried to make the strike revolutionary wherever it was declared and there were soon confrontations with the police. The government declared a state of emergency and called out the entire police force and, in some places, the troops. Alejandro Lerroux was due to present his government to the Parliament that day. Troops guarded government buildings and the Civil Guard mounted machineguns in the Plaza de la Cibeles and other important sites in Madrid. Militants instituted the NRC’s directives in areas where the revolutionaries took control and armed militia patrols appeared. But twenty-four hours after the rebellion began, it was clear that it was doomed to fail. The revolutionary spirit had not spread: the Socialist working masses followed their bosses’ orders and stayed out of the struggle. It was only the CNT and FAI men who were on the streets, confronting the police and the army. Aragón kept its word and rose up aggressively. Barbastro, Zaragoza, Huesca, Teruel, and countless villages in High and Low Aragón rebelled. The insurrection spread from Rioja to Logroño and extended to diverse villages in Burgos. The struggle lasted for several days in Zaragoza, where revolutionaries took over the workers’ neighborhoods. They proclaimed libertarian communism in the villages of Cenicero, Briones, Fuenmayor, Castellote, Valderrobres, Alcorisa, Mas de las Matas, Tormos, Alcampel, Alcalá de Gurrea, Almudévar, Calahorra, and in neighborhoods of Logroño.

There were some repercussions in parts of Valencia. In Alfafar, army troops bombed a union hall in which peasants had holed up. Railroad tracks were ripped up.

In Villanueva de la Serena (Badajoz), a sergeant and several workers barricaded themselves in the Recruiting Office, where they resisted a mixed infantry column armed with machine-guns and mortars for two days. The miners took control in Fabero (León). The rebellion was not completely defeated until December 15. For seven days, in dozens of areas, the local Revolutionary Committees seized Town Halls, Courts, telegraph buildings, and other vital centers.

The government declared a state of emergency in Zaragoza and it was impossible for the NRC to escape the police. Its members decided to accept complete responsibility for the rebellion. At least there would be a public trial, which they could use to indict the capitalist system and assert the people’s right to revolution.

The crackdown was brutal. The government outlawed the CNT and closed its unions and cultural centers (and destroyed the libraries within them). It banned all anarchist and CNT newspapers, in addition to technical and scientific magazines like Tiempos Nuevos and Estudios. There were endless arrests and the state handed down roughly seven hundred sentences several months later. Ordiales, the governor of Zaragoza, wanted to apply the “ ley de fugas” to the NRC but some politicians managed to dissuade him. Nonetheless, the police viciously beat the members of NRC. Countless other prisoners suffered the same fate and signed compromising declarations under torture.

As the inmates went to prison, the government—in which Gil Robles and Lerroux were united—began abolishing positive laws enacted during the Socialist-Republican biennium, including agrarian and educational reforms. Naturally, the new government did not change the coercive laws decreed during the same period. In fact, Socialists and Republicans would soon feel the bite of these reactionary laws themselves, and this contributed to Largo Caballero’s turn toward a more radical position and acceptance of the idea of the working class seizure of power.

In the Predicadores prison, the NRC (Durruti, Puente, and Mera) discussed how to free the greatest number of detainees. Durruti suggested that they try to make the government’s dossier on the case vanish (this was being prepared in the Zaragoza Court, since it was large enough to accommodate the multiple employees dedicated to the trial). The disappearance of that dossier would force police to get prisoners to the make their statements about events again and this would permit them to modify those extracted by force. Puente and Mera agreed to his idea and entrusted a group of local libertarian youths with carrying out the mission. The press printed an account of that unusual robbery:

An extremely audacious surprise attack took place at the Zaragoza Court of Commerce, where the Court of Urgency was preparing the trial scheduled for the recent revolutionary events. A group of seven individuals armed with pistols entered the room in which the judges were working and forced them to stay still while they put the dossier on the December 8 revolutionary movement into bags.[391]

The NRC assumed sole responsibility for the rebellion when police conducted the new interrogations necessary to reconstruct the case. Numerous detainees corrected their previous statements and were later released. The Zaragoza unions declared a general strike, which would last, they said, until all those imprisoned for the December actions were free. The situation was explosive. The government was afraid that militants would attempt to break their comrades out of prison and thus decided to transfer the members of the NRC to the Burgos provincial prison in late February 1934.

The city of Burgos was the complete opposite of Zaragoza. Whereas there was a strong workers’ movement in the latter, the Church prevailed in the former, along with its retinue of convents and churches. The military had troops in multiple barracks there as well. It was the classic reactionary Castilian city and, needless to say, the local population was terrified to learn that FAI leaders were being held there. Compared to Zaragoza, the Burgos prison meant almost complete isolation for the internees. They were the only political prisoners and internal surveillance made relations with common prisoners impossible. But, despite everything, this isolation made it easier for them to reflect on important events taking place among Socialists at the time.

The Socialists’ electoral failure weakened Indalecio Prieto’s influence in the party and strengthened that of Largo Caballero. Caballero’s views had already begun to change and, in a December 1933 speech, he declared that it was necessary to transform the bourgeois republic into a socialist republic and advocated working class unity. By 1934, Largo Caballero’s radical views became the norm among SP leaders. He had also the support of the Socialist Youth’s publication Renovación and the party’s theoretical magazine, Leviatán. Araquistáin edited the latter, which was breaking radically with the social democratic line.

Besteiro, Trifón Gómez, and Saborit led the Socialist Party’s rightwing, which still advocated collaboration with the Republicans. As a critique of that position, and to relieve his conscience, Largo Caballero publicly admitted that the party’s collaboration with the Republicans had forced it to approve all the coercive laws that were now muzzling the workers’ movement and that Lerroux was using to his advantage.

The Socialist Party had approximately 69,000 members at that time, although its real strength lay in its control over the UGT. The party’s rightwing dominated the National Committee, which is why it rejected Largo Caballero’s December proposal to launch a revolutionary movement to seize political power (Largo Caballero’s proposition had no connection with the CNT’s December rebellion). In January, the divide in Socialist circles began to have an impact on the UGT and it was then that Largo Caballero became Secretary of the UGT’s Executive Commission. From then on, the UGT’s political stance became more radical. It had approximately one million members, including 150,000 peasants organized in the Federation of Land Workers.

Libertarians followed developments in the UGT and Socialist Party with great interest. Orobón Fernández was the first anarchist to extend a hand to them. On February 4, 1934, he published a long article in La Tierra titled “Revolutionary Alliance, Yes! Factional Opportunism, No!” The article analyzed the Spanish situation and outlined the huge errors that the Socialists had committed since 1931. It also pointed out the reactionary nature of the Spanish bourgeoisie and denounced the criminal offensive against the CNT that had begun in 1931 and continued in the present. Orobón Fernández called for proletarian unity against the danger of fascism:

How? Through the center and the periphery, from underneath, from above, and from the middle. What is essential is that it is based on a revolutionary platform that presupposes loyalty, consistency, and integrity on the part of the pact’s signers. To bury oneself in long discussions about methods of rapprochement would be devastatingly Byzantine. It is necessary to want the rapprochement sincerely and that alone is enough. This isn’t time for literary competitions or demagogic obstruction.

The article’s headings summarized its content: “Combative unity, a question of life or death,” “To oppose unity is to oppose the revolution,” and “Party deals, no.” (In the last section, he criticized the Communist Party for printing falsehoods in its newspapers, particularly for its statements about the December rebellion, where it had the nerve to write: “The Communist Party immediately took part in the struggle and admonished the putschist anarchists.”) He concluded his article by outlining the foundation of what could be called a platform for a revolutionary working class alliance based on direct democracy. He divided it into five sections:

a) A strategic plan excluding all bourgeois politics and with a clearly revolutionary character.

b) Acceptance of revolutionary worker democracy as a foundation.

c) Socialization of the means of production.

d) A federated economy, managed directly by the workers.

e) All executive bodies necessary for non-economic activities (political-administrative) will be controlled, elected, and recallable by the people. [392]

Orobón Fernández’s article was well received by CNT members in Madrid and Asturias. However, in the rest of Spain, particularly Barcelona, where one lived from crackdown to crackdown, militants did not imagine the workers’ alliance as something that could be established from above. There were strenuous debates about the issue, which the National Committee hoped to clarify at a national meeting of regionals held in Madrid on February 13. There was a serious conflict between the Catalan, Center, and Asturian regionals at this meeting. Catalonia alleged that a workers’ alliance between the UGT and the CNT could not be made from above (later events would confirm the correctness of this assertion). Meeting participants nominated a committee to analyze the question and publicly called on the UGT to declare its position on an alliance:

The Confederación Nacional del Trabajo implores the UGT to state its revolutionary aspirations clearly and publicly. But it must take into account that a revolution is not a simple change in governments—like what occurred on April 14—but rather the total suppression of capitalism and the state.[393]

This debate naturally had echoes in the prisons, particularly in Burgos, where the NRC members were being held. Durruti articulated his opinion on the matter in a letter to Liberto Callejas:

The workers, real workers, have to make up the alliance if it’s going to be revolutionary. No party, even a socialist party, can participate in a pact of that nature. For me, the factory committees are the basic organs of a workers’ alliance, which the workers elect in open assemblies. Federated by neighborhood, district, locality, county, region, and nationally, I believe those committees will be the authentic expression of the base. In other words, I interpret the issue in the same way that we interpret everything: from the bottom up, with diminishing power as the bodies move further away from the factory, workshop, or mine committees. To think of the worker alliance in the opposite way is to denaturalize it. That’s why I don’t share some comrades’ view that a workers’ alliance can be made in “any way.” Of course, one of those “any ways” is from above, through the CNT and UGT national committees. But I reject that, due to the bureaucratic danger that it implies. I repeat: for a workers’ alliance to be authentically revolutionary it has to be felt, loved, and defended by the workers in the workplaces, because the primary goal of that alliance is to create worker control over the means of production, in order to establish socialism.[394]

Durruti’s comrades in Catalonia agreed with his perspective on the workers’ alliance, but other militants imprisoned with him did not. This was true of Cipriano Mera, who was in Madrid’s orbit of influence (and whose spokesperson, as we know, was Orobón Fernández).

The UGT did not respond to the call that the CNT made to it at its February national meeting, which suggested that its leaders did not want the type of revolution envisioned by the CNT. Years later it would come to light that the Socialist Party had drafted a political program in January 1934 that focused overwhelmingly on expelling the Lerrouxists from power. It was not genuinely revolutionary and was perfectly consistent with the party’s reformist practice. In the program, it declared: “If the revolution is victorious, the Socialist Party and UGT will have room for those who contributed to the revolution’s triumph in the new government that is created.” [395]

This clause suggested that the Socialist Party either believed that it was capable of making the revolution alone or, more likely, that it did not want one and thought the best way to prevent it was by rejecting a revolutionary workers’ alliance. Both things were complementary. They also continued to think of the Republicans as allies and their vision of socialism did not go beyond a Republic like the one existing between 1931 and 1933. The Lerroux-Gil Robles alliance was bearing fruit: on February 11, 1934 the government issued a decree that annulled the few effects of the Agrarian Reform Law in the countryside and that prompted the eviction of twenty-eight thousand peasants who had installed themselves on the large estates. Rural caciques took the initiative to cut salaries. The peasantry’s situation returned to more or less what it had been prior to 1930.

However, neither the workers in the countryside nor the cities were going to retreat. The years of struggle had given them a more acute and accentuated class consciousness. When the state tried to crush them, their response was agitation, strikes, and sabotage; confrontations between peasants and police; the construction workers strike in Madrid, where the CNT began to place itself on equal footing with the UGT and the forty-four hour workweek was secured (paying forty-eight); the metalworkers’ strike in the same city; and shootouts between Falange and workers’ groups. The question of the political prisoners came up in Parliament. The Rightwing was in a rush to pardon the leaders of the on August 10, 1932 rebellion (Sanjurjo and others) as well as various financiers imprisoned for the capital evasion. Amnesty was proposed as a way to resolve their situation, which would also benefit many workers arrested during the revolt in December 1933.

The amnesty decree was approved in late April 1934. The President of the Republic was willing to pardon Sanjurjo and other leaders of the 1932 rebellion, but refused to restore them to their posts. This caused a governmental crisis, which was quickly resolved when Lerroux was replaced by the president’s right-hand man, the lawyer from Valencia, Ricardo Samper (April 28, 1934).

An apparently insignificant event occurred around the same time: Monarchists Antonio Goicoechea, General Barrera, Rafael Olazábal, and Antonio Lizarza traveled to Italy to meet with Mussolini and Italo Balbo, the Italian Minister of War. Together they decided to organize a coup in Spain that would abolish the Republic and restore the Monarchy. The Italian government gave the conspirators 1,500,000 pesetas to begin preparations. Mussolini’s support for the plan reflected his desire to control the Balearic Islands and thus close England and France’s maritime passage.

Durruti and his prison mates left the Burgos prison when the government proclaimed amnesty. Durruti needed to return to Barcelona immediately, but lacked the funds to make the trip. Ramón Alvarez, a young Asturian—who, despite his youth, was Secretary of the CNT’s Asturian Regional Committee and had gone to prison in that capacity in December—gave Durruti what money he had, while he waited for the Asturians to send him some cash so he could get back to Gijón, his place of residence. [396]

CHAPTER XVIII. The general strike in Zaragoza

Durruti left Burgos with the comrades from Zaragoza who had been imprisoned with him (Ejarque, Joaquín Ascaso, the Alcrudo brothers, etc) and they paid a visit to local militants when they stopped in the capital of Aragón. They could see the effects of the general strike declared in solidarity with the prisoners as soon as they set foot in the Zaragoza train station. The unions said that the strike would last until the government freed everyone detained for the December events and, since there were still militants in prison, the strike continued. Nothing functioned in the city except vital services like hospitals, dairies, and bakeries. All the other branches of production were suspended, including lighting and public services like garbage collection. Zaragoza seemed like a city under siege, but there was enormous enthusiasm among the workers. The CNT in other parts of the country offered to send shipments of food, but the Aragónians rejected this and only agreed, after much insistence from Francisco Ascaso, to let CNT members elsewhere care for their children.

When Durruti arrived, some Barcelona militants were already there, organizing the shipment of youngsters to the Catalan capital. There was a group from Madrid as well, which would also take responsibility for a large number of the strikers’ children. After meeting with the CNT men from Catalonia, Durruti went to Barcelona to prepare the children’s reception. During the trip, Durruti read the underground paper that Barcelona’s Local Federation of Anarchist Groups published as a substitute for the banned Tierra y Libertad. Its description of the situation in Barcelona reminded him of the worst times of Anido and Arlegui:

The Catalan prisons are packed with inmates, who are treated terribly. Rojas the executioner has returned to run Barcelona’s Modelo prison. Our newspapers are banned, and so Solidaridad Obrera and Tierra y Libertad can’t reach the working masses. Police raid our editorial offices. They arrest magazine editors and staff. Authorities fined Tierra y Libertad’s supplement [a theoretical magazine] five thousand pesetas for no reason at all. They outlaw CNT unions. Cafes and bars where comrades meet are now “secret meeting places.”

Thugs and police hunt down FAI and CNT militants with unprecedented ruthlessness. Militants suffer brutal beatings in the police stations. Police searches and frisks after the recent holdups outrage even the most spineless.

Authorities hold our comrades for a handful of days at whim. Our female comrades go to prison for minor offensives. All of this occurs in Catalonia, under the aegis of Luis I, President of the autonomous Catalan government.

What should we do? We have to respond from the underground into which the Generalitat has forced us. The illegal publication of this newspaper is the beginning of our response to the threats made by Catalan authorities, who say that they’re ready to exterminate us. The FAI begins a new revolutionary stage with this publication. Comrades should distribute it in the factories, workshops, workers’ neighborhoods, and in every workplace. We don’t like caverns and prefer to propagate our ideas in sunlight but, since we’ve been forced underground, we go there with faith in victory, enthusiasm, selflessness, and confidence in our strength and the righteousness of the working class’s daily struggle for bread and freedom.[397]

Reading that article, Durruti must have thought of the hypocrisy of politicians. Durruti had conspired with Francesc Macià in Brussels and France and on multiple occasions had provided the old Catalanist with resources that he needed. During Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship, the Solidarios acquired weapons for the Catalanists who were now beating CNT men in the police stations. Macià reached the height of political theatricality when he and Durruti were both at a rally in Lérida shortly after the proclamation of the Republic. Hugging him, he tearfully said: “In you I embrace all the anarchists who fought so valiantly for the Republic!” A few days after this emotional outburst, the Generalitat’s autonomous police attacked the 1931 May Day demonstration. They had even had the nerve to declare that it was impossible to clean up the repressive forces because Catalans still lacked full self-government. Of course, the enactment of the Catalan Autonomy Statue did not stop authorities from hounding the CNT with unprecedented severity (and this, for an organization with an endless history of persecution). Durruti was shocked to see his daughter Colette when he returned to his home on Fresser Street. He hadn’t been able to watch her grow or learn to walk or speak, and now she was talking, running around, and infusing everything with her little girl’s joyousness.

