¡Pistoleros! 2:1919 - The Chronicles of Farquhar McHarg

Extracts from Pistoleros! The Chronicles of Farquhar Mcharg, the fictional memoirs of a Scottish anarcho-syndicalist based in Spain.

Reproduced with kind permission of ChristieBooks/Read ‘n’ Noir

The Chronicles of Farquhar McHarg 1918-1976 Pistoleros! 2: 1919 is the second volume of the memoirs and notebooks of Farquhar McHarg, a seventy-six-year-old anarchist from the Govan district of Glasgow, its writing prompted by the murder, in October 1976, of his lifelong friend, Laureano Cerrada Santos. McHarg’s Chronicles record his evolving beliefs and sense of mission, and the remarkable adventures he experienced from the day he sailed into the neutral port of Barcelona in the spring Farquhar’s Chronicles are folk history, bringing the changes that of 1918, a naïve but idealistic eighteen-year-old, and 1976.

shook the political and social landscape of Spain (and the world) between 1918 and 1976 into the framework of adult lifetime. They make a vexatious but fascinating story that provides a deep insight into the spirit that moved the selfless, generous, occasionally naïve and recklessly idealistic people who were involved in the bitter social struggles that marked the hectic insurrectionary and utopian aftermath of the great imperialist war of 1914-1918./-- Contemptuous of traditional political parties and professional politicians, and inspired by the example – and the myth – of the Russian Revolution, these men and women aimed to rid the world of a cruel, corrupt, arbitrary and oppressive political and economic system that abused authority and exploited, degraded, tortured and murdered in the name of profit and power.

The transformation of the unworldly young Farquhar, in the climactic and rebellious years between 1918 and 1924, is fascinating to observe as he acquires consciousness and identity through his experiences in a world for which he is little prepared.

The journey he embarks upon in these pages is not simply a personal memoir or an exploration of his own psyche; the many hitherto untold stories that unfold along his way provide profound understanding of the circumstances, thoughts and deeds of people who tried to rescue the Europe of the twentieth century from the cycle of disaster, war and death.

If anyone should ask me: ‘Do you think that anarcho-syndicalism is an ultimate factor in Spanish politics?’ my answer is ‘Yes’ and that neither today nor ever can it be neglected. Lastly, if anyone should beg me to be explicit as to my own view on anarcho-syndicalism as a political fact, I return to what I have said already. Here is my formula; it is a non-political formula. People too full of humanity dream of freedom, of the good, of justice, giving these an emotional and individualistic significance. Carrying such a load, an individual can hope for the respect and loyalty of his relations and friends, but if he should hope to influence the general social structure, he nullifies himself in heroic and sterile rebellion. No man can approach mankind giving his all and expecting all in return. Societies are not based on the virtues of individuals, but on a system which controls defects by limiting the freedom of everyone. Naturally the system takes a different form under feudalism, capitalism and communism. Let anarchosyndicalists invent their own system, and until they have attained it, go on dreaming of a strange state of society in which all men are as disinterested as St Francis of Assisi, bold as Spartacus, and able as Newton and Hegel. But behind the dream there is a human truth of the most generous kind — sometimes, let me insist, absolutely sublime. Is not that enough?

Ramón J Sender, Seven Red Sundays Capitalism (Helios Gómez)

1976: 19 OCTOBER, PARIS, BOULEVARD ST GERMAIN

Farquhar McHarg was next; he felt it in his aching bones.Whether it was a sixth sense or long and bloody experience he didn’t know, but whatever it was it left an ominous feeling in the pit of his stomach. It was pointless trying to be rational, telling himself there was no reason to believe that he would be the next target. He trusted his senses. They had never let him down —so far! In his coat pocket he had his 9mm Star with a full magazine, a bullet in the breech and the safety off —just in case. Its warmth and solidity in his hand felt reassuring, as did the fact he also had his Catalan throwing-knife —long, slender and sharp —in its fitted sheath in the breast pocket of his jacket.

