An account of the fighting in Barcelona in May 1937 when the Communists consolidated their hold on power and turned decisively against the anarchists and revolutionary workers.
The Tragic Week in May: the May Days Barcelona 1937 - Augustin Souchy
On July 19th 1936, the Spanish generals rose against the people.
The workers of Barcelona, under the leadership of the anarchists.
succeeded in smashing the fascist rising within two and a half days.
The anarchists did not want to conquer power for themselves, nor did
the unions seek to establish a dictatorship. As in all other parts of
Spain, an anti-fascist united front was formed. It ranged all the way
from the various republican tendencies of the bourgeoisie to the most
extreme tendencies of the proletariat - the anarchists. Naturally
there was not complete harmony among the various tendencies composing
the anti-fascist block, either with respect to aims or choice of
means. Some wanted merely to smash the power of the generals and the
clergy, but, otherwise maintain a bourgeois capitalist society;
others sought a fundamental change in all phases of social life. High
finance was on the side of the fascist generals. With the defeat of
the generals, they lost their positions of power. The workers'
organisations assumed the functions of organising public life. The
economic transformations took the form of socialisation. All big
enterprises were either collectivised or socialised. The former
owners of these big enterprises can offer no more resistance.
However, the petty bourgeoisie, even though it did not have the
strength to resist the new developments during the first months of
proletarian victory, did not accept completely the new order.
In the course of this development divergent trends began to
appear. The masses of the workers were for the most part organised in
the anarcho-syndicalist organisation. the CNT; the petty bourgeoisie,
during the months that followed the 19th of July, affiliated itself
with the UGT. Not only workers, but traders, owners of small shops,
market salesmen, etc., joined the UGT. The developments in Spain took
a course totally different from that of other countries. Forms of
organisation arose, especially in Catalonia, which had been seen
nowhere else. In all other European countries, especially in the
democratic ones, the political parties form the currents of public
life, but in Catalonia the trade unions have this function. This is
due to the syndicalist character of the Spanish labour movement. In
the spirit of these traditions, the petty bourgeoisie also organised
themselves into trade unions.
There is a fundamental difference in the workers' organisation,
the CNT, and that of the petty bourgeoisie, the UGT - in whose ranks
workers have also been organised - both as to politics and as to
their final goal. The UGT accepted collectivisation only under
compulsion; they wanted nationalisation, that is, the power of
control to lie in the hands of the state and the political parties
represented in it rather than in the hands of the workers'
organisations. Friction arose, leading to collisions. Among the
workers themselves, in the factories and in the management of
enterprises, complete understanding and harmony reigned. Only in
political questions did opinions differ.
When the CNT entered the Catalan government on September 28th
1936, after the dissolution of the Anti-fascist Militia Committee
which had been functioning for two and a half months, it took over,
officially, the Department of Food Supplies. A central department for
food supplies was created under the direction of the syndicalist Juan
Domenech. He established an internal trade monopoly for the control
of prices. The provisioning of food for the cities was to be taken
over entirely by the unions of the transport workers and the various
branches of the food industry, who were to substitute - in accordance
with a special plan - for the big enterprise and the small traders
who had controlled the food industry until then. The small traders
became - as members of their unions - equal to the workers of town
and country. Or, rather, they were supposed to become such.
Continuous conflicts arose between the members of the CNT and those
of the UGT, over ways and means of conducting the work. The conflicts
created a scarcity of certain food articles. Things became more
expensive; sharp political discussions arose as to their cause, and
as to the value of the methods.
Three months later, December 16th 1936, a new Catalan government
had to be organised. This crisis was of a purely political character.
The POUM, Workers Party of Marxist Union, was being viciously
attacked by the leaders of the UGT, official communists for the most
part. They declared the POUM, because of its Trotskyist tendency, a
counter-revolutionary party. Soviet Russia herself, through her
official representatives, took part in this campaign. The crisis was
created in the Generality in order to remove the POUM, whose leader,
Andres Nin, was Minister of Justice, from the government. The CNT was
opposed to this political manoeuvre but, being in a minority in the
coalition government, the POUM was expelled from the government.
The dictatorial aims of the communists manifested themselves
clearly in the new order. The communists had always been an
unimportant minority in Catalonia, as well as in the rest of Spain.
By a series of clever manoeuvres their influence increased in
Catalonia. They united with the Socialist Party of Catalonia (PSUC),
which joined the 3rd International. Although they called themselves
socialists, they had the support of the communist organisations, and
succeeded in winning the new party over to their line. To the
communists of the PSUC the POUM signified a rival party that had to
be eliminated from the scene. The Soviet Union strongly supported
these manoeuvres. Some shipments of food arrived from the USSR. They
also sent some armaments. The propaganda machine started using this
support for their political purposes. The POUM began to lose their
The influence of the PSUC grew in proportion as that of the POUM
declined. The differences between the two parties were extended into
the UGT. The members of the POUM belonged to the UGT and even held a
number of important positions there. The PSUC wanted to expel them
from their posts. A bitter conflict began between the two Marxist
brothers for control of the trade unions, a conflict such as is known
only too well in many other countries. The political atmosphere among
the anti-fascists in Catalonia became ever more unbearable.
The CNT acted loyally toward the anti-fascist cause when the new
government was formed. It wanted to stop fighting among the political
parties. It made the proposal and succeeded in having it accepted,
that trade unions, and not the political parties, should be
represented in the new government. These trade unions were the CNT
and the UGT. The Catalan Left, as a special expression of the Catalan
Nation, and as partisans of the presidency, was also allowed to
To get the Ministry of Defence, until then in the hands of the
Catalan Left, the CNT gave up the Department of Food Supplies to the
UGT. Immediately after taking over the Department, Juan Comorera, the
new Minister, erased, with one stroke of his pen, the entire work of
his predecessor: the inner trade monopoly, the fixed prices for
articles of food, was wiped out. Comorera's aim was to break the
power of the unions. He therefore wanted to turn over the function of
supplying food to private companies. Thus small proprietors, petty
traders and tenants were able to make greater profits through higher
prices. The scarcity of bread became chronic. Things became more
expensive and the masses more discontented. Economically, as well as
politically, the fuel had been assembled, and demagogy helped set it
On October 22nd 1936, a pact was ratified, by the CNT-FAI on one
side and the UGT-PSUC on the other. They agreed to a programme of
minimum demands. Both organisations, especially the CNT, made
concessions in the struggle against the rebel generals. The workers
rejoiced over this pact, and a great mass meeting in the vast
bullring of Barcelona, where all of the city workers were assembled,
sealed it by acclamation.
But there were those who still put their partisan interests above
the interests of the proletariat as a whole. A campaign was begun
against the CNT and the FAI of the same character as that employed
against the POUM. The anarchists and syndicalists were held
responsible for everything that did not function too smoothly. Even
though the CNT-FAI gave up the idea of collectivisation in those
sections where the small tenants were in a majority, and absolutely
rejected the proposal for compulsory collectivisation, they continued
to campaign against the CNT-FAI among the small tenants and peasants.
They appealed to the property instinct, made the idea of
collectivisation appear hostile to the lovers of property, and went
so far as to denounce the advocates of collectivisation as enemies of
Such a malicious campaign had its effect. In January 1937, an
insurrection arranged by the politicians broke out against the
CNT-FAI in the town of Fatarella. The insurrection, as such, was
unimportant; but it was symptomatic. Six months had passed since the
victory over the fascists, six months of revolutionary development
which led, and had to lead, towards socialisation. But certain
parties wanted to reverse the trend of this development. They wanted
a national war, not a social revolution. The slogan 'the war and the
revolution' for which the CNT-FAI stands, was opposed by the slogan
of all the other political parties: 'First, we must win the war.
Everything else, a new political order, establishment of social
justice, etc., must be left untouched till the end of the war'.
The conflicts became more intense. They wanted to manoeuvre the
CNT-FAI out of their political positions. Blood flowed in Fatarella.
Although both organisations issued a joint declaration regarding the
events and their origin, the PSUC press continued its campaign of
slander against responsible members of the CNT-FAI, ministers in the
Generality, in connection with the outbreak. Certain elements of the
Catalan Left and the Catalan Nationalists (Estat Catala) also joined
in this insidious campaign.
Grave discontent reigned among the workers. The revolutionary
workers of Catalonia felt humiliated by the gradual curtailment of
their revolutionary conquests after the 19th of July. The
representatives of the CNT-FAI vigorously opposed the application of
police measures to meet the discontent of the masses. The bourgeois
elements, therefore, tried to remove the advocates of the
syndicalists and the anarchists from their positions. The workers'
Patrols of Control, composed of those fighting elements who had
smashed fascism in Catalonia on July 19th, had been functioning as
anti-fascist guards, and were legalised as such. The majority of the
members of these Patrols are members of the CNT, and when the UGT
demanded equal representation with the CNT, to which they were
obviously not entitled since they were not equal in membership in the
region, bitter conflict sprang up again. The UGT members left the
Patrols and devoted their attention to winning over the police to
their side. Instead of building bridges of unity, they were widening
the gulf that kept the proletariat separated.
