Chapter 7: The gentlemen "ministers"

7

The gentlemen “ministers”

It is somewhat difficult to piece together in detail the attitudes adopted and the resolutions approved by the “majority” of the representatives of the CNT and the FAI in the wake of the revolt. But it is worth mentioning that—because of their subsequent deleterious effects on our aspirations—that the agreements signed at that “famous” session where the above-mentioned institutions, demonstrating their “revolutionary maturity”, and after the declarations of “comrade” Companys—“You have defeated the military and the fascists and everything is in your hands; if you do not want me to be the President of Catalonia, tell me now, so that I may be one more soldier”—were of an immense “historical significance” and also entailed defeatist and suicidal consequences.

The fact that they decided “for collaboration, for democracy, and against any dictatorial revolutionary solution”, had the immediate result of leaving things as they were before the military uprising. The bourgeois State had suffered a setback, from which it would soon recover with the cooperation of the “majority” cenetistas and faístas. “They put their trust in the word of a Catalonian ‘democrat’ and maintained and supported Companys as the President of the Generalitat.” And because they were “the majority force upon which the attempt to constitute a real democracy must fall, and because we do not want to imitate the big and arrogant fish, who never allow their zeal to devour the little fish to flag”—most of these phrases that we are transcribing come from García Oliver—they agreed to join a Committee of Militias together with the representatives of the political parties.

***

What we said above, about the militarist slogans proclaimed by the press and propaganda organs of the CNT and the FAI, is fully justified. Many “prestigious” members of the CNT and the FAI were high-ranking military officers and managerial office staff—later—connected with the war.

But why were they so enthusiastic about accepting these slogans that bore such an authoritarian and dictatorial stamp?

At the time, the explanation offered was that many “good boys” made use of deception to reject the taking up of arms. That due to the lack of military knowledge more lives were sacrificed than necessary and that actions were not undertaken at the right time and place, and … we have cultivated many more conjectures. It is, however, undeniable, due to the events that took place at the time, that these slogans had a different purpose.

The assurance of the CNT and the FAI, in their conformance to the “transcendental” resolution of postponing the social revolution, that it was the “majority”, means that a minority disagreed with this first deviation. And what about this minority? Did its members quietly accept this serious error? Did they obey the orders of the “leaders” of the militias?

The events that took place at the time inform us that they did not and that it was not unlikely that the “anti-fascists” felt infringed upon in their hierarchical delusions and in their Marxist and ultimately authoritarian maneuvers and sought to enclose within the rigid grip of discipline those who would never accept, as anarchists, such an overwhelming betrayal of their redemptive ideas.

But the resounding fall of the cenetista and faísta theoreticians did not stop there.

When Franco’s hosts reached the gates of Madrid and the “Popular Front” government had fled to Valencia, an appeal to defend the Capital—with the preconceived purpose of further weakening the Aragon Front, in order to advantageously pursue reactionary maneuvers that were later successfully concluded by the authoritarian fractions—was made to the men of the CNT and the FAI; this call was answered by Durruti with a column of militiamen who performed glorious feats in the trenches of the Ciudad Universitaria. At the same time—after much plaintive begging—representatives of the CNT and the FAI were allowed to enter that government that had fled in such a cowardly manner from Madrid. These representatives then became “ministers”, alongside the politicians who, before the uprising, had ordered merciless persecutions of anarchist militants.

But … it was an “imperious necessity”. “We joined the government,” Santillán said, “because we had a single dominant concern: to place all resources, all energies, all possibilities of the country at the service of the war, which we considered sacred, because it was a war of the people against those who had revolted in order to reduce it to a slavery worse than the one they already suffered.”

***

Nevertheless, all the dialectics poured out by those who undertook to implement the new ways cannot possibly cobble together a convincing, honest and sincere explanation that would justify the sluggishness, the docility and the indifference demonstrated by the “responsible” members of the CNT and the FAI in all the shameful and disreputable episodes that later took place…. Nor do they explain the tacit collaboration granted to all the governments that succeeded one another in the period of the civil war, for they conformed to all the political changes that took place and were therefore Caballeristas, Prietistas, Negrinistas, Miajistas, and finally Casadistas; in one word, governmentalists.

