A short biography of José Salamé Miro, militant of Spanish origin active in France and the Spanish Revolution.
José Salamé Miro was born in the small village of Vinebra in the Catalan province of Tarragona. His childhood was spent in Barcelona. His father was a saddler and sympathetic to the CNT, attending the libertarian ateneo of the neighbourhood. Jose was a choir boy as a child, but as he grew he started moving towards anarchist ideas. He became a member of the CNT and the Libertarian Youth (FIJL).
He took part in the fighting in Barcelona on 19 July 1936 and was a witness to the death of Francisco Ascaso during the storming of the Atarazanas Barracks.
He joined the Durruti Column, lying about his age. He was 16 years old, but was big and well built for his age. He fought on the Saragossa front. After a few months he joined the Ascaso column in northern Aragon, to fight alongside his cousins. In 1938, with the imposition of militarization on the militia columns, he was suddenly thrust into the role of a lieutenant under a Communist captain. He took part in the battle of the Ebro in November 1938, which resulted in 30,000 dead on both sides.
Towards the end of the war he was wounded in the face and hand near Huesca. On the 6 February 1939 he entered France on foot by Perthus, his wounds now gangrened. After an emergency operation at Perpignan, he was transferred to the hospital at Vannes and then interned in the concentration camp of Agde from April to September 1939.
From then until 1942 he worked as an agricultural worker in the region of Orleans. He was then forcibly recruited into the Nazi labour organisation, the Todt Organisation, and worked on the building of the submarine base at Bordeaux, then on the Atlantic Wall at Lorient, where he survived Allied bombings.
When the units under General Leclerc entered Paris on the 24 August 1944, José and his comrades in the CNT were disheartened that Spanish anarchists who had enlisted in the ranks of the Free French armed forces refused to hand them arms so that they could carry out a revolutionary insurrection, with the excuses of military discipline and the need to carry on the campaign into Germany!
After the Liberation José obtained work as an electrician in Paris and worked in this job until 1948. After having defended Arab workers he found himself in trouble. The CGT delegate, a Stalinist, began to circulate rumours that he was an agent of Franco, lies often used at the time by the Communist Party against Spanish exile workers who were anarchists or POUMists.
In the same period José met Renée Desvaux, who worked as a secretary and was active in the Auberges de Jeunesses (youth hostels) movement, in which libertarians had some influence.
She had been active in this movement since the 30s and met Madeleine Bossiere there, and became a great friend of her and her husband Roger. She married José in December 1948.
In 1945 José met Georges Fontenis at a meeting organised by the Federation Anarchiste on the Auberges de Jeunesse. Enthused throughout his life by the Auberges and the possibilities of international meetings and solidarity, he often worked as a cook in the Auberges, above all in those influenced by the anarchists, alongside Renée. Together, within the Federation Unie des Auberges de Jeunesse (FUAJ), they were active in the Auberge at Cannes from 1948 to 1957.
This hostel on the Ile Sainte Marguerite (where the Man in the Iron Mask had been imprisoned) was visited by young people from all over the world and was the scene of many international and Spanish meetings. During Summer 1949 the secret tendency the Organisation Pensée Bataille was set up by Fontenis and Serge Ninn within the Federation Anarchiste. José did not take part in its foundation and was not a member but was close to Fontenis and Ninn.
José stayed in Israel at the beginning of the 50s. At first he was enthused by the kibbutzim, which reminded him of the collectivisations in Aragon and Catalonia, but was repelled by the anti-Arab racism he found there and the militarisation of Israeli society. He recognized that the kibbutzes were established on land seized from the Palestinians. José became very embittered against Zionism as a result of these experiences.
From 1957 onwards, José and Renée worked at the Auberge in Nice. During this period they worked closely with the anarchist group of Nice, in which were active Roger Paon and the Swiss revolutionaries Pavel and Clara Thalmann, who had lived at Nice since 1950. They were very active in solidarity actions with the anarchist Louis Lecoin, on hunger strike for the general right of status of conscientious objector for conscripts.
With Algerian independence in 1962, José was active in the operations of de-mining at El Khemis near Tlemcen and fell out with villagers who wanted to construct a mosque rather than a dam. In Algeria he met the last members of the Auberges in Oran and Algiers.
From May 1968 onwards, José was friendly with the Groupe Makhno of the Organisation Révolutionnaire Anarchiste (ORA) for which he fell out with the Spanish CNT. He got to know many young anarchists in the Nice region, among them Georges Riviere and Bernard Ferry. He imparted his knowledge and experience to these militants, advising them and giving them his knowledge of factory occupations and collectivisations.
After the death of Franco he journeyed to Spain with the Bossieres to find the house where he had spent his childhood at Barcelona.
He shared the positions of Fontenis and was a great friend of the Bossieres. He and Madeleine supported the important publishing ventures of editions Spartacus, created in 1936 by René Lefeuvre.
He was a sympathizer of the different French libertarian organisations - FA, the Federation Communiste Libertaire (FCL), Noir et Rouge, the first Organisation Communiste Libertaire, the ORA, the Union des Travailleurs Communistes Libertaires (UTCL) and its successor Alternative Libertaire. He attended one of the first congresses of the UTCL at Nantes.
Jose and Renée moved to Eze in 1966. From there they retired to Amélie les Bains in the Pyrenees in 1987. They made contact with anarchists active in the Eastern Pyrenees on both sides of the border and were in contact with old members and sympathizers of the MIL.
José was deeply affected by the death of Renée in an accident in 1989. He overcame his grief through his continuing commitment to militancy, his love of reading and his great sense of friendship. He took part in the meetings on the Spanish Revolution at Ceret, and in the libertarian bloc on demonstrations in Perpignan, and attended the anniversary march at Perthus of the Retirada (the Retreat) in 2006.
He was an active supporter of the Centre International Des recherches sur l’Anarchisme (CIRA) and its branch at Marseilles. A bon viveur, he enjoyed drinking the Bordeaux cuvee Elisée Reclus, produced by the descendants of that great anarchist, to support the Marseilles CIRA.
He avoided the quarrels of the Spanish exile groups, and in later years supported the French CNT (Vignoles) and the Spanish CGT. He helped set up the CNT in the Nice region in 1997 and was active in it up to his death, always attending the annual festival of the Nicois CNT, his final illness preventing him attending that on 16th June 2007. He died two days later on the 18th, at the age of 88.
José had been preparing for a long time for his death, by selling his house, distributing his furniture to others, donating his library to the the CNT in Paris and financial donations to the Nicois CNT.
Adapted from an article by Daniel Gurrier in Le Monde Libertaire, 20-27 September 2007.