The communists and the elements of the Catalan Left, the Esquerra,
started an intense propaganda among the existing police bodies:
Assault Guards, Civil Guards and Catalan City Guards, a propaganda
directed against all syndicalists and the anarchists. The latter had
been demanding from the very beginning that the old police units be
dissolved and replaced by a single body for public security. The
other parties and organisations opposed it. Friction arose between
the police and the workers' Patrols. In some places fighting broke
out resulting in a number of dead and wounded. The following is an
example of the preparations being made by certain elements for a
fratricidal war against the anarchists:
On Friday March 5th 1937, a few individuals presented an order,
signed by Vallejo, director of the arms factories, to the arsenal in
Barcelona, to hand over to them ten armoured cars. The director of
the arsenal found the document in order and delivered the cars. At
the last moment doubts arose as to the authenticity of the order, and
the director telephoned to Vallejo for verification. The document
proved to be forged, but, in the meantime the armoured cars had been
driven away. They were followed and observed to go into the
Voroschilov Barracks, belonging to the PSUC, that is, the communists.
Premier Tarradellas intervened. At first the barracks' officer
denied all knowledge of the deed. Only when threatened with a forced
investigation of the barracks did they admit that the armoured cars
The purpose of thus stealing and hiding the armoured cars became
more than clear to the people of Barcelona during the tragic May
Premier Tarradellas issued a decree prohibiting the members of the
various police bodies from joining any political parties or unions,
which aroused great indignation among the workers. Special plenums of
the CNT were held and the representatives of the CNT in the
government were instructed to demand the annulment of the decree. At
the same time the workers' organisations of the CNT demanded the
reform of the Department of Food Supplies and, therefore, the
resignation of Comorera. A new crisis of the Generality was
precipitated on March 27th
The solution to this crisis proved to be very difficult. The
demands of the PSUC, hiding behind the UGT, became ever more
arrogant. When, after a week of negotiations, a new programme for the
government of the Generality had been agreed upon, the UGT broke it
at the very last moment. Unity, so painfully achieved, was again
spoiled. Companys, president of the Catalan Generality, created a
provisional government with a peaceful coup d'etat. The syndicalists
and anarchists would have been perfectly justified if they had
rejected this arbitrary solution. They had proved their good will and
patience; they could face public opinion; justice and sympathy were
definitely with them. Yet, not to break the anti-fascist front, they
swallowed this bitter pill too. On April 16th the crisis was finally
solved, the CNT proving very compliant. They renounced their former
demands, modified the desires of the proletariat by pointing out the
necessities of the war against fascism, and urged them to concentrate
their forces for the period after the defeat of the fascists.
Comorera no longer headed the Department of Food Supplies, but the
office itself remained in the hands of the UGT. The ministers of the
CNT had also been changed. The syndicalists and the anarchists had
done all they could to maintain the anti-fascist united front. They
hoped that a new phase of development would begin now, a period of
calm and relaxation behind the lines. False hopes.
On April 25th, Roldan Cortada, prominent member of the PSUC was
killed near Molins de Llobregat. With this lamentable act as a
pretext, the PSUC tried, through their authority over the Public
Forces, to take measures of repression against the sympathisers and
members of the CNT and the FAI. And although they did not accuse us
directly of having committed the attentat, they nevertheless tried,
through their actions, to place the moral responsibility for the
criminal attentat upon our organisations. Indignation spread over the
entire province of Barcelona, both for the deed, and for the harsh
measures of the police. The Director of Public Security, Rodriguez
Salas, was responsible for these measures. His political career had
been a varied one until then. He finally landed with the UGT. His
actions against the CNT were considered as provocation's. He had been
conducting a struggle against the CNT for several months.
A few days later the anarchist mayor of Puigcerda, Antonio Martin,
and three of his comrades were shot. The members of the FAl became
very indignant over the murder of their comrade, whom they all loved
and respected as one of the best. Political tempers rose. The First
of May was approaching. The negotiations between the CNT and the UGT
for joint demonstrations failed, owing to the manoeuvres of the
communists who controlled the UGT. Bitterness turned gradually into
hate. Political passions dominated the scene.
THE EVENTS OF MAY 3rd
On May 3rd, Rodriguez Salas launched a new attack against the CNT.
Following a preconceived plan and carrying out the orders of the
Minister of the Interior, issued behind the backs of the other
Councillors, he broke into the Telephone Building with a force of 200
police. This was the last straw. The avalanche finally broke loose.
The patience of the workers at last was at an end. They took action
against this provocation.
The Telephone Building of Barcelona is located in the centre of
the city, on Plaza Catalunya. Like all public enterprises, not only
in Catalonia but throughout Spain, the telephone building had been
taken over by the workers' organisations and controlled by them
according to the Decree of Collectivisation of October 24th, 1936. A
delegate of the Catalan Generality was at the head of the control
committee of the workers. This arrangement was in accord with the
laws of the country. It is likely that the UGT was not satisfied with
this state of affairs because it had fewer members in the control
committee than the CNT. But they also had fewer members among the
workers and employees of the telephone building. Rodriguez Salas, not
wishing to wait until his partisans might win over a majority of the
workers and employees to this organisation, decided to gain absolute
control of the Telephone Exchange by force.
About three o'clock in the afternoon of May 3rd, three motor
lorries of police drove up to the telephone building under his
personal command. They entered the building, wanting to occupy it.
The manner of their approach was, of necessity, regarded as an
insulting provocation of the workers. They were asked to put up their
hands and turn over their weapons. (Since last July, all responsible
leaders of organisations, political parties, public institutions,
etc., carry small arms. In addition, all public building have arms as
a protection against fascists, some only rifles, and others, more
important, also have machine guns.)
The workers defended themselves. A machine gun covered the police
from an upper storey. They could not go beyond the first floor. While
all this was taking place inside the building, word of the assault
spread in the square, and soon after, throughout the city. It was as
though a match had been set to gunpowder. The workers of Barcelona,
belonging to the CNT in an overwhelming majority, feared that this
might be only the beginning of still further actions against their
rights. People came from all parts of the city to see what had
happened; the police tried to keep them back; the collision had taken
Workers and police ran about excitedly in every section of the
city The union headquarters were full of people. Everybody wanted
arms. Everybody wanted to be ready to defend other buildings from
similar assaults. Perhaps, at some other time, this assault upon the
telephone building might not have had such consequences. But the
accumulation of political conflicts during the past few months had
made the atmosphere tense. It was impossible to stem the indignation
of the masses.
A few hours later, the entire city of Barcelona was in arms. The
workers occupied a number of houses near Plaza Catalunga, but retired
soon after. The police were concentrated near the police prefecture.
The Catalan Minister of the Interior, Artemio Aiguade, was with the
police, and behind the whole section. With him were the masses of the
armed Catalan Nationalists (Estat Catala), and the militants of the
PSUC. Armed troops were also concentrated in the outer districts of
Barcelona. It became clear to all that they were trying to organise a
putsch against the CNT and the FAI
From the dungeons of dictatorship until today, the CNT and the FAI
have always had their defence committees. These committees began to
function at once, their members taking up arms.
To prevent this incident from leading to even greater collisions,
the president of the police, Comrade Eroles, the general secretary of
the Patrols, Comrade Asens, and Comrade Diaz, were sent as
representatives of the defence committees to the Telephone Building
to persuade the intruders to withdraw. the workers refused to work
under the threat of the police and it was obvious that calm would not
be restored until the police were removed. The effort of our three
comrades came to nothing.
In the face of the increasing tension among the people of
Barcelona, the Regional Committee could keep silent no longer. Its
secretary, Comrade Valerio Mas, together with some other comrades,
went to Premier Tarradellas and to the Minister of the Interior,
Aiguade, and asked them to remove the police in order to pacify the
population. Tarradellas as well as Aiguade assured them that they
knew nothing about the incident of the Telephone Building. But it was
to be proven later that Aiguade had himself given the order for the
occupation of the Telephone Building. The Regional Committee of the
CNT announced by radio that they would do everything possible to
compel the police to withdraw from the building. The workers were
asked to maintain their calm and dignity. In the course of the
negotiations, the government promised to order the withdrawal of the
police. The armed workers also retreated. For the time being
everything seemed to be normal again. But soon the news began to
spread that Salas' police were disarming the workers, and once again
the masses became anxious.
