Issue 15 of Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine.
Special issue on the Spanish Civil War / Revolution.
Issue 15 of Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine.
Special issue on the Spanish Civil War / Revolution.
AFA introduction to a series of articles on the Spanish Civil War in its magazine Fighting Talk #15 (1996)
The courage and commitment of the men and women who went to Spain to fight with the International Brigades is well known, and in an interview with a member of the Connolly Column we get an idea of what inspired the thousands of volunteers, who came from fifty two countries. Over 2,000 volunteers left Britain to fight fascism in Spain, over 500 were killed.
Despite the important military role the International Brigades played in the actual war, they were not the driving force. There wouldn't have been a civil war if the armed workers' militias hadn't resisted the military coup in the first place. The militias, like AFA, were not fighting the fascists to maintain the status quo - they had their own radical agenda. The article The People Armed is all about this revolutionary movement and shows what the militants were fighting for, rather than just what they were fighting against.
Conventional history tends to be very black and white - there was a civil war, it lasted from 1936-1939, the fascists won, and that was the end of it. This isn't true. After the compromisers had sent the International Brigades home, and the war was lost, the people who had started the resistance to the fascists in the first place, the militant working class movement, carried on the fight. Despite the mass arrests, mass executions (over 200,000), and mass exodus of refugees, the Resistance fought on. This story is largely unknown but the two articles - The Rattle of the Thompson Gun and Forgotten Heroes - throw some light on this period. The reason this section of the magazine has been called Another Spain is partly because it shows what the militants were fighting for and also because it investigates some aspects of the struggle that aren't widely known.
The capitalist crisis that gripped Europe in the 1920s and 30s saw strong working class movements threaten the established order in many countries - and fascism was unleashed as the cutting edge of counter-revolution. In Italy fascism was firmly entrenched after Mussolini took power in 1922; by 1933 Hitler's Nazis controlled Germany; in Britain Mosley's Blackshirts were attacking Jewish immigrants and the Left; in Ireland the Blueshirts represented the ultimate reaction. In Spain the situation was no different, and 60 years ago the struggle between the forces of Left and Right erupted into open warfare.
In 1931 the Spanish king was forced to stand down and retreat into exile, and a republic was established. The next five years saw the balance of power swing between the conservative reactionaries of the Spanish establishment and the progressive working class movement. In 1934 a working class uprising in Asturias was only defeated after the bloody intervention of the Spanish army.
In February 1936 the Popular Front (made up of liberal and left-wing elements) was elected to govern Spain, which led to an increase of activity by working class militants and poor peasants. The rulers of Spain could see their power (and property) slipping away and on the 17th July a group of extreme right-wing Nationalist generals made their move, starting with a military rising in Morocco which spread immediately to the mainland. Working class militants armed themselves and the military coup was smashed in Barcelona and Madrid, although the generals' troops did seize large areas.
Initially the Nationalists put much emphasis on capturing the capital Madrid, but after failing to break through at the battles of Jarama (Feb.'37) and Guadalajara (March '37) Franco moved on to other priorities, launching his northern offensive against Asturias and the Basque country. This included the infamous destruction of Guernica in April '37 by German planes. The Republican army launched attacks on the Aragon Front in May 1937 to try and deflect Nationalist troops from their successful campaign in the north, but this failed and by August 1937 the Nationalists had conquered northern Spain and the Basque country. The Nationalists' air and artillery superiority, supplied by Hitler and Mussolini, was proving unstoppable, and by April 1938 Franco's forces reached the Mediterranean coast near Valencia, splitting the remaining Republican controlled area in half.
The last major military initiative by the Republican forces was at the battle of the Ebro (July - Nov.'38) but the Nationalist counter-attack was successful. In a failed attempt to get the German and Italian support withdrawn, the Republican government ordered the International Brigades to disband, and they left in November 1938. In January 1939 Barcelona fell, followed by Madrid in March. The Spanish Republican army unconditionally surrendered to Franco's fascist forces on 1st April 1939.
Throughout the war the role played by the international powers influenced the eventual outcome. If the war is seen as one between democracy and fascism, the western 'democracies' were noticeable by their absence. The Conservative government in Britain, with Labour support, was committed to a policy of non-intervention, as were the French, so in other words while Franco received massive military aid from Germany and Italy the anti-fascist forces were starved of weapons. The reason is clear. The British and French governments feared a 'Red Spain' and wanted the strong Spanish working class movement smashed, and were determined to avoid confrontation with the fascist powers.
Italy and Germany exploited the situation fully, by the end of July 1936 Italian planes had already been supplied. In December '36 3,000 Italian Blackshirts arrived in Spain, and the number of Italian troops soon rose to 50,000. Hitler sent communications equipment, anti-aircraft guns, infantry, tanks, tank instructors and the most effective air group - the Condor Legion. Mexico and the Soviet Union were the only foreign source of arms to the Spanish Republic, but Stalin's international manoeuvrings meant that by 1938 Soviet supplies started to dry up in line with the moves towards a German - Soviet non-aggression pact. For political reasons a lot of Soviet aid was withheld from the anarchists and the POUM, and the lack of military equipment is well illustrated by the fact that in the final Catalan offensive the anti-fascist forces only had 37,000 assorted rifles between them.
Apart from the militant anti-fascists of the Spanish working class and their supporters virtually everyone else was satisfied with the outcome of the war. Britain and France had managed to avoid getting drawn into a conflict with the Fascist Axis, who had gained valuable experience in perfecting the techniques of modern warfare, and capitalism was safely restored on the Spanish peninsula. The way the Spanish revolution was first isolated and then smashed leaves us with important lessons to be learnt today.
Mick O'Riordan was a young member of the Communist Party of Ireland when he went to Spain with the International Brigade. Here he describes the background which saw Irish fascists and anti-fascists mobilising around the events in Spain.
Article from Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine #15 (1996)
In Ireland the reaction to the Spanish war was to greet it as a crusade for religion. In 1934 we had the beginning of the Blueshirt movement1 , which took a great grip in the political life of the country. They were eventually defeated not by the government but by the Republican Movement, the Communist Party and other progressive groups who fought for possession of the streets and therefore dented the so-called militancy of the Blueshirts. They were completely in accord with the fascist movements throughout Europe. When the Spanish war broke out in 1936 they immediately began to resurrect themselves and issued a call for volunteers to fight for Franco. O'Duffy was the leader of the Blueshirts, and an ex-Police chief who had been sacked by the De Valera government. He raised the cry for people to become involved in the crusade for religion in Spain. The initial appeal was greeted with 5,000 applications. Eventually only 700-800 went to Spain. The leadership of the Blueshirts was composed of ex-officers of the old Free State army and were the core of fascism in Ireland and of the Irish assistance for Franco.
I was born in Cork city2 , my parents came from the Cork/Kerry border area. I was involved in Fianna Eireann, which was the youth branch of the Republican Movement. At one stage the man in charge of the Fianna was Frank Ryan, who later led the first Irish contingent of volunteers to Spain in 1936. I was involved from an early age in the question of resistance to the Blueshirts. Cork was a county which was dominated by whether you were a Blueshirt or an anti-Blueshirt, this was as a result of the question of Free State versus Republican ideology. When the Spanish War broke out I was 18 and I was immediately interested in the parallels with the war in Spain and with O'Duffy's Blueshirts. On the matter of creating a crusade for Spain there was another organisation called the Irish Christian Front. This used to have huge rallies; they never talked about fascism or blueshirtism, they always talked about Christ the King and the so-called horrible outrages against nuns and priests, church burnings, etc, in Spain. At the big meetings, when they had raised people to a certain degree of hysteria, they used to salute. It was not the salute the fascists used, but they raised their crossed hands over their heads in the form of a cross. That was clerical fascism, although not officially part of the catholic theology. They held many meetings and formed a pogrom-type atmosphere.
The Communist Party was refounded in 1933 in Connolly House, which was burned to the ground by a pogrom incited against it. Religion was always used against anyone with left wing or communist ideas, they were regarded as a stereotype of the devil in all senses, physically, morally and intellectually. That was the atmosphere and when O'Duffy decided to organise a group for Spain there was reaction from the Communist Party first of all and from people in the Republican Congress, which was composed of left Irish Republicans. It was from these ranks that Frank Ryan came and took over the leadership of the first group to go to Spain.