It was late, and the weather atrocious. He had just handed in his monthly column for Libération and was heading towards the Maubert-Mutualité metro station, on his way home to Belleville. Shoulders hunched, head bent against a wind that whipped raindrops pitilessly into his face, he made his way along the surprisingly empty Boulevard Saint-Germain, drips from the brim of his fedora hat tickling the corners of his eyes. The glistening boulevard looked more like the Canal Saint-Martín than a Parisian thoroughfare. Passing a darkened shop window, he paused to check his reflection, hoping to see something of his Byronic muse, an 18-year-old Conrad The Corsair. He was there all right, but now imprisoned in the frame of a burly, elderly man dressed in a calf-length, tan trenchcoat. He smiled to himself, a sardonic sneer that masked his anger —and his sadness.

Unable to discuss his concerns with anyone, Farquhar had busied himself in the newspaper office for most of the day. Twenty-four hours earlier he had witnessed the slaying of his oldest friend and comrade, Laureano Cerrada Santos, gunned down in Belleville’s Rue des Couronnes. He had seen — and participated in — many shocking things in his life, but the memory of the previous night’s events had affected him more profoundly than he thought possible. He should not have gone into the office that day, but claustrophobia and paranoia had forced him out of his apartment. He wanted things to be normal. He also needed to think through the whys and wherefores of Laureano’s murder. Farquhar shared many of Laureano’s secrets, and was the executor of his estate. He also knew where some of the bodies —metaphorical and real —were buried, a knowledge that put him above the parapet and in the firing line. In the circumstances, Libé’s busy office on the Boulevard Saint-Michel had seemed the best place to keep his head down.

The press had paid little attention to Laureano’s murder; it had happened too late for the morning papers. The afternoon editions had carried short, vague reports about the ‘bloody incident in Belleville’, but as far as the press was concerned it was one more internecine gangland killing. Nor was there any reference to Laureano’s reputation as a ‘gangster’, one of Europe’s leading falsificadores (forgers), facilitator for the Parisian and Marseilleise milieu, arms and documents supplier to many of the world’s anti-imperialist guerrilla movements, and financial sponsor of the clandestine anarchist Resistance to the recently deceased General Franco. They probably didn’t know, most journalists being hacks relying on others to make the connections for them, and sure as fate someone would soon start making those connections.

Farquhar had spent most of that afternoon ringing around old comrades and contacts, especially those from the Resistance years, one or two of whom now held senior positions in the French security and intelligence services. Best-placed of all of these was Alexandre de Marenches, who now headed the French secret service, the SDCE —the Service de Documentation et de Contre Espionage. Farquhar didn’t trust De Marenches; a professional deceiver, he was as duplicitous and unpredictable as they come, but he did owe a lot to the man from Govan, and it was payback time.

Lost in his thoughts, the sound of a car slowing behind him drew Farquhar back to reality. Adrenaline flushing his stomach, he clutched the Star in his coat pocket, but the car didn’t stop. Gears crunching, the vehicle accelerated past him, ploughing through a large puddle from a blocked drain, splattering muddy water on his trousers. Cursing to himself, the thought of taking a shot at the fast receding car flashed through Farquhar’s mind, but disappeared just as quickly. Heart pounding, he hunched deeper into his coat collar as he continued on his way through the wet Parisian night. He cut a lonely figure silhouetted against the diffused light from the neon signs and streetlamps, and the refracted reflections on the wet cobbles and flowing gutters.

* * *

It had been weather like this when Farquhar first met Alexandre de Marenches, then a twenty-one-year-old officer in the Vichy army of Marshal Pétain. A count, de Marenches acted like one. They had met at a bar in the small town of Céret, near Perpignan, to discuss setting up escape and evasion lines for fugitive Allied personnel throughout southern France and across the Pyrenees.

The introduction came through Farqhuar’s old ‘friend’, Major George Marshall of the British Special Intelligence Service. Farquhar’s and Marshall’s relationship dated back to 1918 when the British Secret Service Bureau officer was on attachment to the British Consulate in Barcelona.

Marshall, a product of the Scottish public schools system, was both brave and wily. Bemused that they had lived so long, given their respective life-choices, the two ‘friends’ met on and off over the years, when it suited them, and when it was to their mutual advantage. From September 1937 onwards, with the Spanish Civil War reaching its most critical point and the Soviet military and Comintern agents tightening their stranglehold over Dr Juan Negrín’s Republican government, contact between Farquhar and Marshall became more frequent.