The workers were on their guard. They did not trust the apparent
peace and remained in watchful positions. In the meantime blood had
already been shed. The shooting had begun and two people were
Among the people the nervous tension continued. The workers
demanded guarantees. They did not want any repetitions of such
incidents. They demanded, through their organisation, the dismissal
of the Secretary of Public Security, Salas, and of the Minister of
the Interior, Aiguade. If these demands were not fulfilled, they
would declare a general strike. Their resignations were not
On the following day, a general strike was declared. Had the other
parties agreed to the dismissal of these two men, calm would have
been restored and the terrible tragedy avoided. Negotiations were
carried on till 6 o'clock in the morning - fruitlessly. Toward
morning the workers began building barricades in the outer districts
of the city. There was no fighting during this first night, but the
general tension increased. In some parts of the city shots were being
fired. In the district of Sarria some hundred workers armed
themselves, built a barricade, and disarmed the civil guards, who
consented to such a course. There was no bloodshed there. The workers
were masters of the situation.
In the district of Sans, where Durruti lived for many years, the
workers, especially the Libertarian Youth, assembled in their
cultural centres (Ateneos) and built barricades...No fighting...In
the district of Hostafranchs the workers built barricades during the
night of May 3rd-4th. The civil guards were disarmed by the workers
without offering resistance. The large bullring, situated in this
district, was also occupied by militiamen on leave from Barcelona. In
the Lerida streets, 300 civil guards handed their arms to the
No fighting took place in the outer districts of the city, partly
because the police were on the side of the workers, and partly
because the workers were in such an absolute majority that resistance
TUESDAY, MAY 4th
During the early hours of the morning the shooting started in the
centre of the city. The Palace of Justice was occupied by the police.
Fighting centres sprang up everywhere. A few headquarters of the CNT
were seized by the police. By eleven o'clock in the morning the
delegates of the CNT unions were holding a special meeting where they
agreed to do everything possible to re-establish calm. A special
committee was elected to negotiate with the government for a solution
to the conflict. The CNT issued an appeal to the police, declaring:
"It is necessary to come to a speedy solution to this
conflict. The incidents now taking place in the street are the result
of a long and painful development to sacrifice the organisation of
the CNT and its leaders after using their blood and their strength to
defeat the treacherous fascists. Don't let them betray you! You know
very well, and you have the proof of it, that the CNT-FAI are not
against you, either as individuals or collectively. You are, like
ourselves, soldiers of the anti-fascist front. Offer your arms to the
people and place yourselves on their side as you did on the 19th of
July. Neither the CNT nor the FAI want to establish a dictatorship.
Nor will they ever tolerate dictatorship so long as a single one of
their members is alive. We do not fight against fascism out of love
for war; we are fighting to secure public freedom and to prevent the
massacre and the exploitation of the people by those, who, without
calling themselves fascists, nevertheless want to establish a regime
of absolutism, in complete violation of the feelings and the
traditions of our people."
One hour later the Regional Committees of the CNT and the FAI
spoke to the people of Barcelona:
"The CNT and the FAI address you now to tell you that
they do not want to shed the blood of fellow workers in the streets
of Barcelona. But we cannot endure the provocation's of those, who,
misusing their public offices, want to destroy the rights of the
workers of the CNT and the UGT, as was the case yesterday when they
tried to occupy the Telephone Building by force of arms."
Soon after, another manifesto of the CNT was broadcast to the
workers of Barcelona:
"Men and women of the people! Workers! We speak
frankly to the public, which, as always in the past, is proof of our
honesty. We are not responsible for what is now taking place. We are
not attacking. We are only defending ourselves. We did not start
this; we did not provoke it. We are merely answering the abuse, the
calumny, and the force that has been directed against the CNT and the
FAI, the most implacable anti fascists of all.
"We have never concealed our aims; we have given ample proof of
our worth. Why do they want to eliminate us? Does it not seem
suspicious to you that they are attacking the CNT and the FAI, while
in Madrid, in Andalusia, in Viscaya, and in Aragon our forces have
given, and are still giving at the present time, proof of the utmost
courage and strength? Workers of the CNT and the UGT! Remember the
road we have travelled together. How many have fallen, covered in
blood, in the open streets and on the barricades! Put down your
weapons! Embrace as brothers! We shall be victorious if we are
united. If we fight amongst ourselves, we must go down to defeat.
Consider! We extend our hand without weapons. You do the same and
everything will be forgotten.
"Unity among ourselves! Death to fascism!"
One hour later, at 3 o'clock in the afternoon, the CNT and the FAI
again broadcast a message to the people of Barcelona:
"The CNT and the FAI, who helped decisively in the
defeat of fascism in Barcelona and Catalonia alongside the other anti
fascist organisations, appeal to you to-day, to all of you, to put
down your arms. Think of our great goal, common to all the workers,
in the rear and at the front.
"The government of the Generality must be cleaned out. These
demoralising acts will have to cease regardless of who is performing
them, including the ministers.
"Workers of the CNT! Workers of the UGT! Don't be deceived by
these manoeuvres. Above all else, Unity! Put down your arms. Only one
slogan: We must work to beat fascism! Down with fascism!"
Despite all these appeals and demonstrations of good-will to the
police and the population of Barcelona, the hostilities, once
started, were not to be held back. Indignation and bitterness
increased on all sides. Four ministers of the CNT, who were in their
respective offices when the hostilities broke out, could not reach
the seat of the Generality - and no longer wanted to. The ministers
of the other parties, especially the Premier, Tarradellas, and
President Companys, declared that they could not carry on
negotiations so long as the streets were not cleared of the armed
forces, yet it was obvious to all that the continued presence of the
armed forces in the streets was not due to the anarchists and
syndicalists, but to the undisciplined police under the command of
provocateur agents of the PSUC and the Estat Catala. The responsible
organs of the CNT and the FAI had given ample proof of their desire
to end the conflict by their manifestos to the people. The
prolongation of the negotiations were, of necessity, fatal. The
bitterness and the hatred grew by the hour. An explosion, a violent
bloody fratricidal war might break out at any moment. The Catalan
city police, and the members of the PSUC working with them, opened
the hostilities in the centre of the city.
At about 5 o'clock in the afternoon, an exceptionally cruel and
bloody incident occurred on Via Durruti, not far from Casa CNT-FAI
headquarters of the Regional Committees of the two organisations. Two
cars were coming up the street from the direction of the docks to get
to the Regional Committee. Some 300 metres from the Casa, a barricade
of Catalan city guards and members of the PSUC, with red arm-bands
was located. As the cars approached this barricade, they were ordered
to stop and surrender their weapons. As they were getting out of the
car to carry out the order, they were shot down by volleys of rifle
This incident, witnessed by many from the windows of the Casa
CNT-FAI, aroused fierce indignation. The defenders of the Casa wanted
to avenge the cowardly murder immediately. But after discussion
decided to allow even this provocation to go unanswered, so as to
avoid still greater harm.
As it became apparent that the police not only did not intend to
stop the hostilities, but were actually preparing to attack the
headquarters of the Regional Committee itself, the Defence Committee
decided to order two armoured cars from the arms factories for the
defence of the Casa and its inmates. They arrived during the evening,
and for the duration of hostilities, were held ready for defence.
In the meantime, a sort of united front had been established
between the Catalan Left (Esquerra), the Catalan Nationalists (Estat
Catala), and the PSUC and UGT. They all defended the Minister of the
Interior, Aiguade, and the Chief of Police, Rodriguez Salas, the two
most directly responsible for the outbreak. This united front among
the Ministers was carried into the street. Police, national Guards,
Catalan city police, and members of the PSUC (affiliated to the 3rd
International) and the UGT manned the barricades together against the
workers of the CNT and the FAI, with whom the POUM, the Party of
Marxist Unity, were also allied. This united front of all the left
bourgeois parties with the communists against the syndicalist CNT and
the anarchist FAI was ample proof that they were trying to create a
situation in which they could remove the syndicalists and the
anarchists from the government and discredit them among the workers.
Although all the leaders of these parties may not have participated
in the preparation of the conflict, it was, nevertheless, undeniable
that all of them did not want to take advantage of it to remove, or
at least weaken, the influence of that part of the Catalan
proletariat that considers the struggle against fascism a
simultaneous struggle against capitalism and for socialism. What had
been carried out some months ago against the smaller party of the
POUM with comparatively little effort was to be continued now against
the mass organisations of the Catalan proletariat by the use of
force. That the police under Rodriguez Salas had rebelled against the
government was never stated in the official reports of the
government. The population had to be told that the workers of the CNT
and the FAI had initiated the conflict.
Not only the Regional Committee of the CNT and FAI, and the
assemblies of their delegates; not only the representatives of the
various districts of the city, who were at the head of their
barricades, favoured a peaceful solution of the conflict. The
National Committee of CNT and its representatives in Valencia also
demanded it. Shortly after 5 o'clock in the afternoon a delegation
arrived from Valencia. consisting of the secretary of the National
Committee of the CNT, Mariano Vasquez, and the Minister of Justice,
Garcia Oliver, a well known anarchist. Members of the Executive
Committee of the UGT also came from Valencia. Federica Montseny,
Minister of Public Health, also came to Barcelona. At a joint
conference, it was decided in accord with a proposal from the CNT to
issue an appeal to the people to stop the hostilities and lay down
their arms. This plan was discussed for two hours, the PSUC delegates
displaying the greatest opposition. Sancajo, representing the
Executive Committee of the UGT, Mariano Vasquez, as secretary of the
CNT, Garcia Oliver, the anarchist Minister, and President Companys,
all spoke over the radio calling upon the people of Barcelona to stop
The secretary of the National Committee, Mariano Vasquez, speaking
over the Generality radio station said:
"We must stop what is happening immediately. We must
stop immediately so that our comrades at the front may see that we
fully understand the present situation, so that they can face the
enemy secure in the knowledge that they do not have to watch the rear
because we cannot reach an agreement. Let us keep the present
situation in mind! We must not suffer for another moment that feeling
of collapse in the rear, which can only give comfort to fascism. Stop
the shooting, comrades! But let no one try to conquer new positions
when the firing has stopped.