They went quietly enough but they released a manifesto which stated what their reasons were for going:
'The Irish contingent is a demonstration of revolutionary Ireland's solidarity with the gallant Spanish workers and peasants in their fight for freedom against Fascism. It aims to redeem Irish honour besmirched by the intervention of Irish fascism on the side of the Spanish fascist rebels. It is to aid the revolutionary movements in Ireland to defeat the fascist menace at home, and finally, and not least, to establish the closest fraternal bonds of kinship between the Republican democracies of Ireland and Spain'.
The attitudes of the Church would make your blood boil and your hair stand on your head. It was real incitement, as I look back on it it was frightening in many respects, like the Salem witchunts - rumour mongering, admonitions from the altar. When the nazis landed in Portugal at Lisbon they were greeted by the Dominican prior of the Irish church, Fr. Paul O'Sullivan. He delivered the following address which was circulated by the Blueshirts at the time to guarantee their religious credentials:
'Never have we heard, even in the dark days of Nero, never even among the most barbarous hordes, that innocent children were cut to pieces, the bodies of the dead exhumed, insulted and profaned, you are going to fight these monsters who are more like demons let lose from Hell than mortal men. More fierce, more depraved, more godless, than Turks or Moslems'. This is interesting because one of the initial forces who fought for Franco were the Army of Africa, which was composed of Muslims and it was a contradiction that they were the people who were 'saving christianity'.
There were 145 Irish (anti-fascist) Volunteers, they were going from December 1936 until the last battle on the Ebro front in 1938, when we were repatriated by the Spanish government. 63 were killed in various battles. The first main battle in which a large number of Irishmen were killed was the Battle of Jarama in 1937. Nineteen of our peope were killed, a large number of the International volunteers were killed, in this fierce battle. The first group that went to Spain were called the James Connolly Section. They were with the 15th Brigade which was composed of English speaking people. After the first battles there were so few left there was no basis for the Connolly Column but the name was still retained and we are known as the Connolly Column. We named ourselves after Connolly because of adherence to his ideology and because he was a man who bore arms in defence of the working people.
Today, 60 years after the first International Brigades came to Madrid, there are only five left of the Irish who went to support the Spanish struggle. Time has taken its toll.
For reasons of space we are unable to publish the whole interview. A full transcript is available by sending an S.A.E. to the AFA (Ireland) address.
Libcom note: A more complete version of this interview is available on the Ireland and the Spanish Civil War site. http://irelandscw.com/ibvol-MoRInterview3.htm
Article from Fighting Talk #15 (1996).
The events of 1936 - 1939 brought massive upheavals to the daily lives of Spanish people. Working class women, in particular, participated in and witnessed great changes as the old order of Church and domestic culture were swept away by social revolution and war. Thousands of ordinary women were propelled by necessity into revolutionary events, from front line fighting and organising community defence to collectivising and running farmland and factories. When the revolution was crushed in 1939, the memories and bonds formed in the revolutionary period sustained them through long years of the Fascist dictatorship, in prison, exile, or continuing the struggle in the resistance movements.
Much has been written about the war and the political organisations during this period. References to ordinary women and their activities are scarce. We have used first-hand and eye witness accounts as much as possible because these stories are best told by those who lived them.
The July Uprising
Workers, unions, and working class communities were swift to react to the Fascist's attempted coup on 17/18 July 1936. Men and women in Barcelona slept in union halls during the week before the uprising, expecting a call to arms. In Catalonia, Madrid, and Asturias, men and women both young and old stormed the armouries to grab the weapons that the government had refused to provide them with. Cristina Piera entered the armoury at San Andreas at dawn on the 19th with her son and his friends in the FIJL (libertarian youth organisation) and was caught up in the excitement :
"I woke up in the morning and heard that people were in the armoury... so I went there...everybody went... I took a pistol and two ramrods (for rifles) what I could carry. They had gunpowder there too... Even me, with the little I knew, and could do, I was there. People took arms and ammunition, and I took what I could."
Enriqueta Rovira, a young woman of 20, jumped the first train back to Barcelona when she heard the news :
"Most of the action was in the centre of Barcelona. I had a pistol... and I was prepared to use it. But they soon said no... I didn't know how to use it and there were companeros without arms. So they sent me - and all the women, all families - to build barricades. We also took care of provisions. Women in each barrio (district) organised that, to make sure that there would be food for the men... Everyone did something."
Women were at a disadvantage in having no experience of weapons handling. In the heat of the battle and with limited arms it was only logical that guns went to those who already knew how to use them. But in building the barricades women continued to play a vital role. A group of five or six militant women set about fortifying one of the city's most elegant buildings,
"...when the (CNT) companeros returned - victorious, of course - (from storming the military barracks at Atarazanas, at the foot of the Ramblas) and saw how beautiful it was, they took it over as the casa CNT-FAI."
(Soledad Estorach). Other women took to the rooftops with loudspeakers, calling on the soldiers to take off their uniforms (!) and join the people.
The Fascist uprising was crushed in Barcelona, but the workers knew that this was only the beginning. While the government urged people to stay at home rather than actively defend the city and rely upon the notorious Guardia Civil (who later used their rifle butts to disperse demonstrations of Barcelona women against rising food prices), Miguel Garcia and others were involved in efforts to organise a people's army:
"...But by this time every man and woman in Barcelona knew that we had stormed the heavens. The generals would never forgive us for what we had done. We had humiliated and defeated the Army, we - an 'unorganised, indisciplined rabble.' We had altered the course of history. If Fascism won, we knew that we would not be spared. Mothers trembled for their small children. When the news came from the South that the invading rebels were using Moorish troops to put whole towns to the sword, many of these women, even elderly ones, struggled and fought to obtain a rifle so that they could take part in the defence of their homes. Indomitable, inscrutable, they sat together in pairs, chatting among cronies, with a rifle across their lap, ready for Franco and his Moors 'and if Hitler comes, him too'."
Garcia goes on to describe how old scores were settled as women discovered new freedoms :
"In Barcelona, down in the slum quarters of the Barrio Chino, the whores were carried away by the general enthusiasm. They made short work of the ponces and pistoleros who had preyed upon them for so long. 'Away with this life, we will fight on the side of the people!' they cried. It was a great joke to the foreign journalists, who regarded the unfortunate women as less than human and anything they did ridiculous of itself.... In fact, they volunteered to fight in the front lines. Later, this proved an embarrassment. Gradually their units were disbanded...!"
Some say that they inflicted more damage than enemy bullets at the front line, as companeros succumbed to a variety of interesting diseases!
While some women headed for the front with the newly formed militia columns, others were widely involved in the social revolution back home, requisitioning buildings for communal eating halls, schools, or hospitals, or collecting and distributing food and other supplies. Women took manufactured goods to barter with farmers in rural areas in exchange for food. Taxis and trams were repainted with revolutionary insignia as communities brought local services back under their control.
"The feelings we had then were very special. It was very beautiful. There was a feeling of - how shall I say it? - of power, not in the sense of domination, but in the sense of things being under our control, if under anyone's. Of possibility. A feeling that we could together really do something." (Enriqueta Rovira)
"We took the first steps... towards emancipation... we couldn't take the 'giant steps' because of the war and the exile, which cut our struggle short... Our children have to be the pacesetters for the future... But our memories, such beautiful memories, of that struggle so hard and so pure... (Azucena Barba).
Other commentators noted the self-assurance of Barcelona women in August 1936, previously unusual for Spanish women in public. There were also conspicuous changes in Madrid. Young working class women took to the streets in their hundreds, collecting money for the war effort, enjoying their new found liberty to walk up and down the streets, talking without inhibitions to passers by, foreigners, and militia men. This contrasts strongly with accounts of nationalist areas. For example, in Vigo, under nationalist occupation, it was unusual to even see a woman out on the streets.
In the Front Line
Despite traditional disadvantages women continued to take part in actual combat against the Fascists. Mujeres Libres supported them in Madrid by setting up a shooting range and target practice for women "disposed to defend the capital" while the Catalonia group's "War Sports" section offered: "preliminary preparation for women so that, if it should be necessary, they could intervene effectively, even on the battlefield." It was.