Farquhar was, at the time, a sergeant in a guerrilla unit attached to the 127th Brigade. Billeted in a village near Huesca — part of the Army of the East —they were preparing an attack on Zaragoza, to liberate it from the fascists in what was to become known as ‘the Battle of Aragón’. Their unit, which was made up mainly of members of a co-opted anarchist action group called ‘El Grupo Libertador’ —sometimes known as ‘Los hijos de la noche’ (‘the Sons of the Night’) — was attached to the Intelligence Branch of the 10th Army Corps Staff, the Servicio de Información Especial Periférico, also known as the SIEP. Led by Lieutenant Francisco Ponzán Vidal — a local teacher formerly with the Information Department of the anarchist-led Council of Aragón — their unit was comprised of twelve men, nine of whom, including Laureano and Farquhar, were former members of the Durruti Column. The other three belonged to the socialist UGT union. Their job was to infiltrate enemy territory, establish contact with local agents, brief them as to what intelligence was required, and collect information already gathered. Other tasks included guerrilla and sabotage operations behind enemy lines, especially blowing up railway lines, bridges and roads between Zaragoza and Jaca in Upper Aragón.

On this occasion, Marshall and Farquhar had run into each other in Huesca, apparently by ‘accident’, one that Marshall had skilfully contrived. He was in Spain ostensibly as part of a team from the Scottish Ambulance Unit, a volunteer brigade raised in Glasgow, and of doubtful provenance, ‘to assist wounded combatants on both republican and nationalist sides’. Having heard that Farquhar was in Huesca he had come to glean what information he could on the progress of the war on the Aragón front, and about the morale of the Army of the East. He was particularly interested in establishing the intentions of the Soviet appointed command structure of the Vth Army Corps, Lister’s XIth, Walter’s 35th and Kleber’s 45th Divisions, all of which were being marshalled in Aragón with equipment never before seen on that front.

It was only natural that Farquhar should have introduced Marshall to Ponzán, explaining to his lieutenant —and friend and compañero —about their relationship in 1918, and how Marshall had helped the union during the pistoleros wars of the time. Ponzán found Marshall simpático, but more importantly, the information he provided about what was going on behind the fascist side of the lines was not only useful but, on occasion, lifesaving. The two men were soon firm friends. Marshall became a regular visitor after that, travelling under cover of the SAU or the International Red Cross. He remained in contact with the anarchists until shortly before their unit crossed the frontier at Puigcerdà early in February 1939.

When the victorious fascists occupied Barcelona at the end of January 1939, Marshall based himself in Céret, about ten kilometres from the French border town of Le Perthus, and thirty or so from Perpignan. It was there, a year later, that he introduced Ponzán, Laureano and Farquhar to de Marenches. Farquhar smiled to himself as he conjured up a memory of how they must have appeared: gaunt, ragged, drenched from the rain, but burning with determination to carry on the struggle against fascism.

* * *

Farquhar stopped for a moment. His left knee was hurting. The rain drummed a regular cadence on his hat as he leant to massage the painful knee with his left hand. His right hand remained deep in his pocket, clutching the Star. He shivered. Was it fear? Someone walking on his grave? —or just the droplets of water trickling off the brim of his hat down the back of his neck? The weather reminded him of dreich days in Inverary; it also called to mind his first meeting with de Marenches in Céret, with rain lashing down from the mist-covered eastern Pyrenees.

De Marenches, a staunch Petainist, had blanched visibly when Marshall introduced the men as anarchists but, polite chevalier that he was, quickly recovered his composure. He knew the extent to which the Stalinist-led Spanish Communist Party and the Soviet-backed secret police, the SIM, had repressed the anarchists, the most implacable opponents of their attempts to suborn the Spanish people’s struggle in the service of Stalin’s geopolitical interests. And, although the autocratic de Marenches was an obsessive anti-socialist and anti-communist, a dyed-in-thewool Catholic fundamentalist, a Sovereign Knight of Malta and a member of the secretive Hiéron du Val d’Or —he was, above all, amoral, ruthless and a self-serving pragmatist. Farquhar didn’t trust him an inch. His mantra was: ‘There are no true friends, there are no true enemies, but there are common interests.’ Farquhar wondered if Laureano had recorded their meetings in his diaries. He had been, after all, a compulsive note-taker. Farquhar made a mental note to check what Laureano had to say on the subject of de Marenches when he received the archives.