The pleasures of home did not last long. That very night several comrades came to talk with him and the subject of government repression dominated their conversation. They told him about the loss of two good friends at the hands of the police. One was Bruno Alpini, an Italian comrade who Durruti had met in Belgium. He worked as a shoemaker on Rogent Street, not far from Durruti’s home, and Mimi used to take shoes to him for repair. Bruno’s activities in Barcelona had more to do with Italy than Spain: he sustained contacts with the comrades living under Mussolini’s regime and provided them with weapons and other types of support. His elimination was inexplicable unless Italian and Catalan authorities were working together and had decided to kill Bruno because of his revolutionary efforts against the Italian fascist government. Whatever the reason, Bruno was arrested at work around 9:00 in the morning and found dead at 11:00 that evening on Cruz Cubierta Street with six bullets lodged in his head and one in the nape of his neck. The newspapers published a police statement that said the following: “Bruno Alpini, a thirty year old Italian from Milan, was arrested while carrying out a robbery. He resisted, but police were able to capture him. He tried to escape when they were taking him to the Police Station and it was then that the unfortunate accident of his death occurred.” It was the same excuse as always: the “ ley de fugas.”

The incident did not end with Bruno Alpini’s murder. A young militant from the Manufacturing and Textile Workers’ Union who went by the name “El Cèntim” was a good friend of Aplini’s and wanted to avenge his death by assassinating Miguel Badía, the General Commissioner of Public Order. “El Cèntim” knew that Badía frequented a cabaret on the Paralelo and waited for him one night at the cabaret’s exit. He tried to fire his pistol at the person he held responsible for Alpini’s death, but unfortunately “El Cèntim” did not accomplish his aim; Badía’s numerous guards protected their patron and shot down the assailant, leaving him dead in the street. [398]

These constant losses enraged Durruti. He had a generous spirit and formed strong bonds with his friends and comrades, despite his reputation for cruelty, which was cultivated so assiduously by the bourgeois press. Durruti repudiated violence and never used it willingly; he only accepted it as a last resort and something that had to be applied as carefully as possible. Nonetheless, that night his gestures and demeanor suggested that he would have destroyed Badía if he could have laid a hand on him.

One of the first things Durruti did in Barcelona was discuss the situation in Zaragoza with the CNT Regional Committee, whose Secretary happened to be Francisco Ascaso. For the moment, there was nothing they could do but attend to the thousands of children that were about to arrive. Barcelona’s population had responded enthusiastically to the CNT’s call for solidarity; more than twenty-five thousand came to Solidaridad Obrera’s editorial office and pledged their willingness to take in the youngsters. This was the second time that a fraternal demonstration of this type had occurred in Spain. The first was in 1917 during the long Riotinto miners strike, although now the magnitude of the act was much greater, given that Zaragoza was a large city.

Ascaso told Durruti that they were likely to have problems with the Catalan authorities. For them, it was a slap in the face that the CNT—which they were persecuting and had forced underground—could still mobilize the Barcelona population so dramatically. When the Barcelona City Council found out that the CNT was preparing to receive the Zaragoza children, it sent a representative to the local Aragónian Community Center to say that the Generalitat would take care of the youngsters. CNT militants and sympathizers were a majority on the Aragónian Community Center’s administrative council and the group had already voted to support the Confederation’s initiative. They told the Generalitat’s spokesperson that “Aragónians living in Barcelona have a responsibility to help their striking compatriots and fully intend to honor it.” It was the Generalitat’s interference that made Ascaso think that authorities would devise something to try to stop that act of workers’ solidarity. Durruti reproached him for his skepticism and told him that would be too outrageous.

Durruti explained the problems that he was having finding work. Ascaso said that he would put him in contact with comrades from the Food Workers’ Union. With the arrival of summer, they could get him a job as a seasonal worker in one of the two beer factories (“Damm” or “Moritz.”) They agreed to meet the following day, May 6, in the Soli office. The families that were going to care for the Zaragoza children had been told to gather there that day as well.

That May 6 was a Sunday. The expedition was due to arrive at 6:00 in the evening, but by 4:00 pm there were so many people there that it was impossible to take a step on Consejo de Ciento Street or the block holding the Soli editorial office. More than twenty-five thousand people had come to receive the children. Women and youngsters were everywhere; militants had brought their whole families in order to emphasize that day’s fraternal and comradely character.

At 6:00 in the evening, a CNT activist announced over a loudspeaker that the children had been significantly delayed because the residents of several towns along the way insisted on greeting them and expressing their support for the strikers. The expedition was now scheduled to arrive around nine. Many of those waiting decided to stay where they were, for fear of losing their place near the building’s entrance. The size of the crowd remained essentially unchanged.

The expedition was not there at 9:00 pm. Several CNT taxi drivers became suspicious and set off in their cars to find it. It was nearing 10:00 pm and there was still no news. People were wondering about the delay when a cavalry squad of Security Guards appeared out of nowhere and began to charge on their horses, shouting “Clear the area!” The crowd contracted into itself and women and children cried out. The men, fearing the worst, tried to protect their compañeras and sons and daughters by surrounding them and turning their backs to the Guards. The horsemen advanced, knocking people down and stomping them. There was tremendous shouting. A representative from the Aragónian Community Center, foreseeing a massacre, urged everyone to stay calm. Another member of the same group tried to speak with the Guards, but firecrackers suddenly started exploding everywhere. As if that were a sign, the Security Guards redoubled their attacks.

A large number of Assault Guards emerged from nearby vans and joined in. With truncheons in hand, they begin to attack without concern for the numerous women and children present. There were scenes of unbelievable sadism. The men did their best to sustain the protective cordon around their families while the guards mercilessly pounded on their backs.

The yelling and children’s screams mixed into a horrendous sound. It seemed like an inferno. The level of terror increased when the Assault Guards began to fire their pistols. A space began to clear and bodies were visible on the ground. There were several injured and one dead person. Some guards grabbed the leg of the corpse and threw it into the middle of the street. Ascaso watched this unimaginable brutality from the balcony of the Soli office.

He was absolutely enraged. Durruti, at his side, regretted chastising Ascaso for his suspicions the previous day. But what to do? The people’s response was more instinctual than reasoned. Those forming the human wall against the police valiantly endured the onslaught, which enabled the women and children to move to a safer space. Later, those remaining decided to stop passively accepting the blows and attacked the guards en masse. The guards were surprised and withdrew, although not without first taking some well- directed swipes. [399]

People spontaneously went toward the city center, forcing the streetcars, metros, and buses to come to a standstill. They set streetcars alight and attacked a police station, causing the police to flee through the windows. Workers declared a general strike that night, which would last until May 12. Proletarian Barcelona unanimously showed its disdain for the authorities. But where were the children? During the tumult, one of the taxi drivers had been able get to the Soli office and let them know what had happened in Molins de Rei, near Barcelona. The Public Order Station, determined to prevent that expression of proletarian solidarity, mobilized several companies of Assault Guards, who blocked the numerous buses carrying the youngsters. The residents of the town struggled with them, but the Guards managed to carry out their orders and divert the caravan to Tarrasa, where they intended to hold the children. Ascaso, Durruti, and other comrades set off at once for Tarrasa. When they got there, they found that the town’s anarchist groups had already mobilized. Everyone went to the esplanade where the buses were parked and under armed guard. Durruti and Ascaso immediately walked toward them, protected by local workers. When they reached the first bus, they shouted to the driver: “The last stop is the CNT. Quickly, to Barcelona!”

The people of Tarrasa joined the children in the buses. The taxi carrying Durruti and Ascaso placed itself at the head of the caravan. That night, the children from the Zaragoza slept soundly in the designated proletarian homes in Barcelona.

CHAPTER XIX. A historic meeting between the CNT and Companys

Scholars of this extremely agitated period in Spain’s history have passed over this meeting between the CNT and Generalitat President Lluís Companys. Indeed, we have never seen it cited and were ourselves unaware of it for a time. We learned of the meeting only by chance, while reading the CNT’s underground publications from the era.

There is an article on page three of the first issue of La Voz Confederal, (dated June 2, 1934) entitled “Report on the meeting between the President of the Generalitat and comrades Sanz, Isgleas, García Oliver, Herreros, and Carbó, representatives of the CNT’s Catalan Regional Confederation.”

The meeting took place on Wednesday May 9, 1934, three days after the brutal attack described in the previous chapter. Had the encounter been arranged before or after those events? We don’t know. We also do not know if a CNT regional gathering had mandated the meeting or if it was arranged by militants in some other capacity, although it is notable that Ascaso, the Regional Committee’s Secretary, did not participate. A curious fact about the comrades meeting with Company stands out: all except for Ricardo Sanz were Catalan (Sanz was from Valencia). Was this an attempt to show Companys that the CNT’s leading men were not Murcianos, as the Catalanist newspapers of the Esquerra and the Estat Català continually claimed? Possibly. And it might have also been a way to appeal to Companys’s nationalism and thus strengthen their position in the discussion. Whatever the case, their effort was doomed to fail at the outset. The conflicts between the CNT and the Catalan government were equally or even more severe than those between it and the Madrid government. There was a social war between authority—the government—and the freedom represented by the CNT, an organization created by the working class to destroy capitalism and the state. There can be no understanding between enemies of this sort. A brief truce is the very most that can be expected.

Before examining the meeting, we should point out several things. One issue pertains to García Oliver, whom we saw distance himself from Durruti and Ascaso during the discussion of the December 8, 1933 rebellion. By this time, Ascaso and Durruti functioned as a pair, whereas there is a vacuum with respect to García Oliver’s activity. We wonder if his participation in the meeting with Companys indicates that he was moving away from his earlier revolutionary positions, given that it went against the prevailing current of opinion within the CNT and FAI. There is no evidence of objections to the meeting in the CNT, but a careful reading of the editorial in the fourth issue of FAI (June 1934) suggests some discord. The title is suggestive: “Warning, a yellow traffic light!” It discusses disagreements within the CNT and the Esquerra’s continued efforts to recruit CNT activists. It also underscored the brusque change within the Socialists, who seemed to wink at the CNT as they talked about “social revolution.” The piece says:

“Warning! The traffic signal is turning from yellow to incandescent red! It’s time to expose the loafer, the opportunist, and the informer, who hide behind their bureaucratic positions and leaderesque vanities.” In another article, while discussing the last meeting of anarchist groups in Catalonia, the paper declared:

The FAI has embarked on a new stage of its revolutionary journey in Barcelona and its effects will soon be felt. The recent signs of revisionism in the Confederation should prompt all anarchists to be vigilant. The FAI will know how to carry out its duty with regard to such things...

Nevertheless, the publication also carried an optimistic piece titled “Salutation.” It noted that the FAI had urged the CNT to print underground propaganda to ensure that the workers were not left without guidance. Welcoming the CNT’s decision to do so, FAI wrote: “Clearly our call resonated in Confederal circles, given the appearance of La Voz Confederal, the underground publication of the unions in the Catalan Region. We send a fraternal greeting to the paper from the pages of FAI.”

It appears that the matter of the CNT’s legality was what the delegates hoped to resolve at their meeting with Companys in May. Their effort, as we will see, failed and the CNT remained underground. We will look at the May 9 meeting.

There is a preliminary note in the account of the meeting printed in La Voz Confederal specifying that the meeting with Companys was arranged between him and the CNT as an organization. It is important to bear this in mind to understand the attitude that Companys adopted. He stated that “as a representative of the government, he could not have a dialogue with delegates of an illegal organization, which would be a clear contradiction in terms.” The CNT activists responded “that they were authorized by the Regional Committee to speak in its name and, since they were not accepted as such, they considered the meeting over.” Apparently their attitude “caused an abrupt and clear change in Companys.” He stated: “Evidently, you’re accustomed to playing with words and making them a matter of the utmost importance.” They replied that it was not a question of words but of something substantive, to which he responded: “OK, since words aren’t the important point, we will forget the issue. I receive you as representatives of the CNT.”

The meeting lasted two hours. According to La Voz Confederal, the CNT men gave Companys “a detailed statement, explaining that the government’s ruthless actions against the Confederation are making its life impossible.” A key issue was clarifying why there was such an acute difference in how authorities treated the CNT nationally and how they treated it in Catalonia, and even a difference in how they treated it in the rest of Catalonia and Barcelona. In other parts of Spain or the three Catalan provinces, the government might close a union, but never as completely and permanently as in Barcelona. The pretext for banning the CNT in Barcelona was that it did not submit to the law of April 8, although that was patently absurd. The CNT did not submit to that law anywhere. On the contrary, it continued to abide by the 1876 Law of Associations, which the government had not repealed and remained in vigor. Indeed, Interior Minister Casares Quiroga publicly admitted that it was not obligatory to observe the law of April 8: “If they consider it more consistent with their interests, the unions can follow the 1876 Law of Associations, which was reinforced by the August 6, 1906 decree and which has not been annulled.” According to the CNT representatives, Companys “claimed that he was unaware of these things and limited himself to taking note.”

They also protested the practice of the “ ley de fugas” and the harassment and suspension of the workers’ newspapers. Lluís Companys again limited himself to “taking note” when they raised these issues.

At the end of the meeting, he declared that “he had heard the CNT’s complaints with pleasure, due to the frankness with which they had been expressed.”

On May 12, the Generalitat sent a note to the press, stating:

The President informed the government about the complaints made by members of the CNT, who assert that they receive an inferior treatment in Catalonia as compared to that applied to them by Republican authorities elsewhere. The government does not know how it could improve its treatment of citizens or socio-political organizations, because it has no directive other than the law, within which it hopes all can co-exist, without the need to force them to do so. The government protects all ideologies within the legal framework, without distinctions or exceptions of any sort. But we cannot make deals or accord special treatment to any group, as this would undermine the authority and prestige of the state, which is a direct expression of the free and articulated will of the people.

Consequently, the government sees no reason to change its conduct and will continue as before. It will fulfill its duty and act in the interest of the moral and effective defense of autonomous Catalonia and the democratic Republic.[400]

If the CNT men had hoped that Companys might alter the government’s stance toward their organization, they must have been discouraged after reading the above statement. The Generalitat made it clear that it would not modify its posture, which was a duty to the “moral and effective defense of autonomous Catalonia and the democratic Republic.” Did autonomous Catalonia really demand that the government fight a war against the CNT? Or was it actually imposed by Miguel Badía and Josep Dencàs, who held the Esquerra and Lluís Companys as captives?

Events demonstrate that it was Badía and Dencàs who dominated Catalan politics at the time. These two individuals—founders of a fascist ideology that lived off Catalan ultra-nationalism—wanted nothing less than to establish an authoritarian regime that would militarize life in region. It is safe to assume—given what was later learned about Josep Dencàs and Mussolini’s penetration into Spain through the island of Majorca—that Dencàs was operating under the guidance of Mussolini’s agents and attempting to destroy the workers’ movement and push Companys into taking impossible positions on Catalan independence.

Did Companys know that he was a pawn of the Estat Català? Possibly. This would explain his frenzied attempt to create his own “escamots” during those months. He entrusted that mission to Catalanist deputy Graus Jassaus—soon to be Badía’s victim—who understood that Companys wanted to free himself of the burden of the rightwing Catalanists.

Catalan authorities’ preoccupation with these power struggles in the region made it impossible for them to institute reforms that might mitigate the suffering caused by the deep economic crisis. The CNT denounced the mediocrity of Catalan politics and the dirty game played by its leaders, but couldn’t do more than take swipes. The government’s permanent crackdown on the CNT was not a secret to anyone and was in fact a product of Catalan politics itself. Manuel Cruells brings this out clearly when he writes:

The Esquerra had profoundly mediocre goals and plans, which it tried to conceal by feeding demagogic propaganda to the Catalan masses. That is why the autonomous Catalan government turned toward a more verbal than genuine nationalism, on the part of its followers within the ruling party and Dencàs’s “escamots.” It also turned, as a counter-weight, toward a novecentista[401] democratic republicanism, which was a little imprecise and exaggerated for President Companys’s followers.... The period between Macià’s death [December 25, 1933] and the events of October is marked politically by inflammatory ultra-nationalism from the ruling party and by a confrontation, also a little demagogic, between the “rabassaire” [small tenant farmer] agrarian movement and the large Catalan landowners. These two currents, opposed since time immemorial within the same governmental party, became perfect allies when the conflict pit the autonomous government against the central government, thanks to imprudent acts of both.[402]

Cruells take us to the heart of the problems weighing on the Generalitat at the time. They will be the cause of the events on October 6.

On April 12, 1934, the Generalitat enacted a law on agricultural contracts [ Llei de Contractes de Conreu], which the Catalan Parliament approved. This law changed how land was rented and benefited the so-called “rabassaires” (renters, medium sized landholders, etc.). [403] The Lliga Catalana—the party of the large Catalan bourgeoisie that Cambó led—pushed the large landowners to appeal the law in the Spanish Republic’s Tribunal of Constitutional Guarantees, which they forced to determine whether or not the Generalitat had authority to legislate on such matters. On June 8, the Tribunal of Constitutional Guarantees declared that the law approved by the Catalan Parliament was null and void.

