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(en) France, Alternative Libertaire AL #290 - Eighty years ago - 1939: The last hours of Barcelona antifascist (fr, it, pt)[machine translation]

Date Wed, 30 Jan 2019 09:48:09 +0200

On January 26, 1939, Franco's troops invaded the city that had been the epicenter of the Spanish Revolution. The remnants of the Republican army will now retreat to the French border, protecting the exodus of civilians destined for misery and concentration camps. Libertarian youth activist, Abel Paz (1921-2009) is then 17 years old. In his memoirs, he tells the tragedy of the fall of the city, between fantasies of scorched earth and save-who-can. ---- Barcelona was no longer part of the back ; it was now a second-line position that was becoming more and more a front-line position. The bombardments followed one another at such a rate that we no longer paid attention to it. We ate barely, we hardly slept; everything was half done. The big question was whether we would apply the scorched earth policy in Barcelona, or whether it would be delivered without fighting to the enemy. Everything seemed to indicate that the Catalan capital would offer no resistance. The meetings of the political organs followed each other in the hope of finding a force, which in fact no longer existed. In the depths of ourselves, all of us, and in particular the youth - our war-revolution was led by young people - we had the will to resist, but it lacked the faith that would have led to such a decision.

The war had exhausted the revolutionary enthusiasm. Defeat had become unavoidable. I believe that the last meeting of the Libertarian Movement [1]took place at Casa CNT-FAI on January 15 in the afternoon. It was a rather informal meeting, that is, it had not been called for by any committee. However, all the committees of the three branches of the Libertarian Movement were there in full, as well as a large part of the libertarian activists Barcelona. There was no agenda. The speeches followed each other without a leading thread. García Oliver [2]strolled nervously to one side of the room, and, on the other side, Diego Abad de Santillán [3]did the same. The important characters remained silent during this meeting.[...]

After someone had indicated what we all knew, that Franco was almost at the gates of Barcelona, Manuel Buenacasa [4]got up from his seat, and his small size did not stop him from making a big intervention. He believed in what he said. In the manner of the harangue, he proposed a general mobilization to defend Barcelona, even if he had to lose his life. It was the revolutionary honor of proletarian Barcelona. There was a moment of confusion among the assistants who exchanged glances, but that was all. Then silence came.

Augustin Roa, who represented the defense committee that the young libertarians of Barcelona had just formed, and of which I was a member, addressed the audience to explain what we thought at that moment: " The young libertarians have prepared a plan to blast Barcelona. In this case, the workers have nothing to lose. The bourgeoisie will be the only one to be affected since it will not be able to recover its factories. " Roa detailed the consequences of such a proposal, but the faces of the assistance it clear that all this found no echo.[...]

The intervention of Germinal de Sousa [5]focused on the proposals of Buenacasa and Roa ; he was pessimistic about their effects on the course of events. The scorched earth policy could have had a positive impact if it had been practiced months before ; in the present circumstances, when enthusiasm was exhausted, it became useless. However, he added, one had to be wary of exile.[...]The French bourgeoisie would not forgive us the bad times we had passed. She would be cruel. Had not we tried and put into practice an unprecedented social revolution in the modern history of the proletariat ?[...]«Remember the behavior of the French bourgeoisie towards the Parisian Communards of 1871. No, do not make any illusion: all the doors will close, and our French compañeros will be able to do nothing to avoid it. It is in this context that the proposal of young libertarians makes sense, and it is not me who will dissuade them ... "[...]

At the end of the meeting, after listening to the hallway comments, when night had already fallen, Serra and I took leave of Roa and Ubeda head-still at the door of Casa CNT-FAI.[...]As always, Barcelona was in the dark. There was not a single star in the sky. It was cold and it was raining. At that time, it was dangerous to walk around Barcelona. The SIM patrols [6]were relentlessly arresting the young men whom they suspected to be fachos ; and when they fell on an anarchist, they stopped him with still more pleasure. On our guard, Serra and I advanced with eyes wide open and pistol in hand. On arriving at the Place du Clot, we breathed.

Our excitement grew with the passing days. Always from one side to another, from meeting to meeting, control of time escaped us. The seats of the political parties and even the local dependents of the Generalitat and the central government were under intense preparations which clearly indicated that Barcelona would be abandoned without firing a single shot. In mute, the safe-haven had begun.[...]

On 21 January, Francisco Martin, a comrade who was part of the local coordinating committee of Barcelona, entered very early in the athenaeum room where I slept with my friend Maruja. Very excited, he woke us with loud cries: the entrance of the fascists into Barcelona was imminent, and it was necessary to think of the evacuation of the militants of the JL. We did not have any means of transportation, and we had to find some. The coordination committee had organized the evacuation of the compañeros still held in Modela prison and in Montjuic castle. The liberation of the former had not been a problem. On the other hand the SIM had strengthened the guard of the castle to prevent the exit of the seconds.[...]Martin invited me to accompany him, because a meeting was to be held that morning at the local federation of the JL[...]. A quick tour of the building showed me that the same distressing spectacle was repeated in every room: piles of documents destroyed by the fire, open drawers of tables, peeled binders, cabinets with doors open and on the ground, piled up, bulky printed packages. A sad, scary spectacle was the liquidation of the history of an era devoted to frenzied and uninterrupted action, something like a Goodbye to life .