Laureano, Farquhar and Francisco Ponzán had briefed the French intelligence officer on the latest information they had concerning Nazi operations in Spain, mainly about which Cantabrian, Atlantic and Mediterranean ports and fish-canning plants were being used by German tankers as supply bases for the U-boat fleets. It was much later, after the Liberation, that they discovered de Marenches had been passing on all the secret information he was privy to about German activities in France and Spain straight to the ad hoc intelligence network run by the influential Republican Wall Street lawyer Bill Donovan, another Knight of Malta, through de Marenches’s well-connected mother —an American —and his extended friendship circle among the grandees of Europe. All of which had earned him lots of Brownie points in the topsy-turvy world of espionage, particularly with the then recently formed American Office of Strategic Services.

De Marenches owed most of his early intelligence and evasion coups to the anarchist Libertador organisation. In November 1942, when the Germans occupied Vichy France, following the Allied invasion of North Africa, the former Petainist escaped to Algeria. There, on the strength of his previous ‘intelligence successes’, General Alphonse Juin appointed him as his aide de camp and liaison officer to the Americans. It was Farquhar who had introduced him to his wife-to-be, Lilian-Mary Witchell, a cheery and attractive Scotswoman living in Marseilles. As far as the big man from Govan was aware, they were still together. So, yes, de Marenches owed him big time, unless of course Lilian-Mary had turned out to be a liability, in which case it would have been his pay-back time!

* * *

Farquhar had finally got through to de Marenches late in the afternoon. The spymaster claimed not to have heard of Laureano’s murder, which was unlikely, but he promised to look into it and get back to him as soon as he had more information. Farquhar knew enough to take such promises with a pinch of salt. Promises from the likes of de Marenches meant nothing. The Star in his coat pocket provided its own certainty.

The driving rain had not let up as the elderly Scotsman reached the corner of the Rue Thénard. Pulling the brim of his Fedora lower over his brow to protect his eyes, he checked to see if the road was clear and stepped off the pavement. No sooner had he done so than a large black sedan came out of nowhere and screeched to a halt behind him. Three knuckle-trailing characters jumped out waving guns. Two of them carried automatics, Brownings, probably, the other had a submachinegun, a Schmeisser, tucked under his arm. Farquhar was clearly their intended victim. He was not, however, in victim mode; angry, buzzing on adrenaline, charged-up with his synapses snapping at twenty to the dozen he was ready for them. One of the men raised his automatic pistol and fired.

Unluckily for the would-be killer, his hand was unsteady and his aim bad. Farquhar saw the little burst of flame spit from the barrel, and heard the shot whistle close by his head. His own pistol was out by this time and he crouched, firing twice, in quick succession, once at the shooter and again at the character with the Schmeisser. He didn’t miss. The one who had fired at Farquhar grabbed at his blood-splattered belly and looked at him, dumbfounded, moaned and dropped to the ground. The man with the Schmeisser, wounded in the arm, dropped his gun. Groaning loudly, he bent over, fumbling to pick it up from the pavement, but before he could lift it Farquhar shot him again — a headshot this time, double-tapped, as he had been taught years earlier by Archs. The man’s head exploded, spewing out a messy splutter of claret with a mixture of blood, grey skull and brains. The third gunman, who had exited on the far side of the car, was clearly shaken by the unexpected turn of events and had run for cover somewhere. He was nowhere to be seen.