Armed women were always most noticeable in urban defence, when the Fascists threatened cities like Madrid. But during the first year of the war women also served as front line combatants with the militia columns, in addition to nursing and, in the usual militia system, working alongside the rural population to ensure a common food supply. Their bravery at the front cannot be overstated because, if captured alive, they inevitably faced rape, mutilation and death. It was only after the battle of Guadalajara, in May 1937, that women were asked to leave the front, as the government demanded incorporation of the militia into regular army units.
Donald Renton, an English volunteer with the International Brigades in Figueras in November 1936 recalls the impact of seeing militia women:
"While we had often talked about the role to be played by women in the general struggle, there for the first time we saw the militia women, comrades who like ourselves were either going to have or already had had, first line experience in the battle against the fascist enemy. These were wonderful comrades, people who had - so far as I was concerned at least - a very, very powerful inspirational effect on arriving inside Spain itself."
Foreign women also served in the international sections of the columns. Abel Paz refers to four women "nurses" in the "International Group" of the Durruti Column. They were captured by Moors in a fierce encounter at Perdiguera. As prisoners of the fascists they were as good as dead:
"Georgette, militant of the Revue Anarchiste, Gertrude, a young German woman of the POUM who liked to fight with the anarchists, and two young girls whose names haven't been recorded in the war chronicles. Durruti was very close to all of them....and he was deeply moved by these deaths. The death of Georgette, who was a sort of mascot of the Column, filled the militiamen with rage, particularly the "Sons of Night". She had carried out many surprise attacks on the enemy rearguard with the latter. They vowed to avenge her and during a number of nights made fierce attacks against the Francoists."
The "Sons of the Night" were a specialised group operating behind enemy lines - women were not just at the front as nurses.
In the defence of Madrid in early November 1936, women were also prominent in the fighting. The Women's Battalion fought before Segovia Bridge. At Gestafe, in the centre of the Northern Front, women were under fire all morning and were among the last to leave. Fighting with the Italians of the International Column in Madrid was a 16 year old girl from Ciudad Real, who had joined up after her father and brother were killed. She had the same duties as the men, shared their way of life, and was said to be a crack shot. Back in Madrid itself, women were organising in defence of the city, building barricades, providing communication services, and organising, through local committees, the distribution of food and ammunition to the barricades and throughout the city. Collective meals, crèches, and laundry facilities were set up.
Women also played a major role in anti-aircraft observation and surveillance of suspected fascist sympathisers. An International Brigade volunteer, Walter Gregory, who fought in Madrid in July 1937 recalls that:
"A frequent sight in the area of Las Cibeles was of the Women's Militia coming on and off duty. In twos and threes they would make their way down the Gran Via which ultimately led to the University City and the Madrid front line. The Gran Via was too often shelled to be used by vehicles, nor would the women have risked marching down its length in formation. In small groups and chattering away to each other, they looked very like women the world over, and only their dishevelled khaki uniforms after several nights in the trenches marked them out as being something special. These brave girls were such a common sight that they did not attract comment, nor did they appear to want to. Yet Madrid remained the only place in Spain where I saw women in the front line, although it must be remembered that the first British subject killed in the war was Felicia Brown, who died on the Aragon Front as early as 25/8/1936."
Felicia was caught by machine gun fire while attempting to blow up a Fascist munitions train.
During the bitter battle at Jarama in 1937, another International Brigader Tom Clarke, described the courage of a small group of Spanish women:
"I remember there was a bit of a retreat. There was a rumour went round... and they started retreating. We'd gone back a bit, and some of them were actually running. And here we came across three women who were sitting behind a machine gun just past where we were, Spanish women. I saw them looking at us. I don't know whether it shamed us or what. But these women - they sat there... We sort of stabilised the line."
They were certainly an eye-opener for foreign men! Borkenau describes a lone militia woman serving with a POUM column:
"She was not from Barcelona, but a native of Galicia (who had)... followed her lover to the Front. She was very good looking but no special attention was given to her by the militia men, for all of them knew that she was bound to her lover by a link which is regarded among the revolutionaries as equal to marriage. Every single militia man, however, was visibly proud of her for the courage she seems to have displayed in staying in an advanced position under fire with only two companions. 'Was it an unpleasant experience?' I asked. 'No, solo me da el enthusiasmo' (to me it is only inspiring ) replied the girl with shining eyes, and from her whole bearing I believed her. There was nothing awkward about her position among the men. One of them, who was playing an accordion, started la Cucaracha, and she immediately began the movements of the dance, the others joining in the song. When this interlude was over, she was again just a comrade amongst them."
By late December 1937 there were still women serving in the militias, but their numbers were diminishing fast. Orwell noticed that, by this time, (male) attitudes towards women had changed, citing an example of militia men having to be kept out of the way while women were doing weapons drill, because they tended to laugh at the women and put them off. However, if women were becoming less active on the front line, this was not the case elsewhere.
There were a number of womens' journals and groups in revolutionary Spain, including Anarchist, Socialist, and Communist organisations, which also had their own women's and youth sections. Because of the information available concerning its role, this article concentrates on the activities of the anarchist Mujeres Libres.
In the years prior to the revolution, women active in the anarcho-syndicalist movement had begun organising and meeting, preparing the groundwork for Mujeres Libres (Free Women) - a local, regional, and national network of women which grew to over 20,000 strong. It played a vital role, not only in the war against Fascism, but in building the foundations of the new libertarian society which its members hoped to create.
Anarchist women had been actively organising and promoting a women's network since 1934. Despite their involvement with and commitment to the existing networks of unions, ateneos (storefront schools / cultural centres), and youth groups, women were finding themselves always in a minority and without the full equality and respect which they demanded from their (male) comrades.
In late 1934 a group of Barcelona women met to overcome these problems and encourage greater activism among existing CNT women:
"What would happen is that women would come once, maybe even join. But they would never be seen again. So many companeras came to the conclusion that it might be a good idea to start a separate group for these women...we got concerned about all the women we were losing... In 1935, we sent out a call to all women in the libertarian movement." (Soledad Estorach)
. They organised guarderias volantes (flying day-care centres), offering childcare to women wanting to serve as union delegates and attend evening meetings.
Meanwhile, Madrid women, calling themselves Mujeres Libres, were trying to develop women's' social consciences, skills, and creative abilities. Towards the end of 1936, the two groups merged as Agrupacion Mujeres Libres. The initiative was met with enthusiasm but there was also scepticism. Was this a "separatist" group? Would they encourage women to see liberation in terms of access to education and professional jobs, like middle-class Spanish "feminists"? Far from it.
"The intention that underlay our activities was much broader: to serve a doctrine, not a party, to empower women to make of themselves individuals capable of contributing to the structuring of the future society, individuals who have learned to be self-determining, not to follow blindly the dictates of any organisation".
(Federacion National (M.L.) Barcelona 1938) [/quote]
Responding to some middle class American feminists' attempts to claim Mujeres Libres as their political ancestors, or to criticise them for failing to achieve "sexual equality", Suceso Portales, (a CNT and FIJL activist who joined Mujeres Libres in central Spain in 1936), states their position:
"We are not - and we were not then - feminists. We were not fighting against men. We did not want to substitute a feminist hierarchy for a masculine one. It’s necessary to work, struggle together because if we don't, we'll never have a social revolution. But we needed our own organisation to struggle for ourselves."
These were women who had as their goal a complete social and political revolution. Their means of achieving this was to ensure that women were included and preparing to be included at every step. By July 1936, a network of anarchist women activists had been established for some time, ready and able to participate in the July events, and encourage other women to take part in creating the new society.
Secciones de Trabajo
Mujeres Libres ran training programmes for new workers in co-operation with the local unions. Their Secciones de Trabajo developed apprenticeship programmes, bringing women into traditionally male factories and workplaces, improving skills and participation, and equalising pay levels to increase women's independence.