"We shall continue our discussions here until we have found a
solution. The demands of self-preservation drive us to the unity of
all the anti-fascist organisations of Catalonia. We are all assembled
here, especially the Executive Committee of the UGT and the National
Committee of the CNT who have come from Valencia to end this terrible
conflict in Barcelona. We have come together to seek a joint
agreement because this fighting can only serve the purposes of our
enemy - fascism!"
The negotiations in the Palace of the Generality continued during
the entire night. Although the members of the syndicalist trade
unions and of the Anarchist Federation of Iberia obeyed the appeal to
stop hostilities, the rebel police, and even worse the members of
other hostile parties, continued their criminal activities. During
that very night the CNT Union of Hide and Leather workers were
attacked in their headquarters. During the entire night intense rifle
fire could be heard in the centre of the city.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 5th
The night-long negotiations resulted in the resignation of the
entire government. A provisional government was formed of one
representative from each party that was represented in the former
government. But calm was not restored. Upon the return of the
representatives of the CNT-FAI from the Generality, the various
committees of the CNT-FAI held a meeting. The two officials involved
(Aiguade and Salas) whose dismissal was demanded by the workers,
resigned with the rest of the Council of the Generality, and steps
were taken to assure their continued absence from such responsible
posts. When reports came in from Coll Blanch that further clashes
were feared, the Committee of the CNT and the FAI took steps to call
upon the workers to desist from their efforts to occupy the barracks.
Again the workers did everything possible to avoid conflict.
At 9.30 in the morning the assault guards offered a new
provocation. They attacked the headquarters of the Medical Union at
Santa Ana Square in the centre of the city. At the same time they
attacked, with greater fury the headquarters of the Local Federation
of the Libertarian Youth. The youth defended themselves heroically.
Six young anarchists were killed in the defence of their premises.
Both places telephoned the Regional Committee for help. The rifle
fire, explosions of hand grenades and machine gun fire could be
clearly heard throughout the centre of the city. The streets in the
fighting zone were deserted, no one dared to go out.
When, in the afternoon, the hostilities still continued the
Defence Committee decided to call for three more armoured cars to
defend the threatened Union headquarters. They came within a few
hours to the Casa CNT-FAI, and were put into action to aid and
support endangered unions and comrades. Soon after their arrival the
tanks had a chance to go into action. Opposite the Regional
Committee, three unarmed workers were being shot at in the street.
The shooting came from the barricades of the PSUC mentioned before.
The unarmed workers were seeking refuge in a doorway. They seemed
lost. One of the armoured cars went to the rescue of the endangered
comrades upon the initiative of a woman comrade.
Wild rumours were spreading through the city. Uncontrolled
elements - they said - want to continue the Revolution. This was the
third day of struggle and there seemed to be no hope for the
re-establishment of peace. The Generality radio station spoke of the
uncontrolled elements of the CNT and the FAI. The Regional Committee
asked the Generality over the telephone who was controlling the
police. For, although we were assured again and again that the police
would not shoot any more machine gun and rifle fire continued to he
heard coming from those sections of the city where the police had
their strongholds. At five in the afternoon the Regional Committee of
the CNT proposed the following:
- Hostilities to cease. Every party to keep its positions.
- The police and civilians fighting on their side be
specifically asked to stop fighting.
- The responsible committees to be informed at once if the pact
is broken anywhere.
- Solitary shots should not be answered.
- The defenders of the Union quarters to remain passive and
await further instructions.
During the fighting between the Catalan city guards and the
assault guards against the Libertarian Youth, an assault guard was
taken prisoner, but set free soon after to have his slight wound
The proposals for armistice were accepted by the government, but
the armed forces supposedly acting in defence of said government,
paid no attention to it. During the afternoon they tried to encircle
the headquarters of the Regional Committee, the Casa CNT-FAl. The
rebels built new barricades, closer to the Regional Committee. The
shooting never stopped.
Rumours of the events in Barcelona reached the front. The
well-known anarchist, Jover, rushed from Huesca to Barcelona. The
militia at the front were concerned over the fate of Barcelona, they
did not want it to fall into the hands of these
counter-revolutionaries in disguise. It had l become obvious that the
Catalan city guards and the assault guards who were both being
manipulated by agent provocateurs and part of the petty bourgeoisie,
seemed to be on the side of the anti-fascist coalition government.
Actually they were pursuing different aims. All these elements were
by now uncontrolled by the government. They had become a horde of
counter-revolutionists set loose against the proletariat, and,
specifically, against its organisations, the CNT and the FAI. In the
face of the growing danger for the workers, for their union
headquarters, their cultural centres and, above all, for the lives of
all the militants, it was decided to organise a stronger defence. A
Regional Defence Committee was created. Their deliberations in the
Regional Committee were punctuated by continuous machine gun fire.
Thus, the defence of the Casa CNT-FAI was organised. Reports came in
from all parts of Barcelona and from the provinces of Catalonia that
the overwhelming majority of the population were with the CNT, and
that most towns and villages were in the hands of our organisations.
It would have been easy to attack the centre of the city had the
responsible committees so decided. They only had to appeal to the
defence committees of the outlying districts. But the Regional
Committee of the CNT was opposed to it. Every proposal of attack was
unanimously rejected by them and by the FAI.
A newly founded group, called
of Durruti' functioning on the fringes of the CNT-FAI, published
a proclamation declaring that, "A revolutionary Junta has been
constituted in Barcelona. All those responsible for the putsch,
manoeuvring under the protection of the government, shall be
executed. The POUM shall be a member of the Revolutionary Junta
because they stood by the workers."
The Regional Committees decided not to concur with this
proclamation. The Libertarian Youth likewise rejected it. On the next
day, Thursday May 6th, their official statement was printed in the
entire press of Barcelona.
THE MURDER OF BERNERI AND BARBIERI
There was fighting during the following night. But an incident
occurred in the evening that demonstrated clearly the intentions of
the provocateurs. A short way down the Via Durruti, opposite the
Regional Committee at 2 Plaza del Angel, lived the well known
anarchist militant, Camillo Berneri. A
number of other Italian exiles, who had come to Spain to form an
anti-fascist column, also lived there. Berneri was a sort of
political delegate among his countrymen. He also edited the Italian
paper Guerra di Classe, in which he drew attention to the dangers of
dictatorship. One article entitled 'Burgos and Moscow', attracted the
attention of the Russian government. Berneri wrote:
"Once fascism is beaten, it will be necessary for the
CNT and the FAI to continue the struggle for their social programme.
The Executive Committee of the Communist Party of Spain declared only
the other day that, in the present struggle in Spain, they are
defending democracy and private property. It smells of Noske. Were
not Madrid in flames one might even expect a new Kronstadt. But
Madrid is approaching victory. Revolutionary Catalonia receives
neither arms nor financial help. Did the USSR send arms, munitions,
and military cadres in order to control the anti-fascist fight and
check the development of the Social Revolution? The alternative,
Madrid or Franco, has paralysed Spanish anarchism. Today Barcelona is
located between Burgos, Rome, Madrid, and Moscow. It is besieged. The
horizon is hazy. We are on the high seas in a great storm. Shall we
be able to perform wonders? Crushed between the Prussians and
Versailles, the Commune of Paris initiated a fire that lit up the
world. Between Burgos and Madrid lies Barcelona. Let the Godets of
Moscow remember this." [Godet was the fascist general who led the
uprising in Barcelona on the 19th of July. He was duly tried by the
people of Barcelona, and shot.]
This article caused Russia to intervene in the CNT-FAI. Since
then, Berneri was anathema to the partisans of the Communist Party
When the hostilities started, Berneri was in his- rooms with his
friend, Barbieri, also a well known
anarchist. With them were the wife of Barbieri and Tosca Pantini,
widow of an Italian militiaman killed on the Aragon front. The
Italians' house was surrounded by Catalan city guards and members of
the PSUC wearing red armbands with their party insignia on them. On
the morning of Tuesday May 4th, the Catalan and Communist guards came
to the house and told the Italian anarchists to be careful because
there was a lot of shooting in the neighbourhood. There was another
visit in the afternoon for the purpose of registering the house and
confiscating the arms which belonged to Italian militiamen on leave
in Barcelona. The next day, Wednesday May 5th, at about 5 o'clock in
the afternoon, Berneri and Barbieri were taken away by 12 guards, six
of them from the city police, the others were members of the PSUC as
evidenced by their red armbands. The leader of the group, showing his
badge with the number 1109, asked for their names. Two of the group
remained in the house to carry out a further search. Berneri had been
working on a book about Mussolini's policy in the Mediterranean, with
special reference to the Balearic Islands. It was a book against
Barbieri's wife wanted to go with the two comrades when they were
taken away, but they refused to allow her.