The driver, meanwhile, was trying desperately to get the car into gear and drive off, but he wasn’t quick enough. As he pulled away, Farquhar scooped up the Schmeisser and opened fire on him, raking the door and windows, riddling the car with more holes than a cheese-grater. He didn’t release his grip on the trigger until the clip ran out and the gun clicked emptily. The driver lay sprawled and bloody, still twitching, across the passenger seat. The whole thing could only have lasted a few seconds, but for minutes after Farquhar stopped, the noise of the firing carried on echoing, relentlessly, inside his head, his hands and arms still shaking from the Schmeisser’s powerful blowback. It wasn’t the first time he had killed someone, but it was something you never got used to. Nevertheless, years of experience had taught him to stay alert and reserve any feelings of shock until he was out of danger.

The noise drew a lot of attention. Lights went on in the surrounding flats, curtains twitched and windows were thrown open as neighbours peered out cautiously to see what was going on. Not that there was much to see; any view they might have had of Farquhar was blocked by trees and advertising hoardings. Nervous and breathless, he hurried as fast his stiff, seventy-six-year-old knees and ankles could carry him, up the Rue Thénard, along the Rue des Écoles —turning regularly to ensure he was not being followed —until he finally disappeared into the gaping maw of the Cardinal Lemoine metro station on the Rue Monge.

Forty minutes later he was home, safe —for the moment — in his Belleville apartment. As far as he was aware, no one knew where he lived. He had no telephone and the apartment was rented under a false name. Even so, he knew he would have to go into hiding, at least until he had completed his manuscript.

Tomorrow he would call on Maître Dumas, Laureano’s lawyer, to arrange collection of his dead friend’s archives. He would also arrange a meeting with ‘the cobbler’, Lucio Urtubia, one of the anarchist organisation’s fixers, to arrange a new identity and get him out of Paris to somewhere safer.

In the meantime, Farquhar had to find out who his would-be assassins were. They hadn’t left a calling card. Farquhar had his suspicions. De Marenches was in the top ten of suspects, but there were a lot more than ten contenders. Flipping open a pack of Partagas cigarettes, he tapped one out, lit it, poured himself a large Glenmorangie scotch and walked across to the writing desk to look through his manuscript.

1919: 1 JANUARY —SPAIN,WINTER OF DISCONTENT

On New Year’s Day 1919, José Buenaventura Durruti Domínguez, a twenty-two-yearold anarchist from León, a mountainous region in centralnorthern Spain, slipped across the border at Arneguy, near Bayonne in France. For the past year he had been working in Marseilles, Toulouse, Val des Bains, Bordeaux and Biarritz. Now he was on his way to Gijón in Asturias on a clandestine mission on behalf of the Toulouse-based Commission for Anarchist Relations. He was also hoping to meet up with his old friend, Antonio ‘El Toto’.

The Spanish police also wanted to meet up with the two men, both of whom were wanted for sabotaging the Northern Railway Company locomotives and track during the 1917 general strike. The army, too, were looking for Durruti, having posted him as a deserter since August 1917, in the wake of the general strike.

Durruti plays an important part in my story. Over the next seventeen years we were to become and remain close friends and comrades. ‘What little interest I had in serving my country,’ he told me years later —when we were holed up in Cuba after a bank robbery —‘disappeared after I came face to face with the bully of a recruiting sergeant. From the first moment he acted towards me as though I were a soulless zombie at his mercy in the barracks. As soon as he started abusing us in the recruiting station, I simply turned around and walked straight out again. From now on, I said to myself, Alfonso XIII can count on one less soldier, and one more revolutionary.’

Tall, well-built and Moorish-looking, with straight black hair, brown eyes and a dimpled chin, Durruti had left school at fourteen to work, with his father, as an apprentice engineer in León’s railway yards. His first political affiliation was to the ‘Socialist Party’ and the Union General de Trabajadores (UGT), but he soon grew disillusioned with these organisations because of what he described as their ‘lack of moral integrity’, and their class treachery during the 1917 general strike.

In Gijón, El Toto asked Durruti to stay on and work with their newly formed anarchist group, to which he agreed. The friends soon established their revolutionary credentials during an acrimonious union dispute by sabotaging the La Robla mine in the León basin. Originally, Durruti had intended spending only a few days in Spain, but, with their first successful action behind him and the scent of revolution in the air, he decided to stay on and do his bit for the ‘Idea’. A time-served metalworker, he soon found employment with the Sociedad Fabrica de Mieres, a small engineering firm in the coalmining town of the same name, twenty kilometres or so from Oviedo.