Catalans saw the Madrid government’s annulment of this law as an attack on their sovereign authority, although in reality the central government had merely bestowed “autonomy” to Catalonia. We have pointed out how vehement Catalan nationalism had become, and this helps explain the Catalans’ response. Lluís Companys, pressured by the ultras, replaced the Catalan Interior Minister (Joan Selvás), who was seen as too moderate, with Josep Dencàs, a proto-fascist Catalan nationalist. He made this change on June 10, two days after the ruling from the Tribunal of Constitutional Guarantees. Companys then presented a new law to the Catalan Parliament on June 12, which was a verbatim reproduction of the law contested by the central government. It was approved. Esquerra Republicana deputies withdrew from the Spanish Parliament to show that a battle with Madrid had begun. The Generalitat was at war with the central government from then on and carried out a jingoistic campaign designed to win the multitudes over to its cause. To do so, it had to discredit the CNT and undermine the workers’ faith in the organization. That is the source of its persistent claims about the CNT’s “banditry,” the FAI’s “Murciano” composition, and the endless slanderous clichés that filled the Catalanist press at the time.

CHAPTER XX. From the damm boycott to the cells of the headquarters

Durruti had been intensely active since returning to Barcelona in May 1934, in the CNT unions as well as FAI groups. His activist commitments and need to look for a job made it impossible for him to carry on a normal life in the way that it is commonly imagined when one is in a couple and has a child. It is thus difficult to say much about Durruti’s family life, but we can offer a few anecdotes, which help give a human dimension to his personality. In his daily behavior, Durruti had overcome many of the customs of Spanish men in relation to women. Since he was blacklisted by the bourgeoisie, it was Mimi who bore the burden of household expenses by working as a box office clerk in a cinema or in the “chain” of metallurgic or textile factories. Durruti did his best to care for their little girl and attend to the home. It was not unusual for his frequent visitors to find him in the kitchen wearing an apron or bathing Colette while singing her a children’s or revolutionary song with his deep voice. His comrades often asked if Mimi was sick when they found him doing these things. In such instances, he would say sarcastically: “When the woman is working and the man isn’t, the man is the woman of the house. When will you stop thinking like the bourgeoisie, that women are men’s servants? It’s enough that society is divided into classes. We’re not going to make even more classes by creating differences between men and women in our own homes!” [404]

These exchanges took place repeatedly, although things were different with his closer friends, particularly Ascaso. During the latter’s visits, the two men spoke while Durruti peeled potatoes or cleaned beans. Ascaso, like his other intimates, knew him well enough not to be surprised by his behavior. Durruti was characteristically optimistic, although he went through a period of depression during this time. He was not happy with how things were going within the CNT. He was also frustrated with militants who, in his opinion, did not work hard enough to educate themselves and learn about events, which he thought was essential if activists were to be well-rounded. In his case, he tried to read publications from diverse political tendencies, in Spanish as well as French. His wide-ranging reading was apparent in letters that he sent to his brother Pedro, especially when he reflected on problems like the war, which seemed like as an imminent threat on the world horizon. Durruti’s will to overcome and sharp intuition gave him an intellectual equilibrium that revealed itself during discussions of topics like Catalanism or the Workers’ Alliance, which was promoted by the Socialists at the time. But he was never opportunistic: he grasped reality and tried to impose anarchism on it, always conscious of the historical role that anarchists had to play. For him, labor activism was simply an instrument of the struggle, into which one had to constantly inject a political stimulus to prevent it from stagnating in economic reformism. As he understood it, that was the anarchists’ specific task. Durruti did everything he could to bring that revolutionary perspective to the workers’ movement and help it evolve into a conscious, revolutionary force capable of abolishing wage labor and destroying capitalism. In theory, at least, that was the CNT’s goal although sometimes it contradicted itself in practice, such as by holding the lamentable meeting with Companys. On the topic, Durruti said:

Why did we fight “the Thirty” if we’re also practicing “thirty-ism”? Isn’t it a form of “thirty-ism” to complain to Companys about the fact that we’re persecuted? What’s the difference between Companys, Casares Quiroga, and Maura? Aren’t they all declared enemies of the working class? Aren’t they all bourgeois? They persecute us. Yes, of course they do. We’re a threat to the system that they represent. If we don’t want them to harass us, then we should just submit to their laws, integrate ourselves into their system, and bureaucratize ourselves to the marrow. They we can be perfect traitors to the working class, like the Socialists and everyone else who lives at workers’ expense.

They won’t bother us if we do that. But do we really want to become that? No. We have to draw on our creative imagination. Our strength lay in our capacity to resist. They may weaken us, but we’ll never fold. Blunders like the one made could turn us into political opportunists, into that something we don’t want to be.[405]

Durruti believed that extraordinary times lay ahead and knew that they had to prepare for them. The working class would not generate these new conflicts; they would emerge from the very complexities of Spanish society itself, whose clashing internal contradictions would reveal the bitter antagonisms between the social classes. The socio-political crisis was imminent for Durruti and, if revolutionaries weren’t ready to confront it, they would not only lose a unique opportunity to make a revolution in Spain, but the working class might also suffer a terrible defeat. He concluded that they had to devise a strategy of gunpowder and men, one capable of shutting down the bourgeoisie. “Our methods,” he said, “may change at times, but our strikes must always weaken the enemy and strengthen the working class.” Of course 342

Durruti was not content with mere theorizing, but jumped at any opportunity to practice his ideals. He demonstrated this during the Damm boycott.

Durruti had been unemployed since returning from Burgos. Ascaso suggested that he go to the Food Workers’ Union and join the “work pool” there, which he did. The summer season started in late May and the beer factories had begun operating at full capacity. They divided the day into three, eight-hour work-shifts, but they still needed additional “seasonal” personnel. Durruti was among the first group of “seasonals” sent by the Food Workers’ Union to the Damm Factory. However, when the men arrived, they were dismayed to discover that management agreed to hire all of them except Durruti. What to do? They immediately considered going on strike, but Durruti suggested another tactic that would be much more effective: a boycott of Damm’s products. The workers would continue producing, but—if the boycott was well-orchestrated—the company would be unable to sell its goods. That is exactly what happened. In fact, the action was so popular that not only were Damm’s products boycotted in Barcelona, but port workers also refused to load them onto ships and transporters declined to ferry them around the country. The beer-maker finally gave in and negotiated a contract with the Food Workers’ Union in April 1935 that ended the boycott. The contract won eight months of back pay for the unions’ workers and required that the company reimburse the union for the costs of union propaganda and lawyers’ fees (incurred while they defended workers charged with sabotage). This unmitigated victory inspired the Moritz beer workers to demand salary increases and better working conditions, both of which they received immediately.

The political situation was becoming explosive when the Damm boycott was declared, particularly because of the Rightwing’s policies toward the peasantry and battles over the law on agricultural contracts. Social relations in the countryside—especially in Andalusia—were increasingly conflicted. The Federation of Land Workers, which was a UGT affiliate but in open rebellion against the organization’s national leadership, declared a general strike in June. Authorities threatened strike leaders with prison, but they carried on nonetheless. The strike was general in Jaén, Granada, Cáceres, Badajoz, and Ciudad Real, and partial in Córdoba and Toledo. CNT peasants used the action as an opportunity to strengthen their ties with the UGT workers and a grassroots peasant alliance emerged, just as the anarchists had wanted. This united front from below—formed directly by the peasant workers themselves—frightened Largo Caballero. He criticized the peasant leaders harshly, alleging that the strike weakened the workers’ capacity to participate in the Socialist Party’s revolutionary plans. However, what actually scared Largo Caballero was not the erosion of strength—a debatable assertion—but the formation of a rank and file worker-peasant alliance outside the normal channels of union bureaucracy. If workers did the same thing elsewhere, their grassroots initiative would overwhelm the Socialist bureaucrats and disrupt their conspiratorial plans. That was the real source of the Socialist leader’s fear.

In the heat of these events, the CNT National Committee called a national meeting of regionals for June 23 in Madrid. In anticipation of the meeting, it urged regional Confederations to study the issue of the Workers’ Alliance.

Although they had been forced to hold the regional meeting in Catalonia clandestinely, the organizers tried to make it as representative as possible. Durruti played an important in preparations for the gathering. Following the example set by the Andalusian peasants and others, attendees decided to challenge the UGT and created Alliance Committees on workers’ foundations. They absolutely discarded any agreement with the UGT that was not premised on their February call for a revolutionary workers’ alliance. The regional meeting nominated Durruti, Ascaso, and Eusebio Carbó to defend these positions.

There was an important disagreement between the Asturian Regional and rest of the country at the national meeting, although we should note that the Center Regional defended Asturias (without agreeing to its position). The source of the disagreement lay in the fact that CNT militants in Asturias had formed some alliances with the UGT in their region and allowed the Asturian Socialist Federation to become a signer of their accord. Critics reproached them for the following reasons:

a) The UGT had not responded to the call made to it in February and the CNT needed to maintain a coherent position as a whole. Asturias weakened the CNT nationally by forming an independent alliance with the UGT.

b) A workers’ alliance between the two labor organizations is positive, but why include the Asturian Socialist Federation?

c) Such an alliance made it easier for UGT leaders to demand that the CNT sign an accord in which the Socialist Party plays a role. That would be a repetition of the errors of the 1917 alliance.

In essence, they told the Asturians that even though the exceptional conditions they faced might justify an alliance, the presence of the Asturian Socialist Federation would limit its effectiveness and have a negative impact on the CNT nationally. (The behavior of the Austurian Socialist Federation during later events in October will reveal the correctness of this assertion.) Given the serious debates at the meeting, and the heavy charges leveled against the Asturians, we will conclude our account of this CNT meeting with the Asturian delegate’s summary:

After assessing the rebellion in Aragón, which only had weak echoes in other parts of Spain, there was a passionate debate about the Worker Alliance. Some reproached our Regional for signing a pact with the UGT in March. There were desperate attempts to find common ground and erase or at least ease the tensions, but the disagreements were more powerful than the generous efforts of Durruti, Ascaso, Orobón Fernández, Ejarque, Servent, and Martínez (to mention only a few). The national meeting could only agree that a national deliberation on the matter would determine, by means of a vote, the CNT’s position on this issue.

The meeting sent the following mandate to the National Committee: it was to call a national conference of unions within the three months and the decisions made there would be binding for all regionals. Asturias would rescind the alliance agreement, if that was the freely expressed will of the majority of the CNT. Or, if the conference supports the Asturian position, the Workers’ Alliance, which was previously not valid outside our region, would then become national.

The revolution of October exploded three months after the meeting. Since the national conference of unions had not occurred, we alone remain responsible for our intervention in the Asturias rebellion, even if everyone has suffered the consequences of the failure.[406]

When the national meeting ended, the Catalan delegates returned to Barcelona and reported to a clandestine regional meeting. Everyone could see that the police commanded by the ruling Esquerra Republicana continued their persecution of the CNT. They became even more severe after Dencàs occupied the Catalan Interior Ministry on June 10.

The Esquerra was creating a volatile environment in Catalonia by exasperating its conflicts with the central government. It repeatedly declared that it would defend Catalan liberties with arms in hand. However, while it raved about Catalan freedoms, the working class—of which sixty percent belonged to the CNT—did not even enjoy the right of assembly. Propaganda and reality were at odds. If Companys hoped to attract the workers to his party, his strategy was a disaster: he would not appeal to the workers by trying to disassociate them from an organization that fought for their interests so resolutely. A Catalanist revolt forged in such a way was destined to fail. The full “complexity” of this Socialist-Catalan conspiracy will probably never come to light, for the simple reason that its principle protagonists are those most interested in concealing the history of an uprising conceived by strategists who took their desires for reality.

The Socialist Party’s defeat in the November elections ignited a collision between the antagonistic tendencies within the party. Each one provided its own analysis of the fiasco.

After a vigorous internal struggle, the SP decided upon on a revolutionary action program in January 1934 (which El Liberal first revealed two years later). Its goal was to force the Right from power and put itself in its place. Their program did not anticipate any alliances: the revolution would be the work of the UGT and the Socialist Party alone. The conspirators drafted their battle plan on that assumption, which helps explain why they did not respond to the CNT’s February 1934 call for a revolutionary alliance. What was the relationship between the Catalan conspirators and the Socialists in July 1934? There was a conversation between SP men and Companys’s representative in Madrid (Lluhí), in which Lluhí told the Socialist Party that the Catalans had no intention of handing over power if the Madrid government declared a state of emergency. But, otherwise, there is reason to think that the Socialists—especially after their electoral defeat—would have been supportive of the Catalans. In reality, the Catalans did not figure into their plans, for the simple reason that factoring in the Catalans would have required that they deal with the CNT, the only serious force in the struggle in Barcelona. This enables us to conclude that the Catalan revolt being planned, as well as the appearance of a Worker Alliance in the region—based of the Bloc Obrer i Camperol had no relation to the Socialists’ designs on power.

Although the Socialist Party had summarized its aims in a program that they would implement if they took power, they hadn’t set the date for their rebellion. The Socialists ultimately decided that they would set off the revolt as soon as the CEDA joined the government. That was a good pretext, because the CEDA’s entrance into the government would violate the constitution, given that it had not declared its support for the Republic.

José María Gil Robles, the key man in this period, understood that he alone would determine whether or not the Socialists rose up. It was important for Gil Robles to have the initiative, because it permitted him to plot his march to power in the best possible conditions. His first step was to leave the Lerrouxistas—who were busy abolishing the few positive reforms achieved during the previous biennium—which he imagined would allow the CEDA to appear untainted in the eyes of the public.

Ricardo Samper’s clumsy handling of the Catalan problem complicated things. And they became even more complicated when the Treasury Minister tried to institute a new tax policy in the Basque region, which reduced the already scarce liberties possessed by the Basque peoples. In response, the municipalities denied power to the provincial Deputations and elected Management Boards that would take responsibility for collecting and administering taxes (August 12). [407] The Madrid government retaliated by declaring those elections illegal. Just like in Catalonia, the government transformed an administrative problem into a political one.

With the Basque and Catalan crises, the situation was becoming uncontrollable. It would only take a spark to set off a widespread revolt. Meanwhile, on the other side of Europe, important things were happening in Russia that would have a significant impact in Spain. The Communist International began to make a turn, which was a prelude to what would become the theory of the Popular Front a year later. We will explore the reasons for this change below, but here it is important to note that on May 31 the French Communist Party got the green light to form alliances with those who had previously been its enemy: the reformist socialists and French parliamentarians, whom they had labeled “social-fascists” before. French Socialists and Communists signed an agreement calling for mutual respect. The Spanish Communists received the same orders as the French and, to ingratiate themselves with the Socialists, hurried to bury their past antagonism.

Before August, when the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) began its turn, the party had very limited influence. It did not win even one deputy’s seat in the 1931 elections and won only one in 1933 (this candidate did not run in the party’s name and his victory was a result of his personal popularity in workers’ circles). It is difficult to specify the PCE’s size, but it probably had less than ten thousand members, which is a laughable number, considering that the CNT had 1,200,000 members and the high degree of politicization among Spanish workers generally.

Why did the Socialist Party allow the PCE to enter the Worker Alliance? The answer lay in the transformations that Largo Caballero experienced under the influence of Marxist-Leninists Alvarez del Vayo and Araquistáin. Likewise, the meager size of the Communist Party enabled Socialists to think that it would be a palatable traveling companion. Thus, on September 12, 1934, the Communists joined the Worker Alliance; a body whose name covered up the murky deal between the SP and PCE (that is, the Social Democrats of the Second International and the Stalinists of the Third International).

Gil Robles took the floor of the Parliament on October 1, 1934 and gave an ultimatum to Samper’s government. This triggered a ministerial crisis and, with it, the revolt. Everything indicates that Gil Robles consciously selected the date of his speech under the premise that if there had to be a rebellion, it would be best to provoke it. The Socialists fell into their own trap and aggravated their error even more by trying to save the legal aspect of their revolt, thus depriving themselves of their best chance of victory. After Gil Robles’s ultimatum and a suspension of the session, the government was in crisis.

If the Socialist Party had really wanted to seize power, it would have declared a general strike and unleashed the uprising on October 2. It would have recovered the initiative by doing so, since, in such conditions, Alcalá Zamora would not have agreed to the CEDA’s entrance into the government or, if he did, what the Socialists had been preventing—an alliance between the CNT and UGT—would have emerged spontaneously in the street. Perhaps that is why the SP and the UGT remained passive and waited for the CEDA to enter the government on October 4 before declaring a general strike. Whatever the case, what is certain is that General Franco officially entered the General Staff of the Army and the Socialist Party initiated a struggle that was over before it began.

CHAPTER XXI. October 6 in Barcelona: against whom?

