A short biography of Albert Minnig, Swiss anarchist volunteer in Spain
Albert Minnig came from a Swiss working class family, like that of his slightly older cousin Louis Walther. The fathers of their families made a living through poaching and illegal fishing, and were seen as “pirates”. Getting into trouble with the law was a common occurrence for Albert. He worked as a building worker without fixed employment and the police of Yverdon considered him as a “dangerous revolutionary element”. He became acquainted with anarchist ideas in his adolescence and became a fervent anarchist activist, taking part in the direct action of the Ligue d’Action du Batiment at Geneva. He sold the weekly anarchist paper Le Reveil Anarchiste edited by Luigi Bertoni.
When he heard of the anarchist uprising against the fascist generals in Spain, he made contact with the secretary of the building workers union, the FOBB, Adrien Buffat, at Lausanne and with Lucien Tronchet and the anarchist group in Geneva. These comrades tried to dissuade him from going to Spain. Tronchet wrote to him in August 1936 advising him that the Spanish movement was against foreign comrades coming to Spain as there were already too many volunteers there already. All the same Albert decided to go. He left with his cousin Louis and Fernand Chevalier from Carouge, a suburb of Geneva (This comrade was a 21 year old carpenter, an active member of the Ligue d’Action du Batiment, in whose actions he took part and as a result of which he spent several days in jail; an orphan, he had been supported during his apprenticeship by his master Constant Vincent, known for his “extremist” views).
All three took the train from Geneva to the border town of Port Bou on the 30th August 1936. They were among the first Swiss to join the CNT-FAI militias. At the Port Bou railway station they were stunned by the red and black banners everywhere decorating the platforms, locomotives and carriages. Arriving at Barcelona they were taken to the Bakunin Barracks. There they joined the Aguilochos ( Egrets) Column of the FAI commanded by Juan Garcia Oliver and Miguel Garcia Vivancos. They went by train to Granen and kitted themselves out in the red and black caps of the CNT-FAI and in blue overalls, cartridge belts and espadrilles. They took part in the harsh fighting on the Huesca front, and survived the savage Francoist artillery bombardments and aerial bombings. They took a fortnight’s leave in Barcelona in mid-November. Chevalier had been badly wounded on the front and had to spend a long time in hospital. Albert and Louis returned to the front. The process of militarisation of the militia columns had by now been initiated by the Stalinists. They refused this militarisation, leaving the Spanish column and joining the Italian anarchist column which had resisted this militarisation and was at the Ferrer Barracks. This was the Italian section of the Ascaso Column, which became the Malatesta Battalion on 23rd January 1937. It was commanded by the veteran anarchist Giuseppe Bifolchi. They positioned themselves by the cemetery of Huesca, where the Francoists had slaughtered 700 men, women and children.
Albert and Louis became increasingly disillusioned by the process of militarisation and by the well-fed and lavishly decorated officers who disported themselves in the rear guard. Chevalier rejoined them there. Disgusted by the refusal of supplies to sick combatants, which were instead being consumed by the officer class in the rear, Albert finally handed in his resignation from the militias. Returning to Barcelona, Albert observed the absence of the revolutionary atmosphere that he had seen there on his first visit, with the return of the rich senores to the café terraces.
He was arrested by the Spanish police on 2nd September with the intention of expelling him from France. In prison he found his old comrade in arms the Italian anarchist Tommaso Serra. They were expelled from Spain with several hundred other foreign volunteers.
In France Albert sent a protest to the French anarchist paper Le Libertaire criticising the Committee for Aid to the militia volunteers returning from Spain, complaining about the discriminatory measures taken against those who had volunteered for the CNT-FAI columns.
Returning to Switzerland, Albert hid for several months at Yverdon with his uncle Charles Viglino, also an anarchist and a FOBB militant. Because Albert had broken the codes of “neutrality” of Switzerland by volunteering for an anarchist militia he was arrested and condemned to two months imprisonment. As well as this an old Swiss law meant that he was sent to his birthplace in German speaking Switzerland.
This proved extremely discouraging for Albert and although he eventually managed to return to Yverdon, he was depressed by the decline of the Swiss anarchist movement and decided to distance himself from it.
He died on the 15th June 1968 in a car accident.
Sources: Enckell, Marianne (2006). Pour le bien de la Revolution. CIRA. Lausanne, Switzerland.
• Louis Walther stayed on the front and enlisted in the International Brigades. He did not find this to his liking. He eventually managed to be repatriated. He was tried by the Swiss authorities in November 1938 and received a sentence of 45 days imprisonment, as well as 3 months for contempt of court.
• Fernand Chevalier was wounded twice on the front. He left Spain in April 1937 and lived at Aix les Bains with his sister. With the outbreak of war he returned to Switzerland where he was arrested at the border. He was tried in November 1939 and sentenced to 45 days in prison.