(eng)The insumisos of '36: Spanish Civil War

The Anarchives (tao@lglobal.com)
Wed, 13 Mar 1996 13:06:03 +0000 (GMT)

/** wri.news: 211.0 **/
** Topic: The insumisos of '36: the anti-mili **
** Written 10:11 AM Mar 1, 1996 by gn:peacenews in cdp:wri.news **
Civil War
The first major crisis of international pacifism was the Spanish
Civil War. A social revolutionary process which gave us concepts
such as self-managed collectives and affinity groups was drowned in
a bloody repression that continued until 1975. Today the state of
Spain has the strongest anti-militarist movement in Europe. Yet
until a year ago, even XABI AGIRRE ARANBURU knew little about the
anti-militarists of the 1930s or about the debate then raging in
the international pacifist movement.

The Spanish anti-militarists of the '30s -- in their warnings
about the dangers of armed struggle, in their constructive and
nonviolent engagement for social justice, and in their humanitarian
work -- developed a programme similar to nonviolent groups in many
subsequent struggles. In the first part of a two-part article,
marking the 60th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War and the 75th
anniversary of War Resisters' International, Xabi reclaims some of
the history hidden by the years of repression.

<*> War resisters have no historical memory. Perhaps this is one of
the factors contributing to the success of the campaign for total
resistance in the state of Spain; not knowing that they have a
history and therefore reliving some of this history without being
concerned by the contradictions of the present.

The story of the Spanish state's pioneer anti-militarists is a
modest one which, like truth itself, was one of the first victims
of war, and which was buried for decades when the victors came to
write the history of the civil war.

The emergence of the anti-militarist movement during the Second
Republic (1931-1939) was largely the result of the meeting of two
currents. On the one hand, the native tradition of opposition to
the military, which showed itself as much in spontaneous draft
evasion as in the activism of the trade union movement (including
opposition to the colonial wars in Morocco and the 1909 general
strike in Barcelona). On the other hand, the rise in pacifist
thought and action after the First World War, which found form and
structure with the founding of the War Resisters' International in

The scant testimonies which survive from the Spanish
anti-militarists of the '30s speak of how hopes were raised by the
new republican regime and by the constitutional reforms of 1931,
such as the separation of church and state, political and religious
freedom, and the abolition of the death penalty.

The failure of General Sanjurjo's 1932 coup attempt, and the
progressive legislation passed in the first years of the republic,
particularly defence minister Manuel Azana's military reforms, were
also celebrated by the anti-militarist press.

These initial hopes were tempered by various events which revealed
the limitations of reform by the new republican regime.

>>> The Republic, the anti-militarist movement, and revolutionary

At the beginning of 1934, there were several hundred activists in
various groups affiliated to or coordinated by the Orden del Olivo,
dedicated to tasks such as distributing information, a weekly
publication, public actions and radio programmes. The WRI's
principles found the most support in Catalunya, where a youth
manifesto calling for war resistance was issued, seminars on
anti-militarist studies were organised, and a workers' committee
for anti-militarist action was set up in Barcelona.

While anti-militarists came to take a similar position to the
Second Republic as did the mainstream of the Spanish left, they did
diverge over the use of violence by the workers' movements. This
issue became more critical in October 1934, when armed workers'
risings in Asturias and Catalunya were brutally put down by the
army. The anti-militarist press set itself apart by referring to
the dangers of "fratricidal struggles" and underlining the
disastrous consequences of this:

"War is war ... madness, slaughter, blood, destruction,
misery. When the intent was to flatten them, the
disorganisation of the workers was complete. The neutral
masses -- without convictions of their own; influenced by the
strongest and most recent impressions; alarmed and motivated
by their survival instincts -- aligned themselves with the
right. The proletarian parties and the left, through the use
of violence, lost practically all ground."

The repression which followed the 1934 uprisings was directly to
affect the Orden del Olivo and its members. Despite being formally
banned, the Orden continued its work, advocating the
anti-militarist position, occasionally working with professional
and women's groups, and even with fringe social movements such as
the spiritualists.

>>> Mail planes and public declarations

Civil disobedience directed at the army was a central theme.
Quirados J Gou, a civil pilot for the postal service, refused to
participate in the aerial bombardment of positions held by the
insurgent workers in Asturias in October 1934, and was subsequently
punished; this is one of the experiences which we must reclaim for
our history. Another was in 1935, when three young Catalan
anarchists publicly refused to be conscripted and decided to
present themselves to the authorities. An anti-militarist support
campaign led to their release after four days in custody (they were
declared unfit on grounds of "dementia"). They went public with
their story, inspiring a group of more than 100 young men to
declare themselves willing to refuse "all military service" -- very
much in the style of today's insumisos.