"The secciones de trabajo (labour sections) were probably the most important activities. We started in that area immediately, because it was essential to get women out of the home. Eventually there were Mujeres Libres groups in almost all the factories." (Soledad Estorach)
Labour sections were organised specific to trades or industries at local, regional, and national levels, with the co-operation of the relevant CNT unions. From July 1936 onwards, women rushed to fill new factory jobs in the chemical and metallurgical industries. By September 1936 Mujeres Libres had 7 labour Sections. In Madrid and Barcelona women ran much of the public transport system. Pura Prez Arcos described her elation at being one of the first group of women licensed to drive trams in Barcelona :
"They (the Transport Workers Union) took people on as apprentices, mechanics, and drivers, and really taught us what to do. If you could only have seen the faces of the passengers (when women began serving as drivers), I think the companeros on transport, who were so kind and co-operative towards us, really got a kick out of that".
In the Aragon collectives the first delegates to the village committees were women. Here women were running the villages on a day to day basis anyway, since the village men were often away tending the flocks (no change there then!).
The secciones also set up childcare facilities at workplaces, arguing that the responsibility for children belonged to the community as a whole. They encouraged this as a widespread practice and produced booklets explaining how to set these up in other areas.
In Catalonia union organisations collectivised virtually all production, drawing on a long history of workers' organisation and struggle. Industries and workplaces were reorganised to reflect the needs of the people who worked in them. Recreation centres for workers and their families were built by timber and construction workers; churches were requisitioned to provide day-care centres and schools for children. The mostly female textile industries were collectivised, abolishing piecework, while the CNT was active in organising homeworkers, bringing them back into the factories to receive a daily wage.
However, years of tradition and inexperience of workplace or political activism would not disappear overnight. Mujeres Libres saw one of its major tasks as developing women's confidence and skills to speak at meetings, take full part in discussions and debates in village committees, factories, etc., and put themselves forward as delegates.
Programmes developed and implemented included basic literacy and numeracy, mechanics, business, sewing, agriculture, childcare , health, typing, languages, history, union organisation, general culture, and economics. Mujeres Libres set up farm schools for women who had left rural areas to enter domestic service in the cities, to enable them, if they wanted to, to return to their villages and participate in collectivised farming. They operated on both a city-wide basis, and in individual districts, running day and night classes for all age groups, also encouraging women who studied to take their new skills with them to hospitals, battlefronts, and other areas and pass these on to others. Members also set up libertarian schools and universities in buildings requisitioned from or abandoned by the Church and bourgeoisie.
Family & Healthcare
Responsibility for nursing, healthcare, and child education had traditionally been held by the Church. Mujeres Libres were committed to bringing these back into community control, developing libertarian practices, and distributing information about contraception, pregnancy, child development, and parenting through their journals and a range of pamphlets. Their attempts to meet health care needs and educate women for motherhood went beyond the written word. Within the first days of the revolution, Terrassa activists set up a nurses' school and an emergency medical clinic to treat those injured in the fighting, later creating Terrassa's first maternity clinic. Barcelona MLs ran a lying-in hospital with birth and postnatal care for women and babies, and its own health education programmes.
Spanish anarchists - both men and women - had promoted sexual liberation for many years prior to the revolution. Now they were active in distributing information on sex and sexuality, contraception, sexual freedom, and the replacement of legal and religious marriages with "free love" - voluntary relationships which could be terminated at will by either partner. Legal marriage ceremonies continued on many collectives, because people enjoyed it as a festive occasion. Comrades went through the procedures, later destroying the documentary proof as part of the celebration!
The revolution enabled thousands to experience some degree of liberation in their personal relationships. Women felt able to refuse offers of marriage without causing offence to male friends or their families. It was a time of openness and experimentation. The double standard, of course, did not disappear, let alone vanish overnight. Many men used "free love" as a license to extend their sexual conquests, while more puritanical elements labelled women who openly enjoyed their sex lives with several partners as "mujeres liebres" (rabbits)!
Modern feminist criticism of Spanish womens' "lack" of achievement in these areas ignores both the traditional stranglehold of the Church and the fact that people were effectively running their communities and fighting a war on several fronts. The women involved felt justly proud that they were in charge of supplying food and clothing to barricades and battlefields, and caring for the sick and wounded. "Traditional" as these roles were, they were vital to the continuation of the war and revolution.
Consciousness raising and support for these activities was spread by means of literature, including booklets, the "Mujeres Libres" journal, exhibitions, posters, and cross-country tours, especially to rural areas. There are many accounts of urban companeras visiting rural collectives and exchanging ideas, information, etc. (and vice versa). Produced entirely by and for women, the paper Mujeres Libres grew to national circulation and, by all accounts, was popular with both rural and urban working class women. Each issue encouraged its readers to develop a libertarian vision, and to participate fully in the events around them; the paper consistently spelled out the "revolution and war" position of the movement.
The nationalists were well aware of the opposition they faced from women. General Quiepo de Llano, in his radio broadcasts from Seville, raved against and threatened the "wives of anarchists and communists". As they consolidated their power, the Fascists wasted no time in reversing the liberalisation of divorce and introducing strict dress codes for women - including the banning of bare legs! The Repression, of course, was much more terrible, with up to a third of Spain's population ending up behind bars, and countless men, women, and children massacred in fascist reprisals. In 1945, there were still eight jails for women political prisoners in Madrid alone. A Falange newspaper reports a baptism ceremony in Madrid in 1940 for 280 children born in prison. Many Spanish women fled to the French refugee camps, where they pooled food and established communal kitchens. Others joined the Resistance.
In their struggle against fascism and for a radical political and social alternative the "Free Women" of Spain provide an example that is still relevant today:
"To be an anti-fascist is too little; one is an anti-fascist because one is already something else. We have an affirmation to set up against this negation...the rational organisation of life on the basis of work, equality, and social justice. If it weren't for this, anti-fascism would be, for us, a meaningless word."
Mujeres Libres issue #5, 1936.
An account of the activity of Spanish anarchist and anti-fascist exiles in the Resistance in Nazi-occupied France. Tens of thousands were forced to flee Spain following fascist victory in the Civil War.
"How many lands have my feet trod and my eyes seen! What terrible
scenes of desolation of death I witnessed in those years of continual war.
Adverse circumstances had made us, anti-militarists, the most battle hardened
soldiers of the Allied armies" - Murillo de la Cruz
There are many myths and controversies concerning the French Resistance during
the Second World War. The "official" line, from the point of view
of the Gaullists, ascribes great significance to the radio appeal broadcast
by Charles de Gaulle on June 18th 1940, calling on the French people to continue
the fight against the Germans. But for at least one major component of the
Resistance movement the armed struggle against Fascism began not on June 18th
1940 but on July 17th 1936. It is a little known fact that over 60,000 Spanish
exiles fought alongside the French Resistance, in addition to thousands of
others who served in the regular forces of the Free French army. This article
pays tribute to the forgotten heroes of the Spanish Resistance - in addition to the thousands who continued armed struggle against Franco in Spain - and explores
the wider origins and development of the French Resistance (pictured above are members of the Maquis in La Tresorerie).
Defeat, Exile and Internment
Fascist victories in Spain led to several waves of refugees crossing the
French border. By June 1938 some 40-45,000 refugees had crossed and an alarmed
French government ordered the border to be closed. However, with the fall
of Catalonia in January 1939 a human tide flowed northwards. Behind them came
the retreating Republican Army covered by a rearguard composed of the 26th
Division (Durruti Column) and elements of the Army of the Ebro. The right
wing press in France went into near hysteria with banner headlines proclaiming,
"Will the Army of Riot Reorganise Itself in France?" and "Close
our Borders to the Armed Bands of the FAI (Iberian Anarchist Federation) and the POUM (a small socialist party which opposed the Stalinists)". However,
with the town of Figueras about to fall to Franco, the French Left and humanitarian
sensibilities prevailed and the border was opened to admit hundreds of thousands
of civilians and combatants into France.
The population of the Pyrenees-Orientales Department more than doubled due
to the influx of Spaniards. French troops in the area had already been reinforced
and further reinforcements were brought in as the 26th Division reached the
border. As one of its members, Antonio Herrero, recalled,"...we were
considered the most dangerous of the refugees". Sections of the French
establishment clearly feared that the "Reds" and "Anarchists"
would bring social revolution to France.