The Socialist Party feared that CEDA leader Gil Robles would try to install fascism in Spain. Paradoxically, those protesting the fascist threat in September had been inactive on December 8, 1933 when CNT workers rose up in arms to confront that very danger and were massacred as a result. That would have been a good time to intervene, but the good Republicans and legalistic Socialists preferred to stay in the comfort of their homes, hoping that the CNT would do their dirty work for them or disintegrate in the process. Instead of supporting the CNT revolutionaries when the time was right, the more extreme Socialist leaders undertook an adventure of their own nearly one year later. Its goals will always remain a mystery.

The pervasive nationalist propaganda and Madrid’s annulment of the law on agricultural contracts had inflamed the Catalanists. They jumped on the bandwagon and enrolled in the Socialist Party’s uprising without knowing exactly what they wanted or where they were headed.

The Catalanists tried to seize the state from within the state. What did they pursue? Without a doubt, they wanted to establish a regime in Catalonia that would be truly catastrophic for the CNT, the labor organization controlling the vast majority of the Catalan working class. And how could revolutionaries respond? The fate of the Catalan October 6 lay in the response to this question.

We will briefly analyze the context of the Catalan revolt.

According to the Catalan Autonomy Statute, the Generalitat was not an independent government per se, but a relatively autonomous government whose powers had been delegated to it by Madrid. In this sense, the Generalitat was actually part of the central government. So, then, how can we define their peculiar rebellion? For Marcelino Domingo, “the Generalitat did not make a revolution, but rather a coup d’etat from within the state.” [408]

Historian Carlos Rama says that it was a “rebellion of an organ of the state against the state itself,” and adds that “it was neither separatist nor regionalist, because it linked itself with events unfolding nationally at the time.” [409] Indeed, we must place this revolt in the context of the Socialist’s rebellion against the CEDA’s entry into the government, although the difference between the two is that the Socialists wanted to take power while the Catalanists already had it. If the Socialists intended to reform the state in the ways outlined in their program, what did the Catalanists seek? “The men of the Generalitat did not want to make a social revolution. They limited themselves to a Republican-Liberal rebellion from power.” [410] And that is why the Catalan revolt will always be somewhat incomprehensible as a “revolutionary” action.

The CEDA matter was not what motivated the Generalitat to rise up, but rather the central government’s attack on what it regarded as Catalan sovereignty, particularly the annulment of the law on agricultural contracts. The fact that it would ultimately link its rebellion with the Socialists is incidental. In essence, the Catalanists wanted to enhance their autonomy or better affirm themselves in power. And that explains the ultra-nationalist “nosaltres sols” [411]

campaign used to secure or extend their public support. Lluís Companys’s comment to Doctor Soler i Pla after his October 6 proclamation is sufficiently expressive in this sense: “We’ve already proclaimed the Catalan state. You can’t accuse me of not being Catalanist enough. We’ll see what happens.” [412]

The Generalitat rebelled against the Madrid government and proclaimed the Catalan state on October 5, 1934. The Catalanists must have thought that Madrid and the CEDA would accept their uprising without violence. Otherwise, they would have immediately detained the army leaders and neutralized the troops in the region, while making an effort to win the latter over to their cause. They would have also formed citizens’ militias to defend Catalan borders. Amazingly, they did none of this. Instead, the Generalitat took very different measures which, as we will see, turned it into Gil Robles’s objective ally. They instituted in Catalonia what he wanted to institute—but still didn’t dare—in Spain as a whole.

On October 4, on the eve of the Socialist’s general strike, the Generalitat’s police arrested all the well-known CNT militants that they could find in their homes, including Buenaventura Durruti. The police took them to Police Headquarters on Vía Layetana and held them incommunicado in the building’s foul basements.

On Friday, October 5, the Worker Alliance—a conglomerate of small, essentially bureaucratic, and petty bourgeois parties or groups with limited popular influence and zero revolutionary predisposition [413] —declared a general strike. [414] The Generalitat’s police tried to enforce the strike by forming pickets at factory gates and stopping the workers from entering. This strike was a surprise for the CNT: no one had consulted the Confederation about the action and thus it found itself before a consummated event. CNT workers had never been strikebreakers and were inclined to support this one, although that was not because of the coercion exercised by the Assault Guards and “escamots.”

One of the first absurdities of this Catalan revolt is that while the Generalitat knew that the CNT controlled the lion’s share of Barcelona’s workers, it used its appendage, the Worker Alliance, to declare the general strike. Another absurdity is that authorities did not arrest military leaders with clear fascist leanings, but rather the most outstanding CNT and FAI activists. Why was it necessary to prevent the CNT from engaging in the rebellion, whose aims were a mystery to everyone? “Josep Dencàs, responding to the general sentiment in his political party and the Generalitat, began to restrain the CNT from the [Catalan] Interior Ministry. They feared that the anarchists would overwhelm the revolt if they participated and cause the Generalitat to lose its control as well as the political advantages that it hoped to extract.” [415] Cruells’s explanation is persuasive, particularly if we consider that Dencàs had worked to “restrain the CNT” long before the rebellion erupted: the Generalitat has been clamping down since September 1932 and increasingly after May 1934. That was when the CNT offered Companys a “truce.” As we know, Companys not only rejected the “truce” but also increased the pressure and even undertook the October adventures while the CNT’s unions were still closed.

But we continue with the events. Solidaridad Obrera appeared several hours late on October 6 due to delays caused by censors. Because of that, the CNT Regional Committee printed an illegal leaflet to help orient the Confederal workers:

Catalan Regional Confederation And Barcelona’s Local Federation Of Unions. To All The Workers, To The People In General!:

During these intensely agitated moments, when every popular force is in play, the Catalan Regional has to take part in the struggle in a way that corresponds to its revolutionary anarchist principles. A conflict battle has erupted and we are in the first stages of events that could determine our people’s future. Our response cannot be contemplative. We need strong and forceful action that will end the present state of affairs. These are not times to theorize, but to work, to work hard. Action from the revolutionary proletariat, making its decisions for itself. Vindication of our libertarian principles without the slightest involvement with the official institutions that reduce the people’s action to their own interests.

We must turn this morning’s rebellion into a popular movement through proletarian action, without accepting police protection and shame on those who allow and call for it. Authorities have bitterly stifled the CNT for some time now and it can no longer continue in the reduced space they mark out for it. We demand the right to take part in this struggle and we take it. We are the best obstacle to fascism and those who try to stop us from acting only help the fascists. We thus concentrate our forces and prepare for the coming battles.

Immediate instructions of the Catalan Regional Confederation: 1. Open our union halls at once and assemble the workers in the premises. 2. Articulate our anti-fascist libertarian principles in opposition to all authoritarian principles.

3. Activate the District Committees, which will be entrusted with transmitting precise instructions as events unfold.

4. All unions in the region will have to strengthen ties with this Committee, which will guide the movement by coordinating the forces in struggle.

Today, more than ever, we must demonstrate the revolutionary anarchist spirit of our unions.

For the CNT! For libertarian communism!

The Regional and Local Committees of Barcelona.

Barcelona, October 6, 1934.[416]

José Peirats write: “Militants from the Woodworkers’ Union are the first to put the first of these instructions into practice. They tear the seals off the closed union halls and open their doors, but police respond immediately and violently. Shots are exchanged. The police force the workers to withdraw and close the buildings again. After these clashes, Interior Minister Dr. Dencàs releases a statement inciting the armed forces and citizens—who had begun to patrol the city—against the ‘anarchist provocateurs, bought off by the reactionaries.’ Uniformed forces from the Generalitat launch an armed attack on Solidaridad Obrera’s editorial office at 5:00 in the afternoon. Police go to suspend a regional meeting that is fortunately being held elsewhere. The newspaper’s administration and workshops are shut down.” [417]

Some well-known CNT and FAI militants stayed away from their homes, aware that police had already arrested other significant activists. In general, militants adopted an expectant attitude: they avoided clashes with the armed groups of “escamots” patrolling the city and waited attentively for the denouement of that crazy revolt, which could have very negative consequences for the workers.

Interior Minister Josep Dencàs spoke by radio at 12:30 on that October 6 and Lluís Companys addressed the Catalan people through Radio Barcelona. At 8:10, Companys’s comments were retransmitted at the Generalitat Palace to a crowd that a Catalanist newspaper described as very modest. Companys limited himself to proclaiming the “Catalan State within the Spanish Federal Republic.” Those present sung the Els Segadors hymn after his speech. [418] The Generalitat met after the proclamation of the Catalan State. Companys telephoned General Batet and informed him that he had declared the Catalan State and that Batet and his forces were under his command. The general stated that he could not reply immediately and told Companys to send him the order in writing. Deputy Tauler went to Captaincy to give Batet the directive. Following instructions from Madrid, Batet declared a state of emergency in response. From that moment on, the Generalitat and the central government were at war.

Barricades began to appear, in a disorganized way, and the city’s official buildings were protected with sandbags. “The leaders of the insurrection started distributing their armed groups at 8:30 pm, although it was clear that their troops had already diminished. By 9:30 defections from the Generalitat’s forces had increased greatly.” [419] There were one hundred people in the “Somatens” headquarters on the Rambla Santa Mónica but not all were armed, despite an abundance of weapons in the “casals” [local Catalanist centers]. Likewise, Jaume Compte was in the CADCI building with approximately thirty men and only seventeen rifles. [420] The same contradiction.

Here is a chronological account of the main events: 10:00 pm. Numerous armed groups wait for orders along the Ramblas up to Canaletas. There are approximate 1,500 concentrated on the Ramblas. Some four hundred men are in the Worker Alliance building. Apparently only the sentries have arms (there were ample weapons in the Novedades café on Caspe Street, which no one went to pick up, although they were only about three hundred meters away). After their defeat, Worker Alliance militants said that Dencàs had refused to arm them. One witness wrote: “In principle, a revolutionary force doesn’t wait to receive arms but takes them. It would have been extremely easy to do so that night.”

10:15 pm. An Infantry company leaves from the Buensuceso Street barracks, takes the Ramblas at Hospital Street, and ascends to the Plaza de Cataluña. The soldiers remained there until 6:00 in the morning, when they returned to their barracks, without having had any encounter.

10:40 pm. A company of the Thirty Fourth Infantry arrives at the CADCI building, where Compte and his roughly thirty men are. They come under fire from within the building when a Captain begins to read the state of emergency. A Sergeant dies and a lieutenant and five soldiers are injured. The soldiers begin to cannon the building at 11:00 pm.

12:30 am. A shell explosion kills Jaume Compte and Manuel González Alba.

1:30 am. The defenders in the CADCI building are abandoned to their fate, despite requesting reinforcements from Dencàs. They leave the building chaotically.

1:30 am. The Santa Mónica Police Station surrenders without firing a shot: there are sixty guards, more than one hundred civilians, and plentiful weapons (especially hand grenades).

6:00 am. Conversation between Companys and Dencàs:

Dencàs: “I will do what you command.”

Companys: “Put up the white flag.”

They hoist a white flag on the Catalan Interior Ministry building, while Dencàs shouts: “Viva free Catalonia.” There is a generalized and uncontrolled dispersion of troops. Dencàs escapes through the sewers.

6:00 am and minutes. The Generalitat gives up. Companys telephones General Batet, telling him that they surrender and to hold his fire.

The few remaining rebels then learn about what has happened. “They drop their weapons right there and go home, somewhat ashamed, somewhat disillusioned, and all with a profound sense of the ridiculous.”

Why hadn’t anyone coordinated these people? Why weren’t they given an order throughout the entire night? Why launch such a disorganized and poorly led revolt, with so little enthusiasm among its leaders?

It was the Libertarian Youth who made the most of things when the Catalanists discarded their weapons in Barcelona’s streets and sewers. They reaped a good harvest in the early hours of Sunday, October 7.

The government imposed Martial Law. When the army commander took over Police Headquarters, he found its cells full of anarchists arrested by the Generalitat’s police on October 4. The Generalitat was incapable of revolting successfully, but demonstrated its efficiency in persecuting the CNT. In its demise, it delivered a large group of militants to Gil Robles’s forces. Thanks to the Catalanist “revolutionaries,” Durruti added six months of prison time to his previous sentences.

CHAPTER XXII. The Asturian Commune

Gil Robles was undoubtedly the shrewdest of Spain’s reactionaries. He understood that the country’s problem was social not political and that while the CNT had been unable to unleash a revolution, it had maintained a state of pre-revolutionary ferment that was so dynamic that one could break out at any time. Gil Robles’s political strategy rested on interrupting that process, which is exactly what he did on October 5 by forcing the Socialist Party to either accept the CEDA ministry or rise up. His cleverness lay in his ability to know precisely when he could provoke an uprising without jeopardizing the privileges of the ruling classes. What made Gil Robles so confident that he would risk inciting a revolution? His confidence lay in the very complexity of the Spanish situation, in which his supposed opponents had made a social problem into a political one and thus became his objective allies. Basque leaders stood aloof from the Socialists’ rebellion and tried to neutralize worker action in their region. We have seen how the Generalitat tried to incapacitate the working class in Catalonia. With respect to the Socialist Party nationally, it created the pre-conditions of its own defeat by restraining its worker base and preventing the emergence of an authentic alliance between the CNT and UGT.

For Gil Robles, the center of danger was in Asturias: it was there that the threat of proletarian revolution was the greatest. The Socialists were more revolutionary than elsewhere; the CNT was not worn out by insurrections; and there was a clearly revolutionary workers’ alliance. It was imperative for Gil Robles to crush the rebellion there, if only to prevent it from spreading to the rest of Spain. In fact, the Socialists and Catalanists helped the government suppress the Asturian revolution. The chatter about whether the CNT could have seized control in Barcelona after the Catalanists’ defeat is nothing but conjecture. The Generalitat forced revolutionaries to choose one of three options. The first was to stay out of the revolt (which the Generalitat wanted). The second was to join it, which the Regional Committee advised, although that would have meant an armed confrontation with the Catalanists and, later, the army quartered in the region. The final option was to wait for the defeat of the Catalanists and throw themselves into a venture against the army, which by then controlled the capital and had the support of “elite” units brought in from Africa and unloaded on the afternoon of October 7. The CNT choose the first alternative and seized as many arms as it could after the Catalanists surrendered, while also doing everything possible to prevent a massacre of workers.

In many respects, one can see the revolution unleashed in Asturias on October 5 as a general rehearsal of the revolution in 1936. Although the Asturian workers were defeated militarily, their undertaking was ultimately a victory and one that had enormous consequences for the Spanish workers’ movement.

The national repercussions of the Socialist’s revolt were soon localized. The party failed to accomplish its aims anywhere. In Bilbao, the Basque Nationalist Party urged its members to abstain. Its labor organization, Basque Workers Solidarity, told its members to go to work but return home if they encountered difficulty or danger. It also ordered them not to undertake any activities that it hadn’t sanctioned. There was a more or less general strike in Bilbao, but it was passive. In nearby villages—such as Portugalete, Hernani, and Eibar—revolutionary committees were formed and there were armed conflicts.

There was a general strike in Madrid: businesses closed, the newspapers did not publish, and there was no vehicular traffic. On October 5 and 6, there were battles between groups of workers and police in the proletarian neighborhoods of Cuatro Caminos, Tetuán, Atocha, Delicias, and others. Workers also attacked the head postal office and the General Office of Security, which resulted in shootouts on the Gran Vía, Alcalá Street, and in the Puerta del Sol. However, police arrested the Socialist leaders almost as soon as the struggle began, just as they had done during all their previous rebellions. Authorities captured them in the studio of Socialist painter Quintana, where they had established their headquarters. The insurrection was headless from that moment on and destined to fail.

Nevertheless, there were fierce struggles in Asturias and the government mobilized at once to neutralize the Asturian revolutionaries. At 9:00 in the evening, Spanish Interior Minister Eloy Vaquero made a statement over the radio typical of all governments in similar situations: “Calm reigns in Spain,” he said. This did not prevent the government from hurrying to meet in full at 11:00 pm in order to discuss the situation. Its first act was to censure the press. The Prime Minister told journalists that the “presence of a revolutionary movement obliges the government to declare a state of emergency in Asturias.”

On October 6, the government extended the state of emergency throughout Spain and ordered General Batet to subdue the disorders in Barcelona. Lerroux stated that he would be implacable against the Asturian anarchists and Catalan separatists.

Minister of War Diego Hidalgo ordered General Franco to draft a plan of attack for Asturias. Hidalgo went to sleep at 2:00 in the morning on October 7, after conferring with General Batet, who assured him that the Catalan revolt would be suppressed in four hours. He gave General Franco and Lieutenant Colonel Yagüe the task of crushing the Asturian rebels.

Various people visited Lerroux on October 7 and offered their unconditional support during those critical moments. One of those to volunteer his aid was José Antonio Primo de Rivera (for whom Lerroux felt “a very strong affection”). The government met that evening and, afterwards, the Minister of War stated that “the army’s combined land and sea forces are very close to achieving their objectives in Asturias.” The Interior Minister asserted that “the total submission of the Asturian rebels will occur in a matter of hours.”

The Parliament met on the afternoon of October 9, without the Leftwing deputies. The government was congratulated for its quick response. A rumor was circulating that Manuel Azaña had been arrested in Barcelona and loaded onto a ship.