The victory of the Popular Front in the February 1936 elections,
despite putting an end to a notorious three-year period of
right-wing government, led to a period of instability which Spanish
anti-militarists were to view with utter dejection. By June, the
government and the workers' movement could both be seen to be
contributing to a situation which was defined as "complex". If
prime minister Azana was responsible for "excessive concessions to
the enemies of the Republic" -- the financial and military
right-wing -- the workers' movement was criticised for "engaging in
paramilitary exercises" and "declaring itself in favour of more
violent action". With the country on the brink of war,
anti-militarists warned that the worst consequences could follow
from a situation where there was "an explosion of hatred and
threats in all directions".

A few short weeks were enough to make these fears real, although
the events of this immediate pre-war period did not in themselves
prevent the anti-militarist movement taking fresh initiatives. Most
notably, the Liga Espanol de Refractorios a la Guerra (Spanish War
Resisters' League) was formally set up as the successor to the
Orden del Olivo, with Dr Amparo Poch y Gaston as chair, Fernando
Oca del Valle as secretary, and Jose Brocca as representative to
the WRI Council.

>>> The challenge for pacifism

"What would I do if I were in Spain today?" asked H Runham Brown,
honorary secretary of the WRI, in a December 1936 article titled
"Spain, a challenge for pacifism". He reproduces a letter from Jose
Brocca which contends that "the people of Spain had no other way
open to them but to fight" but which goes on to explain how support
for the Republican side could be given without, in his view,
renouncing the principles of war resistance.

@PALATINO 16 = "The propaganda of war resistance is not possible at
this moment" wrote the Spanish War Resisters' League; the task for
the moment was humanitarian aid ... "constructive work of this type
in the name of pacifism, is most valuable".

In practice, this meant taking on auxiliary, civilian roles such as
relief work, information, and ensuring that civil institutions
continued to work. That is to say, the Spanish antimilitarists
opted for a form of "alternative civilian service", in this case
republican and self-organised service. As the Spanish War
Resisters' League later explained in a pamphlet aimed at the
British public, "the propaganda of war resistance is not possible
at this moment"; the corresponding task for them was humanitarian
aid, as in such circumstances "constructive work of this type in
the name of pacifism, is most valuable".

>>> Aid from the International

The WRI established a Spanish Aid Fund, dedicated to the sending of
aid, gathering information on relatives and friends trapped behind
Fascist lines, facilitating prisoner exchanges, and support for a
refugee childrens' home in the French Catalan town of Prats de
Mollo. League bank accounts in Madrid, Valencia, and Barcelona were
augmented by donations from other WRI sections, especially the
Peace Pledge Union (PPU) in Britain. Seventy refugee Basque
children found shelter in the PPU's "Basque House" near Colchester,
while an additional 500 refugees were evacuated to Mexico with help
from local war resisters.

>From a WRI-run warehouse in Valencia, tins of milk were distributed
throughout Spain; in Madrid, anti-militarists set up a women's
committee for the distribution of clothing and food, some of it
labelled "War Resisters' International: pacifist aid for the civil
population in Spain".

International aid also came in the form of volunteers, such as
Lucie Penru, a French nurse and WRI activist who worked in the
Hospital de Sangre de la Barriada in Barcelona from the beginning
of the war until her unit was closed due to lack of funding in
1938; she then went to run a refugee children's home in France.

Heinz Kraschutzki, a leading German anti-militarist, had
considerably worse luck in Spain. His experiences as a naval
lieutenant in the First World War led him to active war resistance
and the editorship of the Deutsche Friedensgesellschaft (DFG; now
DFG-VK) magagine Das Andere Deutschlander. After he published
information about plans for German rearmament, Kraschutzki faced
trial for treason and had to leave the country, settling on
Mallorca in 1932.

Although Kraschutzki had taken care not to implicate himself in any
political activity in Spain, he was interned when fascist forces
took control of Mallorca in August 1936. The Francoist authorities
were then the target of pressure on one side from a WRI petition
campaign (supported by the British Foreign Office) demanding
Kraschutzki's release, and on the other side from Nazi officials in
Spain, who asked for him to be turned over to them for execution.

Franco's men struck an agreement with the Nazis that Kraschutzki
would not be executed, but neither would he be set free;
subsequently in 1938 a military tribunal sentenced him to 30 years'
prison. Seven years later, at the close of the Second World War,
there were fresh WRI petitions for his release, again with Foreign
Office support. This time, they were successful, and at the end of
1945 Heinz Kraschutzki was released after a total of 9 years in
Francoist prisons; he had been a pioneer in resisting Germany's war
preparations, and it was only after that war had finally ended that
he was allowed to go free.

@SOURCE = Translated by Ken Simons

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
In the April Peace News, Xabi Agirre discusses the debate in the
international pacifist movement of the 1930s.

** End of text from cdp:wri.news **

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