Women and The Guerrilla War by “Imanol” (From “Diagonal”, July and August 2015. Translated by Paul Sharkey)

Teresa Pla aka La Pastora aka Durruti (left) and Julia Hermosilla Sagredo (right)

Today we shall try to add our own particular grain of sand to the odd and sometimes thorny topic of the role of women in the guerrilla struggle. Whereas their part in support roles and their roles as couriers meant that their participation was unquestioned and crucial … estimates say that they made up about 40% or almost 50% in regions like Galicia and Asturias … it is scarcely surprising that estimates of their engagement with guerrilla activity fall to about 2%, giving an overall figure of 150. Or maybe this not such a surprise, if we look at the overall status of women within Spain, with a slight exception made for the republican era, as witness this late 19th century article in La Vanguardia:

From her intellect to her stature, everything about her is inferior and the opposite of men … Woman, per se, is not like man, a complete being; she is merely the instrument of reproduction, the one destined to perpetuate the species; whereas man is destined to bring her progress, the generator of intelligence, at once creative and a demiurge of the world of society. And so everything bends in the direction of inequality between the sexes and to non-equivalence.”

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Aginter Press and the Strategy of Tension (Translated by Paul Sharkey)

Yves Guillou, aka Yves Guerin-Serac, Jean-Robert de Guernadec and “Ralph”.

It is 36 years now since I wrote ‘Stefano delle Chiaie. Portrait of a Black Terrorist”, an investigation into the so-called Strategy of Tension that led to the Piazza Fontana bombing of 1969, the subsequent murder by the Milan police of  Anarchist Black Cross secretary Giuseppe Pinelli, and the eleven years of indiscriminate terror that followed, up to and beyond the Bologna Rail Station massacre on August 1980. I haven’t written much about it since then, but I recently received the following ‘L’Europeo’ (November 1974) article by three journalists — Incerti, Ottolenghi and Raffaelli — on AGINTER PRESS (International News Agency). It was sent by long-time comrades of the Circolo Anarchici Ponte della Ghisolfa (the original meeting place of the Milan Anarchist Black Cross) who continue to publish relevant documents in the interest of historical memory, and as a means of understanding the historical and political context of the Strategy of Tension.

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Franco me hizo terrorista (Memorias del anarquista que intentó matar al dictador) by Stuart Christie Ediciones Temas de Hoy, S.A. Colección Historia Viva. Reviewed by Joaquín Rodríguez Suárez (Inspector of Prisons in Franco’s General Directorate of Prisons, DGP)

It is quite an experience discovering Stuart Christie’s “Spanish” background. This Scottish lad, barely 18 years old, knowing nothing of Spain and without speaking a word of Spanish, hoisted a rucksack full of explosives on to his back, strapped packets of plastic explosive to his body using bandages and secreted the detonators, wrapped in cotton-wool, in the lining of his jacket and headed off to Spain to put paid to the infamy of a populace terrorised by a bloodthirsty dictator and his sinister cabal of generals, bishops, latifundists and bankers.

Now, 40 years on, he is back again, bringing us his book leaving us a bittersweet taste of “auld lang syne” (Stuart will get my reference here) from the good old days, back when we were all a lot younger. The rest is just the filthiness that Stuart had to endure: beatings, torture, interrogation and imprisonment. Typical of those times and of the ignominy, nonsensicality and mediocrity into which a people that had fought bravely and right to the finish for freedom had been thrust.

Maybe a reading of Chesterton’s story The Man Who Was Thursday holds the key to the reason why Stuart was arrested the moment he set foot in the Puerta del Sol. The author himself suggests that spies fall into three categories: journalists, security service personnel planted inside an organisation (especially an organisation with such an all-embracing banner as the red-and-black flag) and those bribed by the police into acting as informers from within (see pp. 36 et seq).

The book offers an endless parade of personalities from the time: the old fighters in exile: Salvador Gurruchari, Laureano Cerrada, Cipriano Mera … The men and women who, to borrow Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s words, “are neither weary, nor neurotic nor drug-dependent. They do not complain. They do not curse fate. Their defeats have not made cynics of them. They know that they made mistakes, but they do not try to wipe out the memory of them. These elderly men, revolutionaries still, are stronger than all who came after them”

And the boys from the Puerta del Sol – Eduardo Blanco and Saturnino Yagüe – pop up too … Further comment unnecessary. Forenames and surnames suffice. The military judges, the sentencing, Carabanchel. In Carabanchel we find the ‘ordinary’ prisoners of the Seventh Gallery, astutely depicted by someone who was just starting to learn so many new things, and the political prisoners in the Sixth Gallery, with a sprinkling of not particularly fond references to the inmates belonging to the PCE (Communist Party of Spain), real personalities such as the counterfeiter Miguel de Castro who, as Stuart remembers him, was “a prison mentor, a wise guide versed in the art of the possible”, the comrades from the ‘First of May’ Group, and Luis Andrés Edo, my own beloved comrade and friend.