The Socialist Party’s uprising, without leadership from the beginning, had failed. But what collapsed in the rest of Spain became a deep proletarian revolution in Asturias.

The rebellion began there at 3:00 in the morning on October 5, when workers attacked all the Civil Guard barracks in the region with dynamite. By the mid-day, twenty-three Civil Guard barracks and all their armaments had fallen into the workers’ hands. The barracks in Mieres surrendered with its forty-five Guards and the barracks in Rebolleda, Santullano, and Sama capitulated on October 6.

The workers had failed to take Oviedo, but fought against the Civil Guard and army there. The military commander declared a state of emergency and sent troops to the areas where the revolutionaries were holed up or controlled completely. He sent a detachment of Assault Guards to Manzaneda, which the revolutionaries held, but the Guards were foiled by a workers’ column hiding out in Armatilla, Pico del Castillo, and on the other side of the valley in Santianes.

Meanwhile, rapidly organized workers’ columns advanced on Oviedo and prepared to seize it. There was street fighting in Gijón, but the workers completely took over the Cimadevilla neighborhood and raised barricades at its entrances.

The revolutionaries controlled the situation in Avilés, where they occupied the gas factory and the electric company’s main office.

They called upon the Civil Guard to surrender in La Felguera, where there was an arms factory that employed three thousand, predominantly CNT metalworkers. The Civil Guard refused and the miners attacked their barracks, which they took at midnight. The rebels controlled La Felguera from then on and published a manifesto signed by the Revolutionary Committee and headed with the letters: CNT-FAI. It said: “The social revolution is victorious in La Felguera. Our duty is to organize distribution and consumption properly. We ask for good sense and prudence from all. There is a Distribution Committee, and all those entrusted with attending to domestic necessities must go there.” [421]

Rebels proclaimed a Socialist Republic throughout the entire Turón valley, which took on anti-authoritarian characteristics in areas of anarchist influence and bureaucratic characteristics where Marxists dominated. In that sense, the Asturian revolution offered a material expression of the differences between the two systems. A careful study of social relations established during the Socialist Republic’s fifteen days would be extremely valuable as a study in revolutionary transformation.

On October 5, Madrid ordered General Bosch, the military leader in León, to bring his troops (two infantry regiments) to Asturias. He could not transport them by train because revolutionaries had blown up the Los Fierros Bridge. He had to move them in trucks, but workers entrenched in Vega del Rey held them back for two weeks. General López Ochoa suffered the same fate when workers detained his forces in the narrow Peñaflor gorge while they tried to go from Galicia to Asturias The workers columns surrounding Oviedo attacked on October 8. One entered through the San Lázaro neighborhood after defeating a company of Assault Guards near the Aguila River. When they occupied the Adoratrices Hill Convent, women in the workers’ neighborhoods welcomed them with enthusiastic cheers. Groups of miners entered another part of the city and forced their way through with dynamite on Fierro, Santo Domingo, and Guillermo Estrada streets before finally taking over Town Hall at 2:30 pm. On Leopoldo Alas and Arzobispo Guisasola Streets, the carabineros tried to stop a miner’s column led by Sergeant Diego Vázquez but were overcome by dynamite and shouts of “Viva the social revolution!” At 3:00 pm, the column had complete control of the surrounding neighborhood and had occupied the hospital. The miners’ onslaught made the Civil Guard and army troops defending Oviedo retreat, who took refuge in the Pelayo barracks and the Cathedral. The arms factory, now in the miners’ hands, offered a significant booty: twenty-one thousand rifles, three hundred machine-gun rifles, and numerous machine-guns.

While the fighting occurred, revolutionaries began to transform social relationships and establish a type of socialism that the population genuinely supported. They abolished private property and declared it collective. Now that the metallurgic centers were in workers’ hands, the factories in La Felguera and elsewhere began to work overtime in an effort to rapidly produce munitions. They managed to turn out thirty thousands cartridges per day in La Felguera, although even that was not enough for the thousands of fighters ready to die for the Asturian Commune.

Rebels set up the Provincial Revolutionary Committee in Oviedo, which maintained contact with revolutionary committees in the villages. However, there was a dispute between the Socialists and the anarchists. Although the agreement between the UGT and CNT naturally indicated that both organizations would lead the struggle, the Asturian Socialist Federation formed the Provincial Revolutionary Committee with its members alone and later even invited the Communist Party to join, despite the fact that it had not signed their accord and was insignificant in the region. This confirmed the La Felguera anarchists’ fears about the Socialists’ revolutionary sincerity, which they had expressed at a CNT meeting held in Gijón on the eve of the rebellion.

Gijón’s Revolutionary Committee repeatedly sent representatives to the Provincial Revolutionary Committee in Oviedo in an attempt to acquire arms and ammunition. These visits were “fruitless,” says Peirats. [422] The villagers formed the Revolutionary Committees in two different ways. In zones of libertarian influence, residents appointed them in assemblies; in areas of Socialist influence, party groups assumed executive power. The edicts and proclamations issued in these villages also had a different character: the libertarians appealed to the population’s sense of solidarity and good will to carry the struggle forward, whereas the Socialists issued commands and announced that draconian measures would be applied to anyone who didn’t follow their orders.

Despite these contradictions, the revolutionary wave swept through the entire region. And there were relatively few sectarian conflicts, which seemed pointless in the face of the great dangers lying in wait and already weighing upon on the rebel zone.

The Ministry of War was distressed to learn that workers had stopped General Bosch and General López in their tracks. Fortunately, they thought, General Franco had anticipated such problems and ordered Foreign Legion troops and Moroccan Regulars to set off for Gijón. Morocco once again became the cancer of Spain. The Moroccans had asked the Socialist-Republican government to declare it autonomous when the Republic was proclaimed in 1931, but were unable to convince it to do so. In fact, the government instituted an even more brutally colonial policy than the deposed monarchy. How could the Socialists complain if Franco brought troops from Morocco and many of the Moorish forces vented their justified anger upon the Spaniards? Wasn’t it the Spaniards who were responsible for colonialism in Morocco? In this sense, General Franco used the Republic’s failures to crush the workers. He wasn’t to blame for the barbarism of the Moorish forces; that was a consequence of the Socialists and Republicans’ institutionalization of a barbaric colonialism.

Authorities loaded the warships Libertad, Jaime I, and Miguel de Cervantes with African troops and they set off for Gijón. Libertad was the first to arrive. It began bombing intensely on October 7, which covered the landing of a Marine Infantry battalion. The well-fortified Gijón residents stopped the seamen from passing in Serín, but arms and ammunition were running short. The Provincial Revolutionary Committee did not seem to appreciate the gravity of the situation. The Gijón Revolutionary Committee contacted La Felguera and requested ammunition, weapons, and men. La Felguera came rapidly to its aid, but they were ultimately unable to resist the bombardment and the overwhelming number of troops (now including Regulars from Morocco, members of the Foreign Legion, and the Eighth Battalion of Hunters from Africa). They had to give in on October 10, after three days and nights of hellish battle. The Asturian commune could count its hours from then on. López Ochoa’s men escaped their detainment by diverting their route through Avilés. The government’s forces ( Tercio and Regulars) entered through the port.

The Provincial Revolutionary Committee ordered a general withdrawal on October 11. Some militants opposed this order and from then on the CNT forces began to act with some independence. José María Martínez died in Sotiello on October 12 while carrying out a mission for the Provincial Revolutionary Committee.

Government forces detected a renewal of the resistance and called in the air force, which promptly began bombing mercilessly. The planes also dropped pamphlets demanding that the insurgents give up:

Rebels of Asturias, give up! It is the only way to save your lives. You must surrender unconditionally and hand over your arms within twenty-four hours. All of Spain is against you and ready to crush you without pity as a just punishment for your criminal madness.... All the damage that the troops and bombs have caused thus far is nothing but a foretaste of what you will receive if you do not end your rebellion and relinquish your arms before sunrise.[423]

Despite these threats, the Asturian revolutionaries continued fighting until October 18, when the Provincial Revolutionary Committee called for an end to the resistance. It released a statement that said: “After proving the strength of the working masses ... a pause in the struggle is necessary. But this withdrawal is honorable, because it is only a stop in the journey. The proletariat can be beaten but never defeated!” The spirit of Karl Liebknecht’s declaration on the eve of his murder impregnates this manifesto: “There are defeats that are victories, and victories that are more shameful than defeats.”

Indeed, the government’s triumph over the Asturian revolutionaries was the most shameful of victories. It did not even respect the single condition that the miners imposed before surrendering: that the mercenary troops not occupy Asturias. General Arande, after giving his “word of honor,” offered the region to the Foreign Legion and Regulars as war booty.

CHAPTER XXIII. “Peace and order reign in Asturias”

When the government ended its military operations in Asturias, it told journalists that “peace and order reign in the rebel zone.” That “peace and order” caused 1335 worker deaths, 2951 injuries, and an undetermined number of exiles, who took refuge in the mountains. The working class paid dearly for that bourgeois “peace and order.”

The government entrusted the mission of imposing order to Civil Guard commander Lisardo Doval and Judge Alarcón. Instruments of torture were improvised in the cells and the legal system ground on. Thirty thousand people were detained.

But this wasn’t enough for the Rightwing: it wanted an even harsher crackdown. Calvo Sotelo stated as much in the November 6 session of the Parliament. Alejandro Lerroux declared that his government would be “merciless in Asturias.” “Until the seeds of revolution are exterminated in the mothers’ wombs,” insisted Calvo Sotelo.

There were a number of prominent political figures among the 30,000 people imprisoned as a result of the October events. Manuel Azaña was arrested in Barcelona, despite his opposition to the rebellion, which he objected to because he considered it class-based. Authorities released him on December 2 after he proved that he had not participated. However, the prosecutor demanded that life sentences be imposed on Lluís Companys and the Generalitat ministers for the crime of “military rebellion.” Various members of the Socialist Party’s Executive Committee, including Francisco Largo Caballero, joined the other inmates from the “high political circles” in prison (police had arrested him on October 14). Ramón González Peña, who had been prominent in the Provincial Revolutionary Committee, was also incarcerated. He was facing the death penalty.

All the detainees had to respond to judges’ questions about their conduct and participation in the revolt. This was easy for Socialist Party and UGT leaders, since they had decided beforehand that no one would take responsibility for the uprising if they were captured and that they would declare that it had emerged spontaneously from the working class. Largo Caballero describes his interrogation in his memoirs and illustrates the conduct of those ”deserter bosses at the hour of truth. He appeared before the Examining Magistrate, an army colonel:

“Are you the leader of this revolutionary movement?”

“No, sir.”

“How is that possible, being President of the Socialist Party and General Secretary of the Unión General de Trabajadores?”

“Well, anything is possible!”

“What role did you play in organizing the strike?”

“None.”

“What is your opinion of the revolution?”

“Mr. Magistrate, I appear here to answer for my acts, not my thoughts.”

The District Attorney: “You are legally obliged to answer the Magistrate’s questions!”

“Indeed, that’s why I’m answering them. I wouldn’t do so otherwise.”

They showed me some typed notes found during a search of the UGT’s offices. “Are these notes yours?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Who delivered them to you?”

“The mailman. I received them through the mail, but if I knew who sent them, I wouldn’t say so.”

The District Attorney: “I repeat that you are required to truthfully answer the questions you are asked.”

“That’s what I’m doing. However, if Captain Santiago, who conducted the search, wants to find out who sent me those notes, he should know that he’ll never get that information. I won’t say any person’s name for any reason and I’m fully aware of the responsibility that I incur.”

Indeed, the General Office of Security had shown me copies of these notes, while they were telling me what they had done and intended to do against us. Captain Santiago wanted to know who sent them, to punish the person harshly. He was beside himself with the matter of the notes. The magistrate continued asking me:

“Who are the organizers of the revolution?”

“There are no organizers. The people rose up in protest because the Republic’s enemies entered the government.”[424]

Largo Caballero was legally absolved and resumed his activities as UGT General Secretary.

Largo Caballero dedicated some paragraphs in his memoirs to Ramón González Peña, whom Indalecio Prieto had described as the “hero” of Asturias. Largo Caballero writes:

Much to my great regret, this obliges me to treat the case of González Peña, the “hero” of Asturias.

Peña wasn’t responsible for the revolutionary movement in Asturias; he just couldn’t deny his participation, because they caught him in the act. They had seen him moving around the region and confirmed his presence in the mountains and other places. If they had captured me “red-handed,” I would have had to admit my participation, despite the decision we had made. Yet that wouldn’t make me a hero, just one among many who had risked their lives and liberty.

However, one should read his statements to the Parliamentary Commission and the Court Martial. Since he couldn’t deny it, he said that he had taken part in the rebellion, but out of discipline, to carry out the decisions of the Worker Alliance Committees and other leading bodies. He said that his activities were limited to preventing barbarities and saving lives, even Civil Guardsmen, who were only doing their duty. He gave the names of people with whom he had spoken and worked, indicating places where he had been and slept. At the end of his declaration to the Court Martial, he surrendered himself to the mercy of the court. His testimony implicated people and places, and cost some of his comrades their lives. He presented the revolutionaries as bloodthirsty, which is why he had needed to intervene. He tried to diminish the importance of his participation in hopes of escaping a harsh sentence.

But is this the conduct of a hero? Was this declaring himself responsible for the revolutionary movement in Asturias? No one could affirm such a thing after reading his statements. And if another coreligionist who participated in the event had the sincerity to repeat in public what was said privately about González Peña, we would have a much more accurate picture of his heroism....

I don’t criticize him for trying to reduce the sentence, but I do criticize those incriminating statements about people and places.[425]

Without intending to, Largo Caballero had expressed an important truth when he gave his testimony to the magistrate:

There were no organizers. The workers rose up in Asturias because it was ripe for revolution and the people were the only heroes.

However, Largo Caballero would draw the opposite conclusion while he reflected in prison. Apparently Largo Caballero used his incarceration to read Lenin’s writings and was impressed by his theory of the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” He had discovered revolutionary Marxism.

The same “measles” also afflicted other Socialists. Araquistáin, the most advanced of the group, would distinguish himself with his writings on the “return to Marxism” in the Socialist Party’s theoretical magazine Leviatán.

It was fine to study Marxism, but what good was such a “discovery” if it lacked an immediate practical application? But application is not imitation; it should be a creative act. The Bolshevik model was not relevant to Spain: the Spanish revolution had to find its own strength and trajectory. Asturias had demonstrated the Spanish path to the revolution. That revolution could not be reduced to a single party, because there were diverse and contradictory forces among its various tendencies. To ignore that historic reality was to restrain, and turn one’s back on, the revolutionary process initiated by the working class. That is what Largo Caballero did; who failed to see that the revolution demanded an alliance between the CNT and UGT. Largo Caballero “matured” in prison only to be duped by the strategy that the Communist International was exporting to “democratic-bourgeois” countries in its effort to implant Soviet communism worldwide.

CHAPTER XXIV. “Banditry, no; collective expropriation, yes!”

Durruti followed the country’s political and social evolution from Barcelona’s Modelo prison with great interest. The disposition of Lerroux’s government, the savagery in Asturias, and the Rightwing’s insatiable demand for “more heads” all presaged a bloody conflict. The inmates constantly discussed all these issues in the Modelo’s cells and courtyards. Durruti argued emphatically that they had to be careful not to squander their strength and patiently work to rebuild the unions. He saw organization as the key element in a revolutionary victory or a confrontation with the reactionaries. He also noted that “if the Right tries to take power, it won’t do so like Primo de Rivera. Asturias should be an example: the issue in Spain is not bourgeois democracy or fascism, but fascism or social revolution. Bourgeois democracy died after the elections on November 19, 1933.” [426]

The question of the revolutionary alliance came up as well, now with greater urgency than before. The CNT had shown that it could not make the revolution alone and, after the October experience, the Socialists clearly faced the same problem. Would the Socialists draw relevant conclusions from the revolt in Asturias? The libertarians were skeptical: the reformists had betrayed them so many times, there was no reason to expect them to confront the new situation with revolutionary decision. “The Socialists still haven’t demonstrated their revolutionary commitment,” they said. Durruti replied by saying: “Yes, that’s correct, but the coup won’t be delayed forever. We’ll have to deal with it one way or another. That, and also the fact that we’ll suffer the first blows, is why we should work harder for the workers’ alliance. We have to draw UGT workers into our camp or at least make them understand the seriousness of the times. Ultimately, the intensity of our propaganda will determine the number of workers swept along by the revolutionary avalanche.” [427] Months passed in discussions of this sort, as authorities continually admitted new guests into Barcelona’s Modelo. Some of them had been convicted of armed robbery and entered complaining about the CNT and even the FAI.

The proliferation of this crime—now known as the “holdup measles”— alarmed militant anarchists in the prison. And they became even more concerned when some of those charged with the offense demanded that the CNT’s Prisoner Support Committee procure defense lawyers for them. Durruti took a strong position on the issue at a prisoners’ meeting called to discuss the matter: “It isn’t time for individual expropriations, but to prepare the collective one.” Of course that didn’t sit well with those arrested for robbery, but it was impossible to resolve the question halfway. The Prisoner Support Committee ultimately embraced Durruti’s more radical stance. Durruti’s time as a “governmental prisoner” came to an end in early April 1935.