Both men were shot during the following night, by machine gun
fire, as revealed by the autopsy. It was cold blooded murder, since
both men were unarmed. The murder was committed near the Palace of
the Generality. Soon after the bodies of the two anarchists were
delivered to the mortuary of the Hospital Clinico. The lists show
that the Red Cross had found both bodies near the Generality.
The evidence is irrefutable. Berneri and Barbieri were shot
because they were anarchists by police and members of the PSUC, i.e.
faithful Moscow Communists. Barbieri's companion declared "Barbieri
asked why they who were anarchists and therefore anti-fascists, were
being ill treated. And the leader of the group answered: 'It's
because you are anarchists that you are counter-revolutionaries . "'
The anarchists were persecuted; the anarchists were murdered; the
anarchists were outlawed. Still they limited themselves only to
defence, and never attacked. Yet when the lie was circulated that the
anarchists were doing the attacking, the world press seized upon it
eagerly and spread it to the four corners of the earth.
On the following day the papers published the number of victims:
500 dead and over 1500 wounded. A terrible indictment of those who
had provoked such a fratricidal war.
THURSDAY, MAY 6th
During the night the two trade unions, the UGT and the CNT, agreed
to call upon the workers once more to return to work. They published
the following manifesto:
Local Federation of the CNT, Barcelona. Local Federation of the UGT, Barcelona.
"The tragic events taking place in our city during the
last 48 hours have made it impossible for the workers to go to work.
The anti-fascist organisations and parties in session at the Palace
of the Generality have solved the conflict that has created this
abnormal situation, so harmful to the cause of the proletariat. The
local federations of the CNT and the UGT have agreed to ask all
members to resume their work as usual. It is necessary to return to
normal life. To continue the present inactivity in the factories at
this time is to weaken our forces and strengthen that of our common
"Accordingly, all workers of the CNT and the UGT are ordered to
return to work. All members of both trade unions should avoid
anything that might lead to possible friction and disturbances at
their place of work. These events have taught us that from now on we
shall have to establish relations of cordiality and comradeship, the
lack of which we have all regretted deeply during the last few days.
"The local federations of the UGT and the CNT urge their members
to refrain from all manifestations of hostility. Mutual understanding
and solidarity are the requirements of the hour. The union cards of
both organisations must be respected by everyone, and it is the duty
of the control committees to respect all workers without exception.
"To work, comrades of the CNT and UGT!"
This appeal was broadcast over the radio and appeared the next
morning in every paper in Barcelona. But to no avail. Work was not
resumed anywhere. The police continued in their hostile attitude and
fortified their positions further during the night with the obvious
intention of extending the struggle. Provocation's by the political
parties continued in the hope of shaking the faith of the workers in
the conduct of the committees of the CNT and the FAI. The fighting
was resumed. Bitterness and discontent filled the workers. The
Valencia government intervened more energetically into the affairs of
Barcelona. Two Spanish warships were ordered to the port of
The streets presented a calmer picture on Thursday morning. The
centre of the old city was still like a fortress. Some horse carts
were already making their appearance on the wider streets, and an
occasional pedestrian could be seen. The overhead wires of the
tramways were being repaired. The Valencia government, it was
rumoured, was gathering troops from different sectors of the front to
be sent to Catalonia.
The Regional Committee and the syndicates all over the city
suffered new anxieties when the police and the civilian fighters of
PSUC proceeded to take advantage of the armistice to build new
fortifications. Thus, the police openly carried sand bags and machine
guns up to the towers of a cathedral not two hundred metres from the
Casa CNT-FAI. This hardly looked like peace. Those who seek peace
don't proceed to occupy new offensive positions.
Further news added to the anxiety. 1,500 troops are on their way
from Valencia. Another 2,500 will follow. Against whom are they
mobilising? Against the workers? In the streets of Barcelona
everybody was being searched. Those who had membership carnets from
the CNT were regarded as enemies. The carnet was taken away and torn
up. Often, mere possession of such a document was cause for arrest.
Dozens of such arrests were being made.
The negotiations between the antagonistic parties were delayed
half a day by the death of the secretary of the UGT of Catalonia,
Antonio Sese. He was fatally wounded by a bullet on his way to the
Generality in his own car. The shot came from the direction of the
Paseo de Gracia, where his own party comrades had a barricade. The
comrades who accompanied Sese signed a document stating the facts of
the case, which is now in the hands of the Theatre Union in front of
whose headquarters the accident occurred. Sese was neither murdered
nor executed. Yet his death was used to intensify the insidious
campaign against the CNT.
A strange situation had developed inside the Telephone Building.
The workers in the upper storeys and the assault guards arranged an
armistice. They allowed the workers to receive food - the first
since, Monday. The discussions among the workers who belonged both to
the CNT and the UGT, still continued. To end these discussions and to
show their willingness to restore peace, .he members of the CNT
agreed to leave the building at 3 o'clock in the afternoon. The
assault guards were supposed to leave also. However, instead of
leaving that part of the building which they had occupied earlier in
the week, the assault guards proceeded to occupy the entire building,
and brought in members of the UGT to take over the posts of CNT
workers. The members of the CNT saw that they had been betrayed and
immediately informed the Regional Committee. The latter intervened
with the Government. They demanded that the police be withdrawn from
the building. To remain meant a broken promise would render their
agreements valueless for the future. Those who broke their agreement
would have to take the consequences. Half an hour later the
Generality replied: the fait accompli cannot be recalled.
This broken agreement aroused great indignation among the workers
of the CNT. Had the workers in the outlying districts been informed
immediately of this development, they would surely have insisted upon
taking firmer measures and returned to the attack. But when the
matter was discussed later, the more moderate point of view won out.
It was obvious that the occupation of the Telephone Building would
be used to facilitate new attacks. And within the hour, at about 4pm,
a new attack was launched against the main railroad station, Estacion
de Francia. The assault guards attacked from one side; the PSUC from
the Karl Marx Barracks on the other. The workers could no longer
depend on the telephone. The atmosphere in the centre of the city
became tense. Bombs exploded. Rifle and machine gun fire broke the
silence of the metropolis.
At ten minutes past four, the Under Secretary of State, Juanel
Molina, member of the FAI, communicated that General Pozas had
presented himself at the Capitania to take over his office as Chief
of the Fourth Brigade of the Spanish Army. The post of Catalan
Minister of Defence had ceased to exist. Under Secretary of State
Juanel Molina, even though he was a member of the FAI, did everything
to keep the troops from entering the struggle. Had the FAI really
gone into action, the entire military force would have been on their
side and victory would have been certain. But the FAI did not want a
fratricidal war within the ranks of the anti-fascists.
Not only at the station, but also in the neighbourhood of Plaza de
Catalunya, the police started attacking the workers. In both cases
the attacks were successfully repelled. Again the workers refused to
counter-attack. Still, they were determined to defend their
positions, their lives and their rights.
The Regional Committee was informed that the armed forces of the
Catalan Nationalists and the PSUC had taken possession of the village
of San Juan. The armed workers of the CNT and the FAI entered the
village, disarmed the enemy and liberated their comrades. In the open
village square they had to answer for their actions. They were warned
not to take up arms against the people. Then the anarchists set their
enemies free again.
We must mention these incidents to counteract the calumnies spread
against the anarchists and the anarcho-syndicalists of Catalonia,
whom they characterise as murderers and criminals.
At six o'clock they telephoned that 1,500 Assault Guards had
reached Tortosa on their way to Barcelona. They occupied the
headquarters of the CNT unions, the cultural centres of the FAI and
the Anarchist Youth, arresting all those found inside. These troops
had come from the central part of Spain. According to the evening
paper Noticiero Universal of Saturday May 8th, these troops had come
from the trenches of the Jarama front, where they had been fighting
for four months alongside the International Brigade. The anarchists
could also have called in their columns from the Aragon front, as
well as armed forces from other parts of Catalonia, and there is no
doubt that they could have been victorious within 24 hours. But they
did not want to break up the anti-fascist front. They never did more
than defend themselves against the attacks directed against them.
At 6.45 the united committees of the CNT and the FAI sent a new
delegation to the government to find out what they intended doing. A
few minutes later, news came from London by cable that the British
Government had sent a torpedo boat and a cruiser, the 'Despatch', to
Catalan waters near Barcelona. A delegation of CNT workers arrived to
find out what the responsible committees were going to do. The
committees decided to address the population of Barcelona by
manifesto that they wished to maintain the anti-fascist front. At the
same time they addressed the general public all over the world by a
manifesto on Thursday May 6th which reads as follows:
"While the tragic events were taking place here in
Barcelona, provoked as they were by some irresponsible elements in
the anti-fascist organisations, the world at large received very
little information concerning the whole situation.