Whilst the refugees were now safe from Franco's army, they were by no means
to be allowed their liberty. Instead they were confined in concentration camps
on the beaches at Argeles-sur-mer, St.Cyprien and Barcares, penned in by stakes
and barbed wire. French police hunted for those who escaped confinement. Inside
the camps, shelter, supplies and medical care were virtually non-existent.
Strict military discipline prevailed, with frequent roll calls, patrols and
constant surveillance. Distribution of left wing papers was forbidden (but
not right wing newspapers). Moreover, those identified as "criminals"
or "radicals" were taken to separate prison camps, such as the fortress
of Collioure and the camp at Le Vernet. Here, Communists and Anarchists were
held as prisoners under a regime of hardlabour. Those who experienced these
camps later recalled that, although they were not places of mass extermination,
in many other respects they were every bit as bad as the German concentration
The French government tried to encourage repatriation, both voluntarily and
by threats. But by December 1939 there were still at least 250,000 Spaniards
in the camps. Building work meant an improvement in conditions, though health,
sanitation and food supplies were still dismal. The Spaniards organised themselves
collectively as best they could through the main political groupings.
Blitzkrieg and Vichy France
With a general European war looming and recognising the vast pool of industrial
and agricultural skills confined on the beaches, the Spanish exiles were given
the option to leave the camps from April 1939. But this was on the condition
that they either obtained an individual work contract with local farmers/
employers or enlisted in "workers companies" (labour battalions),
the Foreign Legion or the regular French Army. Although the first option was
the most desirable, around 15,000 joined the Foreign Legion, including elements
of the 26th Division (Durruti Column) who were offered a choice between this
and forced repatriation.
Thus many Spanish exiles found themselves at the sharp end of Hitler's Blitzkrieg
in 1940. Over 6,000 died in battle before the Armistice and 14,000 were taken
prisoner. Spaniards captured by the Nazis were not treated as prisoners of
war but sent straight to concentration camps, primarily Mauthausen. Of 12,000
sent to that place of murder only 2,000 survived until liberation. Other Spaniards
in the French army found themselves serving in Norway, as part of the expeditionary
force to Narvik and Trondheim. They distinguished themselves by their bravery,
but at a heavy price. Of 1,200 only 300 survived.
Following the German military triumph in Paris, 14th June 1940, the country
was split into occupied and unoccupied zones. The latter, comprising central
and southern France and the Mediterranean coast, was governed directly by
the Vichy Government of Marshal Petain. At first many French people saw Petain
as a national saviour, rescuing the country from the humiliation of total
defeat. But the Vichy regime not only pursued a policy of co-existence and
collaboration with the Nazis but had many of the trappings of a Fascist state
itself. Petain's so-called "National Revolution" operated under
the slogan "Work, Family, Fatherland" and pursued nationalist and
In August 1940 all trade union organisations were dissolved in favour of
the "organic" corporate structures of employers and employees favoured
by Fascism. The model for these policies could be easily seen in Italy, Spain (cordial
relations with Franco were quickly established) and Portugal and, as in those
countries, support for the National Revolution came mostly from the upper
and middle class, from small industrialists and financiers, local business
and landed property and from high status professions. Such supporters were
quickly installed at every level of the administration. Peasant and family
life was idealised, as was the Catholic Church as a model of moral life, communal
values and obedience. Youth camps and Corps were set up. And, of course, lists
were drawn up of Communists, Socialists etc. - some for immediate arrest,
others to be arrested at the first sign of any threat to public order.
The Vichy regime was to actively collaborate in choosing hostages and recruiting
labour for the Germans, arresting resisters and deporting Jews. The SS and
Gestapo swiftly made contacts with French anti-Semites and Fascists, gathering
information on Jews and the Left. No single Fascist style party ever emerged,
partly because Hitler didn't want any basis for a resurgent French nationalism.
But members of the P.P.F. Fascist party went to fight (and die) on the Russian
front, and were also used internally as paramilitary units against the Resistance.
But the most important formation was to be the Milice - formed in January
1943 (from the veterans association Legion des Anciens Combattants) by Joseph
Darnard, Vichy minister in charge of all internal forces of law and order.
The Milice, a paramilitary vanguard of the "National Revolution",
became a 150,000 strong force, acting as an auxiliary to the SS and Gestapo
and characterised by Vichy-style Fascism. By 1944 they were the only French
force the Germans could rely on. Most surviving Miliciens were summarily executed
by the Resistance just before or just after liberation. They deserved it.
Many French people awoke only slowly to the real nature and ideology of the
Nazi occupation and its Vichy sidekicks. Apart from a demonstration in Paris,
11th November 1940, and an impressive Communist led miners strike in the North
East in May 1941, there was very little public confrontation with the Germans
in the first 2 years after defeat.
De Gaulle's famous radio broadcast was to be only one of several starting
points of resistance. In fact, until 1942 de Gaulle was by no means a major
player. Although Churchill backed him, the Americans seemed more interested
in winning over French Vichy commanders in Algeria. De Gaulle was not even
informed of Allied plans for Operation Torch, the landing in Algeria. He had
to shift some in order to consolidate his position. To do this he sought increasing
links with the internal Resistance during 1942 and had to recognise both the
diversity and independence of resistance groups and the importance of the
Communists as established facts.
The French Communist Party had been stunned by the non-aggression pact between
Hitler and Stalin in August 1939, and was then declared illegal under the
Vichy regime. This meant that organisationally they played little role in
the first stirrings of the Resistance, although individual grassroots militants
were involved from the outset, as in the miners' strike. Only after the invasion
of Russia was the CP able to regroup - but it quickly became a main player
in terms of the politics, organisation and tactics of the Resistance.
In its first roots the Resistance grew from the bottom up. "Early resistance
was almost entirely a matter of secret initiatives by individuals and small
groups...". The first act of resistance was often graffiti, for example
that reversing the German declaration that 10 Frenchmen would be shot for
every German assassinated ("One Frenchman Murdered - Ten Germans will
Die!") or simply turning around or removing signposts to confuse the
enemy. Equally important, once a group formed, was the production and circulation
of clandestine pamphlets and newspapers. This propaganda built up a solidarity
of attitude uniting the individual acts of resistance.
These small groups of like minded individuals gradually evolved into the
wider movements of sabotage and armed struggle and the more diffuse networks
which ran escape routes and gathered intelligence on German dispositions.
In the North they suffered severe repression from the Gestapo, but in the
South the movements took on a more expansive character. This was partly due
to geographical factors and partly due to the zone not being under direct
German control prior to November 1942. However, there was one other vital
factor - the Spanish.
The Vichy regime wanted to make use of the vast amount of Spanish labour
available in the South, so they established the Travailleurs Etrangers(T.E.)
- basically forced labour corps of between 2-5,000 men. By the end of 1940
over 220,000 Spaniards were engaged in forced labour for French and German
enterprises in France. But for the Vichy authorities the revolutionary working
class history of the Spaniards posed a problem - the labour corps would provide
a natural organisational focus for those intent on rebuilding their movement.
And they were right - for the political organisations of the Spanish exiles
were soon consolidating their position within the T.E., despite attempts by
the Vichy police to identify and weed out Communists, Anarchists and "anti-nationals".
The presence of this vast body of exiles, many of them hardened anti-Fascist
fighters, cannot be underestimated. "Resistance was the natural state
of the Spanish exiles in France. For them the French dilemma over loyalty
to Petain was non-existent...". They were continuing a war that had begun
behind the barricades in Barcelona, had already fought German and Italian
troops in their own country, and were now about to do the same in France.
As much, if not more so, than British agents of the Special Operations Executive
it was the Spaniards who instructed their French comrades in armed struggle.
As Serge Ravanel of the French Resistance in the Toulouse area acknowledged:
"During the War of Spain our comrades had acquired the knowledge that
we did not possess; they knew how to make bombs; they knew how to set ambushes;
they had a profound knowledge of the technique of guerrilla war". In
addition to this expertise it was said of the Spaniards that their bravery
was unequalled in combat and that there was no question of treason or desertion.
Within the Travailleurs Etrangers low level sabotage, the universal symbol
of working class defiance, rapidly became the norm. In one incident 50 French
mechanics suspected to be engaged in monkey wrenching were replaced by Spaniards.