It is outrageous enough that Durruti had to spend six months in prison just to satisfy a governor’s whim, but his problems didn’t end there. Shortly after being released, Durruti read an article in La Publicidad authored by a “specialist” in armed robberies. His name was José María Planas and he had asserted in the paper that “Durruti and his gang are behind the latest holdups in Barcelona.” This absolutely infuriated Durruti. He took off in a rage to find the writer, whom he described as a “shameless hack.”

It was Sunday morning and the Ronda de San Pedro was completely empty. I suddenly saw someone coming in the opposite direction along the sidewalk. It was Durruti. He walked by without noticing me. He had a newspaper in his hand and a sour look on his face. As soon as he passed, I said loudly:

“Don’t friends at least say hello to one another?”

He stopped in his tracks, looked in my direction, and then approached as soon as he recognized me. “How could I miss you?”

“Why are you walking around so blindly? What’s going on?”

“Take it, read.” He gave me the newspaper that he was holding. It was La Publicidad and he had circled an article by José María Planas in red. “I’m going to beat the living daylights out of that shameless hack!” Durruti said irately.

“Where are you going?”

“To La Publicidad to kick that liar out of there!”

“But there’s no one at the newspaper now.”

“Let’s go right now!”

And so we went. As I’d said, there was no one there except the night watchman. Durruti pushed him aside and we entered. He walked through the editorial office, convinced himself that it was empty, and we left. Once we were back on the street, Durruti said:

“This irresponsible prick left me holding the bag for the holdups and yet yesterday I received an eviction notice because I couldn’t pay the rent while I was in prison. Tell me if that’s not enough reason to smash his face in!”[428]

The Spanish political situation was intensely conflicted in early 1935. There were nearly continuous governmental crises. Their secret probably lay in two complementary facts: first, one only had to be a minister for twenty-four hours to secure a lifetime salary (the Radical Party boasted that it had the most ministers “in reserve”). The second was Gil Robles’s methodological effort to seize power. The CEDA ministers provoked a crisis at the time of Durruti’s release from prison when they opposed commutating the eighteen death sentences handed down after the October rebellion. Alejandro Lerroux resolved the matter by replacing three CEDA ministers with three Radicals. There was another crisis fifteen days later, which was resolved in May when six CEDA ministers entered the government, including Gil Robles in the Ministry of War.

José María Gil Robles will always be an enigmatic figure in the political history of this period because none of his actions reflected his declared goal of assuming power legally. In fact, the complete opposite was the case. When he took charge of the Ministry of War, he made General Francisco Franco chief of the Central General Staff. He made General Fanjul sub-secretary of the Ministry of War, entrusted the General Office of the Air force to General Goded, and made General Mola responsible for the Army in Morocco. It was precisely with these generals that Calvo Sotelo planned to form a Directory after the coup d’etat.

Gil Robles postponed his dream of being dictator indefinitely by taking the aforementioned steps, but helped those conspiring to carry out the coup. None of them made a great effort to conceal their intentions. Gil Robles isolated generals and army leaders known for their Republican sympathies, stripping them of military command or relegating them to secondary positions without troops. He reorganized the Spanish Military Association, which was supposed to clean the army of suspicious figures, in such a way that it became a General Staff inside the General Staff.

Preparations for the coup included activities designed to convince the “silent majority” of the need for a “strong man” to impose order on civic life. This included the Falange’s terrorism against the Left; the bourgeoisie’s systematic lock-out of workers, closure of factories, and suspension of whole branches of production; and the deliberate prolongation of strikes, which pushed workers to use sabotage, arson, or bombs. Nonetheless, while a part of the population was impressed by this and ready to welcome a military man, most of the working class had recovered from the October crackdown and was active in the underground unions. Those intimidated at first now began to show up at meetings.

The Barcelona CNT was the center of activity for Durruti and the Nosotros group and, despite the injuries it had suffered in October, its ranks were growing quickly. Underground CNT publications like La Voz Confederal sold around forty thousand copies weekly. When workers couldn’t pay their dues in their workplaces, they did so in bars or through representatives that visited their homes. These contributions were always voluntary. Although it still wasn’t possible to hold large assemblies and rallies, there were many reasons for optimism.

But there were also reasons for concern among CNT and FAI militants: they were clearly heading toward a violent confrontation with the bourgeoisie. They had to work quickly to strengthen the CNT and build up its offensive reserves. When the Nosotros group finally managed to gather all its members for a meeting, it decided to labor intensively toward that goal. García Oliver believed that they should link CNT action groups and FAI groups through the Neighborhood Committees, which would federate from a local up to national level, while the CNT’s Secretariat of Defense would direct the revolutionary action. They even discussed forming guerrilla units, which would be composed of one hundred men and focused on pre-selected targets. García Oliver expounded this vision of the CNT and FAI’s military organization in meetings of militants and at workers’ assemblies, such as one held in the Woodworkers’ Union around the time.

Many militants opposed that coordinated vision of the revolutionary struggle; they had more confidence in the spontaneity of the masses than revolutionary organization. But workers had to decide quickly what they regarded as permissible forms of organization, given the immediacy of the dangers facing them. The Nosotros group set out to raise these issues among the working class, so that it could analyze them and thus confront the uncertainties of the future. To begin the discussion, the Nosotros group proposed that Barcelona’s Local Federation of Anarchist Groups call a meeting of groups. Other anarchist groups supported their proposal and the Local Federation scheduled a meeting in May on Escudillers Street. The Nosotros group placed this topic on the agenda: “Analysis of the political situation and strategies for making the FAI’s revolutionary action effective.” Another anarchist group asked for a discussion of the “FAI’s position on the ‘holdup measles.’”

Durruti spoke in his group’s name during the discussion of “individual expropriations” (i.e., holdups):

Comrades, I think I can address this issue with some authority. And I do so because I think it’s a duty. The group to which I belong, whose members you all know, believes that the recent eruption of robberies is a serious threat to our movement and could lead to our practical decomposition if it isn’t stopped in one way or another. The first thing that those who carry out holdups do when arrested is show their CNT membership cards and call the Prisoner Support Committee. That’s a serious problem, because it confuses people about our real motives. The CNT is a revolutionary workers’ organization that intends to radically transform Spain, particularly in its political and economic terrains. The unions are tools of the struggle and the Prisoner Support Committee exist to help workers who fall in the struggle, not to supply lawyers and other types of aid to petty thieves captured by police. No anarchist group, individual, or committee can deny this. As a revolutionary anarchist militant, I’m fundamentally opposed to holdups, which, in the present circumstances, can only discredit us. That’s why we propose that the FAI urge each of its members to try to get the union to which he belongs to distance itself from such actions and, also, that no practical support of any type be provided to individuals involved in the endeavors in question.[429]

This was a delicate question, and some of the meeting’s attendees held strange sociological theories about expropriation, particularly a youth named Ruano who had recently arrived from Buenos Aires and had been a member of di Giovanni’s group during the last period of its activity in Argentina. The Argentine government had executed di Giovanni, his comrade P. Scarfó, and other militants on February 1, 1931 during the country’s first military dictatorship of the twentieth century. Ruano “protested that Durruti once employed the very tactic that he now condemns.” Durruti responded calmly:

It’s true, my friend. Nosotros and I used those tactics in the past, but times have changed, due to the ascendant march of the CNT and FAI. There are more than one million workers unionized in the CNT—waiting for the right moment to make the great collective expropriation—and they demand a conduct from us that is consistent with the needs of the struggle. There’s no longer any place for individual actions. The only ones that matter are collective, mass actions. And tactics overcome by history must be left in the past, because they’re now counter-productive and outdated. Anyone who intends to remain outside the times must also place himself outside our ranks and accept responsibility for the lifestyle he has chosen. [430]

“Durruti’s intervention in the meeting was effective. A problem that threatened to become epidemic was promptly contained.” [431] Then they discussed the political situation. Durruti offered a summary of the Nosotros group’s thoughts on the matter:

Comrades, I don’t know if you realize how serious things are. In my opinion, the revolution could explode at any moment, and not because we provoke it... But we must be organized and ready to exploit the circumstances that arise, putting ourselves at the head of the revolutionary current that others are going to trigger. What form might that struggle take? I think there will be a civil war, a devastating and cruel civil war for which we must be well- prepared.... We will have to form worker’s militias and take to the countryside. It will demand discipline, our own type of discipline, but discipline nonetheless. Think about what I’m saying: if it’s just a hypothesis now, it will be a reality in the near future. [432]

In June, shortly after this meeting, police again arrested Durruti and incarcerated him as a “governmental prisoner.”

CHAPTER XXV. Toward the “Popular Front”

The time that Durruti spent going in and out of jail did not undermine his optimism or change the direction of his thought, but such prolonged “isolations” were hard on the CNT and FAI. The organizations suffered while some of its most valuable militants wasted away in prison.

Durruti would start devouring magazines and newspapers as soon as he left prison, until a new incarceration again disrupted his access to information and ability to following the thread of events. It was only his intuitive capacity to grasp issues and developments that saved him. His last conversation with Ascaso before his arrest revolved around what looked like the Socialist Party’s new strategy of forming alliances and coalitions, in which the Communist Party would also play a role thanks to Largo Caballero’s Bolshevik “measles.” They agreed that the CNT would face problems if the Popular Front tactic being tested in France was introduced into Spain, because supporters of the electoral coalition would try to asphyxiate the CNT by any means possible. They had to respond to that threat immediately so that the working class wouldn’t be deceived like it had been on April 14, 1931. Durruti, who had plenty of intuition but an excess of prison time, began serving his new sentence shortly after their discussion.

Around this time, the Communist Party held a rally in Madrid’s Cine Monumental. José Díaz gave a long speech in which he proposed the formation of a Popular Anti-fascist Concentration. [433] It would have a four-point program:

a) Confiscate the land held by large landowners ... without compensation and its immediately delivery to poor peasants and agricultural workers.

b) Liberate peoples oppressed by Spanish imperialism. Grant the right to self- government to Catalans, Basques, Galicians, and other national groups oppressed by Spain.

c) Improve the working class’s living and working conditions.

d) Amnesty for the prisoners.[434]

The program was very short. Except for the point about the land, which was included for propagandistic reasons, it was an exact replica of the program that Manuel Azaña would set out in Mestalla (Valencia) and Comillas (Madrid), where he called upon Republican parties to form a coalition before the next elections. There was a section on Spanish imperialism in Díaz’s program indicating that the Spanish regions noted should have the right to self-determination, but there is no mention of Spain’s imperialist venture in Morocco. Why this oversight? The military forces operating in Asturias came from Morocco, because the government didn’t trust soldiers from the Peninsula. The Communist Party proposed an anti-fascist front and yet accepted Spain’s continued domination of the Moroccan people, on whose very soil the fascist threat denounced in José Díaz’s speech was brewing. A typical contradiction for the Moscow-led “communists.”

José Díaz’s speech had no political effect, but its general outlines reflected the direction that the PCE would follow within a few months. It is important to note that Moscow still hadn’t taken Spain into consideration in the new strategic orientation that it had been developing over the previous year. France was what mattered most to Stalin and his subordinates, because it believed that it had an important role to play in the “defense of the Soviet State.” Indeed, the Popular Front will respond solely to the Soviet Union’s interests and it is those interests that will determine its consequent repercussions in Spain. That is why we are obliged to offer a summary treatment of that very specific dimension of international politics in this biography.

Stalin’s policy was consistent since Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 until January 26, 1934. In February 1933, the social democratic Socialist Workers’ International called upon the Communist International (Stalin and the Moscow party leaders) to form an anti-fascist front, but it received no reply. It repeated the call six months later and achieved the same result. The Communist International did not respond simply because it did not see Hitler or Mussolini as enemies at the time. Indeed, the Soviet State had very good relations with both dictators. Stalin’s primary concern was preserving the 1922 agreement between Germany and Russia known as the Treaty of Rapallo. [435] While that was still possible, he cared little if Hitler and his Nazi Party eradicated socialism and communism from German soil. Stalin hoped to sustain that treaty until Germany and Poland signed an accord on January 26, 1934. Moscow military men saw this as a direct attack on Russia and thus Stalin changed his strategy, aligning it with concerns in the French government, which regarded the accord as a dangerous rupture of the equilibrium of alliances formed between European states after the First World War. Perhaps, without wanting to do so, Hitler reestablished the tripartite, crossed alliances between Russia, France, and England that had existed before 1914. [436]

The diplomatic sounding out between the Soviet Union and France began in January 1934. The French supported the Soviet Union’s attempt to join the Society of Nations and Stalin, in compensation, ordered the French Communist Party to form an alliance with the Socialists and the French bourgeoisie. The July 14, 1934 Blum-Thorez-Daladier Pact was the result of this command. [437] That was the first act of the Popular Front comedy. The second occurred on May 2, 1935, when France and the Soviet Union (Stalin and Laval, respectively) signed the Mutual Assistance Pact. After signing the agreement, Stalin declared that he “understood and fully approved of France’s national defense policy, in which it maintains its Armed Forces at the level of its security.” Prior to that date, the French Communist Party had always refused to vote for military credits. In fact, a month and a half earlier, Maurice Thorez [438] stated in the National Assembly that “We will never allow the working class to be dragged into a war called in defense of democracy against fascism.” Stalin’s declaration caused an abrupt change in their stance. That very May 2, posters proclaiming: “Stalin a raison” (“Stalin is right”) covered the walls of French cities. The central organ of the French Communist Party did its best to explain the new strategy to French CP members.

The third act of the comedy took place between July 25 and August 17, 1935, the dates of the Seventh Congress of the Communist International. The actors were Georgi Dimitrov and Palmiro Togliatti, in front of an audience of Communist International representatives. The Popular Front tactic called for an alliance between the working and middle classes to “block the path of the fascist offensive.” Dimitrov explained its necessity as follows: “Today, in a series of capitalist countries, the working masses have to choose not between the dictatorship of the proletariat and bourgeois democracy, but between bourgeois democracy and fascism.” Togliatti, for his part, inveighed against some disobedient delegates who challenged the revolutionary legitimacy of the Popular Front tactic: “Certain comrades have come to think that signing the Mutual Assistance Pact with France means renouncing the revolutionary perspective in Europe and compare it to a forced retreat under enemy fire. They are completely wrong. Far from being a retreat, it is an advance; and those who don’t understand its deep internal coherence understand nothing of the true dialectic that moves events and the revolutionary dialectic even less.”

If we look carefully at the Popular Front tactic, we can prove that it was not appropriate for Spain. Although it was devised for France, Communist Parties in all the “democratic-bourgeois” counties had to accept it without question. Moscow and the Communist International permitted no debate on the matter, even if applying the Popular Front in Spain required that the invention of the middle class and its parties. That is evident in the dialogue between Largo Caballero and Jacques Duclos, the itinerant agent of the Communist International. Duclos explains:

Largo Caballero, the main leader of the Socialist Party and the UGT, was a decisive factor in the formation of the Popular Front in Spain. He had to be convinced that the Spanish worker’s movement needed to consider what had happened in France and, toward that end, the Communist International ordered me to visit him in Madrid, as a representative of the International and a French Communist leader closely linked to the creation of the French Popular Front.

Julio Alvarez del Vayo put Jacques Duclos in contact with Largo Caballero. Under Alvarez del Vayo’s watch, the Young Communists and the Socialists had fused to create a Unified Socialist Youth. The group’s secretary was Santiago Carrillo, who had joined the Communist Party during his recent trip to Russia. Alvarez del Vayo turned out to be an excellent bridge between the two men. Duclos describes their dialogues:

We spoke over the course of three days. It was an open dialogue, without intermediaries or interpreters.... I wanted to convince Largo Caballero of the working class’s need for allies. I made a long statement, and was interrupted by questions about the formation of the Popular Front in France. I pointed to the fascist danger and explained that the masses would be defeated if they’re not united. I emphasized that the threat of fascism was no less significant in Spain than in France....

On this point [relations between Socialists and Communists], I knew that Largo Caballero would agree with me in general, especially given his positive comments about the Spanish Communist Party. But I also knew that he wouldn’t agree with the need for an alliance between the working class and the other social categories.

Duclos spoke at length about why the workers had to form a partnership with the middle class and intellectuals, in light of the elections, etc. He says:

On this point, Largo Caballero began by expressing the intransigence that I anticipated. He talked about the middle classes’ lack of importance and explained that the working class was the only consistently revolutionary class.

He made references to Marx and Lenin, whom, he told me, he admired greatly.

