Barricades in Barcelona: The CNT from the Victory of July 1936 to the Necessary Defeat of May 1937 – Agustín Guillamón
To Pascual Guillamón, wounded and disabled in the confrontations of July 19 in Barcelona; shot by the fascists when they occupied Tarrasa.
To my grandfather Eliseo, and his numerous brothers: emigrants, cenetistas, anonymous fighters and exiles; always proletarians conscious of being proletarians.
To my father, who at the age of twelve lost a war.
This is a book about the barricades erected by the workers of Barcelona in July 1936 and May 1937, only ten months apart. It is a study of the reasons why they were built, as well as their similarities and differences. It attempts to explain the “offensive” character of the workers insurrection of July, and the “defensive” character of the May insurrection. How did the practically unarmed workers manage to defeat the rebellious army and the fascists in July? And how was it possible that, in May, a proletariat armed to the teeth could be politically defeated after having demonstrated its military superiority in the streets? Why were the barricades of July still standing in October 1936, while the barricades built in May were immediately dismantled?
The myth of the barricades, which appeared in Barcelona on numerous occasions during the 19th century, in the general strike of 1902, during the Tragic Week of 1909 and the general strike of 1917, was not propagated in vain. As history teaches us, barricades are structures for defensive purposes, and almost always presage the defeat of the workers at the hands of the army or the police. In July 1936 the first victory of the proletariat over the army took place at the Brecha de San Pablo, against some soldiers entrenched behind the barricades. This book considers the barricades as one instrument, among others, of the irrevocable decision of the proletariat to confront the class enemy; not as a myth that chains it to the past. It contemplates the barricades as a class frontier, with the proletariat on one side, and the enemy on the other. Today’s class frontiers would include on the enemy side those who deny the existence of the proletariat, confuse the Stalinist dictatorships with communism, propose the conquest of the state instead of its destruction, or proclaim that capitalism is eternal.
In the epilogue, the committees that arose during the Spanish revolutionary events of 1936 are considered in the context of the international experience of the Russian soviets and the German councils, in order to recognize them as a form of revolutionary organization of the working class.
July 1936 was a victorious insurrection; but was the insurrection of May 1937 a victory or a defeat? This book aspires to understand why, and above all how, some of the revolutionary leaders of July 1936 became the most disastrous and influential counterrevolutionaries of May 1937. To put it another way, it attempts to explain the history of the workers movement and to discard the ridiculous comic strips of supermen and traitors, as well as the bourgeois or Stalinist biased arbitrary interpretations that are characteristic of university academic studies.
The book also tries to respond to the questions posed by the French surrealist poet Benjamin Péret, who was in Barcelona between August 1936 and April 1937: “What is the nature of the revolution of July 19, 1936: bourgeois, anti-fascist, proletarian? Was there a situation of dual power on July 20, 1936? If so, to whose benefit did it evolve? What forces presided over its liquidation? Have the workers seized control of the apparatus of production? Has the nationalization of production led to or created the material basis for a form of state capitalism? Did the working class organizations (parties, trade unions, etc.) attempt to organize a workers power? Where and under what conditions? Why was bourgeois power not liquidated? Why did the Spanish revolution end up in disaster?”
The task of the poet is to ask the questions, the job of the historian is to try to answer them, and the privilege of the reader is to judge whether the responses given are correct and convincing.
Barcelona, December 2006
The Victorious Insurrection of July 1936
Vivere militare est. (To live is to fight.)
Seneca, Epistulae Morales
TO ARMS, TO ARMS!
At sixteen hundred hours on the sixteenth, the army rose up in revolt in Melilla. The President of the Government, Casares Quiroga, when asked by some journalists about what he was going to do about the uprising, responded with a little joke: “They have arisen? Good. I am going to bed.” On July 18, 1936 the military rebellion had spread to all of Morocco, the Canary Islands and Seville.
The military garrison of Barcelona had approximately six thousand men, against almost two thousand assault guards and two hundred “mossos d’esquadra” [a special defense corps of the Generalitat]. The civil guards, whose loyalties were uncertain, had about three thousand men. The CNT-FAI had about twenty thousand militants organized in neighborhood defense committees, ready to take up arms. The CNT agreed, in the liaison commission that included representatives of the CNT, the Generalitat and loyal military officers, to confront the rebels with only one thousand armed militants. However, the CNT’s negotiations with Escofet, the police commissioner, and with España, the regional minister for the Government, were unproductive. On the night of July 17 the cenetista [member of the CNT] Juan Yagüe, Secretary of the Maritime Transport Trade Union, organized the assault on the weapons lockers of the ships docked at the port, obtaining about 150 rifles; these were to be added to the guns taken on the 18th from the gun shops, security guards and night watchmen of the city. This small arsenal, stored at the Transport Workers Trade Union headquarters on the Ramblas, led to a confrontation with the police commissioner, who demanded that the weapons be handed over to him. There was some risk of an armed confrontation with the assault guards, and the CNT militants themselves hurled abuse at those who were, in their opinion, much too conciliatory: Durruti and García Oliver. The incident was defused with the surrender to Guarner, Escofet’s second in command, of some old inoperative rifles, which prevented a break between the republicans and the anarchists on the eve of the military coup.
Starting at three in the morning on July 19th, a growing crowd demanded arms from the Government Chancellory, at the Plaza Palacio. There were no arms for the people, because the Government of the Generalitat was more afraid of a workers revolution than it was of the military revolt against the Republic. Juan García Oliver, from the balcony of the Chancellory, ordered the CNT militants to keep in touch with the defense committees of their respective neighborhoods, or to advance on the barracks of San Andrés to await an opportunity to seize the arms stored there. A little later, when the uprising was announced in Barcelona, the militants began fraternizing with the assault guards at San Andrés when the latter, equipped with every variety of small arms, surrendered their guns to the civilian volunteers who asked for them. At the same time, the Deputy Director of the Aviation Services, Servando Meana,1 a CNT sympathizer, who was acting as a liaison between the Prat Airfield and José María España, delivered the arms stored in the Government Buildings to the anarchosyndicalists2 on his own responsibility and at his own risk, without the knowledge of his superiors. The cenetistas of the Chemical Workers Trade Union began to manufacture hand grenades.
THE SIRENS OF THE FACTORIES OF PUEBLO NUEVO SOUND THE CALL TO BATTLE
At four-fifteen on the morning of July 19, 1936, the troops of the Bruc barracks, in Pedralbes, marched into the streets, heading for April 14 Avenue (now known as Diagonal) towards the center of the city. The workers, posted in the vicinity of the barracks, had orders to sound the alarm but not to engage the soldiers until they came very close to the city center. The previously-determined tactic of the Confederal Defense Committee foresaw that it would be easier to fight the troops in the streets than if they remained entrenched in their barracks.
The Jupiter football field on Lope de Vega Street was used as a staging area from which to initiate the workers insurrection against the military uprising, due to the fact that the homes of the majority of the anarchist members of the “Nosotros” group were located in the vicinity, as well as the large numbers of CNT militants who also lived in that neighborhood. The Defense Committee of Pueblo Nuevo had requisitioned two trucks from a nearby textile factory, which were then parked near the Jupiter football field, and which were probably used as clandestine arsenals by the anarchists. Gregorio Jover lived at number 276 Pujades Street. Throughout the night of the 18th to the 19th of July, the whole second floor of that building was converted into the meeting place of the members of the “Nosotros” group, awaiting the news of the rebels taking to the streets. Jover was joined by: Juan García Oliver, who lived nearby, at number 72 of Espronceda Street, almost at the corner of Llull; Buenaventura Durruti, who lived less than a kilometer away, in the Clot neighborhood; Antonio Ortiz, born in the La Plata neighborhood of Pueblo Nuevo, at the intersection of Independencia and Wad Ras Streets (now Badajoz/Doctor Trueta); Francisco Ascaso, who also lived nearby on San Juan de Malta Street; Ricardo Sanz, also a resident of Pueblo Nuevo; Aurelio Fernández and “the Valencian” José Pérez Ibáñez. From Jover’s window one could see the fence of the Jupiter football field, next to which the two trucks were parked. At five in the morning a message arrived informing Jover and his comrades that the troops had begun to leave the barracks. Lope de Vega, Espronceda, Llull and Pujades Streets, which bordered on the Jupiter football field, were full of armed CNT militants. About twenty or so of the most experienced militants, tempered in a thousand street battles, boarded the trucks. Antonio Ortiz and Ricardo Sanz manned a machine gun behind the cab of the leading truck. The sirens of the textile factories of Pueblo Nuevo began to sound, proclaiming the general strike and the revolutionary insurrection, and could be heard in nearby neighborhoods and at the port. This was the agreed-upon signal for the call to battle. And this time the alarm of the sirens literally meant that arms must be taken up for defense against the enemy: “to arms”. The two trucks, flying the black and red flag, followed by a column of armed men singing “Sons of the People” and “To the Barricades”, encouraged by the neighbors crowding the balconies, marched down Pujades Street to the Rambla of Pueblo Nuevo, to walk up to Pedro IV Street, and from there to the Construction Trade Union offices on Mercaders Street, and then to the Metal Workers and Transport Trade Union headquarters on the Ramblas. Never before had the verses of these songs conveyed such meaning: “although we expect pain and death against the enemy, duty calls us, the most precious good is liberty, it must be defended with faith and with valor”; “with our bodies we shall subdue the fascist hyena, and the entire people with the anarchists will make liberty triumph”.
The “Nosotros” group, now transformed into a Revolutionary Defense Committee, directed the workers insurrection in Barcelona against the military uprising from one of these trucks parked on the Plaza del Teatro. By commanding the Ramblas the revolutionaries prevented the link-up of the rebels who were proceeding from the Plaza de Cataluña and Atarazanas-Capitanía, at the same time that it allowed for the rapid dispatch, by way of the side streets and alleys of the Chino and Ribera neighborhoods, of reinforcements to help the combatants at the Brecha de San Pablo and Icaria Avenue. It was necessary to prevent the troops who had left their barracks in the outer parts of the city from reaching the center of the city and linking up with Capitanía-Atarazanas, or seizing the nerve centers of the telephone, telegraph, postal and radio transmitter installations.
The invaluable collaboration of the artillery sergeants Valeriano Gordo and Martín Terrer from the Atarazanas barracks,3 who opened the door that faced on Santa Madrona Street, allowed the entry of the armed anarchist groups and the arrest of almost the entire officer corps who were conducted under arrest through that same door to Santa Madrona Street. But a burst of machine gun fire from the nearby building housing the Officers’ Quarters permitted the escape of Lieutenant Colubí, who then took command of the resistance. The heavy barred doors of the wide plazas that connected the old medieval Atarazanas with the building of the Maestranza (now demolished), which faced directly on the Ramblas, where the offices of the Artillery Brigade and the quarters of some officers, made it possible for the soldiers who were entrenched there to resist the attack. The rebels regained control of the barracks, but the anarchists had seized four machine guns, several hundred rifles and several crates of ammunition. The crossfire that was set up between the office buildings and that part of the Atarazanas barracks that faced the Rambla de Santa Mónica, to which was added the fire from the machine guns installed at the base of the Columbus monument, made their position impregnable. Since the militants from the Metal Workers and Transport Trade Unions had left for Barceloneta, the anarchosyndicalist forces that remained in the Plaza del Teatro decided to postpone the assault in order to transfer their forces to the Brecha de San Pablo, with the arms taken from Atarazanas, leaving the sector under the Ramblas, with the buildings of the Military Offices and the Maestranza of Atarazanas surrounded by a group under the command of Durruti, with an artillery piece managed by Sergeant Gordo.
THE REBEL MILITARY FORCES OCCUPY THE PLAZA DE ESPAÑA AND THE PLAZA DE LA UNIVERSIDAD
At about four-fifteen in the morning three squadrons belonging to the Cavalry Regiment of Montesa began to make their way on foot from the barracks on Tarragona Street. The first squadron, after an initial exchange of fire with assault guards that lasted about twenty minutes, occupied the Plaza de España, with a machine gun unit, and then began fraternizing with the assault guards from the barracks located at the intersection of the Gran Vía-Paralelo, next to the Hotel Olímpico (today the Catalonia Plaza Hotel). The assault guards and the cavalry squadron reached a curious non-aggression pact, and over the course of the morning reinforcements, which were not molested, left the barracks of the assault guards for Cinco de Oros and Barceloneta, at the same time that these assault guards were allowing the rebels to hold the vantage point of the Plaza de España, and later allowed the passage of a company of sappers from the engineers barracks of Lepanto, which proceeded along the Paralelo until it arrived at Atarazanas and the Military Office Building.