The level of inexplicable vehicle failure increased as the Spanish pleaded
ignorance of the rudiments of motor mechanics. Such incidents as
this were part of a wider and growing movement of sabotage, a movement that
rapidly progressed to dynamiting of industrial installations and railways;
grenade attacks on German military parades, canteens and barracks, not to
mention individual assassinations.
In a typical progression, Spanish anarchists in the Massif Central organised
resistance in the T.E. corps working on a huge dam (Barage de l'Aigle). From
sabotaging roads and tunnels the group eventually grew into an armed resistance
battalion 150-200 strong, named after the dam.
By 1942 the Resistance was firmly established, as any final illusions about
the Nazis disappeared - with the SS increasingly in control in Paris; decrees
demanding workers for German factories; the beginning of the deportation of
Jews to the death camps and, in November, German military occupation of the
Vichy zone. These events strengthened the motivation to resist and ensured
a mood of protest and revolt among the French working class as a whole.
By the end of the year the independent and local Resistance movements had
begun to co-ordinate more closely. Previously the only movement covering both
zones was the Communist led Front National established in May 1941. Its armed
wing was the Francs-Tireurs et Partisans Francais. Other groups combined to
form Mouvements Unis de Las Resistance (MUR), whose armed wing was the
Armee Secrete. The MUR recognised de Gaulle as leader but the Communists
retained their independence. Both groups formed part of the Comite National
de la Resistance (CNR).
It was through the CNR and MUR that de Gaulle was able to cement his
position inside France. Arms supplies from London and Algiers went to groups
which recognised his leadership and accepted a degree of tactical control
from the British SOE. The guerrillas of the FTPF were left to arm themselves
with weapons captured from the Germans or by intercepting Allied supply drops
intended for the Armee Secrete. Alongside political differences, there was
a difference over tactics. The Armee Secrete argued that the Resistance should
hold itself in readiness to support an Allied landing. The FTPF argued for
an immediate campaign of harassment, sabotage and ambush of German troops.
They also wanted to assassinate individual German officers, a tactic de Gaulle
The Spaniards, primarily active in the South and South-East, organised
themselves, although some individuals fought in French units. Spanish formations
were recognised as an independent but integral part of the French Resistance
within the CNR The main grouping was the Communist led Union Nacional Espanola
(UNE) formed in November 1942. In 1944 its name changed to Agrupacion Guerrillera
Espanola. A second organisation, the Alianza Democratica Espanola, rejecting
Communist control, was formed by the Anarchists (CNT/FAI); Socialists (UGT/PSOE); Left and Independent republicans and Basque and Catalan nationalists.
The critical moment of expansion for the Resistance came in 1943 with an
influx of new recruits fleeing forced labour. In June 1942 a decree had been
issued requiring French workers for German factories. This was extended in
February 1943 with the setting up of the Service du Travail Obligatoire (STO)
to meet the ever increasing numbers demanded by the German labour ministry.
The STO was resisted by individual evasion, strikes and even angry crowds
freeing arrested workers from the French police. It also proved the vital
ingredient in the formation of armed groups in the countryside, the Maquis.
Between April and December 1943, 150,000 workers were on the run from the
STO, and by June 1944 this had swelled to more than 300,000. The Resistance
movement encouraged non compliance and supplied shelter, supplies and arms
to the evaders who took to the hills and countryside. The Maquis were supported
by the rural population - alienated by constant requisitions of produce and
the imposition of the STO on agricultural labourers. This swelling of guerrilla
strength in the countryside throughout 1943 inaugurated a new and more ferocious
phase of armed struggle, which in the conflict between the Milice and the
Maquis increasingly took the form of a civil war.
Whilst the long term plan was to prepare a national insurrection in support
of the expected Allied landings, there was disagreement over the best tactics
to employ in the meantime. Some favoured massing in large formations, in effect
local insurrections. Others argued for small mobile units of 20-30 men as
the only viable tactic. The latter was undoubtedly the right policy. On three
occasions when the Resistance in the South did mass for conventional warfare,
on the Plateau of Glieres; at Vercors and at Mont Mouchet they were both heavily
outnumbered and outgunned by the Germans. Spaniards participated in these
actions, but had warned against them - knowing full well from the war against
Franco that lightly armed troops could not engage in conventional warfare
without armour, artillery and air support.
Despite these setbacks resistance in the 18 months before D-Day inflicted
massive damage on infrastructure and tied down German troops across France.
The Resistance could far more easily neutralise railways, industrial sites
and power stations than Allied air power, and their intelligence networks,
at first lightly regarded by the British, were of decisive importance. Between
June 1943 and May 1944 nearly 2,000 locomotives were destroyed. In October
1943 alone, over 3,000 attacks were recorded on the railways, 427 resulting
in heavy damage, with 132 trains derailed. In the South West such sabotage
was so effective that by June 6th 1944 it took 3 days to travel from Paris
Whilst the guerrillas were less numerous in the North, between April and
September 1943 some 500 resistance efforts were recorded, 278 against railways
and other infrastructure, killing 950 Germans and injuring 1,890.In Normandy
and Brittany, Spaniards blew up electrical transformers, a railway station
and switching yard and part of an airfield. Spanish resistance fighters in
Paris assassinated General von Schaumberg, commandant of Greater Paris and
General von Ritter who was responsible for the recruitment of forced labour.
The effectiveness of the guerrilla campaign was to lead Eisenhower to comment
that the Resistance effort around D-Day was worth a full 15 regular army divisions.
Likewise Maquis support of the northern drive of the American 7th army was
estimated as worth 4 or 5 divisions of regular troops. It should also be remembered
that Allied troops never entered the South of the country. The whole area
west of the Rhone and South of the Loire rivers was liberated by the national
insurrection of the Maquis, as also was Brittany, save for the Atlantic ports
with their strong German garrisons.
In the Department of L'Ariege the 14th Spanish Corps of Guerrillas (reformed
April 1942) played a key role in evicting the Germans. Between June 6th and
August 1944 they attacked German convoys and liberated several villages before
taking Foix, the Nazi HQ in the area. A strong German column attempted a counter
attack but were caught in an ambush. Despite their logistical superiority
they were pinned down by machine gun fire and 1,200 surrendered. A key role
was played by a solitary machine gunner who held his post raking the Germans
with bullets. One resistance fighter recollects this man, "firing like
a crazy one", and adds, as if by way of explanation, "...but he
was a Spaniard, a guerrillero". Allied observers of the engagement commented
that the Spaniards were "uniquely perfect guerrillas".
Other examples of the Spanish contribution include the Anarchist Llibertad
battalion which liberated Cahors and other towns and the participation of
6,000 Spanish guerrillas in the liberation of Toulouse. One notable encounter
occurred as the Germans attempted to withdraw through the Gardarea, following
the fall of Marseilles. A group of 32 Spaniards and 4 Frenchmen tackled a
German column (consisting of 1,300 men in 60 lorries, with 6 tanks and 2 self
propelled guns), at La Madeiline, on August 22, 1944. The Maquis blew up the
road and rail bridges and positioned themselves on surrounding hills with
machine guns. The battle raged from 3pm till noon the next day. Three Maquis
were wounded, 110 Germans killed, 200 wounded and the rest surrendered. The
German commander committed suicide!
Over 4,000 Spaniards took part in the Maquis uprising in Paris that began
on August 21st 1944. Photographs show them armed and crouched behind barricades
in scenes one could easily mistake for the street fighting in Barcelona in
July 1936. Before long they were supported by regular troops from the Normandy
beach-heads. The first units to enter Paris and reach the Hotel de Ville were
from the 9th Tank Company of the French 2nd Armoured Division. But the lead
half tracks bore the names of Spanish battlefields -"Guadalajara";
"Teruel"; "Madrid" and "Ebro". They were manned
by Spaniards, of whom there were 3,200 serving in the 2nd Armoured. Many of
these were veterans of the 26th Division (Durruti Column) who had entered
the French army from the prison camps in 1939 and gone on to fight in North
Captain Raymond Dronne, commander of the 9th Company, remembers that the
Spanish anarchists were "both difficult and easy to command". In
accordance with their libertarian principles "...it was necessary that
they accept for themselves the authority of their officers ... They wished
to understand the reason for that which was asked of them". However,
"...when they granted their confidence it was total and complete".