With all due respect for the “masters” Marx and Lenin, Duclos argued that one must never close oneself off from reality... that sometimes phenomena occur that influence one class over another, etc. Then he spelled out the “electoral arithmetic,” which was extremely interesting to Caballero. Then, finally, came the coup de grace:

I asked Largo Caballero what the electoral consequences might be in Spain if the Popular Front were created. He agreed that it would be beneficial for the Communist and Socialist Party. I was on the verge of obtaining a favorable response when I told him that, after I returned to Paris, I would then have to go to Moscow and give his response to the leaders of the Communist International. He said that I should tell them that the Popular Front will be formed in Spain. I was happy and felt tremendous affection and respect for that old militant, who had changed his views in light of realities whose breadth and complexity he hadn’t initially perceived. [439]

The machinery-guillotine of the Popular Front was greased. We now go to the Modelo prison in Valencia, where authorities had transferred Durruti from Barcelona in August.

CHAPTER XXVI. The CNT judges Durruti

The “straperlo” affair was what brought down the Radical Party in the summer of 1935. “Straperlo” was a game of roulette designed to ensure that the house always won. Its inventor, a Dutchman named Daniel Strauss, had bribed various government officials to obtain permission for the game’s use in San Sebastián’s Gran Casino. However, the government received complaints and was forced to withdraw its authorization. The Dutchman had paid dearly for the permission and asked for compensation from his accomplices. He obtained nothing and, feeling deceived, publicly denounced how he had been treated and revealed the names of the culpable government men. Leading figures in the Radical Party were compromised, including Aurelio Lerroux, Alejandro Lerroux’s son. This caused a scandal and the government had to respond. Alcalá Zamora resolved the crisis by dismissing Lerroux. After sounding out various political figures, Alcalá Zamora then asked the financier Joaquín Chapaprieta to form a new government: three Radicals, three CEDA members, and an agrarian joined on September 29.

On October 20, on the Comillas esplanade before an audience of some four hundred thousand people from all over Spain, Manuel Azaña gave a speech in which he analyzed the past two years of rightwing government and urged the Left to form a united block to compete in the upcoming elections. “We have to create a political program that all the left parties can support,” Azaña said, “and one that addresses the country’s urgent problems. But, right now, the important thing is the electoral unity of the Left.” Azaña hardly concealed his moderate views: “We have to give Spanish society the vaccine of social reformism,” he affirmed, “so that tomorrow it can cure itself of the black smallpox” (i.e., of revolution). There was an unambiguous concordance between Manuel Azaña and Jacques Duclos’s ideas. Indeed, the Communist International could celebrate that it had found in Azaña someone capable of creating the Popular Front. The electoral campaign had begun and, with it, the race to merge the parties.

In Claridad, its recently launched newspaper, the leftist faction of the Socialist Party reported that it was leaning toward signing a deal with the Communists. Alvarez del Vayo played an important role in that turn, given his close ties with Largo Caballero. Moscow’s agent in Spain, Vittorio Codovila, who led the Argentine Communist Party and was known as “Medina,” also urged Largo Caballero to fuse the Socialists and Communists. Largo Caballero was not particularly drawn to the idea and even noted his annoyance with “Medina” in his memoirs. However, Caballero’s apprehensions did not stop the CP from beginning to infiltrate the SP. One of its initial successes was the merger of the Communist and Socialist youth organizations and also the December 1935 entrance of the Confederación General del Trabajo Unitaria (CGTU) into the UGT. The CP had created the CGTU to compete with the CNT in Andalusia. [440]

An important combination of dissident Communists took place in November when Joaquín Maurín’s Bloc Obrer i Camperol and Andreu Nin’s Communist Left joined forces. The unification of these two tiny groups created the POUM (Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista, Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification).

Manuel Azaña’s vision of a leftwing electoral coalition was taking it shape. The support of Indalecio Prieto—who had been living in exile in France since October 1934—made it a reality. The Socialist Party and Azaña began discussions about the formation of the electoral front. It would be a “leftwing coalition” for the Socialists and a “prelude to the Popular Front” for the Communists.

Leftwing students from the Federación Universitaria Española also campaigned for the coalition. This resulted in violent clashes in the universities with student groups linked to the Falange Española, CEDA, or Renovación Española (Calvo Sotelo’s party), who were grouped around the Sindicato Español Universitario.

Spain began to split into two antagonistic blocks. The ship of state tried to navigate between them, but it was totally adrift and made up by individuals that the public disdained.

Mussolini rang the bell of war on October 4, 1935 when he sent his forces into Ethiopia. Falangist groups supported the war and left groups naturally opposed it. This led to even more bloody conflicts.

England, frightened by Mussolini’s actions in the Mediterranean, brokered a pact between Portugal and Spain to counteract the Italian dictator’s growing influence in Spain (his sights were set on the Balearic Islands). Hitler was also drawn to Spain, particularly to the iron and potash in the Spanish Sahara. When General Sanjurjo’s requested Nazi support for a fascist uprising in Spain, Hitler began to focus more intently on the Iberian Peninsula’s riches. He offered “disinterested” technical help in the form of aviation specialists and instructors. Each of the countries intervening in Spain’s internal affairs in late 1935 sought out their own allies among the Spaniards. The fascist powers found them amidst those conspiring against the Republic, whereas England had them on the Left as well as the Right (showing clearly that diplomatic interests trump morality). While the electoral coalition was trying to find a political program that could mobilize the working masses, the foreign powers positioned themselves to secure the greatest possible advantages. We will now explore the reorganization of anarcho-syndicalist forces as well as Durruti’s concerns in the Valencia prison.

Although the CNT’s prestige among the workers was growing, the long periods spent underground had weakened it organizationally. There were also contradictory perspectives within the Confederation about how to respond to the elections. The organization needed an interval of legality, in which the government respected the right of association, so that it could hold a National Congress and clarify its position with the full participation of its members. But that was impossible for the time being, which meant leaving important questions unaddressed.

It was much easier for the FAI to determine its position on the elections. Underground since formation and light in structures, its groups could easily meet and discuss problems thoroughly. That is why the anarchist organization was able to establish its place in the political scenario earlier than the CNT. Tierra y Libertad wrote:

The struggle against fascism cannot be placed on the electoral terrain, which is a terrain of impotence that precludes all other actions of greater significance. The promise of future elections, united political fronts, or working class parliaments won’t get the workers to vote for a social leftist list on a given day. They can’t be pushed along the bland and comfortable path of least resistance, which ends only in deception and disaster. We must shake the rebel fiber and make it clear that only revolution can stop fascism.[441]

Socialist and Communist activists tried to turn the discussions in the prisons into forums for electoralist propaganda. They argued that only a unified political front that brings the Left to power can stop fascism. However, many workers escaped the control of the party apparatuses and drew different lessons from the October rebellion. For them, the workers’ alliance did not exist on the electoral plane but rather on the revolutionary plane. An important aspect of this proletarian insight was the identification of fascism with the bourgeoisie. For the working masses, fascism included the clergy, the military, big business, high and low financiers, the state bureaucracy, rural landowners, and of course the aristocracy. Those who embraced this anti-fascist outlook were completely against “popular frontism” and the Republican-Socialist electoral alliance. They had a class conscious proletarian orientation that saw the battle against the bourgeoisie as a vital part of the anti-fascist struggle. There was no concord between their views and the attempt to construct the anti-fascist movement as an act of class collaboration that included anyone who identified as “progressive” or “liberal” in the anti- fascist front. Unfortunately, while it was easy to intuitively see who held the revolutionary anti-fascist position, that stance was not articulated clearly in the debates in the courtyards and cells and that imprecision was dangerous to the future of the revolution itself. The FAI, which addressed the issue in the article quoted above, oriented all its propagandistic efforts toward clarifying that confused anti-fascist sentiment.

CNT and FAI members predominated among the inmates in Valencia’s Modelo prison, where Durruti had been since August. Most came from Catalonia, Aragón, or Levante itself. That political homogeneity meant that prison debates often focused on the CNT and FAI’s internal problems and one of those problems was related to “the Thirty,” which had strong roots in Valencia and among some of the prisoners. The two years that had transpired since “the Thirty” split from the CNT had been a period of reflection for some and, for the group as a whole, clarification among the diverse currents clustered around the tendency. The Sabadell group soon oriented itself in two directions: one led them toward the UGT and the other toward the Esquerra Republicana. In any case, they were now forever separate from the CNT. Pestaña’s supporters followed him when he founded the Syndicalist Party in 1933, with which he tried to secure an influence over the CNT very much like the influence that the Socialist Party exercised over the UGT. But the majority formed the Opposition Unions and continued to identify with the CNT ideologically but remained firm in their stance about the dictatorship of the FAI (ironically, they created the Libertarian Syndicalist Federation, which practiced its own dictatorship over the Opposition Unions). But, two years later, now that the debate was less heated, Juan Peiró, Juan López, and others began to call for a return to the CNT. What wasn’t obvious was exactly how that return should take place. Militants passionately discussed all these issues in the prison’s cells and yards.

Durruti was somewhat isolated from these conversations, since he was more concerned with problems of another nature. In fact, a letter from the period suggests that he was in the midst of a vigorous conflict with the CNT committees. The document doesn’t show the “disciplined” Durruti that Manuel Buenacasa described, but rather a committed militant who didn’t conceal his views for the sake of “organizational responsibility” (a formulation that prompted many activists to keep their criticisms to themselves). The letter in question was a reply to a letter from José Mira. It is dated September 11, 1935.

I have your letter in my possession and will respond to it now. Of course! It treats things that interest me greatly. I have nothing new to tell you from here, apart from the fact that two comrades were released yesterday. We hope that the releases will continue and that we’ll all be back on the street soon, where we’re really needed...

Let me make this clear at the outset: I’m hardly concerned about what some comrades imprisoned with you [in Barcelona] think of me. I’m consistent with myself and follow the same path that I set for myself many years ago.

If you’ve followed my activity as an anarchist through the press or conversations with comrades, you will have noticed that I don’t have the mindset of a common robber or gunman. I came to my ideas and continue with them because I believed and still believe that the anarchist ideal is above all trifles and petty quarrels.

I also believed and still believe that the Confederation’s battles for a peseta more and an hour less were necessary skirmishes, but never the end point, never the CNT or anarchists’ goal. The Confederation has well-defined principles: it fights to overthrow the capitalist regime and implant libertarian communism. A revolution like that, my good friend Mira, requires anarchist ideas and revolutionary education, not a troublemaker’s mentality. And we certainly can’t allow the CNT to expend all its strength on one or two conflicts just so those concerned can add another piece of codfish to the Sunday meal.

The CNT is the most powerful organization in Spain and needs to occupy its rightful place in the collective order. Its battles must reflect its greatness. It would be ridiculous to see a lion in the middle of the jungle waiting for a mouse to come out of the mouse hole so that it can eat. Yet that is exactly what’s happening to the CNT right now. Some claim that its actions in Barcelona are virile and revolutionary. I have the opposite view, my dear Mira. Anyone can carry out sabotage, even the most fainthearted, but the revolution needs men of courage, in the committees and among the militant cadre that have to fight it out on the street. One can’t speak of Confederal dignity, after the comrades and organization’s stance during the October rebellion, simply because some streetcars were set on fire. Isn’t it terrible, at a time like this, to have to admit that the organization in Barcelona can’t provide the most minimal revolutionary guarantee? Could it be that now, when revolutionary possibilities are going to appear when we least expect them, that the organization is incapable of playing its true role? Isn’t it disgraceful to abandon our collective interests for two petty conflicts, from which only a few will benefit? I’m one of the few who will benefit and I’m ashamed to see the CNT discard its revolutionary trajectory for my weekly wage. Some think the organization is simply a vehicle for defending their economic interests. Others see it as an organization that works with the anarchists for social transformation. Of course it makes sense that it’s so difficult for the straight union activists and anarchists to get along.

Now, with respect to the document in question, I only give it the importance that it deserves: a suggestion to the National Committee about the present situation and nothing more. I don’t understand how it could create all the stir that you describe. It was a personal act. Every militant has the right to expound his views, even to the National Committee. Some NC representatives came here and we reached an agreement, once some ideas were clarified that, according to them, had to be clarified. And, furthermore, after I spoke with one of the NC delegates, he agreed with me about the essence of the document...

The document only articulates the views that I stated every day in the courtyard of the fifth Gallery in Barcelona. Nobody objected at the time. Evidently they had to move me to Valencia so that the critics could express themselves. The Catalan Regional Committee also came to see us. We spoke openly and they had no disagreements. They only complained about some words that they found offensive. We had no problem changing them, since that didn’t change the meaning of the document at all.

When everyone finished stating their views (the National Committee, Regional Committee, and the signers of the document), all agreed on the need to print a clarifying note in Soli to inform all the militants. We wrote the note and sent it to the Regional Committee for publication. The note didn’t contradict the content of the document at all and it was what the organizational representatives had agreed upon. So why hasn’t our note been published? The Catalan Regional Committee and the National Committee committed to printing another, to calm spirits and ensure that our text isn’t interpreted badly; why haven’t they published it? All this suggests that those on the outside have an interest in spoiling everything. And that’s significant. They’re the ones, who have all the resources in their hands, that have to clarify the issue. Why don’t they do so? The behavior of the Committees is suspicious. Why don’t they explain things?

I have letters from comrades in the Burgos prison, where they read the document at a meeting. They tell me that no one objected (which doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone agreed with it). But nonsense was said before it was public and now that it is, there’s a more sensible reflection. One could say a lot about the Barcelona strategy, but I have to be prudent by mail. The only comment I’ll make is that, after so much sabotage, they’ve had to place themselves—contacting the boss of the Ramo del Agua and the Urban Transports Company—somewhat beyond Confederal principles. I’m not condemning them, given the exceptional circumstances that we’re facing, but I’m conscious of the great damage that systematic sabotage has caused and causes us. It mustn’t become the norm. It’s very debatable as a tactic and has lost us much more than we can win with it. We have to consider the costs and benefits in any struggle. I’ve never supported walking away from strikes, but it’s one thing to stick to our guns and another to make all our activities revolve around a single conflict. That limits the CNT’s scope of action. To reduce it to salary battles is to limit its ultimate goals.

Fortunately, the political situation is getting clearer, although our comrades have to ask themselves if we’ll be prepared to engage it with all our weight. No one is talking about the CNT in prison now. Everyone looks to our enemies for solutions, because the CNT offers none. The feeling among the prisoners is: “open the Parliament, end the state of emergency, hold the elections.” Not a word about the CNT. That’s what the organization’s position has done: killed their faith in our strength.

Most prisoners belong to the CNT, which unfortunately won’t play an important role either before or after the elections. CNT prisoners will have to get out of prison thanks to the politicians... And, for me, as an anarchist, that doesn’t make much sense. I want my freedom because of my comrades’ efforts and not because of the philanthropy of someone I’ll have to fight tooth and nail as soon as I get out.[442]

This letter, more than anything that Durruti ever wrote, shows his critical mind and unambiguous revolutionary anarchist convictions. A spirit of pride in the CNT’s work pervades the text, which he clearly wanted to transmit to his comrades so that they would have the courage necessary to ensure that the CNT plays its historic role. He raised various issues, but focused on what should be the CNT’s ultimate goal. For Durruti, it was a proletarian organization that worked with the anarchists to implant libertarian communism.

He agrees that economic struggles are essential, but not at the expense of the Confederation’s primary aims. The Nosotros group attacked the “expropriators” for the same reason that Durruti was now criticizing the waste of forces in the daily acts of sabotage. Both strategies were ineffective and distracted militants from more important issues. The dangers of the underground had become apparent once again: it had separated the CNT from the workers— who are always the source of momentum and creativity—and put men in the Committees who lacked the capacity to confront the challenges of the day. Durruti got out of the Valencia prison in November 1935 and had to defend his position at a meeting of militants. His main faultfinders were from the Transport Workers’ Union, who felt directly affected by his observations. Some of his accusers (the “troublemakers,” as Durruti called them) implied that Durruti’s time in prison had softened his radicalism (they didn’t say this openly, but made it understood). José Peirats, who took the meeting’s minutes at Durruti’s request, gives a sense of what occurred: “Durruti’s own fame trapped him.... They would have reproached him severely for any deviation from his tragic trajectory, which is what occurred in the trial that the Barcelona transport workers heard against Durruti after he got out of the Valencia prison. They would have pardoned anyone else for human weakness, but not Durruti. To defend himself, he had to renew his reputation as a warrior, beating the table with his fists while he spoke. This was more convincing than his arguments. He was absolved.” [443] A few days after this meeting, Durruti and Ascaso spoke at a rally for Jerónimo Misa, a young libertarian sentenced to death in Sevilla for having freed (at gunpoint) a group of prisoners being sent to El Puerto de Santa María.

Ascaso spoke first. Before addressing the main topic of the meeting, he made some philosophical comments about the right to life. Then, when it was least expected, he violently denounced the state’s plan to garrote Jerónimo Misa. It was already too late by the time the policemen on duty reacted: everything had already been said. They tried to arrest Ascaso, a scuffle ensued, and Ascaso escaped in the confusion, thanks to Durruti’s help. The police charged Ascaso and Durruti with insults to the government. Durruti, now semi-underground, received a request from friends in León to participate in a rally there. It had been a long time since he had seen his family and his mother was always urging him to spend a few days relaxing in León. He accepted, excited by the thought of both helping comrades and seeing loved ones.