On Cruz Cubierta Street, in front of the Hostafrancs Municipal Building, the defense committee erected a barricade that blocked the road. The rebel troops had two artillery pieces, located next to the fountain in the center of the Plaza de España, which had been brought in trucks from the barracks at the Docks. The military fired an artillery salvo at the barricade at Hostafrancs, but aimed too high, and the shells exploded in a small barricade on the side street of Riego, killing eight people and wounding eleven. It was a Danteesque scene, with arms, legs and chunks of human flesh hanging from the trees, lampposts and trolley cables. The decapitated head of a woman was found seventy meters from her torso. The rebels controlled the Plaza de España until three in the afternoon.
The second squadron, with a machine gun unit, which was joined by a group of rightists, was engaged in battle on Valencia Street, but gained their objective, which was to dominate the Plaza de la Universidad and to occupy the university building, in whose towers they placed machine guns. They checked the identification papers of all the pedestrians, detaining those who were members of the CNT or the parties of the left, among whom was Angel Pestaña. In the courtyard of the University they exchanged fire with an armed group from the POUM. Over the course of the morning the rebels were forced to withdraw to the University Building, pursued by a group of assault guards at whom they had been shooting, and the members of the POUM who had occupied the Seminary, from which they swept the University gardens with gunfire. Completely surrounded, and after losing a large number of their men to desertion, the rebels surrendered at two-thirty in the afternoon to a detachment of the civil guard, and came out into the street behind the shield of the civilian prisoners they had captured.
THE REBELS WIN A BATTLE: THE ENGINEERS BESIEGE THE ASSAULT GUARDS
From the Lepanto engineers’ barracks, located on the Gran Vía, on the outskirts of Barcelona, in Hospitalet de Llobregat (at what is now the Plaza Cerdá, on the site where they are building the “Judicial Center”), a company of sappers had emerged at about four-thirty and headed towards the Plaza de España, where they fraternized with the cavalry squadron, which dominated the vicinity with machine guns and light artillery, and with the assault guards posted there, even though the latter had displayed on the door of their barracks the proclamation of the declaration of a state of war. Given the calm situation that prevailed there, they were ordered to proceed to the Military Offices (the current Military Building, across from the Columbus monument). They marched down the Paralelo, and Vilá y Vilá Street, until they reached the Baleares dock, where they were confronted by a company of assault guards that had arrived from Barceloneta, which was defeated4 because it was caught in the crossfire from Atarazanas and the sappers. After leaving a small group in Atarazanas the majority took up positions in the Military Office Building in order to defend it. The rebels had achieved their first victory and Escofet lost control of the Paralelo. The rebels consolidated their hold on the medieval shipyards, the Aduana and the electric power plant of the three smokestacks, and therefore controlled the plaza around the Columbus monument and the lower part of the Paralelo. In order to break their hold and to isolate the rebels at the Plaza de España from those at Atarazanas, the workers of the Woodworkers Trade Union and the Defense Committee of Pueblo Seco rapidly constructed an enormous barricade at the Brecha de San Pablo, between El Molino and the Chicago Bar.
THE PEOPLE DEFEAT THE ARMY ON THE PARALELO
The third squadron which had left the cavalry barracks on Tarragona Street was ordered to consolidate rebel control of the Paralelo, with the objective of linking up their barracks with the Capitanía. Now, however, when they reached the vicinity of the Brecha de San Pablo, they were incapable of getting past a monumental barricade built of cobblestones and sandbags, which formed a double rectangle across half the avenue, because an intense hail of gunfire prevented them from proceeding. The soldiers were only able to occupy the headquarters of the Woodworkers Trade Union of the CNT on Rosal Street and the barricade in front of the building, abandoned by the CNT militants when, in accordance with the Mola Plan,5 the rebel soldiers advanced behind a human shield of women and children from the neighborhood. Then the soldiers installed three machine guns, one in front of La Tranquilidad Bar (69 Paralelo, next to the Victoria theater), another on the roof of the building next to El Molino, and the third on the barricade of the Brecha de San Pablo, which were employed to full effect. It was now eight in the morning. It took the third squadron two hours to take the barricade, which was defended by the defense committee of Pueblo Seco and militants of the woodworkers trade union. But the workers continued to harass the troops from the other side of the Brecha, from the terraces of nearby buildings and from all the adjoining side streets and alleys. At eleven in the morning the third squadron had successfully achieved full control of the entirety of the Brecha, after five hours of combat. However, the attempt made by the troops located at the Plaza de España to reinforce their comrades at the Brecha was thwarted when they reached the Avenida Theater (at 182 Paralelo) and were subjected to gunfire from the walls of the fairground enclosure that faced the Paralelo, and from Tamarit. The cenetistas decided to mount a counterattack against the Brecha, indirectly from Conde del Asalto (now Nou de la Rambla) and other points, without success. The local residents built barricades on the side streets of the Paralelo next to Poeta Cabanyes and Tapioles. About a dozen assault guards, who had been ordered to go there by the officer of the Assault Guards who was fighting on the side of the rebel military forces, decided to join the popular forces. Shortly thereafter, the CNT reinforcements that came from the Plaza del Teatro, after storming the Hotel Falcón, from which they had been subjected to sniper fire, then proceeded from the Ramblas by way of San Pablo Street, and after securing the neutrality of the barracks of the customs police and after freeing the prisoners at the women’s prison of Santa Amalia, they arrived at the Ronda de San Pablo by way of Flores Street, under a hail of gunfire from the rebel troops. Ortiz, along with a small group of men who had brought the machine guns seized at Atarazanas, managed to cross to the other side of the Ronda, and rapidly constructed a small barricade that gave them some shelter from the bullets of the three enemy machine guns installed in the Brecha. The anarchists climbed onto the rooftops, and placed their machine guns on the roof of the Chicago Bar (the same building that is today the office of the Caixa de Catalunya) which provided covering fire for the mass frontal assault on the Brecha, directed simultaneously from Flores Street, from both ends of Aldana Street, from Tapias Street and from the café Pay-Pay on San Pablo Street, located across from the Romanesque church of Sant Pau del Camp, which they had entered by way of the back door.6 The captain who commanded the troops next to the machine gun in the middle of the Brecha was felled by shots fired by Francisco Ascaso, who had gone on ahead of the other attackers and taken up an advantageous position, while the others advanced without any cover, in the open. A lieutenant tried to take command of the unit from his fallen captain, in order to continue to resist, but he was shot by a corporal from among his own troops. This was the beginning of the end of the battle. Between eleven and noon the third squadron was defeated, and the Brecha de San Pablo was recovered by the workers. While Francisco Ascaso was jumping for joy and waving his rifle over his head, García Oliver was shouting over and over, “Look what we did to the army!” In this crucial district of the city the anarchists, among whom were Francisco Ascaso, Juan García Oliver, Antonio Ortiz, Gregorio Jover and Ricardo Sanz,7 had defeated the army after more than six hours of battle. A small number of soldiers continued to put up some resistance, after having taken refuge within El Molino, where, after running out of ammunition, they finally surrendered at about two in the afternoon.
THE INFANTRY ARRIVES AT THE PLAZA DE LA UNIVERSIDAD AND THE ESCOLAPIOS DE SAN ANTONIO
The infantry regiment of Badajoz (from the Pedralbes barracks) had been ordered to go to the Capitanía by General Llano from the general staff, and that is where it went, but with the intention of placing itself under the orders of General Goded, who had flown from Palma de Mallorca to Barcelona to assume command over the military uprising. Once it reached the Gran Vía, the company under the command of Captain López Belda continued to march down Urgell Street towards the Paralelo, where they came under fire, and from there they went to Atarazanas, and the Columbus and Capitanía monument, where they reinforced the remaining troops at this location. López Belda and the sappers were the only rebel troops that reached their proposed objectives, which in their case was to reinforce Atarazanas and the Capitanía.
The rest of the column, under the command of Major López Amor, proceeded down the Gran Vía towards the Plaza de Cataluña, and exchanged fire with the squadron of the Montesa regiment, which had already occupied the Plaza de la Universidad. Once this error was discovered, a company went down by the Ronda de San Antonio, in the direction of Capitanía, but once it reached the vicinity of the Market of San Antonio, it was attacked by the defense committees, which would not allow it to reinforce the troops fighting in the Brecha, so the company had to take refuge in Los Escolapios, where they surrendered one hour later, after putting up stiff resistance.
THE BATTLE AT THE PLAZA CATALUÑA
After leaving a small garrison behind in the University, the rest of the troops, under the orders of López Amor, entered the Plaza de Cataluña by way of Pelayo and the Ronda Universidad, where they were surrounded by a curious and apprehensive crowd, shouting “Viva la Republica”, whose members did not know if these were loyal or rebel troops. After an exchange of fire between the rebel troops and the assault guards, white handkerchiefs appeared, the shooting stopped, and assault guards and soldiers embraced and fraternized. The crowd of armed civilians arrived and broke up the troop formation by mixing with the soldiers. The confusion, the cunning tactics of some, the indecision of the assault guards, the mistrust of the workers, and the excessive physical proximity created an incredible and dangerous disorder. The Plaza was occupied by units of the Assault Guards and by numerous militant armed workers on the side of the Ramblas, the Telefónica and the Puerta del Ángel. Major López Amor gave the order to check the identification papers of the civilians, most of whom were cenetistas, but faced with the impossibility of arresting all of them he decided to evict them from the Plaza, and installed machine guns at the four corners of the Plaza: on the roof of the Maison Dorée (at the corner of Rivadeneira, on part of the site that is now occupied by Sfera), on the roof of the Cataluña Theater (approximately the site of the current Habitat), at the Hotel Colón (now Banesto) and at the Casino Militar (today absorbed by El Corte Inglés), and he placed two light 7.5 cm artillery pieces in the center of the Plaza Cataluña. López Amor then went to the Telefónica with the intention of occupying it and controlling communications. The initial collaboration of the Assault Guards, obtained by the treason of their commanding officer, Lieutenant Llop, was transformed, after a very uncomfortable period of about ten minutes, into open opposition. López Amor ordered the two artillery pieces situated in the center of the Plaza to open fire on the Telefónica. After three volleys communications were almost totally cut off. Gunfire erupted both within and outside of the building. During the confusion a group of Assault Guards captured López Amor in front of the Casino Militar. The companies of the Assault Guards, together with the armed workers, barricaded themselves in Fontanella, the upper floors of the Telefónica, the Puerta del Ángel and the Ramblas. Pelayo, Vergara and Ronda Universidad Streets had already been secured by militant workers, thus isolating the army troops, who finally had no other recourse than to take refuge in the Hotel Colón, the Maison Dorée, the Casino Militar and the lower floors of the Telefónica, from which points they resisted the attacks of the workers and the Assault Guards. The center of the Plaza was a no-man’s land. The troops had been prevented from making their way along the Ramblas towards Atarazanas and Capitanía, or by way of Fontanella and Puerta del Ángel to the Police Station at Vía Layetana or the Palace of the Generalitat. The equipment of the Telefónica and the nearby radio transmitters had also been prevented from falling into the hands of the rebels. The Telephone workers cut off communications of the Capitanía with the rebel barracks. The popular forces quickly stormed the Casino Militar and the Maison Dorée, thanks to the combined efforts of the Assault Guards and the workers, who had secured their positions by using the tunnels of the subway. The resistance of the rebels, who now only controlled the shelled Hotel Colón and the lower floors of the Telefónica, came to an end at four in the afternoon, when they surrendered to the late but decisive attack of the civil guards, supported by the Assault Guards and the enthusiasm of the people, who did not trust the civil guards. An enormous crowd filled the openings of the nearby streets, the subway entrances and the adjacent alleys. White flags appeared in the Hotel Colón and then the popular fury swept away all in its path. The cannon that Lecha had brought from Claris thundered once again. Durruti and Obregón (who died in the attack), in a massive assault from the Ramblas by the anarchist militants, charging right in the open without cover, retook the lower floors of the Telefónica. At the same time, civil guards and workers, Josep Rovira of the POUM in the forefront, entered the Hotel Colón and took the officers prisoner. The Plaza was littered with corpses. Here, too, the army had been defeated.