I returned to the meeting room as the discussion focused on the evacuation of compañeros imprisoned in Montjuic and Modela prison. Groups had been formed, which first proposed to release them by the use of force and then to pass them to France. As we were of no use, Martin offered to accompany me to Casa CNT-FAI[...]. The street was almost deserted, and the few passers-by hurried, looking from time to time at the sky where the planes bombing the city could appear at any moment.

We followed Boters Street, then crossed the rubble strewn around the cathedral. At the door of what had been the nerve center of anarchist activism, our Casa CNT-FAI, there were, besides the guards who protected it, many compañeros came to learn about the progress of the armies of Franco that we supposed very close to Barcelona. This was the case, since they were already camping in Igualada and Vilafranca del Penedes.[...]

We made our way to the basement of the Casa, where we could call the " command post " of the local coordination secretariat. There was there, acting as " general The secretary, José Castillo, a fierce antimilitarist who had even refused to do his military service. He guessed when we saw that we were hungry, and he pointed to a pot that contained the remains of a stew cooked by them with ingredients from one did not know where. Indeed, more than a stew, it was a kind of glue for posters. It was still hot, and we liquidated it in the blink of an eye. While we swallowed this insipid mixture, the compañeros agglutinated around Castillo commented on the extraordinary meeting of the Popular Front convened the same day. As we learned later, our Secretary General Mariano R. Vázquez [7]and the other " tenors " The components of this Front sang a song in chorus that extolled the courage of our army and the will of the civilian population to resist the enemy.

After eating, we went to the 3 th floor to meet our compañeros of the Regional Committee of JL. As everywhere we went, all was confusion and disorder ; the compromising papers were being destroyed.[...]That night I slept on the spot, and that is where I lived the bombings which followed one another in waves, this January 22nd, 1939. The situation was terrifying. The bombing was so close that it was even useless to go down to the shelter of the Casa.[...]

All the information that arrived was disastrous. The central government and the Generality had been evacuated, and there was talk of their transfer to Girona to direct the resistance there. But no one believed it: it was a headache, and it was about to become reality in the facts. After declaring a state of emergency, the government instructed General Juan Hernández Saravia to organize the defense of Barcelona or, failing that, to set up a defense line by means of retired armies. We did not have time to breathe. Bombings and alarms followed each other. The shelters were packed. Panic had become widespread, but the desire to get out of this hell, whatever happened, was omnipresent. Discouragement had also won the JL Regional Committee. At the door of the Casa CNT-FAI, it was no longer groups but a crowd of people who hurried to find a way to abandon the city.[...]

January 24, at noon, I did not know what was happening in my neighborhood. I had tried several times to phone the athenaeum, but without success.[...]I decided to leave Casa CNT-FAI to find my neighborhood. The entrance to the building and its surroundings were full of compañeras and compañeros waiting to be evacuated.[...]All the bars I found on my way were closed. Trucks and cars were packed with people carrying suitcases that probably contained the necessary minimum, or perhaps some valuables, the sale of which could yield the money needed for survival. Most of the people I met were on foot, looking for a path or road that would take them to the border or to any place to hide until the end of the turmoil. Many compañeras and compañeros had settled in the athenaeum while waiting for a vehicle.[...]

The next day - we were then January 25 - announced even sadder than the day before. It was raining. The bombs fell, succeeding the howling sirens. The Francoist forces were now at the height of Tibidabo. There was not even a hunk of bread to eat. Anxiety could be read on all faces.

Jaime Tio, a comrade who worked in the railways, arrived in the middle of the afternoon and announced that he had managed to grab a platform truck and fill up. According to him, it was possible, by tightening, to evacuate all the people gathered in our local. Night was falling when, on January 25th, protected by tarpaulins, we all settled on the platform truck that started towards the unknown ...[...]

I think that this journey to misfortune, because this was our exodus, is unlike any other event in history. Our exodus was not that of an army in rout, but that of a people who preferred exile to ignominy[...]. A community of half a million people, of all ages and sexes, having no other resource to face the unknown than its moral strength, was bound to find a way to maintain its coherence in a form of religiosity. This kind of religiosity which from the beginning, then for many years, underpins this human group is solidarity.

Abel Paz

[1] A plenum of October 1938 united, within the Spanish Libertarian Movement (MLE), the trade union branch (CNT), the political branch (FAI) and the young branch (FIJL).

[2] Juan García Oliver (1901-1980), one of the most prominent figures of Spanish anarcho-syndicalism, revolutionary pistolero during the " social war " of 1922-1923 ; insurrectionist ; Minister of Justice in the anti-fascist government from November 1936 to May 1937.

[3] Diego Abad de Santillán (1897-1983), activist anarcho-syndicalist active in Argentina and Spain, self-taught intellectual, one of the libertarian communist theorists, adviser to the Economy of the Generalitat of Catalonia from December 1936 to April 1937 .

[4] Manuel Buenacasa (1886-1964), a leading activist of the CNT and the FAI.

[5] Germinal de Sousa (1909-1968), one of the organizers of anarchism in Portugal, then a refugee and active in Spain. He is in January 1939 Secretary of the Peninsular Committee of the FAI.

[6] Military Information Service: counterintelligence units created in August 1937 by the Republican State.

[7] Mariano Rodríguez Vázquez (1909-1939), general secretary of the CNT from November 1936 to his death in exile in France, in June 1939.

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