As always, the bullring was the ideal place for such events and the spectacle of Durruti’s last appearance there was repeated. Not only did residents of León pack the site, but also many who came from Asturias and Galicia by bus. Durruti’s speech was more cautionary than aggressive. Days of struggle are brewing, he said, and they had to be prepared and ready to take to the street. This will be the difficult, final battle. [444] While he was leaving the rally, a Civil Guard officer instructed Durruti to accompany him to the Command Headquarters, where the superiors in charge wanted to speak with him. Once there, they told him that he could not remain in León and that they had orders to take him to Barcelona. They detained him only briefly. He was released on January 10, 1936.

CHAPTER XXVII. February 16, 1936

Manuel Azaña and the Socialist Party began discussing the creation of the electoral coalition on November 14, 1935. Leaders of the SP proposed a platform that could serve as its foundation, although only the clause on amnesty in their suggested program would be retained later. The program that was ultimately adopted was an extremely modest republican platform in every sense. It called for:

a) Amnesty for prisoners convicted of social-political crimes committed after November 1933. Anyone sentenced for such crimes between 1931 and 1933 would not receive amnesty, which meant that a large number of anarchist militants would remain in prison.

b) Rehire state employees that the Rightwing fired for their political views.

c) Reestablish the Constitution.

d) Address socials problems in the countryside and carry out administrative reforms, like reducing taxes, etc.

Other points included were: salary increases, educational reform, and the reestablishment of the Catalan Autonomy Statute. The document was silent on the increasingly pressing question of Morocco.

The following organizations and political parties accepted and endorsed the program: for the Izquierda Republicana, Amós Salvador; for the Unión Republicana, Bernardo de los Ríos; for the Socialist Party, Juan Simeón Vidarte and Manuel Cordero; for the Unión General de Trabajadores, Francisco Largo Caballero; for the Juventudes Socialistas, José Cazorla; for the Communist Party, Vicente Uribe; for the Syndicalist Party, Angel Pestaña; and for the Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista, Juan Andrade.

While the Left formed its coalition, Joaquín Chapaprieta’s government entered into crisis as a result of another financial scandal. Alcalá Zamora held meetings with Rightwing leaders, but was unable to find a Prime Minister who could assure even minimal political stability. To resolve the matter, on December 13 Portela Valladares pledged to form a government without the CEDA or the Radicals, which would mean the dissolution of the Parliament and new elections. In response, CEDA leader Gil Robles urged Rightwing members of the government to resign (both Melquíades Alvarez and Martínez de Velasco did so). This would be the last crisis of the rightwing governments, as Alcalá Zamora formed a government made up by individuals entrusted with dissolving the Parliament and organizing the elections scheduled for February 16, 1936.

The elections presented a difficult problem for the CNT: should it tell its members to abstain or to vote for the leftwing list? The latter option was attractive, because a Popular Front victory would mean freedom for the prisoners (most of whom were CNT members).

On January 9, the CNT’s Catalan Regional Committee issued a circular calling the unions to a regional conference in Barcelona’s Meridiana cinema on January 25. The topics to discuss were: “1. What should the CNT’s position be on an alliance with institutions that, without being in solidarity with us, have workerist nuances? And 2. What concrete and definitive stance should the CNT adopt toward the elections?” [445] The very presence of these points on the agenda indicates the confusion among the men on the CNT committees, whom Durruti found “suspicious” and with whom he had clashed. A certain indecision, if not coercion, is evident in the submission of the above agenda, which limited or nullified the discussion of the immediate political challenges. In part, this reflects the fact that some CNT militants had responded favorably to Largo Caballero’s calls for the CNT to form a “brotherhood in the proletarian revolution” with the UGT. It was also a way to make it easier for CNT militants to justify voting for the Popular Front.

Authorities released Durruti a day after the mentioned circular was issued. The atmosphere in the street had changed during his short incarceration. As if by magic, the bombings, attacks on individuals, and clashes with the police had stopped. This suggested that at least some of those actions had been the work of Falange provocateurs. An air of tragedy seemed to float in the air and there was a general feeling of dispiritedness. Few could hazard a confident guess about the outcome of the political moment. Durruti noted the confusion in conversations he had with militants, who didn’t know whether or not they should abstain (as they had in November 1933). He expressed himself bluntly in one of those discussions:

We anarchists are really very few in Spain. Although our ideas and propaganda influence the workers, this only happens under the right conditions. The results of the November 1933 elections would have been the same whether or not we had advocated abstention, for the simple reason that the Socialists and Republicans were completely discredited. There were no other Left candidates and the workers wouldn’t have voted for the Right. They would have abstained on their own accord. Then, the important thing was making the abstention conscious and active; a way of making the proletariat class conscious. We did that and the Republican Socialist policies actually helped us. But the situation is different today. We’ve suffered two years of harsh oppression and the immense majority of the working class is fed up with it.

Furthermore, there are thirty thousand inmates in the prisons and it seems like all we need to do is vote to get them out. That’s what the leftwing politicians encourage us to think in the rallies that they’re holding throughout Spain. Unfortunately, the workers are too generous. Do you remember when Barcelona workers supported Francisco Largo Caballero’s deputy candidacy to get him out of prison after the sad strike in August 1917? They forgot the Socialists’ behavior during that strike and only thought of freeing an incarcerated man. Today most of the workers have forgotten the repression from 1931 to 1933 and only think of the Right’s atrocities in Asturias. Whether or not we advocate abstention, the workers will vote for the Left, but we should do the same thing that we did in November 1933. We must not deceive the proletariat. We have to make it aware of the reality that’s right under our noses: if the Reactionaries win, they’ll impose a dictatorship legally and, if they lose, they’ll attempt a coup. Either way, a confrontation between the working class and the bourgeoisie is inevitable. That’s what we have to say clearly and decisively to the working class; so that it’s warned, so that it’s armed, so that it’s prepared, and so that it knows how to defend itself when the time comes. Bourgeois democracy is dead and the Republicans killed it.[446]

Durruti will maintain this position consistently in the months of life remaining to him. The regional conference took place on January 25, 1936:

The majority of the delegations (142 delegates representing ninety-two unions, eight Local Federations, seven counties, the National Committee, and the Regional Prisoner Support Committee) did not carry mandates from their respective unions, the bulk of which were still closed. The limited time between the call for the conference and the conference itself meant that militants could not make decisions in the normal way. Most of the decisions emerged out of meetings of militants. This prompted sharp criticisms against the conference organizers. Many claimed that the Regional Committee was trying to force them to take an accommodating stance toward the electoral situation. The delegation from Hospitalet del Llobregat was particularly emphatic. It proposed censuring the Regional Committee for alleged coercion.

A delegate pointed to a decision from a national meeting of regionals (on May 26, 1935) as a response to the issue. That decision established the following:

All propaganda, during elections and otherwise, will be a doctrinal exposition of our principles and practical goals. We will fight politics and its parties in equal measure, without falling into demagoguery. We will carry out abstentionist propaganda at every possible opportunity, in a way that is consistent with the organization’s decisions and without subordinating our conduct to elections. The relevant Committees will oversee these efforts.

But, nevertheless, most delegates saw the CNT’s anti-electoral position as a matter of tactics more than principle and thus managed to start a debate on the topic. The discussion revealed a state of ideological vacillation within the CNT, despite all the exegetes who spoke endlessly about the intrinsic value of the “apolitical” and “anti-political” perspectives. The conference finally nominated a committee to issue a statement. The committee’s declaration reasserted the CNT’s principles and goals, affirming that it had “to demonstrate the inefficiency of voting to the workers, pointing to historic events such as those in Germany and Austria.”

In the discussion of the worker alliance, conference attendees agreed that the “UGT must recognize that the emancipation of the workers is only possible through revolutionary action. Accepting that point, it must break off all political and parliamentary collaboration with the bourgeois system.... For the social revolution to be effective, it must completely destroy the regime that presently controls Spanish economic and political life.... The new social relations born of revolutionary victory will be governed by the express will of the workers, gathered publicly and with complete and absolute freedom of expression for all.... The defense of the new society requires the unity of all forces and that the particular interest of each tendency is put aside.” They added a note for the CNT National Committee asking it to convene a national conference of unions in April to explore the possibility of an accord with the UGT. It concluded by calling autonomous organizations to join the CNT or UGT, in accordance with their affinities. [447] This statement about the necessary foundations of an alliance with the UGT simply reaffirmed the CNT’s longstanding position. Unfortunately, the Socialist’s stance also remained the same. Largo Caballero was still trying to win CNT votes, although he was also becoming dangerously Bolshevik.

Claridad printed a speech that he gave in early June at a meeting of the Agrupación Socialista Madrileña. He said that “Preventing the Socialist Party from being the sole leader would betray the Party’s very essence.... When the dictatorship of the proletariat is established, the government will have to fight anyone who disagrees with it, just as the Bolsheviks permitted no opposition and destroyed their opponents.” [448]

The February 16 elections occurred in an environment of unprecedented calm. Even the conservative paper La Vanguardia recognized that they had been held in “perfect discipline.” The Left coalition was victorious, but only by a small margin:

Left: 4,838,449 263 deputies

Right: 3,996,931 129 deputies

Center: 449,320 52 deputies

The Socialist Party elected ninety deputies, which meant that it had lost twenty-six posts since the 1931 elections. That was surely part of Socialist’s concession to the Communist Party, which gained thirteen deputies. The Izquierda Republicana (Azaña) and Unión Republicana (Martínez Barrio) won the liberal bourgeois vote, sharing 117 deputies between them. In Catalonia, the Esquerra Republicana elected thirty-eight deputies.

The CEDA continued being the most important faction on the Right, with ninety-four deputies. La Falange Española ran its founder José Antonio Primo de Rivera as an independent candidate and did not elect even one deputy.

As for the Center, the Radical Party (Lerroux) suffered a huge defeat. It went from eighty deputies in the 1933 elections to eight on February 16. According to the Constitution, Portela Valladares and his government had to wait one month before handing power over to the victors of the February 16 elections. However, to prevent a coup in the interim, Alcalá Zamora violated the Constitution and got Manuel Azaña and his ministerial team to assume power in three days.

Calvo Sotelo and Gil Robles asked Portela Valladares to decree a state of emergency in the early morning of February 17. Meanwhile, General Franco tried to get Minister of War General Molero and Civil Guard Inspector General Pozas to support an intervention of the Army with the forces that they commanded. Molero and Pozas refused, and so General Franco set out to organize the coup on his own. According to Joaquín Arrarás: “General Franco had the appropriate orders drafted and circulated. He also initiated a series of discussions with the commander generals, but had to suspend them when an aide told him that Mr. Portela needed to see him at once. It was to express his irritation.”[449] Although there was no coup that night of February 18, that had less to do with Portela Valladares and Alcalá Zamora’s actions than the indecision among the military leaders that Franco consulted. But, given the circumstances, Alcalá Zamora decided that it would be imprudent to wait a month to transfer power and entrusted Manuel Azaña with forming his government on February 19.

Manuel Azaña put together a leftwing Republican government. The workers, who had been holding public demonstrations and forcibly releasing inmates from the prisons, again awarded their trust to the left Republican leaders, hoping that this time they understood the need to break with the policies of the past and take the country along a new path. During the electoral campaign, the left coalition had presented itself as an obstacle to fascism; the people would receive their first disappointment when the new government acted oblivious to and made no attempt to stop the conspiracy initiated by Gil Robles, Calvo Sotelo, and General Franco, despite the fact that they had clearly revealed their ploys.

On February 19, everyone thought that authorities would surely arrest General Franco. Indeed, Franco himself went directly to the Interior Minister, perhaps hoping to reduce the severity of his punishment. He was surprised to discover that not only did Amós Salvador leave him in liberty, but that he also recognized his fidelity to the Republic. Manuel Azaña made Franco the Military Commander of the Canary Islands in order to remove him from the Peninsula and made General Goded (another plotter) military chief of the Balearic Islands, where Mussolini—in Majorca—had set up his operational headquarters for Italian activities in Spain.

By taking such measures, Manuel Azaña and his government were simply rehashing the policies of Gil Robles or Lerroux. People felt the deception like a slap in the face and the government’s enactment of amnesty on February 21 did not diminish the impact of the insult. That was because the people had already partially imposed amnesty themselves by opening the provincial prisons and also because the government was beginning to limit the scope of the amnesty. Its restrictions left endless CNT social inmates in prison, as well as many sentenced for common law offenses who were actually social prisoners, given that they were peasants whose crimes had been motivated by hunger.

Durruti denounced these affronts in a meeting held in Barcelona’s Price Theater on March 6. “We remind the men in government that they’re there because the workers voted them in and they can throw them out just as easily if their patience is exhausted. There is already reason to think that the working class is reaching the limits of its tolerance with the government.”[450]

The situation was becoming increasingly desperate in the countryside. Many landowners abandoned their fields, perhaps because they feared revolution or to protest the new government. The landowners who remained found any excuse to halt productive activity, which preserved the crushing rates of unemployment among the peasantry. On February 27, the government issued instructions for rehiring workers who had been fired for their political views or for participating in the October 1934 revolutionary events. The rural and industrial bourgeoisie ignored those directives and refused to readmit the laborers in question. Although unions in the industrial areas were able to force the bourgeoisie to follow the government’s orders, the only solution in the countryside was to occupy the abandoned lands. Rural expropriations spread like wildfire once the Cenicientos peasants took the first step:

The peasants of Cenicientos in the province of Madrid have occupied in a body the pasture land called “Encinar de la Parra,” covering an area of 1,317 hectares, and have begun to work it. When the occupation was completed, they sent the following letter to the minister of agriculture:

“In our village there is an extensive pasture land susceptible of cultivation, which in the past was actually cultivated, but which today is used for shooting and grazing. Our repeated requests to lease the land from the owner, who, together with two or three other landowners, possess almost the entire municipal area—at one time communal property—have been in vain. As our hands and ploughs were idle and our children hungry, we had no course but to occupy the land. This we have done. With our labor it will yield what it did not yield before; our misery will end and the national wealth will increase. In doing this, we do not believe that we have prejudiced anyone, and the only thing we ask of Your Excellency is that you legalize this situation and grant us credits so that we can perform our labors in peace.” Two weeks after the Cenicientos occupation, the peasants of eight towns in Salamanca did the same thing. Four days later, the inhabitants of some towns in the province of Toledo followed suit and, by daybreak on March 25, eighty thousand peasants in the Cáceres and Badajoz provinces were taking over the lands and beginning to cultivate them.[451]

Press reports on these occupations made it clear that a battle was unfolding: “Two thousand hungry residents of this locality [Mansalbas-Toledo] just took over the ‘El Robledo’ farm, which the Count of Romanones appropriated twenty years ago without giving anything to the people.” [452]

Popular Front leaders had assumed that they could continue manipulating the peasantry with their speculations about whether “we will or will not apply agrarian reform,” but quickly realized that would no longer work when the first land occupations began in Murcia, just a few days after they took office. They resorted to the time-tested procedure of expelling the peasants with the Civil Guard, who injured twenty-seven on this occasion. The peasants responded with the dramatic rebellion described above, which made Manuel Azaña understand that he couldn’t rely on mausers alone and had to send agronomical engineers and legalize the occupied farms. This proved once again that the only effective reforms are those imposed by force from below. Indeed, direct action was infinitely more successful than all the parliamentary chatter that took place between 1931 and 1933 about whether to institute the approved Agrarian Reform law.

There were other actions after the land occupations. There were attacks on churches, for example, whose pulpits had become sites of open conspiracy against the government and whose vestries were being used to store arms. The revolution began from below and had little to do with defending bourgeois democracy, the supposed purpose of the Popular Front.

Statistics from the period between February 16 and June 15, 1936 show that a class war was breaking out: “One hundred sixty churches burned down; 269 deaths; 1,287 injured; 113 general strikes, 228 partial strikes, and 145 bombings.” The political physiognomy of the country was: “UGT, 1,447,000 members; CNT, 1,577,000 members.” These numbers totaled more than three million, indicating that more than a third of the country’s eight million workers were unionized.

The Right “had 549,000 enrolled in its diverse organizations; from 20,000 to 30,000 retired soldiers; 50,000 falangists; 50,000 priests, and millions and millions of pesetas.” [453]

That was the distribution of forces when the CNT held its Fourth National Congress on May 1, 1936 in Zaragoza’s Iris Park Theater.

CHAPTER XXVIII. The Fourth Congress of the CNT

The Nosotros group achieved a new level of dynamism after January 1936. Its members threw themselves into action: they worked to strengthen the CNT’s unions, built up CNT-FAI Defense Committees, and forged contacts with soldiers in order to stay informed about developments within the military. Of course they also went almost daily to conferences, union meetings, and rallies. However, the Nosotros group wasn’t alone in this; all CNT and FAI militants seemed to be growing increasingly engaged.

The CNT had no paid staff, other than the general secretary of the National Committee and the income it brought in from dues went entirely to prisoners, propaganda, and unemployed workers. However,