"The same cowardly elements that wished to provoke bloodshed in
Barcelona, issued false reports to the outside world with the same
evil intentions, grossly misrepresenting everything.
"Foreign countries have been told that the CNT and the FAI were
the cause of the disturbances of the last few days. You were told
that the anarchists were guilty of starting this struggle among
fellow workers which caused blood to flow in the streets of
Barcelona. You were told that the anarchists attacked the police the
Generality, and other municipal and state institutions.
"Nothing is more false than this version of the developments and
those who spread such lies intentionally can be nothing but fascists
"Now that we have returned to normal, and those responsible for
the outbreak have been dismissed from public office, when all the
workers have returned to their jobs, and Barcelona is once more calm,
the CNT and the FAI want to give an exact explanation of what
"We are authorised to state that neither the National
Confederation of Labour, nor the Iberian Anarchist Federation, or any
of its dependent organisations, broke, or had any intention of
breaking the anti-fascist front. The CNT and the FAI continue to
collaborate loyally as in the past, with all political and trade
union sectors of the anti-fascist front. The best proof of this is
that the CNT continues to collaborate with the central Government,
the Government of the Generality and all the municipalities.
"When the conflict started in Barcelona, the Regional and National
organisations of the CNT offered every means to the government to
help solve the conflict as quickly as possible. On the second day of
the struggle, the secretary of the National Committee of the CNT, and
the Minister of Justice, also a member of the CNT, came to Barcelona
and did everything humanly possible to end this fratricidal struggle.
In addition to these attempts to deal with responsible members of the
other political sectors, these comrades spoke to the population of
Barcelona, and called upon them to be calm and work for an agreement,
and appealed for unity of action against the common enemy, fascism.
"Not only the National Committee, but also the Regional Committee,
did everything possible to find a solution to this conflict. The
press of the CNT of Catalonia appealed for calm and called upon the
population to return to work. The news issued by radio to the unions
and to the defence committees were nothing but appeals for calm.
"Further proof that the CNT did not want to break, and did not
break, the anti-fascist front, is that when the new government of the
Generality was formed, on the 5th of May, the representatives of the
CNT of Catalonia offered it every facility, and the secretary of the
CNT was a member of the Government.
"We are also authorised to state that neither the National
Confederation of Labour nor the Iberian Anarchist Federation attacked
any police headquarters or any other institutions of the State or the
Generality. At no time and at no place did the first shot ever come
from any responsible members of the CNT.
"The members of the CNT who controlled the Defence Council of the
Generality gave orders to all their forces not to intervene on either
side in the conflict. And they also saw to it that their orders were
"The Defence Committee of the CNT also gave orders to every
district of Barcelona that no one should come from there to the
centre to answer the provocation's. These orders, too, were carried
out because no one actually did come to the centre to answer the
"The Regional Committee of the CNT and the FAI gave precise orders
that no one should move from his section, that no one should disturb
the public order.
"The CNT and the FAI not only merely maintained positions of
defence, they did everything possible to try to re-establish public
order and unmask the provocateurs. Many were the traps laid for the
CNT up to the very end, but the CNT remained firm in its position and
did not allow itself to be provoked. It did not fall into the net,
which had many ramifications in the regional, national and
international spheres. And in maintaining its positions, it did
everything possible to have the provocateurs, Rodriguez Salas and
Aiguade, removed from their responsible positions. Once this was
accomplished, and calm re-established, the CNT and the UGT together
with the other anti-fascist forces, formed a commission to clarify
the events in Barcelona and re-establish a normal atmosphere.
"When the causes of the disturbances were discovered, the people
returned to work. Everybody, with utmost courage and energy, is now
dedicating all their strength to the fight against fascism, because
it is the only enemy of all the workers in Catalonia.
"The workers of Catalonia have returned to work under the
following slogans: 'No more provocateurs in the rear!' 'Unity between
the CNT and the UGT'! 'Death to fascism!"'
Meanwhile sporadic collisions and exchanges of shots continued in
various sectors of the city. At about 10pm the CNT-FAI made new
proposals to cease hostilities as follows: All parties and groups
obligated to remove their armed guards and Patrols from the
barricades. All prisoners from both sides are to be released
immediately. No reprisals shall be taken. An answer was required
within two hours.
At midnight the government had not sent its answer. Meanwhile
disturbing news came through from Tarragona and Reus, where members
of the PSUC and the Estat Catala, taking advantage of the presence of
some assault guards passing through on their way to Barcelona, used
their temporary advantage to disarm and kill the workers. Telephone
calls caused great anxiety. Steps were taken to counteract the news
and any possible false rumours that might be coming through the
telephone exchange. Important news could no longer be communicated by
telephone. The radio station of the CNT was used to inform members of
The CNT tried to extract a promise from the government in Valencia
and Barcelona that the assault guards would not enter the city
immediately, but should be held outside the city limits until the
situation had cleared up. The arrival of the troops while the people
were still so tense, would undoubtedly mean a renewal of hostilities
and further loss of lives. The CNT and the FAI wanted to avoid this.
They were somewhat sceptical regarding the assurances that the troops
would be loyal to the workers.
The night of May 6-7th was decisive for the immediate future. The
CNT and the FAI had not yet exerted the full pressure of their
strength. They still continued in a waiting position. Should they
summon all of Catalonia to take up the fight against the nationalists
and the provocateur elements among the police and some of their
chiefs? They could have rallied a tremendous force but they did not
want to continue this fratricidal conflict. Again and again the
anarchists offered to negotiate, eager to end the conflict. But the
atmosphere was tense and the situation continued to be difficult.
Fighting was going on in Tortosa and in Tarragona. At twenty past
one, new telephone calls to the representatives of the government. No
satisfactory answer to their proposals. The assault guards were
continuing their march on Barcelona. In the centre of the city, the
Catalan Nationalists and the rebellious police kept coming closer and
closer to the headquarters of the Regional Committee. In San Pedro
street in the immediate vicinity of the building, a new barricade was
erected by the police. They were trying to encircle the Regional
Committee of the CNT and the FAI.
At two in the morning the government had still failed to answer
the proposals, awaited with so much impatience and anxiety... Twenty
minutes past two. No answer... Half past two. No answer... A quarter
to three... Three o'clock. Still no answer. They were discussing the
resumption of work in the outlying districts where the fighting had
stopped. The traffic could not start unless the barricades were
pulled down. The delegates of the transport workers union were
awaiting the answer of the government in order to give the order to
start work again... A quarter to four and still no answer... At five
minutes to four in the morning, the Provincial Committee communicated
that they were ready to hold up the troops from Valencia... Four
o'clock. No answer.
At last, at a quarter past five, the government answered. They
agreed to the armistice. All parties shall leave the barricades.
Patrols and guards retire to their headquarters, unions and fortified
positions. Both sides to release their prisoners. The patrols to
resume their functions.
Everybody relaxed. But - could one trust the sincerity of this
answer? Would the workers in the telephone exchange continue to
function as before? Would everything come out all right again?
Neither victors nor vanquished. That is the will of the
syndicalists and anarchists. The anti-fascist front shall not be
destroyed. War against fascism. Unity of all workers. That is the
firm wish of the workers on the barricades. And the resolutions of
the committees were based on this wish. The Regional Committee issued
the following statement over the radio:
"To all the workers of the CNT: Having reached an
understanding with both the political and the trade union
representatives, we wish to notify you that you will receive
instructions from your responsible committees regarding the
establishment of complete peace and calm. For the present we urge you
to keep that calm and presence of mind that the situation requires.
Do not answer the provocation's of those who seek to perpetuate the
existing state of disorder."
While the results were still being discussed, new fears arose as
the shooting broke out again to disturb the enveloping silence of the
night. Two cars were driving down Via Durruti. As they passed the
police prefecture, they were shot at. They were able to pass the
headquarters of the Regional Committee undisturbed but a short
distance away the shooting broke out in full force once more. Rifles,
machine guns, hand grenades came into play. A bad sign. A strange
contrast to the assurances of a peaceful solution of the conflict.
Only half an hour to 6 o'clock. Will we be able to pacify the
suspicions and the tempers of the comrades? At six o'clock, shots
could still be heard.
We switched off the lights. A beautiful morning. Barcelona slept
FRIDAY, MAY 7th
A few hours later, Barcelona had undergone an almost complete
change. True to their agreement, the workers had left the barricades.
In many places the barricades had already been torn down. They had
withdrawn from the buildings. But they were keeping their arms.