THE REBELS TAKE REFUGE IN THE CARMELITE MONASTERY
From the Gerona Barracks, or from the Santiago Cavalry barracks, at the corner of Lepanto and Travesera de Gracia Streets, near the Hospital of San Pablo, around five in the morning three squadrons of about fifty men each proceeded on foot, with machine guns installed on cars. Their objective was to take control of the Cinco de Oros (today the Plaza Juan Carlos I), at the corner of the Paseo de Gracia and Diagonal Street, in order to proceed from there to Plaza Urquinaona and the Arco del Triunfo. They were subjected to minor harassment during their entire passage through Lepanto, Industria, and Córcega Streets, as well as the Paseo de San Juan (then known as García Hernández). At the Cinco de Oros, however, they found several companies of assault guards awaiting them, with a squadron of cavalry and a machine gun unit, accompanied by a crowd of militant workers, positioned on rooftops and balconies, in trees and doorways, armed with automatic weapons and hand grenades. Unexpectedly for the rebels, who had advanced without taking the precaution of sending out any scouts, a steady barrage of fire swept the leading ranks of the troops, causing a large number of casualties among both soldiers and officers. Colonel Lacasa, who commanded the regiment from Santiago, took refuge with the surviving officers and some soldiers in the Carmelite Monastery, situated on the Diagonal at the corner of Lauria Street, where, with the active assistance of the monks, they barricaded themselves in impregnable positions thanks to the machine guns installed on the lower floors and on the roof.8 The detachment of civil guards that had been sent to fight them joined them instead. The Colonel stationed advance outposts in the vicinity of the monastery at the corners of Córcega/Santa Tecla Streets, Claris/Diagonal Streets and Menéndez Pelayo (now Torrent de l’Olla)/Lauria Streets, which, after suffering many casualties, were forced to withdraw before nightfall. That night, the rebels entrenched in the monastery agreed to surrender to the civil guards at dawn on the following day.
A short distance away, at the corner of Balmes and Diagonal Streets, a half hour after the beginning of the battle at Cinco de Oros, four trucks coming from the San Andrés Artillery Depot, transporting about fifty artillery gunners to the Plaza de Cataluña, were ambushed, stopped and destroyed by the fusillades of fire from workers and Assault Guards. Rifles and artillery pieces were seized by the workers.
AT BARCELONETA: MOBILE BARRICADES AGAINST ARTILLERY
The Mountain Artillery Regiment, at the barracks of the Docks on Icaria Avenue, was the principal focal point of the plot of the military uprising. Two trucks had managed to leave the barracks, each with artillery pieces, and both successfully arrived at their destiny at the Plaza de España. One of these guns, installed at the center of the square, announced with its roar that the artillery had come to the streets. At six a column was organized, under the command of Major Fernández Unzué, whose objective was first to take the Palace of the Government and then the Palace of the Generalitat. In October 1934, this same Major, at the command of just one battery of artillery, only needed to fire once on the Palace of the Generalitat and immediately saw the white flag that put an end to the Catalanist rebellion of Companys. An airplane had bombed the barracks before the trucks left, causing some casualties and a certain degree of demoralization. Nonetheless, the three batteries drove into the streets, without waiting for the arrival of the two companies of the nearby Alcántara Infantry Regiment, which were supposed to provide cover for them. That artillery batteries must be protected by infantry was a fundamental in the military manuals, since the artillery pieces had to advance slowly through the middle of the street, in the open, dragged by animals; but the officers were convinced that the “mob” would run away once they heard the first salvo of cannon fire. Meanwhile, in Barceloneta, the celebration of the local residents and the longshoremen was transformed into a unanimous outcry demanding arms. Enrique Gómez García, the commanding officer of the Barceloneta barracks of the Assault Guards, faced with an imminent confrontation, decided to distribute weapons to those who handed over to him, as a guarantee that they would return the weapons, their trade union or political party membership cards. The first battery, commanded by Captain López Varela, managed to proceed without incident until he came to the bridge of San Carlos (which no longer exists), which crossed Icaria Avenue and the railroad tracks, when he unexpectedly encountered gunfire from a group of Assault Guards, along with workers who had been armed by the Assault Guard barracks, posted in the environs of the Plaza de Toros of Barceloneta (which no longer exists), the bridge itself, on the boxcars and walls of the rail yards, and on the nearest balconies and rooftops. They were rapidly joined by a crowd of militant workers from Pueblo Nuevo, Barceloneta and from the Transport and Metal Workers Trade Unions of the Ramblas. The three batteries found themselves squeezed between two sides, and each prevented the others from advancing. López Varela managed to set up the machine guns and the four cannons of his battery, and opened fire, without pausing in his advance towards Barceloneta. After two hours of fighting on the defensive, the two batteries of the rearguard, immobilized and constantly harassed by well-entrenched attackers, managed to withdraw to their barracks with numerous casualties, in a chaotic retreat, marked by the terrified stampede of the animals that were transporting some munitions that had exploded when they were hit by gunfire. At the entrance to the barracks they suffered fourteen casualties, caused by the machine guns of two airplanes, which shortly afterwards bombed the barracks themselves with little effect. The battery of López Varela, which was now incapable of retreating, could not pass the intersection of Icaria Avenue and the Paseo Nacional, which was blocked by an enormous barricade that was six feet high, which the longshoremen had built with the usual cobblestones and the not so common sandbags full of carob beans, along with pieces of wood and five hundred tons of spooled paper unloaded in a half hour by electric forklifts from the ship, “Ciudad de Barcelona”, moored at the nearby “moll de les garrofes”, the usual location for the unloading of carob beans from the sailboats that transported them from the coastal towns of Castellón and Tarragona. The battery was then subjected to attack by mortar fire from the roof of the Government building, as well as by a steady barrage of fire from rifles and machine guns coming from the Escuela Náutica and the Depósito Franco. The soldiers fired their cannons at the barricades and the crowds, producing terrible damage to both; but the barricades were rebuilt and the crowds returned to intensify their determined attack. The position of the rebels became untenable. At ten they received the order to retreat, but this retreat turned into a hellish ordeal, because as the soldiers attempted to withdraw, the spools of paper, now transformed into mobile barricades, were pushed forward by unarmed workers, while other workers well protected behind the spools threw hand grenades and maintained a steady rate of rifle fire. The final assault was made against about thirty men, barricaded behind their artillery pieces and dead animals, fighting elbow to elbow. López Varela, wounded, was taken to the Gobernación, and the rest of the officers were taken prisoner, while the soldiers fraternized with the people. Several cannons and various small arms were taken: and it was only ten-thirty in the morning.
The Docks barracks was besieged, with a barricade built a hundred meters from the main gate. The infantry from the Alcántara regiment was easily repulsed twice, although some soldiers managed to sneak into the barracks, without at all altering the desperate situation of the besieged, who, around eight in the evening, surrendered to several officers of the Assault Guards, who took charge of the prisoners. That night the barracks was taken over by the defense committees of Barceloneta and Pueblo Nuevo, without meeting any resistance.
AT THE PLAZA URQUINAONA: THE REBELS FAIL TO OCCUPY THE RADIO STATION
Next to the Parque de la Ciudadela there were two barracks: that of the Intendencia, loyal to the republic, so loyal in fact that it was entrusted with the mission of separating and keeping watch over two thirds of the civil guard units, which at the orders of Colonel Escobar had left Layetana to seize control of the Plaza de Cataluña, and the barracks of the Alcántara infantry regiment, whose officers were divided between those who sympathized with and those who were opposed to the military uprising, which maintained a curious neutrality and a typical “soldier’s caution” that caused the troops to set off quite late, after nine in the morning, at the order of General Fernández Burriel. One company was ordered to come to the relief of the besieged artillery barracks at the Docks; their mission was thwarted by the opposition of an armed crowd that made them return promptly to their barracks. The second company was ordered to occupy the broadcast studios of Radio Barcelona at Number 12 Caspe Street. Coming under fire in the Urquinaona Plaza, the soldiers made a desperate attempt to make their way down Lauria Street towards Caspe, but after an hour of heavy fighting the company was practically destroyed, and only a small group managed to take shelter in the Hotel Ritz, where they surrendered after being subjected to artillery fire.
AT DIPUTACIÓN STREET: TRUCKS ARE DRIVEN AGAINST THE ARTILLERY
The barracks of the Seventh Light Artillery regiment and the Parque de Artillería were two buildings located at the end of San Andrés del Palomar Street. The rebels organized a joint defense of the two buildings, relying on the collaboration of civilian elements, most of whom were monarchists who had reacted unfavorably to the speech made to them by Captain Reinlen, who concluded his speech with final cries of “Viva España” and “Viva la Republica”. Approximately thirty thousand rifles were stored at the Parque de Artillería. After the first departure of the four trucks, which as we have seen were destroyed at the intersection of Diagonal/Balmes, a second convoy was organized, whose orders were to support the infantry of the Badajoz regiment (which had taken refuge in various buildings on the Plaza de Cataluña, without being able to proceed any farther). This second convoy consisted of one battery (four cannons). It arrived at Bruc Street, near Diputación Street, at seven in the morning, after a long trip of six kilometers almost without incident. At the intersection of Bruc and Diputación they were ambushed by a group of Assault Guards and armed workers. The outbreak of gunfire raised the alarm among the nearby Assault Guard units that were guarding the Police Station at Vía Layetana, and was also heard by those who had been dispatched from Cinco de Oros to the Plaza de Cataluña, as well as by the popular forces that were besieging the Hotel Colón and the Telefónica. The battery advanced down Diputación Street towards Claris Street, but when it attempted to turn down this street and cross the Gran Vía, it was subjected to steady rifle and machine gun fire, which caused numerous casualties among the troops and the draft animals. Once they set up their cannons and machine guns in the square formed by Diputación, Claris, and Lauria Streets and the Gran Vía, they opened fire on the crowds that never ceased to regroup and counterattack. The seventy soldiers who manned the battery were confronted by much more numerous attackers, well concealed on rooftops, in windows and on balconies, whose resolve never flagged despite the artillery fire. The reinforcements that came to the aid of the popular forces were composed of two companies of Assault Guards, since a third company had refused to fight and returned to the comfort of its barracks on the Plaza de España, and by hundreds of workers who were constantly joining the battle. The situation of the rebel battery became increasingly more difficult. After two hours of fighting, however, a shocking number of fatalities had been caused by the rebel artillery. The cannons were defended by a screen of machine guns, which made them inaccessible to every charge. The Assault Guards became discouraged, and thought that they lacked the means necessary to confront the artillery. The original and very risky tactic utilized by a group of CNT militants to successfully carry out the final attack consisted in boarding the flatbeds of three trucks, and after driving them at full speed towards the screen of machine guns, leaping from the vehicles throwing hand grenades. This unexpected tactic led to the disruption of the defensive screen of the machine guns and their seizure by the workers, who fired them at the artillery battery. At eleven in the morning the battle was over. While the rebel officers surrendered to the Assault Guards, the anarchosyndicalists immediately seized the machine guns and one cannon, which they dragged by hand towards the Plaza de Cataluña.
THE CAPITANÍA IS SUBJECTED TO ARTILLERY FIRE AND STORMED BY THE PEOPLE: GODED IS TAKEN PRISONER
At the Capitanía building, on the Paseo de Colón, where the commanding officers of the Cataluña Division were located, the generals and staff officers gave the appearance of acting in an Opera Buffa. No one obeyed the orders of General Llano de la Encomienda, the supreme commander of the Division, who remained loyal to the Republic, but no one dared either to depose him and take command. The rebel General Fernández Burriel allowed Llano to continue to issue orders and take telephone calls in his office. The whole atmosphere was redolent of accusations of weakness, barracks boastfulness and invocations of honor. When General Goded, after declaring a state of war in Mallorca and easily dominating the island, came to Barcelona at about twelve-thirty in one of several seaplanes to take control of the uprising in Cataluña, he could not understand why Llano de Encomienda remained at large and why the General Staff had not yet centralized the command over the operations of the rebels. Goded’s journey from the Naval Air Station to Capitanía was surrounded by the sounds of intense exchanges of gunfire and the distant roar of artillery. After a series of curses and mutual threats of death exchanged with General Llano, Goded confronted the military situation of the moment. He made a futile phone call to General Aranguren of the Civil Guard, in an attempt to give him orders. Aranguren, who was at the Palacio de Gobernación, accompanied and discreetly kept under observation by España, Pérez Farrás and Guarner, refused to join the rebels. Goded ordered the infantry of the Alcántara regiment to make another attempt to relieve the artillery troops at the Docks. He could not understand why the latter had been left without infantry protection. Faced with the demoralization produced among the rebels by the constant bombardment and strafing by the republican airplanes, Goded ordered, through a go-between, the seaplanes which had escorted him to Barcelona to bomb the airport at El Prat. But when his messenger came to the Navy Air Station with his written orders, the seaplanes had already left for their base at Mahón, after confronting the manifest hostility of the naval personnel and the Air Station staff. It was two-thirty and the defeat of the rebels already appeared to be a forgone conclusion. Goded then tried to summon reinforcements from Mallorca, Zaragoza, Mataró and Girona. He could not get a telephone connection with Mataró or Girona, nor could he send a messenger, because the armored car’s tires had been punctured by bullets. Zaragoza and Palma were too far away to offer any effective support. Nor could the infantry of the Alcántara regiment secure its objectives, since it was easily repulsed in its second attempt to approach the barracks of the Docks, and the soldiers who managed to sneak into the barracks were not numerous enough to raise the siege.