A few months later, however, calamity struck. On his way to Santiago de Compostela on CNT business Durruti was arrested during a random Guardia Civil stop-and-search operation and taken by military escort to San Sebastián where he was courtmartialled for desertion and sentenced to three years imprisonment. Spain’s military prisons couldn’t hold him for long, however, and by June the following year he had escaped and was back in France.

1919, JANUARY, BARCELONA: LA CANADIENSE

It was my first winter in Spain. I hadn’t realised how bitterly cold Barcelona could be in January, with biting, chilling winds blowing down incessantly from the snow-peaked Pyrenees. Even though out of doors I was frozen to the marrow, and suffered from painful chilblains, Spain —or Catalonia rather —had stolen my heart. My mind was made up to stay, but I did need a proper paid job. The ‘retainer’ I had been receiving from Captain Marshall had dried up after the Armistice in November. Since then I had been surviving on odd jobs as a waiter and working part-time in small engineering workshops. Although I hadn’t formally completed my engineering apprenticeship, I was, to all intents and purposes, a time-served apprentice — I just didn’t have the appropriate City & Guilds certificate and Indentures papers to prove it.

My spoken Spanish and Catalan were passable by this time, and improving daily, with lots of help from Lara and Maestro Barba. I even picked up a bit of caló from the Andalusian gypsies who congregated every evening around the Plaça Reial. I still helped out most evenings as an editorial assistant on Solidaridad Obrera’s international pages, but the work was unpaid. No one at Soli was paid —not even the editor or publisher.

Before Christmas, with a view to getting me a job, Pestaña introduced me to an engineer at Barcelona’s main electricity generating station on the Avenida del Paral.lel. This man arranged an interview for me with the company’s general manager, Fraser Lawton, a ‘Newfie’ or native of Newfoundland who was of Scottish origin. He was delighted to have a fellow- Scot working for him, and I doubt if it even occurred to him to ask if I belonged to a union, let alone to the CNT.

My new employer was the Ebro Irrigation and Power Company, the Sociedad Anonima de Riegos y Fuerzas del Ebro, popularly known as La Canadiense since its main shareholder was the Canadian Bank of Commerce of Toronto. The Canadians —or rather the British, because it was a UK-registered company based in London — had done what the Catalans should have done years earlier, but hadn’t, namely invest in the electrification of Catalonia. That in itself wasn’t unusual, however, as most of Spain’s industry and commerce was controlled by foreign-owned companies.

Carlos Montañes, the entrepreneurial Catalan engineer behind the scheme, had been unable to find anyone in Spain willing to back his idea for the Canadiense project so he raised the capital in London instead. His intermediary in London was Spain’s then military attaché, Milans del Bosch, who introduced him to Fred Stark Pearson, the main shareholder of the Canadian bank. Pearson, unfortunately, was on board the RMS Lusitania when it was torpedoed in May 1915 by a German submarine. Since then the company boardroom had been a war zone for control of the company between the Heidamann and SOFIMA financial groups.

La Canadiense was one of Catalonia’s biggest employers with thousands of workers on its payroll, and not only in electricity generation, but also in the parallel and subsidiary associated-energy industries as well, including the gas companies. Gas, however, was yesterday’s energy, as was steam power. Electricity was the nation’s main new power source, and La Canadiense’s dams and small generating substations were everywhere, their ugly high-tension masts and cables dotting and criss-crossing the hills and valleys of Catalonia like some enormous cat’s cradle.

The company controlled most of Barcelona’s — and Catalonia’s —electricity supply. And it wasn’t just the factories and workshops that La Canadiense’s energy serviced; more and more domestic consumers were wiring their homes for electricity, while local municipal councils replaced their street gaslamps with electric lampposts.

1919, 6 JANUARY, BARCELONA: TROUBLE AT PLANT

I remember my first day at work as though it were yesterday. I started work at the big generating station on the Paral.lel at 6.00 a.m. on Monday, 6 January 1919; it was the early-morning shift, and by 9.00 a.m. I was a fully paid-up member of the sindicato único of Water, Gas and Electricity. I still had my metalworkers’ union card in the name of Eduardo Principe, the identity Laureano had created for me, but at La Canadiense I was employed under my real name.