In the centre of the city, however, the air was still tense. The
barricades of the assault guards, of the Catalan Nationalists, and of
the PSUC remained intact. And guarded. Taking advantage of the good
will of the workers, groups of assault guards were walking about
disarming workers wherever they could get hold of them. New friction
arose between the assault guards and the Libertarian Youth in the
Plaza del Pino and the Puertafer. And once more it was thanks to the
initiative of the Anarchist Youth. who went unarmed to the
headquarters of the assault guards to negotiate, that finally, after
hours of discussion. the assault guards decided to show a more
peaceful attitude and the barricades could come down.
The centre of the city was like a fortress. High buildings had
been used as fortifications by the various groups. Out of walls of
sand bags, mattresses or cushions. rifles and machine guns poked
their barrels. The assault guards had opened the churches and used
them as fortifications.
But the populace could breathe more freely. For three days they
had been forced to remain in their houses. Now everybody was walking
about in the streets. The masses of people pushed their way through
the barricades. Children played at revolution, rolling up a rock in a
piece of paper and throwing it at the counter-revolutionists from
behind the barricades. Everybody was discussing the situation in the
bars and cafes.
Around midday another incident occurred. In the Calle Boqueria, a
car of the Libertarian Youth was stopped by an assault guard, the
youth disarmed and arrested. This was an obvious breaking of the
agreement that there should be no more arrests and no more reprisals.
In the calle San Pedro, CNT people were also threatened by the
assault guards. Towards evening further incidents occurred. Near the
Arco de Triumfo and in the Puerta del Angel shots were fired, not by
the workers of the CNT but by the rebellious police. The car of
Federica Montseny, Minister of Public Health, was also shot at, one
of the passengers being wounded.
At twenty past eight the assault guards from Valencia reached
Barcelona. They drove down the Via Durruti in motor trucks, and were
welcomed at the Police Prefecture. What will their attitude be
towards the workers? And what attitude will the workers take? As they
passed the headquarters of the Regional Committee, a shot was fired
from one car, while from another came the cry, 'Viva la FAI".
Obviously their feelings and attitude toward the workers, toward the
syndicalists and anarchists of Catalonia, were as mixed as their
The workers had put down their arms and they did not think of
taking them up again. The conflict was over. The workers were true to
their agreement. But the other side did not prove as honourable in
upholding their part of the bargain. However, everything remained
quiet. No matter how much they tried to provoke the workers of the
CNT and the FAI, the latter kept their presence of mind and their
dignity. The workers of the CNT and the FAI had not started this
conflict, nor did they want any part in prolonging it. They had not
been conquered, even though the Catalan police assumed a
provocatively boastful attitude after the Valencia troops arrived.
Again and again they tried to put the workers in the position of the
Yet their own conduct had been strange. The Catalan nationalists,
always strongly opposed to the influence of Madrid and fighting
strenuously for autonomy, had appealed for help to the Valencia
Government to defend their privileges. They played the same role now
as the Catalan Right parties had played a few years before. In
October 1934, Cambo and his League insisted on the intervention of
Madrid; at that time the Catalan Left had opposed them. Now, since
the Catalan Right had been defeated on July 19th together with the
fascist Generals, the Catalan Left demands the intervention of the
central government in Catalan affairs. In both cases, the interests
and privileges of property, of capitalism, were being defended. In
both cases they fought against the workers who were striving for the
Social Revolution. The orchestra leader had been changed, but the
music was the same.
EVENTS IN THE PROVINCES
What happened in the provinces of Catalonia proves that the entire
movement was organised to destroy the CNT and the FAI and, with them,
the revolutionary achievements of the 19th of July.
The various towns and villages of Catalonia reported to the
Regional Committee on what happened. These reports show the
counter-revolutionary character of the movement. At Montesquieu,
Lafarga, and Bisaura the members of the CNT were persecuted and even
driven away. Sixty anarchist refugees from the neighbouring villages
came to Vich.
In the Tortosa district, unmotivated attacks were launched against
the economic institutions of the workers. The incidents were
particularly indecent at La Cenia. Two hundred assault guards
occupied the village on May 7th. The guards entered the Union
headquarters of the CNT and destroyed everything they could lay their
hands on. Eight people, men and women, who were in the union quarters
at the time, were arrested. The headquarters of the Libertarian Youth
was occupied, its furniture destroyed. The collective economic
enterprises were dissolved, their quarters occupied by the assault
guards with the assistance of the bourgeois republican elements and
members of the PSUC. This action was directed against the economic
achievements of the proletariat. The comrades report from La Cenia:
"Our Collective, consisting of 450 members has been a
model for the entire district. For seven months we have made economic
sacrifices in order to build up our Collective. We have done away
with the wage system, have established a just distribution. We had a
co-operative barber shop, co-operative kitchens and a big coffee
house. The capital invested by the workers, and the stock on hand was
worth 45,000 pesetas. All this has been taken away from us, so that
our families are now starving. Our barber shop had ten modern chairs.
These, as well as our stock of textiles and our collective stable of
work horses have been taken away from us. They even went so far as to
invade the homes of our comrades and rob them of clothing and money.
Forty comrades have been arrested and were taken to Tortosa. Sixty
civil guards remained in the village after they had finished their
thefts. They are still occupying everything. We beg the comrades to
send us help soon because we fear they will take everything away from
us, even our supply of oil, worth 140,000 pesetas."
At Amettla de Mar not only were workers molested, but also the
militiamen who had membership carnets of the CNT. The secretary of
the CNT unions was arrested, and his position as a rnember of the
Municipal Council taken over by a member of the PSUC and UGT.
At Tortosa the repression was even worse. CNT membership carnets
were taken away from their owners and torn up. The assault guards
worked together with the members of the PSUC. Syndicalist and
anarchist members of the Municipality were expelled and substituted
by members of the small bourgeoisie and the PSUC. Numerous arrests
At Villadalan Juan Garcia, the anarchist member of the City
Council was arrested and all the anarchist members of the City
Council were expelled from office. The membership carnets and banners
of the CNT were torn up.
The collectivised enterprises of the CNT in Tortosa were also the
object of attacks on the part of the united reactionary forces. The
movement was directed against the social achievements of the
proletariat. After the 19th of July the land was being cultivated
collectively by the workers. The petty bourgeoisie wanted to do away
with this collectivisation. A great number of assault guards and
members of the bourgeois parties disarmed the workers and then
proceeded to liquidate the collectivised institutions. Two tractors
of the collective were returned to their former owners
The inhabitants of Amposta were compelled to surrender their arms
to the assault guards. This action was in no way justified. The
people were going about their daily occupations. The production of
rice in this village since July 1 9th , amounted to 4(),000.000 kilos
and the community had put this at the disposal of the Republic.
There were no differences between the CNT and the UGT here. Both
organisations sent a delegate to Barcelona to request the Government
to remove the troops. When the delegation reached Tortosa, the CNT
representative was arrested. A new delegation was sent to Tortosa to
secure the release of the arrested comrade. Without success. Later
Amposta was occupied by civil guards. The workers gave up their arms,
and shortly afterward, the civil guards distributed these arms among
the Socialist Youth (members of the PSUC youth organisation). Arrests
were made; and ten days after, five of the arrested were still in
prison in Tortosa.
EVENTS IN TARRAGONA
On May 5th, at eight o'clock in the morning, the telephone
exchange was occupied by a heavily armed police force. The telephone
calls were censored and the telephone connections between the
different sections of the CNT and the FAI cut.
At midday Comrade Casanovas, representative of the telephone
workers and employees, went to the military headquarters to inform
the chief of the coastal service of the occupation of the telephone
exchange. They agreed, after discussions with the Chief of Police,
that the police should retire from the upper floors of the building
where the technical apparatus is, and remain in the hall below on
guard. Later, the Chief of Police communicated that the Delegate of
Public Order refused to observe the agreement, presumably following
orders from Barcelona.
Shortly afterwards a number of people were seen entering the
headquarters of the left republican parties unarmed, and leaving
equipped with rifles. The same thing was going on at the headquarters
of the Socialist Youth: Casa del Pueblo. The comrades of the
anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist organisations also began to gather
in their centres and prepare for their defence.
Between 6 and 7 o'clock the following morning, the headquarters of
the Libertarian Youth was attacked with hand grenades and rifles.
After 15 minutes the attacking force retired apparently obeying
orders. At 11 o'clock a Commission of the CNT and the FAI went to the
Generality and demanded a meeting of all anti fascist organisations
The Generality acceded to this demand but the representatives of the
UGT and PSUC refused to attend
Heavy fire broke out again at half past three in front of the
headquarters of the Libertarian Youth, which was now being attacked
by both police and civilian forces. A new commission of the CNT-FAI
demanded that the Generality call a meeting of all the anti fascist
organisations. The Chief of Aviation at Reus had taken over public
security. The CNT and the FAI informed him that they did not want to
shed any blood and therefore wanted a conference of all anti fascist
organisations. At last the Conference took place. The Chief of
Aviation declared that he had orders to proceed against the CNT-FAI
by force if they did not immediately surrender all their arms.