A heterogeneous crowd, formed of militant workers brandishing rifles and wearing helmets and cartridge belts taken from the enemy, and Assault Guards with their dress coats unbuttoned, or in their shirts, dragged the cannons taken at Diputación-Claris, proceeding via Layetana Street with the intention of assaulting the Division. The longshoreman Manuel Lecha, a former artilleryman,9 installed the guns in the Plaza Antonio López in order to get a direct line of sight to fire on the Capitanía building, while the batteries taken on Icaria Avenue were firing on an indirect line from Barceloneta. It was five in the afternoon. Goded, seeing these arrangements, telephoned España, the Chancellor of the Gobernación, in order to boastfully demand his surrender, receiving in response the offer of a half hour to surrender, with the guarantee that his life would be spared, and once this half hour had expired the artillery would open fire. At five-thirty the artillery salvos began. Forty salvos and a barrage of rifle fire that was getting closer and closer allowed no doubts to be entertained about the imminence of the final assault. A white flag appeared and both sides observed a ceasefire, but when a loyal officer approached the building to accept its surrender, the machine guns of Capitanía opened fire. The battle resumed and when the doors of the building were about to be forced a white flag once again appeared, but now the attackers did not cease firing, and finally broke down the doors and entered in force into the Capitanía. It was now six in the evening. Major Pérez Farrás,10 risking his own life, managed to protect General Goded from certain lynching, which was the fate of various officers in civilian clothing, and brought him to the Palacio de la Generalitat, where he was convinced by Companys to broadcast over the radio transmitter that was installed there an order to cease fire: “Fate has been unkind to me and I have been taken prisoner. Therefore, if you want to avoid a bloodbath, the soldiers who will join me may do so free of any responsibility.” It was seven in the evening. The message was recorded and broadcast by the radio transmitters every half hour, with a significant propaganda impact all over Spain.
THE FRUIT IS RIPE FOR THE PICKING
The popular victory was so overwhelming that some buildings fell by themselves, without any violence at all, as ripe fruit falls from the tree. The warden of the Modelo Prison opened the doors of the prisoners’ cells, anticipating the inevitable riot and assault on the prison. At Number 26 Mercaders Street the Construction Workers Trade Union as well as the Regional Committee of the CNT and the Local Trade Union Federation had their headquarters. Right behind these buildings was the Barcelona Employers Federation headquarters, a building that is now Number 34 Vía Layetana. In the adjacent building, currently Number 32, was the Casa Cambó. Both buildings were occupied by the cenetistas, without any resistance, since they had been completely abandoned, with the furniture and the archives left behind. Both buildings together were known as the “Casa CNT-FAI” and served right up until the end of the war as the headquarters of the CNT and FAI Regional Committees, the Mujeres Libres, and, among many other groups, the Committee of Investigation and Information of the CNT-FAI, directed by Manuel Escorza, who, from the attic of the Casa Cambó, made extensive use, over the following months, of the information contained in the archives captured from the Employers Association and the Lliga.
SAN ANDRÉS: THE BARCELONA PROLETARIAT SEIZES THIRTY THOUSAND RIFLES
The small force that guarded the barracks and artillery depot of San Andrés, most of which was composed of right wing and monarchist peasants, saw how the crowds that were attacking the barracks kept growing larger. During the afternoon the republican air force strafed and bombed the barracks and the Maestranza, taking care not to blow up the arsenal, causing some casualties, both among the soldiers as well as among their attackers. The planes repeated their attacks three or four more times, killing and wounding several more soldiers, causing an enormous demoralization to spread among the defenders, which was further magnified by news of the disaster that had overtaken the military rebellion in Barcelona. By nightfall the defenders, both military as well as civilian, were gradually abandoning the barracks, and attempting to escape. Without any resistance the confederal defense committees of San Andrés, Horta, Santa Coloma, San Adrián and Pueblo Nuevo stormed the barracks and the Maestranza, before dawn, seizing the entire arsenal stored there. There were thirty thousand rifles. The Barcelona proletariat was now armed. The Assault Guards, sent by Escofet to prevent this from happening, refused to engage in an armed conflict with the workers.
The barricades built in front of the barracks to prevent the escape of the besieged rebels, now prevented the entrance of the Assault Guards. It was now too late to impose bourgeois order: the situation was distinctly revolutionary. If these Assault Guards had opened fire on the people they would have been immediately transformed into suicidal rebels.
In reality, as of six in the evening, with the final capture of the Plaza de Cataluña and the surrender of Goded at the Capitanía, the uprising could be considered to have been defeated. All that remained was a cleanup operation to finish off the last holdouts. The various barracks, now with hardly any troops, were totally demoralized, and further discouraged by constant desertions, they surrendered or were stormed over the course of the evening and night. Such was the case, for example, at the barracks of Bruc, in Pedralbes, held by a small squad of rebels. In the evening a plane dropped leaflets, explaining that the soldiers were discharged and the rebel officers deposed, which provoked the desertion of almost all the soldiers. The few remaining officers decided to surrender the barracks to the Civil Guard, although it was only shortly thereafter stormed by the cenetista workers without meeting any resistance. They renamed it the “Bakunin” barracks.
JULY 20: THE FINAL ASSAULT ON THE CARMELITES AND THE ATARAZANAS BARRACKS
On the 20th only two rebel strongholds remained: the monastery of the Carmelites and the core positions of Atarazanas and the Military Offices.
Since dawn an enormous crowd had joined the siege of the monastery of the Carmelites, impatiently breaking through the cordon of Assault Guards. The besieged had already announced their surrender on the previous night, without, however, ceasing to shoot at any of the besiegers who tried to approach the monastery. The active complicity of the monks with the rebels, to whom they had given refuge, medical aid and food, was interpreted by the masses surrounding the monastery in such a way that they imagined that the monks had also manned the machine guns, which had caused so many casualties. Towards noon Colonel Escobar arrived on the scene, in the command of a company of the Civil Guard, who negotiated with the rebels for their immediate surrender. The gates were opened and from the outside one could see the officers, mixing fraternally with the hated monks. An enraged mob, breaking through the cordon of Assault Guards and Civil Guards, invaded the monastery, killing the monks and officers with clubs and knives or shooting them point-blank, and did not even spare the corpses of their enemies. The body of Colonel Lacasa was decapitated, that of Captain Domingo was decapitated, mutilated and impaled on a pole and the body of Major Rebolledo was castrated.11 Anonymous militiamen dispersed an impromptu march that celebrated the victory by displaying the impaled head of the Colonel. The cut-up remains of Captain Domingo were brought in a taxi to the zoo to be fed to the beasts.12
At the end of the Ramblas, in front of the Columbus monument, on the left was the building containing the Military Offices, and on the right, just in front, the Atarazanas barracks, divided into two zones, separated by broad plazas divided by walls and barred doors: the Maestranza (a building that once faced on the Rambla de Santa Mónica, which no longer exists), whose defenders were still holding out, and the old medieval shipyards, which had already been conquered. The Palacio de Dependencias (the current Gobierno Militar, where Salvador Puig Antich was tried in 1973), housed all the auxiliary services of the Division: Judge Advocates, auditors, accountants, prosecutors, mobilization center, etc. The crossfire between the buildings of the Dependencias, the Columbus monument and Atarazanas, made them impregnable. Guns commanded a wide expanse from the balcony of Atarazanas, which opened up on the Rambla, and caused many fatalities among the attackers. The siege had begun on the 19th. At dawn on the 20th, when the uprising had been defeated in the entire city, all available forces were deployed on the Rambla de Santa Mónica in expectation of the final assault. A 7.5 cm gun, under the command of Sergeant Gordo, maintained a steady barrage on the old masonry of Atarazanas, at the same time that the truck that had left from Pueblo Nuevo, with a machine gun installed on the back of the vehicle, protected with mattresses, approached from the other side of Atarazanas, maintaining a steady fire from the machine gun. The situation became untenable for the besieged: some one hundred fifty men, one hundred ten in the Dependencias and about forty in Atarazanas. Two more cannons and two mortars installed on the pier joined the siege. Airplanes continuously bombed and strafed the rebel positions. From nearby terraces men threw hand grenades. After they ran out of ammunition the soldiers in the Dependencias Militares decided to surrender, and, after negotiating with the Gobernación concerning guarantees of safety for the departure of the officers’ relatives who were in the building, flew the white flag shortly after noon, allowing the entrance of the Assault Guards. The anarchists who besieged the last redoubt of the rebels, in Atarazanas, rejected the intervention of the Civil Guard and the militants of the POUM in the final assault. The CNT Defense Committee, including all the members of the “Nosotros” group, was present at Atarazanas, and decided to storm it. The anarchist attackers approached the barracks, some taking cover by running from tree to tree, others taking cover “behind the rolling newspaper spools”.13 In an imprudent advance Francisco Ascaso was killed by a shot in the head. Shortly afterwards the soldiers in Atarazanas surrendered, flying the white flag, at the sight of which the libertarians climbed over the walls and entered amidst a storm of gunfire directed at the officers, while they fraternized with the common soldiers. It was a little before one in the afternoon.
THE MILITARY BALANCE SHEET: FROM THE FASCIST UPRISING TO THE WORKERS INSURRECTION
The main barracks were on the outskirts of the city and their predictable strategy,14 confirmed by the documents of the conspirators in the uprising, which had fallen into the hands of Major Felip Díaz Sandino, consisted in converging in the center of the city to occupy the government buildings, especially the Palacio de la Generalitat and that of the Gobernación, the communications centers such as the Telephone, Post Office and Telegraph facilities, and the radio transmitters and to make contact with the Division headquarters (the Capitanía building).
The forces loyal to the Government of the Generalitat had a bicephalous leadership, divided between the Police Station on Vía Layetana,15 under the direction of Captain Escofet and Major Alberto Arrando, who exercised provisional command over the Assault Guards, and where Companys had taken refuge; while in the Palacio de Gobernación the chancellor José María España directed operations, who had ordered the mobilization of two-thirds of the Civil Guard forces behind the Palace since eleven in the morning of the 19th.
The plan of the confederal Defense Committee, drafted by García Oliver, consisted in keeping activities in the vicinity of the barracks under observation, and allowing the rebel troops to leave the barracks without engaging them in battle, because it would be easier to defeat them in the streets. The close personal relations between the leaders of the CNT and various republican officials, especially from Atarazanas and the El Prat airfield, proved to be of decisive importance on July 19th,16 with the seizure of the important arsenal at the Atarazanas barracks and the weapons stored at the Gobernación, together with the continuous air bombardments of the barracks held by the rebels. The collaboration of the CNT with the air force had already materialized several days before the rebel uprising, in the form of intrepid reconnaissance flights over Barcelona carried out by various members of the “Nosotros” group in planes piloted by the officers Ponce de León and Meana, with the knowledge of Díaz Sandino, commander of the air force at Prat.17
The arrogance and ineptitude of the rebel officers, who were convinced that “the mob” would run away in fear once they heard the first salvo of cannon fire, or once they saw the soldiers marching down the street in martial order, led to the ambushes that they suffered at Cinco de Oros, Balmes-Diagonal and at Icaria Avenue, where they were taken by surprise and massacred while advancing slowly down the middle of the street, with mules dragging their artillery pieces, without any scouts sent out ahead, or any protection from infantry. The rebels were sure that the uprising would be a military cakewalk, as was the case on October 6, 1934. But on July 19 the rebels did not have to confront four overweening Catalanists, led by an incompetent governor like the fascist Dencás, or an anti-CNT police chief like Badía, who was also hostile to Companys because of a dispute over women,18 but the industrial proletariat of Barcelona, organized in defense committees in each working class neighborhood and in the groups of militants of the various trade unions of the CNT. That is, by those non-professional proletarian combatants who, over the course of the struggle itself, would be called and would call themselves, after the evening of July 19, and as they took up arms: the workers militias, the militiamen.