It is clear that one does not need to be an especially astute observer to deduce—without any intention to judge what was on their minds—that, besides the satisfactions that they will have enjoyed by breaking into the circle of the preeminent men of state, especially during such a cruel period, history must attest that the status of collaborators with any government grants them certain advantages and prerogatives that were not enjoyed by those who fought on the battlefields; advantages and prerogatives that—perhaps they never entered into their “alliancist” calculations—they very well availed themselves of in their retreat from Barcelona to France, escaping in airplanes or other convenient means of transport and from the central front—Madrid, Valencia and Andalusia—in airplanes and merchant ships and even in English warships while the militiamen remained in Spain at the mercy of Franco’s mercenaries. Even in exile they obtained advantages with their high status as “ministers”, for while the latter were able to find refuge in all the most important cities of Europe, the tragedy of the “anti-fascist” soldiers continued in the unsanitary concentration camps constructed in France.

***

Let us return to the main trail. It would be a sign of unpardonable disrespect if we were to refrain from mentioning the names of the gentlemen “ministers” and some of their revealing initiatives, whose purpose was to get the state car, which had at the time suffered a serious “panne” [breakdown], back on the road.

We are not interested in the performance of Federica Montseny as Minister of Health, although it did have some humanitarian aspects; she had the reward of a great deal of personal satisfaction, since she is remembered for her meritorious labor as Minister of Health, and the fact that a wing of the Vélez Rubio Maternity Hospital has been named after her.

***

We had originally intended not to mention the Minister of Commerce, Juan López, out of respect for his “learned reputation” in Politics and Sociology, but, quite opportunely, an article of his came into our hands that had been published in Cultura Proletaria, in which, “soliloquizing in favor of the ‘family’”, he shows his true colors and makes a few declarations that we just cannot resist quoting.

After telling us about the “narrow horizon” of the “ideological” family; “of the demagogy that parades boldly in the streets”; of the fact that his entry into the government “was the conquest of a revolutionary stronghold”; that they were not going “to establish Libertarian Communism, or realize the integral program of Socialism, but to uphold the world of the republic”—he then proceeds to a lengthy discussion of the revolt of May 1937 in Barcelona—repudiated by the CNT ministers—against which he displays his utmost indignation because it forced him to resign from his government position, from which he intended “to ensure the conquests of the working class” and because “in a few hours the efforts of so many months of work collapsed and magnificent positions of all kinds were lost”.

He concludes his article by saying:

“The events of May 3 ultimately mean the following:

“The absence of real discipline in the libertarian movement, which, due to its irresponsible actions in Catalonia, facilitated the political maneuver that put an end to the government of Largo Caballero.

“Removing us from the revolutionary positions we had conquered and the loss of any chance to consolidate them IS WHAT OUR RESIGNATION FROM THE GOVERNMENT IMPLIES.”

***

Juan Peiró, in the Ministry of Industry, must have displayed a great deal of cleverness to deserve the praise of his “subordinates” in that governmental department when he attended—regretfully, perhaps—the ceremony where he officially stepped down from such an “honorable” position, since, according to Peiró himself, upon his departure, they told him:

“You may depart with the assurance that the Ministry of Industry has never been so productive as it was during your incumbency.”

This adulatory praise of these office parasites is explainable and justified, since they could confirm the enthusiasm and assiduousness Juan Peiró displayed in his “reconstructive” labors in order to ingratiate himself with the bourgeoisie and the politicians and in order to buttress the power of the State. Further proof of what we said above can be found in the transcript of a speech Peiró delivered at the Gran Teatro in Valencia, a few days after resigning from his high office, in order to explain his conduct in the Ministry, from which we shall quote the following passage:

“No one can deny the collaboration provided by the CNT and the FAI with respect to public order. The men of the CNT, the men of the FAI, have done everything within their power to reestablish order wherever, due to circumstances that I shall not analyze here, disorder had arisen. No one will be able to deny this, because of the recent events in Catalonia, more precisely the events in Barcelona, and the comrades of the UGT themselves have had an opportunity to see how the elements of the Confederation behave who have been assigned the job of establishing order and reestablishing discipline in Barcelona.