"They were almost all anti-militarists, but they were magnificent soldiers,
valiant and experienced. If they had embraced our cause spontaneously and
voluntarily it was [because] it was the cause of liberty. Truly they were
fighters for liberty".
The 9th Company featured prominently in the victory parade through Paris
with its tanks drawn up at the Arc de Triomphe. They went on to see action
on the Moselle and were the first to enter Strasbourg, supported by American
infantry. Their campaign ended in Germany at Berchtesgaden, Hitler's "Eagles
Nest". Having fought from the streets of Barcelona, across the battlefields
of Spain, North Africa and France they stood as victors in the final bolt
hole of the Nazi scum.
Liberation saw a brief period of euphoria, with the Resistance bridging the
vacuum of power in the South - dealing with collaborators and remnants of
the Milice; setting up local committees to administer supplies and re-establishing
communities on a more equal footing. Ordinary men and women were momentarily
in charge of their own history. But this was not to last. De Gaulle and his
allies had no desire to see Southern France controlled by revolutionary elements.
The Maquisards represented a threat because "an army of guerrillas is
always a revolutionary army." De Gaulle feared for revolution in Toulouse
where 6,000 Spanish guerrillas were "...still imbued with the revolutionary
spirit they had brought from beyond the Pyrenees" .To deal with this
explosive situation the Maquis were offered the choice of disarming or joining
the regular French forces for the attack on German garrisons in the Atlantic
ports. This would show America that there was a regular national army and
no need for Allied occupation, and it would also remove the armed bands whilst
a smooth transference to Gaullist power took place. This was easily achieved
because de Gaulle had cemented his position in key sections of the Resistance
by control of the arms supply.
In all 25,000 Spaniards had died in the camps or fighting in armed units.
With the German surrender in 1945 the Spaniards believed, understandably,
that the Allies would turn their attention to Franco and that, without German
and Italian support, he would be swiftly crushed. In fact many had been fighting
all along in anticipation of returning to Spain for some unfinished business.
Anti-fascist guerrilla activity had continued in Spain throughout the war.
Meanwhile, exiles in Algeria and France had been preparing for a return -
stockpiling arms "borrowed" from American depots. Likewise, as the
French 2nd Armoured Division advanced north from Paris, its 9th Company was
secretly joined by six members of the Durruti Column who had been with the
Resistance in Paris. Whilst fighting alongside their old comrades in the 9th
Company they hid arms and ammunition from the battlefields in secret caches.
These were later collected and taken to Spain.
1945 saw Franco very much alone, condemned by Britain, Russia and the USA
and excluded from the United Nations. The British Labour government, prior
to their election in 1945, had promised a quick resolution to the Spanish
question. But sadly history proved that the British were not to be trusted.
The Labour government, despite its promises, used delaying tactics in the
United Nations to stop effective action, arguing that it was purely an internal
matter of the Spanish people and that they had no wish to "permit or
encourage civil war in that country". Economic blockade and international
isolation would have finished Franco off within months - but Britain and US
would not support this; despite protestations from other countries who favoured,
if necessary, armed intervention. For the British and Americans, as in 1936-1939,
the real problem was not Franco but the possibility of a "Red" revolution
of the Spanish working class. This attitude solidified as the Cold War developed.
A gradual rehabilitation of Franco took place, ending in full recognition
and incorporation into the United Nations in 1955. Fascist Spain took its
place at the table of the not so new world order.
Even in 1945, whilst some continued to believe that diplomacy would restore
the Republican government, many militants opted to renew the armed struggle.
Between 1944 and 1950 approximately 15,000 guerrillas fought in Spain, bringing
half the country into a state of war. But, despite strikes in Barcelona and
the Basque areas, involving over 250,000 people, the population as a whole,
wearied by war and repression, were not prepared to rise, or had placed their
faith in the diplomacy of Western "democracies". The guerrillas
were left to fight alone and inadequately armed against Franco's impressive
police and military apparatus, which was always well supplied with intelligence
on guerrilla movements from the other side of the French border. It was an
unequal struggle. As Juan Molina lamented: "The prisons consumed a generation
of fighters, defeated this time irremediably ... All strength in life has
its limits and this limit was amply exceeded by the Resistance, in almost
inhuman endurance. But it had to succumb".
These working class militants, who bore arms for ten or even twenty years
against fascism and capitalism, deserve far more than just remembrance, though
even that has been denied them. The struggle for which they gave their lives
has not ended - it falls to us to continue that struggle and keep alight the
flame of their resistance.
Edited by libcom from Fighting Talk, No. 15.
* Article originally written in 1996
An account by Antonio Téllez of the underground guerrilla armed struggle of anarchists and anti-fascists against General Franco's regime following the Civil War.
The rattle of the Thompson gun
The guerrilla struggle against Francoism
actually arose in the days following the army revolt against the
Spanish Republic on 18 July 1936. Across the country, workers launched
a revolution and took up arms against the armed forces. In areas
which fell immediately to the mutinous army, a bloody repression
was promptly set in motion and this obliged many anti-fascists to
take to the hills to save their skins. This was repeated over nearly
three years of civil war as areas were conquered, one after another,
by the Francoist army and it extended to virtually the entirety
of the Peninsula after the Republican troops surrendered in the
Centre-Levante zone on 31 March 1939.
Very little has been written about the scale
of the armed struggle against Franco following the civil war.
It was and still is known to few. A thick blanket of silence has
been drawn over the fighters, for a variety of reasons. According
to Franco's personal friend Civil Guard Lieutenant-General Camilo
Alonso Vega - who was in charge of the anti-guerrilla campaign
for twelve years - banditry (the term the Francoists always used
to describe the guerrilla activity) was of "great significance"
in Spain, in that it "disrupted communications, demoralised
folk, wrecked our economy, shattered our unity and discredited
us in the eyes of the outside world”.
Only days before those words were uttered
General Franco himself had excused the blanket silence imposed
on reports of armed opposition and the efforts mounted to stop
it, when he had stated that "the Civil Guard's sacrifices
in the years following the Second World War were made selflessly
and in silence, because, for political and security reasons it
was inappropriate to publicise the locations, the clashes, casualty
figures or names of those who fell in performance of their duty,
in a heroic and unspoken sacrifice."
This cover-up has continued right up until
our own day. In a Spanish Television (TVE) programme entitled
Guerrilla Warfare and broadcast in 1984, General Manuel Prieto
Lopez cynically referred to the anti-Francoist fighters as bandits
and killers. Not that this should come as any surprise - during
the period described as the political transition to democracy
(November 1975 to October 1982) all political forces, high financiers,
industrialists, the military and church authorities decided that
references to the past were inappropriate and that the protracted
blood-letting of the Franco era should be consigned to oblivion.
That consensus holds firm today*, and historians eager to lift
that veil run up against insurmountable obstacles when they try
to examine State, Civil Guard or Police archives.
We have no reliable breakdown of the overall
figures for guerrillas or for the casualties sustained by or inflicted
upon the security forces and Army. If we are to have some grasp
of what this unequal struggle against the Dictatorship was like,
our only option is to turn to figures made public in 1968 - a
one-off it seems - according to which the Civil Guard sustained
628 casualties (258 deaths) between 1943 and 1952: some 5,548
bandits were wiped out in 2,000 skirmishes, many of which amounted
to full-scale battles. The figures for this eradication are as
follows: killed - 2,166; captured or surrendered - 3,382; arrested
as liaisons, accessories or for aiding and abetting - 19,407.
An embarrassed silence shrouds the earlier years between 1939
and 1942, when units from the regular army, the Foreign Legion
and the Regulars, with artillery support attempted to wipe out
the guerrillas. The aforementioned figures given for Civil Guard
casualties at the guerrillas' hands can be discounted. If we compare
the lists of deceased Civil Guards during these years where no
cause of death is listed, with peace-time death-rates, we find
a surplus of deaths which are (assuming they were the results
of illness or accident) inexplicable and arrive at what is unquestionably
a figure closer to the truth: some 1,000 deaths on active service.