The shift was a long one, twelve hours in fact, but I was glad of the job, not just for the money, but for the warmth it provided. Working indoors on the massive turbines was a luxury that bitterly cold winter, and it helped cure my chilblains. But the job didn’t last long, less than a month in fact. The Canadiense, like most of Catalonia’s industries, was experiencing serious labour problems at the time, but the labour unrest didn’t seem to worry the contending factions in the London boardroom; anything that caused the company’s share price to drop, albeit temporarily, served both groups’ interests.

A strike the previous month at the company’s generating plant up in Camarasa had been brutally put down by the Guardia Civil, who broke up the picket line with a sabre charge, wounding —and angering —many workers in the process. At the same time, clerical workers in the company’s head office in the Plaça de Catalunya were involved in an ongoing dispute over wage cuts.

Wages were already low, but that didn’t prevent the London based board insisting on even greater economies, demanding a higher return on their investment. The clerical workers were among those expected to contribute to the shareholders’ bonuses; when they opened their wage packets on the first payday of the New Year they found their money had been slashed by almost a third! It was hardly surprising then that they were now organising their own independent union — and preparing strike action!

The Canadiense strike took place at a time of high political and social tension in the country. Hardly a day passed without news of another strike by carpenters, metalworkers, printers and other tradesmen. A recent carpenters’ strike had been particularly successful with the workers walking away with an untypically good deal from the bosses — a peseta a day pay-rise with an eight-hour day for journeymen and an eight-and-a-half hour day for apprentices —and sick pay!

Other employers were less accommodating. On 2 January 1919, employers’ gunmen shot and killed a CNT militant by the name of Julián Sailan Zuzcaya, a graphic arts union typesetter, on the picket line outside the Barcelona printshop of Heinrich and Co.

Union growth in the construction industry was particularly healthy at the time. In fact, so many building workers were joining the CNT that a new union hall had been opened at No. 10 carrer del Olmo, much to the dismay of the region’s employers, especially the ultra-reactionary building magnate Félix Graupera, president of the Patronal, the Catalan Employers' Federation.

At the same time, Catalan separatists and españolistas — ‘Unionists’ who supported a unitary Spain —similar to our own high tory ‘Unionists’ in Ireland and Scotland —were involved in violent street protests over the Madrid government’s failure to approve the much publicised autonomy statute for Catalonia, which had been presented to the Madrid Cortés the previous November.

These middle-class nationalists and republicans — each grouping as reactionary as the other — were divided between regional autonomists and centralists. Indeed, so great were the differences that the Ramblas and the narrow medieval streets of the old quarter were often the scenes of running battles between the police and the Catalanistas, so many in fact that the captain general, Milans del Bosch, the former military attaché in London, demanded that the government of the Conde de Romanones declare a state of emergency and suspend the constitution in the province.

Martial law was Milans del Bosch’s answer for everything. He and the vested interest groups controlling Catalonia were also concerned about the growing popular hostility towards the soldiers of the Barcelona garrison. In fact, the situation was so bad that soldiers refused to venture onto the streets of Barcelona in uniform; they would only leave the barracks in civilian clothes. Spanish army uniforms were nowhere to be seen, an extraordinary state of affairs that led to frustrated monarchist officers threatening to shoot Catalanist protestors in the street. Milans del Bosch’s real enemy, however — his overriding obsession, even at the height of the Catalan nationalist crisis — was always the CNT, a working-class enemy that he detested to the core of his autocratic soul. It was class war, red in tooth and claw.

Copyright © 2010 Estate of Farquhar McHarg (‘B’ McHarg)
First published in Great Britain in 2010 by
ChristieBooks/Read ‘n’ Noir
PO Box 35
Hastings
East Sussex, TN34 1ZS, UK
ISBN 978-1-873976-41-8

Purchase the full text from www.christiebooks.com

Comments

T La Palli
Sep 27 2010 14:23

Thanks Steven. This morning I ordered the book for the Scottish Radical Library and hope to read it as soon as it arrives.