“When the CNT joined the government of Catalonia and the government of the Republic, all of us took up our posts having renounced any and all totalitarian intentions. We knew that we were going to collaborate, and in collaborating we did so in a sincere, honorable and disinterested manner.”

Having read the above paragraphs, the reader will be convinced—by Peiró’s tone—of the statist mentality that prevailed among these bureaucrats and the dubious mission that they were performing. They assumed responsibility—we do not discover by whose orders—for reestablishing “order” and “discipline” where they were lacking.

***

Now all that remains is to discuss Juan García Oliver who, representing the CNT, was to become the Minister of Justice.

We are not in any position to uncover the Machiavellian intentions that guided the politician Largo Caballero when, yielding to the insistent petitions of the CNT and the FAI, he gave them four bureaucratic positions in the government that had fled to Valencia; but we do know that the fact that a militant who called himself an anarchist occupied the post of Minister of Justice was most inconceivable and ridiculous and gives an idea of the statist delirium from which these “leaders” suffered.

What is certain is that García Oliver, brandishing his action program—“Now there will be justice”—assumed the magistrate’s gown and with smug satisfaction, “cheerful and content”, he decided to represent the goddess Themis.

In just what manner he performed what appeared to be the most grotesque acts in the execution, by decrees, of “justice”, is exemplified by the zeal he displayed in drafting legislation on judicial sentencing (!) and on the organization of prison life.

García Oliver plunged with such unexpected diligence into a “regenerative” labor of such pettifogging magnitude that he did not allow himself to reflect on his ideological position prior to the conflict that was taking place, to such an extent that he, in plainly boastful terms, wrote a meticulous description of the draft legislation he proposed, the decrees he issued, and the “justice” measures that he had implemented, especially emphasizing the ones that granted legal rights to women, that cancelled criminal records for crimes committed before the uprising, that stipulated the organization of Labor Camps (i.e., “Concentration Camps”) and a multitude of other initiatives that he authorized, expressing himself as follows: “If the work was hard, the fruits were magnificent”. And he fulfilled his obsession: “To perfect the justice system.”

But this intensive judicial activity does not exhaust the dynamism of García Oliver.

Having attracted the attention of the Ministry of War because of the impressive “constructive” qualities he displayed, he was ordered by that Ministry to create and organize the People’s Military Academies, which would later graduate thousands of officers who—we assume—would be the “proletarian” officer corps upon which the governmentalist cenetistas would rely to carry out the “social revolution” when the civil war ended. However, in a speech that García Oliver delivered to the officers who graduated from one of these People’s Academies, that of Barcelona, we may deduce that such an assumption would be a crass error.

This is what he said in this speech:

“You, the officers of the popular army, must observe an IRON DISCIPLINE and impose it on your men, who, once they are incorporated in the ranks, must CEASE TO BE YOUR COMRADES in order to become cogs in the military machine of our army. Your mission is to assure victory over the invading fascist forces and maintain, at the moment of victory, a powerful popular army upon which we can rely to respond to any fascist provocation, whether open or concealed, of a foreign power, and that will know how to make the name of Spain respected, which has for so long been disregarded in international affairs.”

The Minister of Justice, besides being a “Minister”, was a rabid militarist and a fanatical patriot.

One fact of the greatest importance, however, tells us that García Oliver was seriously deranged by his position in the sphere of the government, that his eyesight and his hearing were severely damaged, leaving him completely myopic and deaf, for while His Excellency the Honorable Minister of Justice was legislating about judicial sentencing standards and was issuing decrees that cancelled punishments, in all the towns and cities of “loyalist” Spain the “cheka” organized by the communists, with “experts” sent from Russia, was assassinating anarchists or imprisoning them in torture chambers, without García Oliver ever intervening on their behalf or making use of his exalted position, which indisputably proves that Juan García Oliver, just like his three comrades in the cabinet, representing the CNT, were playing a despicable and regrettable role. They were ridiculous puppets disguised as Ministers and adorned with shining gold braid, giving the impression that rather than puppets they instead resembled the disreputable clowns and street performers who travelled the roads of Spain in other times.

In the meantime—despite such unfortunate and miserable evidence of their activities—the CNT Ministers, complying with their statist slogan of “disinterest, spirit of sacrifice and love of work”, were still distinctly ensconced within the hybrid bloc of the “anti-fascists”.