Half-history and half-reportage, the book is a supremely interesting read. We find frequent flashes of Stuart’s British sense of humour inviting us to smile: “In real life, there was never a cavalry troop around when you needed one”, a reference to the cells of the Brigada Político-Social; or the fear he feels when they moved him to what was then the Yeserías Prison Hospital, when he suspects they are going to “trepan him or subject him to some other sort of sub-Pyrenean psycho-neuro-surgery.” Or the delicate touch displayed by the kidnappers of Monsignor Ussía in furnishing him with a Bible, only to discover that, “they were not particularly well-versed in matters of theology”, it turned out to be a Protestant Bible; or, indeed in his inspired brief description of Don Pablo, a fascist brute of a prison officer “he was the A to Z of anal retention.” The passage which I personally most enjoyed reading, on account of my repeated fond readings of the adventures of both characters, was the one where he says that “Don Quijote had taken on the personality of William Brown.”

In short, in my view, there is another aspect to this book which is not to be sniffed at: its verfremdungeffekt, that distancing, elegant gift for recounting events, no matter how dramatic, as if he were not involved, as if they were happening to someone else. As Carlos Fonseca has stated in his Foreword, which is spot-on and as clear as water, “Go ahead and read”.

BARCELONA, November 1936 by Cyril Connolly

I

Cyril Connolly (1903-1974)

Cyril Connolly (1903-74) was a prominent British writer, editor, well known in particular for his book reviews. His biographer Jeremy Lewis described him as “Precociously brilliant in his youth, haunted for the rest of his life by a sense of failure and a romantic yearning to recover a lost Eden.” He was a schoolmate, from their earliest days, and friend of George Orwell, of whom he remarked: “He reduced everything to politics; he was also unalterably of the Left. His line may have been unpopular or unfashionable, but he followed it unhesitatingly; in fact it was an obsession. He could not blow his nose without moralising on conditions in the handkerchief industry.” Connolly himself is famous for his dictum addressed to would-be literary types: “Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.” And reviewing for Harold Evans’s Sunday Times Miguel Garcia’s book Franco’s Prisoner (1972), his comradely words for the veterans, alive and fallen, of thirty years of anarchist resistance to fascism in Spain far surpassed in commitment any of the liberalistic phrase-mongering appearing in what passed for the mainstream anarchist press in Britain at the time.

THE FIRST THING ONE NOTICES ABOUT GOING TO BARCELONA is the peculiar meaningful handshakes of one’s friends. Accompanied though they are by some such phrase as “I wish I were going too,” one cannot avoid detecting in the farewell a moment of undertaker heartiness, of mortuary appraisal. In the early morning among the lagoons, the brown landscape and rainy sky of Languedoc, one begins to share it, only at the Spanish frontier does it completely disappear. As a rule, the change from Cerberé to Port Bou is one from gaiety and comfort to gloom and emptiness; to-day it is the Spanish end which is alive. The first thing one notices is the posters, extremely competent propaganda, of which that of a peasant’s rope-soled foot descending on a cracked swastika in a cobbled street is the most dramatic. The frontier is guarded by cultivated German and Italian anti-Fascists, and one begins at once those discussions on political ideology, which are such a feature of present-day republican Spain. “You journalists are the worst enemies of a revolution,” explained the Italian, “you all come here with letters like yours; then you go back and write Right-wing propaganda about us.” “Why can’t you admit that England is not prepared to help any democracy until its rearmament is carried out, when it will be too late?” said the other. Down in the little harbour the militiamen, in their blue uniforms and forage caps, were fishing with bits of starfish. The sombre Spanish train had been painted all along the carriages with crude pictures of troops departing and with harvests being gathered. As it drew out into the autumn sunshine one first became conscious of the extraordinary mixture of patriotic war-fever and revolutionary faith, and of that absolutely new and all-pervading sense of moral elevation which since the revolution is the most dominating note in Catalonia. For here one never says “since the military rebellion,” “since the Fascist revolt,” but simply “since the Revolution” or “since the 19th of July.” At the end of the train were two carriages of Anarchist troops, mostly under twenty, who waved their black and red banners, pointed their rifles at one, and in return for some cigarettes burst into a shout which was taken up all down the train of “Viva la Revolución.”

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Anarchy and Violence by Errico Malatesta

Stills from ‘Love and Anarchy‘ by Lisa Wertmüller

From their first manifestations Anarchists have [been] nearly unanimous as to the necessity of recourse to physical force in order to transform existing society; and while the other self-styled revolutionary parties have gone floundering into the parliamentary slough, the anarchist idea has in some sort identified itself with that of armed insurrection and violent revolution.

But, perhaps, there has been no sufficient explanation as to the kind and the degree of violence to be employed; and here as in many other questions very dissimilar ideas and sentiments lurk under our common name.

As a fact, the numerous outrages which have lately been perpetrated by Anarchists and in the name of Anarchy, have brought to the light of day profound differences which had formerly been ignored or scarcely foreseen.

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