With the exception of Cinco de Oros, the initiative in the confrontations with the rebels was always seized by the proletariat: on the Paralelo, in Pueblo Nuevo, in Barceloneta, in San Andrés. The Assault Guards (1,960 men in all)19 were incited to fight and resist by the courage and fearlessness of the workers, whom they overwhelmingly supported. On numerous occasions the Assault Guards hesitated, as they did at Diputación Street in their confrontation with the artillery unit, or even collaborated with the rebels, as they did at the Plaza de España, or were decimated and annihilated by the rebels, as happened to a company at the port of Baleares. The commanders of the Civil Guard, General Aranguren and Colonel Brotons, were “semi-prisoners” in the Palacio de Gobernación, closely guarded by José María España, Vicente Guarner (Escofet’s second-in-command) and Enrique Pérez Farrás. The Civil Guards were a non-factor during the events, up until the moment when Colonel Escobar received the order from General Aranguren to seize the University and the Hotel Colón. Escofet, the police commissioner, had ordered Aranguren by telephone, in the name of President Companys, to bring the Civil Guards into the conflict, in an attempt to dampen the proletarian combativeness and to break the dubious neutrality and wait-and-see attitude of the Civil Guard. But the mistrust, both on the part of the workers as well as the Government of the Generalitat, towards the Civil Guards was never dispelled. The troops of the Civil Guards had already received orders to concentrate in just two barracks on the night of July 18, those of Ausias March and Consejo de Ciento, in order to keep them under observation and to prevent any of them from going over to the side of the rebels, as took place with the detachment sent to the monastery of the Carmelites under the command of Major Recas. Both barracks were constantly under surveillance by groups of CNT militants and squads of the Assault Guards. And during their slow advance up Layetana, when they tried to get from the Palacio de Gobernación to the Plaza de Cataluña, the remaining two-thirds were separated by loyal soldiers from the Intendencia, and watched very closely by groups of armed workers. The intervention of the Civil Guard was therefore not decisive in Barcelona, and in any case its initial neutrality was more important, as was the prevention of any attempts on the part of its members to join the ranks of the rebel troops. The polemic concerning whether the military uprising was defeated by the units of the Assault Guards and the Civil Guards, “controlled” by the Government of the Generalitat, or by the CNT, is clearly an a posteriori political distortion, and is historically false, because both Guard forces were undermined by the enemy. The contagious and unstoppable popular and revolutionary climate, which prevailed in Barcelona on July 19, compelled the forces of public order to do their duty, and they ended up later fraternally participating in the common struggle against fascism.
It was the Barcelona proletariat, understood as the population of recent immigrants in the marginal and marginalized neighborhoods of “cheap housing” and the shantytowns of La Torrassa, Collblanc, Can Tunis, Santa Coloma, Somorrostro, and San Andrés, and the industrial workers (especially the textile workers, but also those employed in the metal industry, the port, the gas and electric utilities, construction, transport, chemicals and wood, etc.), paid badly and treated worse, subject to humiliating factory rules, draconian working conditions, generalized piecework and wages that did not cover the most basic necessities; with extremely harsh living conditions, insecure and miserable, in the neighborhoods of Sants, Pueblo Nuevo, Pueblo Seco, Clot, San Andrés and Barceloneta, or the numerous unemployed workers20 of the various working class neighborhoods of Barcelona, Hospitalet and Badalona, who took the initiative, organized in each neighborhood into CNT defense committees.21 The decisive impact that the victory of the insurrection in Barcelona would have had on all of Cataluña had also attracted to the city, already on the night of July 18, a group of miners from Alto Llobregat and numerous militants from Tarrasa.
The CNT in Barcelona during the 1930s created a world of deeply rooted and necessary social, family, neighborhood and immigrant relations, which took the form of a strong sense of neighborhood association, of an all-embracing kind, from trade union and culture to mutual aid, self-defense and solidarity against the abuses of the employers and the police. In a city with an extraordinarily high percentage of recent immigrants22 since 1914, a word-of-mouth effect prevailed, in which the most experienced emigrant conveyed information about jobs and housing to his family or friends from the “village”, which led to a largely-unstudied phenomenon whereby people from the same rural towns came to live in the same urban neighborhoods, or even on certain streets.23 The enormous strength of the CNT in the working class neighborhoods had been able to take root and flourish precisely by means of that patient and modest work of organizing, trade unionism, educating, “proletarianizing” and defending that massive population of migrant labor power that came from the rural world. Barcelona was an industrial city with huge social inequalities and profound class distinctions, with marked differences that were manifested both with regard to clothing and food, as well as in the well defined geographical class boundaries between the elegant bourgeois neighborhoods (around the Paseo de Gracia and the Derecha del Ensanche), with luxurious buildings where modernism flourished; and the working class neighborhoods, without infrastructure or public services, unhealthy, lacking urban amenities, subjected to the service of industry, in which the workers housing was nothing more than warehouses, next to the factories, for cheap and abundant labor power, which the rising unemployment of the 1930s plunged into misery and marginalization, concentrating the population of the old town at Bengali levels of density, and everywhere erasing the differences between proletarians and lumpen, who shared an identical situation of struggle for mere survival. Furthermore, the city’s recent social history, with confrontations like the general strike at La Canadiense (1919), and the outright class war of the years of pistolerismo (1917-1923) which concluded with the victory of the employers during the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, showed that Barcelona society was not based on an authoritarian model of submission of the proletariat to the dictatorship of the local bourgeoisie, which did not hesitate to resort to state terrorism, or brutal repression by means of the army, to preserve its authority.
From the very first moment that the rebel troops began to leave their barracks, at around four-fifteen in the morning, until the afternoon of July 19, it was these defense committees (in which the anarchist affinity groups and the libertarian cultural centers had been integrated) and the cenetista militants, concentrated in the offices of the various trade unions of the CNT, especially the woodworkers, on Rosal Street, the Transport and Metal Workers, on the Rambla de Santa Mónica, and the Construction Workers, at Number 26 Mercaders Street, near the Casa Cambó, which led the armed struggle. At about nine in the morning an unstoppable revolutionary contagion began to spread, massive and mimetic, curious and bold, which by the afternoon had become a mass phenomenon, which filled the streets with an immense crowd that wanted to participate at any price in the battle of Barcelona against fascism, anxious not to miss the opportunity of intervening so that the people’s victory would be assured. The radio never ceased to encourage the struggle with its stirring reports. Requisitioned cars, on which the initials CNT-FAI or UHP had been emblazoned, full of armed militiamen, assured effective communication between barricades, the sites where battles were taking place and the trade union locals, driving at high speed down the side streets, which were totally controlled by the workers. The workers at the Telephone company, who had already cut off the communications of the Capitanía with the rebel barracks, installed telephones at some of the strategic barricades.
At the Brecha de San Pablo, at the intersection of the Paralelo with San Pablo Street, the Ronda de San Pablo and Rosal Street, next to El Molino, the armed proletariat, without help from anyone, defeated the army. But this victory would not have been possible without that immense crowd of people who harassed the rebels at every corner, from every balcony, from every doorway, from the terraces and rooftops, who watched the movements of the troops, built barricades, offered food and drink, or medical aid, information and shelter to the combatant workers, and who anxiously waited for someone to fall wounded in order to pick up their much-sought after rifle or pistol, in order to carry on with the battle.
Around nine in the morning a squadron coming from the Plaza de la Universidad proceeded down the Ronda de San Antonio24 towards the Brecha de San Pablo. But already at the Ronda de San Pablo, in front of the Mercado de San Antonio, the rebels were attacked from all sides by a bold crowd, and they had to take refuge in the monastery of Los Escolapios de San Antonio, where, after an hour-long siege, their ammunition exhausted, they had no other choice but to surrender.
At eleven in the morning, the troops who had occupied the Plaza de España attempted to go to the aid of the rebels who were fighting in the Brecha de San Pablo, because after five hours of combat they needed ammunition and provisions, but not only could they not advance beyond Avenida Cine, but they were attacked by the crowds and had to retreat. After several hours of resistance they were forced to abandon a square that they could no longer control, fleeing in haste to the barracks they had left, and leaving behind their two artillery pieces that they had set up in the middle of the square, because the increasing and fearless attacks of the defense committees of Sants, Hostafrancs, La Torrassa, La Bordeta and Collblanc had taken the fairgrounds area and all the streets that led to the Plaza de España, transforming it into a massive trap without any possible defense, once the masses of the workers had secured Tarragona Street, the only street that remained open by which the soldiers could return to their barracks. At three in the afternoon the Plaza de España was in the hands of the people; it was an eerie plaza, strewn with corpses and dismembered animals.
Thanks to the fact that the rebel troops who were fighting in the Brecha remained totally isolated, without being able to obtain any help at all, between eleven and noon the final assault on the machine guns installed in the center of the Paralelo Avenue took place, which we described above. Between noon and two in the afternoon a small group waited for the last soldiers, who had taken refuge inside El Molino, to finally use up what remained of their ammunition. Meanwhile, the immense crowds that had seized the entire Paralelo, from the Plaza de España to Atarazanas, and from the Brecha to Los Escolapios, set off, victorious, enthusiastic, and with better weapons, towards those places where fighting was still taking place, anxious not to miss out on the glory of participating in the final victory over fascism, or towards the barracks of San Andrés, where it would soon be possible to obtain a much-desired rifle.
These same masses, armed or not, but filled with the revolutionary fever, we find in the Plaza de Cataluña, harassing the rebel troops until they caused them to break formation, and finally forcing them to take refuge in the Hotel Colón, without being able to successfully fulfill their mission to seize the nearby broadcasting station of Radio Barcelona, at Number 12 Caspe, or Radio Asociación, at Number 8 Rambla de los Estudios. This was the same crowd, curious, exalted and bold to the point of recklessness, that, at the intersection of Diputación and Lauria, stopped and paralyzed the artillery forces that had been dispatched to aid the rebels who were isolated and besieged in the Plaza de Cataluña, despite the fact that they were close enough to hear the rattle of the machine gun at the Hotel Colón. This was the same crowd that broke and dispersed the rebels in the Plaza de Urquinaona. This crowd, which did not observe any ideological tendencies, or parties, fraternized in the street fighting with Assault Guards and Civil Guards, causing them to relax their discipline. They were the same crowds that assaulted the barracks of San Andrés, seizing thirty thousand rifles, and which by their mere presence, exultant and festive, paralyzed the Assault Guards who were sent to prevent them from doing so. And it was this enraged and impatient crowd that on the 20th mercilessly executed monks and officers who had continued to resist, provoking a useless spilling of the people’s blood, and who displayed some of the corpses as lessons.
ARMED VICTORY AND POLITICAL CAPITULATION
Counting the casualties on both sides the total was about four hundred fifty dead (mostly cenetistas) and thousands of wounded. In thirty-two hours the people of Barcelona had defeated the army. Almost all the churches and monasteries, some already on the morning of the 19th, were burned under controlled conditions or had coffins burned at their doors, with the notable exceptions of the Cathedral and the Church of the Holy Family, seized by the “mossos d’esquadra” and the libertarians, respectively. The Barcelona proletariat was armed with the thirty thousand rifles of San Andrés. Escofet resigned from his position as Police Chief at the end of July, because he could no longer guarantee public order. The Assault Guards and Civil Guards were, from a military point of view, undoubtedly more efficient and disciplined than the defense committees and the various groups of armed workers; but without the participation of the crowds in the street battles, these companies of Civil Guards or Assault Guards, politically conservative or fascist, would have passed with their weapons and supplies over to the side of the rebel troops: they were neither the winners nor the losers in this battle. The military and fascist uprising, which had counted on the complicity of the Church, failed almost everywhere in Spain, creating, as a reaction, a revolutionary situation. The defeat of the army by the proletariat in the “red zone” had completely destroyed the state monopoly on violence, leading to the blossoming of a myriad of local powers, directly associated with the local exercise of violence. Violence and power were intimately related. On the other hand, in Barcelona, the so-called “forces of public order”, those Assault Guards and the Civil Guards, which had been so undecided about which side to take, and which ended up fraternizing with the armed people, had been assigned to their barracks by the Government of the Generalitat, awaiting the opportune moment to deploy them in support of the counterrevolution. This generalized revolutionary situation was what caused the emergence, without the directives of any organization, or any directive centers of any kind, in every place in Spain where the fascist uprising had been defeated: committees; the arming of the proletariat; barricades and control patrols; popular militias; confiscated cars and trucks with the confederal initials painted on their sides, filled with men waving rifles over their heads, racing loudly up and down the streets; the disappearance of hats and ties; the burning of the churches; passes issued by the defense committees; looting of the houses of the bourgeoisie; revolutionary committees on a regional or local scale in Málaga, Barcelona, Aragón, Valencia, Gijón, Madrid, Santander, Sama de Langreo, Lérida, Castellón, Cartagena, Alicante, Almería, among the most well-known; persecution, imprisonment or murder “in situ” of fascists, rebel officers, employers and priests; confiscation of factories, barracks and buildings of all kinds; workers control committees and a long etcetera in which the exercise of violence WAS ITSELF the manifestation of the new workers power. In the weeks following July 19 in Barcelona a revolutionary situation arose, new and unprecedented, festive and savage, in which the execution of the fascist, of the boss or the priest, WAS the revolution. Violence and power were identical. Rather than dual power, there was an atomization of power. The revolutionary torrent dragged everything along with its furious, redemptive and inexorable ecstasy. Although the state institutions remained, the CNT-FAI decided it was necessary to FIRST crush fascism where it had triumphed, and accepted the creation alongside the Generalitat, whose existence was not questioned, of a Central Committee of Antifascist Militias of Cataluña (CCMA),25 which was to be an extended version of the collaboration of the military liaison committee in which the Generalitat, the loyal military officers, the confederal Defense Committee and the other republican and working class parties and organizations participated during the street fighting.