The escalation of guerrilla activity began
in 1943, when the widespread belief that the Third Reich had victory
in its grasp was starting to fade, following the bloody rout of
the German Army's elite divisions at Stalingrad. As the tide of
the Second World War turned, the anti-Franco guerrillas, as might
have been expected, bounced back in terms of morale and dynamism,
and from 1944 onwards flourished to a considerable extent. Its
heyday was in 1946-1947. After that, partly as a consequence of
international policy which sought a rapprochement with Franco,
a decline set in that ended with the demise of guerrilla activity
in 1952. In Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia and other cities, urban
guerrilla activity persisted for a decade or so longer.
After 1944, guerrillas operating inside Spain
received considerable reinforcements from their exiled countrymen
who had played an active
part in the liberation of France and the French
Resistance. These were well-trained and experienced men equipped
with up-to-date weaponry and easy to use high explosive substances
such as plastique. Most of them were drawn from France and a smaller
number from across the seas in North Africa. Communist leaders
charged with politicising guerrilla activity came in from the
Americas via Lisbon and Vigo. The Communists who took it for granted
that the war-cry of "Taking Spain back!" would be the
signal for a general popular uprising against the Franco regime
made a great song and dance about this comparatively massive aid.
Some 3,000 guerrillas organised in France
with the very same weaponry they had used in their fight against
the Nazis, mounted two main attacks across the Pyrenees in 1944.
The first incursion was into Navarre on 3 and 7 October: the second
came via Catalonia, the object being to establish abridge-head
in the Vall d'Aran and install a provisional Republican government.
It was also taken for granted that, confronted by such a fait
accompli, the Allies would be prompted to step in to bring
down Franco. These incursions were easily repulsed - having been
heralded in advance - for the Spanish government had taken all
appropriate measures. Even so, there were lots of guerrillas who
refused to return to their bases and opted instead to infiltrate
into the interior in small groups. There they reinforced existing
guerrilla bands and set up new ones where none existed.
The weapons they brought in were a lot more
effective and better suited to guerrilla fighting. The most commonplace
weapon was the British Sten gun, or the German M.P. 38. Both were
rapid-fire weapons and used 9mm ammunition which was the most
plentiful sort. American weapons like the Colt pistol flooded
in, as did (in lesser numbers) Thompson sub-machineguns, a heavier
but highly effective weapon. One burst of Thompson gunfire in
the hills was reminiscent of an artillery salvo. The fighters
entering Spain also brought with them a tried and tested morale
forged in victories scored against the Nazis and in the staunch
belief that Franco could not survive the downfall of Adolf Hitler
and Benito Mussolini. They also had organisational experience
behind them and solid ideological convictions, anarchist, socialist
or communist, qualities that would quickly transform the guerrilla
phenomenon as they afforded increased cohesiveness to countless
scattered guerrilla bands.
The main areas of guerrilla activity were
those whose geographical features made defence and survival most
likely i.e.: mountain ranges and areas which provided adequate
cover. For example in Andalusia there were guerrilla bands aplenty,
some of them over 100-strong. In Asturias, the guerrillas displayed
tremendous enterprise, not unconnected with a deep-rooted political
consciousness: the revolution by the Asturias miners in October
1934 had not been all that long ago. In many areas, guerrilla
activity was intermittent and random as guerrilla bands moved
around for a number of reasons, such as the encroachments of counter-insurgency
The style and nature of the guerrilla struggle
varied with the terrain and the resources of the individuals and
groups involved. Activities included the bombing of strategic
objectives, attentats (political assassinations), the
movement of arms, the protection of individuals and groups involved
in underground political activity; bank robberies and forgery
to fund the struggle and destabilise the economy; as well as some
more spectacular actions: rescue missions to free captured comrades,
open fire-fights with fascist forces; and even an attempt to bomb
Franco from the air! (Three men in a light aircraft came within
a hair's breadth of dropping incendiary and fragmentation bombs
on the General and his Aides during a Regatta in 1948).
An example that sums up the mentality and
spirit of the guerrilla movement of the time is provided by a
small team of Anarchist guerrillas, led by the veteran fighter Francisco Sabate
Llopart (El Quico). On their return to Spain after the end
of the Second World War one of their first missions was the 'expropriation'
of money and valuables in a series of aggravated robberies of
local big-businessmen. On completion of 'business', those 'visited'
would be left a note like the following one, left at the home
of a wealthy big-store owner, Manuel Garriga:
"We are not robbers, we are libertarian
resistance fighters. What we have just taken will help in a small
way to feed the orphaned and starving children of those anti-fascists
who you and your kind have shot. We are people who have never
and will never beg for what is ours. So long as we have the strength
to do so we shall fight for for the freedom of the Spanish working
class. As for you, Garriga, although you are a murderer and a
thief, we have spared you, because we as libertarians appreciate
the value of human life, something which you never have, nor are
likely to, understand."
A small example of how, despite the loss of
the war, and despite the ruthlessness of the fascist repression,
those involved in the resistance still managed to maintain their
politics, their humanity, and their self-respect.
The armed opposition to Franco was no longer
a serious problem after 1949 and, as we have said, it petered
out around 1952. Aside from the severe blows dealt by the Civil
Guard and the Army, the absence of a logistical system capable
of keeping the fighters equipped, and, above all else, the fact
that the opposition political parties had chosen to gamble upon
diplomacy as a substitute for weapons, made it impossible for
the resistance's offensive activity to continue.
Another highly significant element in the
winding-up of the guerrilla struggle was the arrival on the scene
in 1947 of superbly trained and schooled security force personnel
in the shape of "counter-guerrilla bands", dressed and
armed in the guerrillas' own style and sowing confusion and terror
on their home ground. These "counter-gangs" even carried
out savage killings that were ascribed to the guerrillas proper,
the aim being to bring them into disrepute and strip them of popular
support. Then again, the infiltration of police plants into the
guerrilla bands was extraordinarily effective and made it possible
to dismantle some of the more important groupings.
In Asturias, in 1948, around 30 socialist
guerrillas boarded a French fishing smack which had arrived specifically
to collect them and deliver them to St Jean de Luz in France.
In Levante, the last remaining guerrillas in the area, around
two dozen survivors, made it out to France in 1952. In Andalusia,
a few bands survived until the end of 1952, but their leaders
- like the anarcho-syndicalist, Bernabe Lopez Calle (1889-1949)
- had already perished in combat. A few managed to escape to Gibraltar
or North Africa, but, for the most part, they were wiped out in
armed clashes: others were executed by the garrotte vil (death
by strangulation) or firing squads: those who escaped that fate
served prison terms sometimes in excess of 20 years.
In 1953, the United States signed a military
and economic assistance treaty with Franco. Two years later, Franco's
Spain was welcomed into the United Nations. However, even though
all was lost, a few die-hards refused to give up the fight: in
Cantabria, the last two guerrillas, Juan Fernandez Ayala (Juanin)
and Franciscxo Bedoya Gutierrez (El Bedoya) met their deaths in
April and in December of 1957 respectively. In Catalonia, Ramon
Vila Capdevila (Caraquemada), the last anarchist guerrilla, was
gunned down by the Civil Guard in August 1963. But the honour
of being the last guerrilla has to go to Jose Castro Veiga (El
Piloto) who died, without ever having laid down his arms, in the
province of Lugo (Galicia), March 1965.
There are a number of reasons for the failure
of the Guerrilla campaign against Franco, and although open guerrilla
warfare had all but ended in the 50's, the movement against Franco
continued, as did underground political activity, until the regime's
eventual collapse. What the guerrillas had wanted to achieve was
open insurrection against Franco. What they show us today, through
their ambition and their sacrifice, is that the brutal repression
of the progressive working class after the Civil War did not go
unchallenged. The full story of the guerrilla struggle, as Tellez
states in this article, is still being uncovered. All we can do
today is salute the men and women of the resistance who gave their
lives, not only in the defence of their class, but for a future
where the social structures that create the Francos, are buried
along with them.
Edited by libcom from an article in Fighting Talk, issue 15.
* Article originally written by Antonio Téllez in 1996