Our comrades decided to give up their arms in order to avoid
further bloodshed and destruction of homes, under the following
- 1. Release of all the imprisoned.
- 2. Withdrawal of the armed police and all other armed
formations. Members of the Air Force were to take their place.
- 3. The life and liberty of all comrades, as well as their
homes, to be respected.
The comrades of the CNT-FAI turned over all their arms to Captain
Barbete himself in the headquarters of the Transport Union. The
captain noticed and remarked on the fact that the weapons had not
been used at all. He congratulated the comrades of the CNT on their
sensible conduct. Arms were also given up to the police at the CNT
And still there was no calm. About three o'clock in the morning,
assault guards and police attacked the headquarters of the Ministry
The persecutions against the militants and comrades of the CNT-FAI
first began then. Thus, once more, the authorities and political
organisations broke their promises.
Following are the names of comrades who were found murdered in
various places outside the city: Mario Berruti, Baltasar Ballejo
Mateo Freixas, Jose Gallisa, and Julian Martinez from Figueras. The
last three had been arrested and taken to the police station. From
there, assault guards took them to an unknown destination. Two hours
later their corpses were identified in the morgue of the cemetery.
Four other bodies could not be identified, but we must assume that
they were also comrades of the CNT and the FAI.
Many houses of our comrades have been searched. These searches
were carried out by the police and members of the Communist and
Catalan Nationalist Parties. On May 7th, at a quarter past nine in
the morning the merchant, Gisbert, appeared at the quarters of the
co-operative stores of the CNT accompanied by the merchants, Jose
Luis and Juan Galvet, and the railwaymen, Roche and Llacer, and
obliged the personnel at gunpoint to stop working. The personnel and
clients were compelled to leave the shop while the intruders remained
behind as victors. A truckload of goods was stolen.
After the airborne troops had retired, assault guards and members
of the Communist and Catalan Nationalist Parties invaded the
headquarters of the CNT. They forced the doors open and destroyed the
furniture. Thefts were committed in all the CNT local branches. One
Recasens, member of the Esquerra, tried to assassinate a wounded
comrade, Balabasque, member of the Libertarian Youth, in the City
Hospital. The murder was prevented by members of the hospital. But
when the brute threatened to kill Balabasque after he had recovered,
the wounded man died from the shock of the entire incident within two
It is obvious, from the narrative of these days, that the
anarchists and syndicalists did not initiate a putsch. The workers
were not interested in any internal struggle among the anti fascist
parties. On the contrary, it was in their interest to maintain the
anti fascist front.
It is also false to speak of uncontrolled elements having started
the fighting, and, by that, mean the anarchists and syndicalists. The
Paris evening paper, Ce Soir, makes this mistake out of sheer
ignorance. In its edition of May 6th, it says: "The Generality is
master of the situation. Some of the suburbs still seem to be in the
hands of the enemy. Who are these enemies? It seems that the
rebellion was started by some uncontrollable elements who managed to
get into the most extreme wing of the anarchist movement in order to
provoke disturbances in favour of the enemies of the republic."
The Spanish press also spoke of uncontrolled elements, and
referred to the anarchists. Every conceivable crime and excess was
attributed to them, thereby covering the activities of the members of
the PSUC and the Estat Catala, who were committing the most horrible
atrocities. Here is an example of an incident in which truly
uncontrolled elements indulged: During the tragic days, twelve
militants of the anarchist youth were going from the suburb Armonia
del Palomar to the offices of the Regional Committee. Near the city
park they were stopped and taken to the Karl Marx Barracks, belonging
to the PSUC. They simply disappeared. This took place on May 4th.
Four days later, on May 9th, a mysterious ambulance left twelve
terribly mutilated bodies on the road between Bella Terra and
Sardanola Ripolet. The corpses were identified as those of the twelve
young anarchists from Armonia del Palomar. These are the names of
some of them. Cesar, Fernandez Nari, Jose Villena, Juan Antonio y
Other examples could be cited. They prove that the rising was not
started by the anarchists, and that the uncontrolled elements must be
sought in other quarters. To blame the anarchists is either to
distort the truth, or pure fantasy. La Noche of May 7th, remarks on
the following incident:
"An evening paper published a false sensational story
about something that occurred in the headquarters of the CNT-FAI.
This paper writes: 'We learn that certain incidents occurred in the
Casa CNT-FAI this morning. Some elements were expressing their
dissatisfaction with the policies of the Confederation and provoked
conflicts that resulted in a number of casualties. Ambulances arrived
to take the wounded away.'
La Noche continues: "Since we know about said incident we wish to
correct the mistake. On Wednesday morning, a well-known printer, with
premises in the Calle Nueva de la Rambla, came to the Red Cross
station on Calle Casanova. He asked for an ambulance to go to the
rescue of his child who had been bitten by a mad dog. Owing to the
tragic situation, the Red Cross could not spare an ambulance. However
the delegate of the transport workers union of the CNT offered to
help the man. An ambulance took them to the headquarters of the CNT
nearby, where some rather heavy shooting was going on. The Regional
Committee of the CNT put a car at the disposal of the despairing
father, who was thus able to get help for his child...There was no
conflict and no wounded at the Casa CNT-FAI. Only an act of humanity
on the part of the comrades of the CNT."
Peace was restored among the warring brothers. The CNT, as usual,
kept to the agreement which it had accepted. Their militants put down
their arms. They went back to work and did everything to prove their
willingness to re-establish peace. They left their strategic
positions. They started to tear down their barricades. Nothing must
remain as a reminder of this tragic fratricidal struggle.
The same cannot be said of the workers' opponents. The members of
the Catalan Nationalists, as well as some uncontrolled elements of
the PSUC and of the UGT considered themselves the victors. Protected
by the old Catalan guards, who had not been disbanded, and by the new
troops from Valencia, they dared to go into the streets, and stop
workers, individually or in small groups, and, if they belonged to
the CNT or the FAI, insult them, tear off their insignias and rip up
their membership books. The new chief of police gave orders that
people were not to be stopped in the street any more. They ignored
it. Uniformed and non uniformed, partly illegal, guards continued to
stop the workers. Every day new incidents were occurring. Here is one
On Sunday night, May 9th, after two days of calm, some
uncontrolled elements of the UGT took advantage of the deserted
condition of the city at 10 p.m. to send a number of men from their
metal workers union, located on the Calle Diputacion to the
headquarters of the theatrical workers union of the CNT, opposite
them. They had chosen an hour when they expected no resistance. Our
comrades were there, but decided not to resist. They called up the
Executive Committee of the UGT and asked them to call back their
uncontrolled and undisciplined members from the offices of a CNT
union. On Thursday, May 15th, the headquarters were still occupied.
An even more vivid example: The Union of Liberal Professions of
the CNT, art section, had opened an art exhibition in their
headquarters. These were paintings saved by the anarchists during the
early days of destruction. In the course of the fighting, some
uncontrolled members of the PSUC broke into the exhibition hall with
guns and revolvers drawn. The artists who were present did not want
to start a bloody battle. The uncontrolled elements took possession
of their quarters as well as of the exhibition. The pistoleros of the
rebels reigned over the cultural centres of the anarchists. The
anarchists, were they the men of blood and cruelty they are reported
to be in Spain as well as abroad, would have proceeded to recapture
the building. They rejected such a step. They did not want to risk
the destruction of the art treasures they had rescued on the 19th of
July. Their responsible Committees preferred to intervene with the
official government to have their exhibition cleared of the
According to the pact, the prisoners were supposed to be released
immediately by both sides. The comrades of the CNT and the FAl
remained true to their word. They were self-disciplined and
immediately released hundreds of prisoners, most of whom had put
themselves under the protection of the anarchists voluntarily. Their
opponents were not so faithful to their promises. Long negotiations
were required before the communists and the Catalan nationalists
would release their anarchist prisoners. A full week after the
re-establishment of normality, many members of the CNT and the FAl
were still being held. On the 13th of May, the anarchists, Cosme
Paules del Roro, lose Dominguez, Antonio Ignacil, Francisco Sarqueda
are still imprisoned in the Karl Marx Barracks, while Miguel
Castells, Jose DegÃ¡, Ãlvaro GalcerÃ¡n, José Luis GarcÃa, Manuel Horno, Jose Lucio GÃ³mez, Eulogio Marqués Romero and Antonio SÃ¡nchez are still being held in the offices of the Central Committee of the PSUC (Pedrera). In the headquarters of the Estat CatalÃ¡, in the Rambla Catalonia, Miguel Piqué IbÃ¡-ez, José Rovira and RamÃ³n Robello, all militants of the CNT and the FAI are still detained. 200 militants of the CNT-FAI are still prisoners in the police jail. Many have been arrested in the Palace of the Generality and are still being held: and others have disappeared, no one knowing whether they are being held by the PSUC or the Estat CatalÃ¡.
This text mostly from the Revolt collection with the assistance in getting the full text from a comrade from inicijativa.org
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