Also on the 20th, Companys, as president of the Generalitat, which still existed, summoned the leaders of the various organizations to the Palace, including the anarchists. A debate was held at a plenum of militants, meeting at the Casa CNT-FAI, to determine whether they should respond to the invitation of the president of the Generalitat, and after a brief analysis of the situation in the streets, it was decided to send the Liaison Committee to the Generalitat to meet with Companys. The members of the delegation attended the meeting26 armed, tired and filthy from battle: Buenaventura Durruti, Juan García Oliver,27 “Abad de Santillán”, José Asens and Aurelio Fernández.28 Meeting with the delegates of the various political and trade union organizations on the patio of the oranges, including Andreu Nin, Joan Comorera, Josep Coll, and Josep Rovira, they discussed their experiences in the events, excitedly passing from one group to another, until Companys appeared, accompanied by Pérez Farrás. The various groups combined into one, all next to one another and in a line, in respectful silence. Companys looked at all of them, one by one, satisfied, serene and smiling. Fixing his gaze on the CNT delegation he greeted them with these words: “You have won. Today you are the masters of the city and of Cataluña, because only you have defeated the fascist officers, and I hope that you will not be angry with me for reminding you that you did not lack the help of the Assault Guards and the ‘mossos d’esquadra’.” He continued, in a meditative tone: “But the truth is that although you were harshly persecuted right up until yesterday, today you have defeated the military and the fascists.” After greeting all of those present, standing, formed in a circle around him, as the masters of the street, he asked, “And now what shall we do?” Looking at the cenetistas, he told them: “Something must be done to deal with this new situation!” He continued, warning them that, although we had conquered in Barcelona, the struggle was not over, “we do not know when and how it will turn out in the rest of Spain”, then he called attention to his position and the role that he could play in his office: “for my part, I represent the Generalitat, a real but diffuse state of opinion and international recognition. They are mistaken who consider all of this as something useless”, and concluded by claiming that if it was necessary to form a new government of the Generalitat, “I am at your disposal if you want to speak to me”. García Oliver responded: “You can remain as President. We are not at all interested in the presidency or the government”, as if he had understood that Companys was resigning his position. After this first meeting,29 informal and stressful, of the various delegates, standing all around Companys, the latter invited them to enter one of the Palace’s parlors, where they were comfortably seated, to coordinate the unity and the collaboration of all the antifascist forces, by way of the formation of a committee of militias, that would control disorder in the streets and organize the militia columns that had to be sent to Zaragoza.
The Enlarged Regional Committee of the CNT, informed by the CNT delegation of the interview at the Palace, agreed after brief deliberation to tell Companys by telephone that the CNT accepted on principle the constitution of a Central Committee of Antifascist Militias (CCMA), pending the definitive resolution that would be adopted at the Plenum of Local and District Committees, which was to convene on the 21st. That same night Companys ordered that the official bulletin of the Generalitat should print a decree mandating the creation of these civilian militias.
On Tuesday, July 21,30 at the Casa CNT-FAI, the proposal of Companys that the CNT should participate in a CCMA was submitted for the formal approval of a Regional Plenum of Local and District Trade Unions, convoked by the Committee of the Regional Confederation of Labor of Cataluña. After the introductory report by Marianet, José Xena, representing the District of Baix Llobregat, proposed the withdrawal of the CNT delegates from the CCMA and that the organization should proceed with the revolution to establish libertarian communism. Juan García Oliver then spoke and characterized the debate and the decision that had to be made as a choice between an “absurd” anarchist dictatorship or collaboration31 with the other antifascist forces in the Central Committee of Militias to continue the struggle against fascism. In this manner García Oliver, deliberately or not,32 rendered the confused and ambiguous option of “going for broke” unviable to the Plenum. As opposed to the prospect of an intransigent “anarchist dictatorship”, the defense offered by Federica Montseny33 of the acratic principles against all dictatorship seemed more logical, balanced and reasonable, supported by the arguments of Abad de Santillán concerning the danger of isolation and foreign intervention. Yet another position arose, defended by Manuel Escorza, who proposed the use of the government of the Generalitat as an instrument for socialization and collectivization, while waiting to dispose of it when it ceased to be useful to the CNT.34 The plenum proved to be favorable to the idea of the CNT collaborating with the other antifascist forces in the Central Committee of Militias, with the one negative vote of the District Committee of Baix Llobregat. Most of those who attended the Plenum, including Durruti and Ortiz, remained silent, because they thought, as did so many others, that the revolution must be postponed until the capture of Zaragoza and the defeat of fascism. So, without further debate or philosophical considerations, it was decided to consolidate and institutionalize the Liaison Committee between the CNT and the Generalitat that existed prior to July 19, which was now transformed, expanded and further elaborated in the CCMA that, by embodying the antifascist unity of all the parties and trade unions, was to be responsible for imposing order on the rearguard and organizing and supplying the militias that had to go Aragón to fight the fascists.
At the first meeting of the Central Committee of Militias, held on the night of the 21st, the CNT representatives35 clearly displayed for the republicans and Catalanists their power and independent character, having published a public proclamation that gave the Central Committee many more responsibilities and duties, both with regard to military matters and public safety, than were initially conceded by the Decree of the Generalitat. It was not an idle boast that caused Aurelio Fernández, in response to a question that had arisen at this first session of the CCMA about who defeated the army, to answer that it was “the same people as always: the dregs of society”, that is, the unemployed, the recent immigrants and the marginal and impoverished population living in the “cheap housing” of La Torrassa, Can Tunis, Somorrostro, Santa Coloma and San Andrés, and the abused industrial proletariat that, in extremely harsh living conditions, devastated by massive unemployment, worked long hours, went to work hungry, or worked temporary jobs for piecework rates, piled up in the working class neighborhoods of Pueblo Nuevo, Sants, Barceloneta, Chino, Hostafrancs or Pueblo Seco, who rented or subleased small shacks, houses or apartments that they had to share with others because of the unaffordable rents.
Meanwhile, Companys had authorized Martín Barrera, the Minister of Labor, to make a radio announcement of the regulations concerning the reduction of the working day, wage increases, rent reductions and new labor laws which had to first be agreed to by the representatives of the employers associations, such as the Employers Federation, the Chambers of Industry and of Real Estate, etc., to whom he explained the necessity of channeling the revolutionary impulse of the masses, as the director of the potash mines of Suria had in fact already done, who preferred to suffer financial losses instead of going back to the mine and being taken hostage by the miners. During the course of the meeting various representatives of the employers received phone calls warning them not to return to their homes, because patrols of armed men were looking for them. The meeting ended when it became clear that the businessmen who were present no longer represented anyone. The radio announcement was broadcast anyway, several days later, in an attempt to provide a safe framework for popular enthusiasm and demands.
On Thursday, July 23, at the Casa CNT-FAI, the question of the entry of the anarchosyndicalists into the CCMA and the significant opposition to this policy on the part of the militants, was submitted to debate at a Joint Plenum of the CNT and FAI,36 that is, a Plenum of leading militants.37 During the evening of that same day, the members of the “Nosotros” group met at the house of Gregorio Jover to analyze the situation,38 and to bid farewell39 to Buenaventura Durruti prior to his departure on the following day with a Column of militiamen, who left the next morning from Cinco de Oros, and to Antonio Ortiz, who embarked with another Column on a train on the evening of the 24th.40
At nine-thirty on the morning of the 24th, Durruti, in the name of the CCMA, delivered a radio address in which he warned the cenetistas of the imperious necessity of remaining vigilant against any counterrevolutionary attempts and not to abandon what they had conquered in Barcelona.41 Durruti seemed to be aware of the danger of leaving the rearguard unsecured, with a class enemy that had not yet been eliminated. Everything had to be postponed until after the capture of Zaragoza.
On Sunday, July 26, at the Casa CNT-FAI, the question of the CNT’s collaboration in the Central Committee of Antifascist Militias, in which the representatives of the CNT were already participating,42 was once again submitted for the formal approval of a Regional Plenum of Local and District Federations of Trade Unions, convoked by the Committee of the Regional Confederation of Labor of Cataluña. The result was that the decisions made by the Expanded Regional Committee to collaborate with the Government of the Generalitat and the other parties, which already constituted an irreversible reality, were ratified again by another Regional Plenum of Trade Unions. It was a policy of fait accompli, in which the Plenum of the 26th performed the role of a simple rubber stamp for decisions that had already been made. Although we have no record of the debates that took place, the final accord left no room for doubts concerning the serious opposition that arose against the acceptance of the collaborationist position of the superior committees of the CNT-FAI—all we know is that there was fierce opposition. The resolution on the analysis of the current revolutionary situation concluded with a statement that support for the position was “absolutely unanimous”. Curiously, the position that was approved at this Plenum was defined as the “same position”, that is, the one that the CNT delegation had already provisionally accepted when it met with Companys, the same one that was approved by the Regional Plenum of the 21st, and the same one that was approved at the Joint CNT-FAI Plenum on the 23rd. What position?: “the fascist rebels are the only enemies of the people”, and therefore neither the bourgeois government of the Generalitat nor the republicans were enemies that had to be attacked, but allies. The renunciation of revolution was already absolute: “No one should go any further. No one must break ranks.” An appeal was made regarding the moral obligation to accept the decisions of the majority43 and a profession of faith in the antifascist cause was pronounced: “Every day, against fascism, only against the fascism that rules half of Spain.” The final communiqué of the Regional Plenum concluded with an unequivocal and indisputable order to accept and obey the CCMA: “there is a COMMITTEE OF ANTIFASCIST MILITIAS AND A SUBORDINATE BODY CALLED THE SUPPLY COMMISSION. It is everyone’s duty to comply with their directives, and regularly follow the procedures of all their orders.”
On July 28 the Local Federation of Trade Unions of Barcelona proclaimed the end of the general strike.
COMMITTEES EVERYWHERE; COORDINATION NOWHERE
Violence and power go hand in hand. Once the state’s monopoly on violence was destroyed, because the army was defeated in the streets and the proletariat had taken up arms, a revolutionary situation opened up that imposed its violence, its power and its order. The power of an armed working class.
The revolutionary committees—defense, factory, neighborhood or town, workers control committees, supply committees, etc.—formed the embryo of the organs of power of the working class. They initiated a methodical expropriation of the property of the bourgeoisie, implemented industrial and agricultural collectivization, organized the popular militias that stabilized the military fronts during the first few days, organized control patrols and rearguard militias that imposed the “new revolutionary order” by means of the violent repression of the Church, the employers, fascists and former pistoleros and yellow trade unionists, since counterrevolutionary snipers operated continuously for a whole week in the city. But these committees were incapable of coordinating their efforts and creating a centralized working class power. The initiatives and activities of the revolutionary committees frequently overlapped with and were duplicated by those carried out by the leaders of the various traditional organizations of the workers movement, including the CNT and the FAI, or a POUM that was still making demands for higher wages and minor reforms which had already been surpassed by the events.
A revolutionary situation existed on the streets and in the factories, and there were some potential organs of power of the proletariat: the committees, which no organization was capable or desirous of coordinating, strengthening and transforming into authentic organs of power. The spontaneity of the masses had its limitations; their political and trade union organizations were even more limited. Neither possessed a prepared, precise and realistic program that could be applied in that revolutionary situation. Indeed, the anarchist leaders not only did not know what to do with power, they did not even know what it was. Against the fascist threat, which had triumphed in half of Spain, they imposed the slogan of antifascist unity, of the sacred union with the democratic and republican bourgeoisie. Rather than a situation of dual power shared between the Generalitat and the Central Committee, there was a duplication of powers. Furthermore, the superior committees of the CNT, in mid-August, had already decided to disband the CCMA as soon as the conditions permitted and the spontaneity in the streets subsided sufficiently. In the meantime, however, ever since July 19, the committees that had spontaneously emerged everywhere pragmatically imposed the new political, social and economic reality that had arisen from the victory of the workers insurrection over the army, and in Cataluña these committees, in factories and residential areas, exercised all power.
SEVENTY YEARS LATER: CONCLUSIONS AND REFLECTIONS
The state is the organization of the monopoly of violence at the service of the ruling social class. The capitalist state is one of the most important instruments of the rule of the bourgeois class over the proletariat, that is, the apparatus of repression that assures the capitalist social relations of production. The first task of a proletarian revolution is the total destruction of this capitalist state, and the consolidation of a workers power. Without the intention and practical action (on the part of a revolutionary organization) to destroy the capitalist state one cannot speak of a proletarian revolution. Perhaps one could speak of a revolutionary movement, a revolutionary situation, or a “popular revolution”, or of antifascist unity, a war against fascism, or a fantasy “dictatorship of the proletariat without the destruction of the capitalist state”, the discovery of the “brilliant” analyses of the POUM, etc., but not of a proletarian revolution. Ideological ambiguity was congenital to the libertarian movement. And this ambiguity was made into a virtue by the antifascist CNT bureaucrats and by the clever bourgeois politicians, who knew how to channel the muddy waters of anarchist incoherence into their mills. No attempt was ever made at any time to destroy the bourgeois state apparatus.
In Barcelona, the CCMA was the product of the working class and anarchist victory of July 19, but it was also the product of the refusal of the anarchosyndicalists to destroy the state. The CCMA, the outcome of a deal between Companys and the libertarians, but also accepted by the “Marxists” (the POUM and the Stalinists), was an organization of class collaboration, by means of which the Government of the Generalitat regained control over those functions it had lost because the anarchists had conquered them in the streets: basically the police, public order and the military. The CCMA was never, and never claimed to be, an organ of workers power, and therefore there was never a situation of dual power that pitted the CCMA against the Government of the Generalitat. It is true that, among the anarchists, there were diverse conceptions concerning the revolutionary situation that had arisen in Cataluña after the events of July 19-20, 1936: the first conception, and the one that was by far the dominant one, was the one propounded by Abad de Santillán and Federica Montseny, which called for absolute and sincere collaboration with the other political forces (including the bourgeois ones) in an antifascist unity that they believed was indispensable in order to win the war, and implied “loyal” collaboration with the Government of the Generalitat as the lesser evil so as to prosecute the “revolution” and the war at the same time. The second conception, advocated by García Oliver, theoretically consisted in “going for broke”, that is, it entailed the establishment of an “anarchist dictatorship”, in which a vanguard of enlightened leaders replaces the proletariat, taking power in its name, but in practice meant governmental collaboration, in the naïve belief that the “black and red” color of the Ministers could change the nature of the government in which they participated. The third conception, pragmatically proposed by Manuel Escorza, consisted in using the Government of the Generalitat to legalize the “revolutionary conquests”, controlling the Ministries of Defense and Public Order, and relying on the indisputable dominance of the CNT in the streets in order to attempt to “crystallize the revolutionary situation”, in the expectation that these measures would lead to more favorable conditions for the definitive revolutionary victory, while at the same time consolidating the real power of a libertarian organization parallel to the CNT-FAI, autonomous and independent, based on the Committee of Investigation and the CNT Defense Committees, an organization that would be capable of coordinating and centralizing all the anarchosyndicalist positions in the Government of the Generalitat, and which later made possible the workers insurrection of May 1937 against the provocations of Companys and the Stalinists. All of these positions rapidly evolved towards the same tactic of integration of the workers movement in the program of antifascist unity with the POUM, the Stalinists and the bourgeoisie, with the exclusive goal of winning the war against the fascists. This in turn caused a distinction to emerge among the anarchosyndicalist between the “redskins” and the “woodpeckers” or collaborationists, which was entirely different from the previous divisions between FAIstas and Trentistas. The critique directed by the “redskins” at the collaborationists, which was at first purely verbal and moralistic, evolved towards a pessimism that led the majority to passivity or a flight forward, which caused them to see no other solution besides abandoning all militancy or enlisting in the military forces to win the war against fascism, even if this army was, after the summer of 1937, the Popular Army, that is, the bourgeois army of the Republic, once the militarization of the Militias had been implemented. The most coherent opposition to collaborationism that emerged among the libertarians was the opposition that took shape in The Friends of Durruti Group, which after January 1938 was practically defunct, because it had succumbed to the combined attacks of Stalinist repression and the opposition of the “government” cenetistas.
There was no party, trade union or vanguard group that called for the destruction of the bourgeois state and the revolutionary path of strengthening, coordinating and centralizing the organs of power that had arisen in July 1936: the workers committees. After July 20 the Barcelona proletariat exercised a kind of dictatorship “from below” in the streets and the factories, unrelated and indifferent to “its” political and trade union organizations which not only respected the state apparatus of the bourgeoisie instead of destroying it but actually reinforced it. In the absence of a revolutionary party capable of formulating the battle for the program of the proletarian revolution,44 the war against the fascist enemy imposed the ideology of antifascist unity and war on behalf of the program of the democratic bourgeoisie. The war was not conceived as a class war, but as an antifascist war between the state of the fascist bourgeoisie and the state of the democratic bourgeoisie. And this choice between two bourgeois options (democratic and fascist) ALREADY presupposes the defeat of the revolutionary alternative. For the revolutionary workers movement antifascism was the worst consequence of fascism. The ideology of antifascist unity was the worst enemy of the revolution, and the best ally of the bourgeoisie. The necessities of this war, between two bourgeois options, stifled any revolutionary alternative and suppressed the methods of the class struggle that made possible the victory of the working class insurrection of July 19. It was necessary to renounce the revolutionary conquests in favor of winning the war against the fascists: “we renounce everything except victory.”45
The alternatives that were thus posed were false: it was not about winning the war first and then carrying out the revolution (the Stalinist proposal), or even of fighting the war and carrying out the revolution at the same time (the POUM and libertarian thesis), but of abandoning the methods and the goals of the proletariat. The Popular Militias of July 21-25 were authentic proletarian Militias; the Militias of October 1936, militarized or not, were already an army of workers in a war directed by the bourgeoisie (whether fascist or republican) in the service of the bourgeoisie (whether democratic or fascist).
The “social revolution” and the expropriation of the factories initiated by the anarchosyndicalist rank and file were in conflict with the Popular Frontism of the anarchist and POUMist leaders. There are even people who speak of a social “revolution” without the seizure of state power, and even of a divorce between the socioeconomic and political aspects of the revolution.46 In any event, the Popular Frontism of the anarchist leaders, and the ideology of antifascist unity, prevailed over any revolutionary consideration of destroying the state, which was always rejected as utopian and unrealistic, and which never went further than fantasy declarations of good intentions on the part of the most verbally radical elements, like García Oliver.
The CCMA was never an organ of workers power. A situation of DUAL POWER never existed. In any case there was a DUPLICATION OF POWERS between the CCMA and certain Ministries of the Generalitat, and above all a complementary labor on the part of both against the revolutionary committees.
The vacuum of state or centralized power led to an initial fragmentation and atomization of power that was resolved in September 1936 with the entry of the working class organizations into the Government of the Generalitat (and later in that of the Republic). Neither the anarchists, nor the CCMA, in which they were dominant, nor the POUM, ever attempted to remove the republican bourgeoisie from power, or destroy the state apparatus, which always remained in the hands of Companys. The definitive armed defeat of the proletariat, which took place in May 1937, was the only possible outcome of the decision made by the working class organizations in July 1937 to renounce the absolute and total seizure of a power that the proletariat already exercised in the streets and the factories. May 1937 had already begun in July 1936.
- 1Information drawn from the “Declaración manuscrita de Servando Meana Miranda, capitán arma de Aviación”.
- 2Abad de Santillán brought a hundred pistols to the Construction Trade Union. See: Diego Abad de Santillán, Por qué perdimos la Guerra , Plaza Janés, Esplugues de Llobregat, 1977, p. 76.
- 3Sergeant Manzana, despite the fact that his name is erroneously cited in many books as a leading figure in the revolutionary events of July 19, could not participate in the struggle because he was being held prisoner in the barracks brig, and was not liberated until the evening of the 20th. See: Marquez and Gallardo, Ortiz, General sin dios ni amo, Hacer, Barcelona, 1999, p. 101.
- 4At six in the morning a company of assault guards from Barceloneta received orders to proceed to the Paralelo, but after unexpectedly running into a company of sappers in front of the Atarazanas they suffered numerous casualties, among others Captain Francisco Arrando, their commanding officer (the brother of Alberto Arrando, Chief of Staff of Security and Assault Guards). The company was pinned down for thirty hours in the warehouses along the Baleares Dock, until the Atarazanas barracks surrendered.
- 5The Plan of General Mola, the organizer of the military revolt against the republican government, ordered the use of terror by the rebels as the only effective means to confront massive popular resistance. It expressly contemplated employing threats against the children and wives of the resistance, as well as mass shootings. From the very start the minority of rebel military personnel and fascists needed to impose their rule with terror over a much more numerous enemy, by way of a war of extermination that had already been practiced in the colonial war in Morocco.
- 6Because the entire breadth of San Pablo Street was swept by machine gun fire from the machine guns situated in the center of the Paralelo and on the roof of the building next to El Molino.
- 7And also many anonymous CNT militants, among others, Quico Sabaté, a militant from the Woodworkers Trade Union, who also participated in the assault on the Atarazanas barracks on the 20th, and who was a famous guerrilla fighter during the Franco regime.
- 8It appears that Colonel Lacasa had already, during the previous night, prepared to use the monastery as a hospital-fortress, and had also installed machine guns on the roof of the Casa de Les Punxes, across the street from the monastery.
- 9The incredible exploits of “El Artillero” were summarized in a brief account published in Solidaridad Obrera (July 27, 1936), in which we are told how he had conquered two cannons in the battle fought against the light artillery at Diputación-Lauria, how he then forced the surrender of the rebels who had taken refuge in the nearby Ritz, after firing three salvos; from there he went to the Plaza de Santa Ana (today an unnamed square, at the end of the Puerta del Ángel, at the intersection with Cucurella-Arcs) where he fired several volleys of indirect shellfire at the Hotel Colón until the rebels inside it surrendered. Then he took his cannons down Layetana Street in order to fire thirty-eight volleys at the Capitanía. From there he went to Diagonal, in order to end the evening in the Sants neighborhood, firing on Galileo Street at a church, until its defenders surrendered.
- 10 He was chief of the “mossos d’esquadra” in October 1934. His death sentence was commuted and he was amnestied and then joined the military reserve. On July 19, without assuming any official responsibility, he effectively participated as an organizer of the street battles. Appointed by Companys to be secretary of the proposed Committee of Civilian Militias, he became the military advisor of the Durruti Column.
- 11 Lacruz, p. 50; Romero, p. 525.
- 12 José María Fontana, Los catalanes en la Guerra de España, Acervo, Barcelona, 1977.
- 13 Juan García Oliver, El eco de los pasos, Ruedo Ibérico, Barcelona-Paris, 1978, p. 189.
- 14 Felipe Díaz Sandino went to the airport at Logroño to investigate the preparations being made for a military coup promoted by Captain del Val, coming from Madrid. Once he confirmed the existence of a conspiracy he informed Generals Núñez de Prado and Casares Quiroga. Faced with the passivity of his superiors he decided to purge the right wing elements under his command and accumulated a stock of bombs and machine gun ammunition at the airport of El Prat, at the same time remaining in close contact with the Generalitat and the CNT.
- 15 Two fast cars, with full gas tanks, were parked in the courtyard of the police station, prepared for the flight of Companys, Escofet and their families, who were to be taken to the port at Maresme, where a ship was waiting to take them to France.
- 16 Juan García Oliver, “Ce que fut le 19 de juillet”, Le Libertaire, (August 18, 1938).
- 17 Ricardo Sanz, “Francisco Ascaso Morio”, mimeographed text.
- 18 Enric Ucelay-Da Cal, “El ‘complot’ nacionalista contra Companys. Novembre-Desembre del 36’, in La Guerra civil a Catalunya (1936-1939), Vol. 3, Edicions 62, Barcelona, 2004, pp. 205-214.
- 19 This was a police unit, with little real military training, most of whose members were older men with wives and children.
- 20 The defense committees of the CNT during the 1930s had recruited into their ranks numerous unemployed workers with a dual objective: one of solidarity, because they paid them a wage, and the other, tactical, to prevent them from becoming strikebreakers. This recruitment was always palliative and assigned on a rotating basis, both for reasons of solidarity and in order to prevent any professionalization and to ensure that the largest possible number of militants should pass through the defense committees, which in case of emergency could rely on an ample number of trained, combat-ready members. See Chris Ealham, Class, Culture and Conflict in Barcelona, 1898-1937, Routledge, London, 2005.
- 21 In Barcelona the defense committees constituted an authentic clandestine military structure, already formed in 1931 and powerfully reinforced in 1935. See “Ponencia presentada a la Federación Local de Grupos Anarquistas de Barcelona. Comité Local de Preparación Revolucionaria”, Barcelona, January 1935. The groups that signed this document were The Indomables, Nervio, Nosotros, Tierra Libre and Germen.
- 22 Between 1900 and 1930 Barcelona’s population doubled, increasing from half a million to one million inhabitants. The opening of Layetana, the construction of the Ensanche, and the public works on the subway and the International Exposition of 1929 required a vast supply of cheap labor, which during the 1930s went to swell the bloated ranks of the unemployed.
- 23 Such as, for example, the torrential emigration from “the ravine of hunger” (a mountainous district in the provinces of Castellón and Teruel) to Pueblo Nuevo between 1910 and 1930, and from Murcia to La Torrassa, during the 1930s.
- 24 There is a well-known photograph of the barricade built on Tigre Street, at the corner of the Ronda de San Antonio, taken by Agusti Centelles.
- 25 José del Barrio, in his mimeographed memoirs, claims that he was responsible, as secretary of the UGT, for suggesting to García Oliver the idea of forming the CCMA on the afternoon of the 20th, before his interview with Companys, and that therefore García Oliver appropriated the idea and conveyed it to Companys. Regardless of who originated this idea, the idea of forming a CCMA that would resolve the burning issues of creating militias to confront the fascist army in Aragón, and Control Patrols that would replace the sequestered forces of public order, was something that was imposed by the existing revolutionary situation. It is not necessary to seek the copyright: only with hindsight can we debate the circumstances that led to the creation of the CCMA, in the form it assumed; on the 20th, however, it seemed to everyone involved to be obvious, necessary and inevitable, just as it was everywhere else in Spain where the military uprising was defeated by the workers insurrection.
- 26 For a reliable version of this famous interview, which is very different from the all-too-imaginative version offered by García Oliver, see: Josep Coll and Josep Pané, Josep Rovira. Una vida al servei de Catalunya i del socialisme, Ariel, Barcelona, 1978, pp. 85-87.
- 27 Juan García Oliver himself, in 1950, also provided a different, “more complete and believable” version, of his famous account (published in July 1937) of his interview with Companys: “The military-fascist uprising had taken place exactly as we had predicted. Companys […] took refuge in the Barcelona Police Station, where he arrived at seven in the morning on the 19th of July, as he was terrified by the consequences of what he expected to happen, because he assumed that, with all the soldiers of the Barcelona regiments joining the uprising, they would easily sweep away all resistance. However, the forces of the CNT-FAI, almost alone, faced the rebels for those two memorable days and, after a bitter and bloody struggle […] we defeated all the regiments […]. For all these reasons, Companys, facing the representatives of the CNT-FAI, was overwhelmed and confused. Confused, because, in his consciousness he only thought about the weight of the great responsibility that they bore towards us and the Spanish people for not having heeded all our predictions […]. Overwhelmed, because despite the fact that they did not fulfill the commitments they made with us, the CNT-FAI in Barcelona and in Cataluña had defeated the rebels […]. This is why, when he addressed us, Companys told us: ‘Now I know that you have many reasons to complain and to express your dissatisfaction with me. I have fought against you for a long time and I was incapable of really appreciating your true worth. It is never too late, however, to sincerely make amends, and the way I shall do so, which you will now see, has the value of a confession: if I had appreciated you at your true worth, it is possible that we would not be facing the situation we are now facing; but there is no other remedy, now, you alone have defeated the rebel officers, and logically you should govern. If that is what you think, then I am quite pleased to surrender to you the Presidency of the Generalitat and, if you think I can be of any use in another position, you need only tell me what post I should occupy. BUT DUE TO THE FACT THAT WE STILL DO NOT KNOW EXACTLY WHO HAS EMERGED VICTORIOUS IN THE OTHER PARTS OF SPAIN, AND IF YOU BELIEVE THAT FROM THE PRESIDENCY OF THE GENERALITAT I CAN STILL BE OF SERVICE BY ACTING AS THE LEGAL REPRESENTATIVE OF CATALUÑA, LET ME KNOW, SO THAT FROM THIS OFFICE, AND ALWAYS WITH YOUR CONSENT, WE SHALL CONTINUE THE STRUGGLE UNTIL IT IS CLEAR WHO HAS WON.’ For our part, and this is what the CNT-FAI thought, we understand that Companys should still remain at the head of the Generalitat, precisely because we have not filled the streets and fought specifically for the social revolution, but to defend ourselves from the fascist military coup.” [From García Oliver’s responses to Bolloten’s inquiries.]
- 28 Aurelio Fernández replaced Francisco Ascaso on the liaison committee, whose other members were Durruti, Oliver, Santillán and Asens.
- 29 Information derived from the version provided by Coll and Pané, op. cit., pp. 85-87.
- 30 “On July 21, 1936, a Regional Plenum of Local Federations and District Committees, convoked by the Regional Committee of Cataluña, was held in Barcelona. At this meeting, the situation was analyzed and it was unanimously determined not to speak about libertarian communism as long as we had not yet conquered that part of Spain that was in the hands of the rebels. The Plenum therefore decided not to proceed to enact totalitarian measures […] it decided in favor of collaboration, and agreed to form, with only one vote in opposition, that of Bajo Llobregat, together with all the Parties and Organizations, the Committee of Antifascist Militias. The CNT and the FAI so order their representatives by resolution of this Plenum.” Quoted from Informe de la delegación de la CNT al Congreso Extraordinario de la AIT y resoluciones del mismo, p. 96.
- 31 See Juan García Oliver, “El Comité central de Milcias Antifascistas de Cataluña”, in De julio a julio. Un año de lucha, Tierra y Libertad, Barcelona, 1937. García Oliver wrote this article one year after the events in question, and it is very much influenced by the political context following May 1937.
- 32 “Finally, my informant claims that at the assembly or plenum of the 21st, García Oliver proposed the question of anarchist dictatorship or libertarian communism and that it was not supported by the assembly. I say that if he did so, he did so without conviction, as he was convinced that an anarchist dictatorship could only lead to disaster. He posed this dramatic dilemma in order to create more support for his collaborationist choice [….] García Oliver confirms this air of comedy by arrogantly writing the following: ‘the CNT and the FAI decided upon collaboration and democracy, renouncing revolutionary totalitarianism, which would have led to the strangling of the revolution by the confederal or anarchist dictatorship’.” See José Peirats, “Mise au point sur de notes”, Noir et Rouge, No. 38, June 1967.
- 33 The previously cited testimonies of José del Barrio, Juan García Oliver himself, in 1950, and José Peirats, are corroborated by that of Federica Montseny: “Nobody even ever imagined, not even García Oliver, who was the most Bolshevik of all, the idea of seizing revolutionary power. It was only later, when we saw the extent of the movement and of the popular initiatives that we began to discuss whether we could or should go for broke.” (Abel Paz, Durruti: El proletariado en armas, Bruguera, Barcelona, 1978, pp. 381-382.) [English language edition: Abel Paz, Durruti: The People Armed, Black Rose Books, Montreal, 1996.]
- 34 Letter from García Oliver to Abel Paz. See Abel Paz, Durruti en la Revolución española, FAL, Madrid, 1996, pp. 504-505. [English language edition: Abel Paz, Durruti in the Spanish Revolution, tr. Chuck Morse, AK Press, San Francisco, 2006. Available online at: http://libcom.org/library/durruti-spanish-revolution.]
- 35 The anarchosyndicalist representatives were Josep Asens, Buenaventura Durruti and Juan García Oliver for the CNT, and Aurelio Fernández and Diego Abad de Santillán for the FAI. Durruti was later replaced by Marcos Alcón.
- 36 “Just how far can we proceed with an experiment in libertarian communism in Cataluña, without having ended the war and with the dangers posed by foreign intervention? This dilemma was posed to the anarchists militants and the representatives of the trade unions on July 23, at a Plenum of the two organizations […] it was decided to preserve the antifascist bloc, and to issue the directive to the entire region: we must not proclaim libertarian communism. Seek to maintain hegemony in the committees of the antifascist militias and postpone any totalitarian attempt to realize our ideas.” Quoted from El anarquismo en España. Informe del Comité Peninsular de la Federación Anarquista Ibérica al Movimiento Libertario Internacional, n.d. [1938?], p. 2.
Another document confirms the testimony of the one just quoted above: “At a Plenum attended by both the anarchist and the confederal organizations it was agreed, due to the urgent circumstances that prevailed at that time, to accept collaboration and to participate directly in the state institutions of political and economic administration.” Quoted from the FAI pamphlet, Informe que este Comité de Relaciones de Grupos Anarquistas de Cataluña presenta a los camaradas de la Región, n.d. [March 1937?].
- 37 Because of the urgency of making decisions on these matters, after July 19 the horizontal and federative machinery of the CNT collapsed and with it any practice of direct democracy also fell by the wayside. The usual practice was to adopt the important decisions that had to be made at meetings of leaders, members of the Regional Committee, the Local Federation of Barcelona, the Peninsular Committee of the FAI, and all those who had positions of responsibility in the CCMA, the Council of the Economy or the Investigation Committee, the Control Patrols, etc. These decisions made by the leading militants and office holders would then be submitted at a later time to Plenums for ratification, thus “formally” preserving the appearances of the traditional modus operandi of the CNT.
- 38 García Oliver reiterated his proposal to take power by taking advantage of the concentration of militiamen who were supposed to depart for the front.
- 39 García Oliver, El eco…, pp. 190-191. Gallardo and Márquez, Ortiz, pp. 109-110.
- 40 Antonio Ortiz, “La segunda Columna sale de Barcelona”.
- 41 “You have a duty now. Come to a rally at the Paseo de Gracia at ten in the morning. A warning, workers of Barcelona, all of you and especially those of the CNT. The positions that have been conquered in Barcelona must not be abandoned. The capital must not be abandoned. You must remain on permanent guard, eyes open, in case you have to respond to any possible events. Workers of the CNT, all as one man we must go the aid of the comrades of Aragón.”
- 42 See the PROCLAMATION signed by the Committee of the CRTC, which we reprint in its entirety in the Appendix. An article appeared in Solidaridad Obrera (July 27, 1936) which stressed that “the confederal position, in relation to the revolutionary situation, will continue to be the same one maintained up until now”, as if it was necessary to overcome significant resistance to what was already approved at the Plenum of the 21st.
- 43 The horizontal and federative organizational machinery of the CNT, which rapidly broke down and became a mere formal ratification of the debates and resolutions already adopted by the superior committees, was not conducive to the emergence of “tendencies” capable of defending their minority positions within the organization.
- 44 That is: destruction of the capitalist state (whether fascist or republican); extension and centralization of the committees as organs of workers power; socialization of the economy; proletarian control over the war effort; and dictatorship of the proletariat.
- 45 Propaganda slogan coined by Ilya Ehrenburg, which Solidaridad Obrera under the editorship of Toryho falsely attributed to Durruti. See Ilya Ehrenburg, Corresponsal en la Guerra civil española, Júcar, Gijón, 1979, p. 24.
- 46 Santos Juliá, “De la división orgánica al gobierno de unidad nacional”, in Socialismo y guerra civil. Anales de historia de la Fundación Pablo Iglesias, Vol. 2 (1987), pp. 227-245.