Francesc Sabaté Llopart (Hospitalet de Llobregat, 30 March 1915 – San Celoni, 5 January 1960), better known as Quico Sabaté or El Quico, was (along with José Lluis Facerias) probably the best known of the Catalan-based anti-Francoist urban guerrillas.
‘What is referred to as the “Spanish republicans’ defeat” is crucial to any understanding of the life of Quico Sabaté who crossed the border with his brigade on 10 February 1939. They were the last organised troops to quit Catalonia. At that point QS did not consider himself defeated, and promised himself that he would resume a struggle that had been being momentarily interrupted. As far as QS was concerned, the war was not over — and Franco thought so too: Franco’s was – as Antonio Téllez put it – “a tyrannical rule during which thousands of Spaniards enjoyed some hypothetical freedom of choice only in the manner of their dying”.
‘1939 was not, as far as QS was concerned, the beginning of an irreversible exile, because he could not conceive of life for him and his family other than in his homeland (my father rejected our becoming French citizens, an option offered by the French authorities to the French-born offspring of Spaniards.) His only thoughts were of action in his chosen theatre of operations, i.e. Spain, because QS felt closely connected with the Spaniards in Spain proper.
‘Action to him meant armed struggle, not because it was the only way he knew how to fight, but because his actions were dictated by political and moral aims, i.e. by revolutionary aims. His actions were part of the struggles against the excesses of the Francoist repression and the collective cravings of Spaniards within Spain for justice and freedom. His decision was clear and consistent.
‘Why? Because his was a “rebellious temperament”, as his comrades said or, as Tellez puts it, “a temperament unbowed”. QS despised tyranny in any form. He was a man, a fighter, who would never accepted a situation that struck him as negative or unfair, without trying to change it to make it fairer.
QS’s CNT affiliation
‘From very early on QS was driven by the ideas of anarcho-syndicalism: by the CNT, to which organisation QS he remained loyal throughout his whole life, except with regard to its discipline, in spirit at any rate. In 1932, at the age of 16, he joined the CNT’s Amalgamated Trades (Oficios Varios) union in Hospitalet.
‘This was at a point when the workers’ movement had been effectively crushed, with out and out repression, police violence and deportation orders.
‘Along with another youngster, QS carried out hold-ups, giving the proceeds of the robberies to the Strike Committee and its prisoners’ aid fund. These early expropriations were a response to the violent repression of the workers’ and peasants’ legitimate social demands. It was also during this time of unrelenting social agitation that QS and some other young people launched the ‘Los Novatos’ action group which quickly affiliated to the local FAI federation and was involved in much militant activity.
‘On 18 July 1936, when the fascist revolt erupted, the brothers José and Francisco Sabaté served in Hospitalet’s defence groups and Revolutionary Committee. On 27 August 1936, José and Francisco Sabaté set off for the Aragon front with ‘Los Aguiluchos’, the first CNT-FAI column organised outside of the auspices of the Militias Committee. So, from very early on, QS was a committed militant whose purpose at all times being to champion the workers’ and peasants’ aspirations against the tyranny of the propertied classes.
Second World War
‘From the outset of the Second World War, QS was in direct touch with French resisters. And since he had it in mind to resume his struggle, he settled with his family in a house in Prades (Pyrénées Orientales). He bought plumber’s tools and set about doing minor repairs or panel-beating in farmhouses. In this way he was able to carry news, weapons, medicines and food to resisters hiding out in the hills. Later he joined the escape and evasion groups smuggling fugitives from the Nazis into Spain. He did that not only to help the resisters, but also to familiarise himself with the whole Vallespir area, and every nook and cranny of Cerdagne, likely locations for the struggle to come.
‘In 1944, at a congress of the CNT-in-exile, there was overwhelming support for the policy of stepping up the struggle within Spain. A number of delegations were dispatched into Spain, and QS was in the very first of these. Later, however, in 1955, the CNT-in-exile called a halt to the armed struggle and settled into a comfortable exile, waiting a further 20 years for Franco to die.
“El Combate”, Cultura y Acción
‘Endless, pointless proceedings leading to no hard and fast decisions were not to QS’s liking. Besides, in Spain there was no let-up in the arrests, sentencing and the full gamut of repression. What was there to wait for? QS decided to stick to the course he had set himself, relying on well-wishers (of which there were plenty) prepared to help him out in his efforts. Sabate called his group the ‘Grupos Anarcosindicalistas’; their motto was ‘Cultura y acción’.
‘On 29 April 1955, the group arrived in Spain with plenty of weapons and propaganda, including a subversive publication called ‘El Combate’, to highlight the historic date of 1 May and to remind readers of the CNT’s having been set up to champion the rights of workers and to argue the case for direct action.
‘On 28 September 1955, using a mortar Quico had constructed in Grenoble (France), an unusual mortar whose shells were stuffed with propaganda, the group continued its propaganda efforts, with leaflets in Catalan and Spanish and signed on behalf of the ‘Moviment de Lliberació’ and ‘Movimiento de Liberación de España’. These publications bore no CNT initials because Sabaté hoped to draw all segments of the population into the struggle against Francoism.
‘Throughout 1955 QS remained in Catalonia, establishing bases and groups tasked with distributing propaganda, printed materials and recruitment. In one manifesto entitled ‘To the Spanish People’, Sabaté called on all Spanish antifascists to join a democratic anti-Francoist resistance alliance and denouncing the stance adopted by the USA, Britain, the USSR, France and so on, who claimed to have fought the war in order to free people from fascism but who were now welcoming Franco’s representatives into UNESCO and the UN. At this point QS and his comrades were providing the only support for 42 militants and sympathisers recently arrested inside Spain, the CNT-in-exile having refused them any moral or material assistance whatsoever.
‘No one can question the fact that QS was an honourable man of integrity. All the proceeds that Sabaté raised from hold-ups were funnelled directly into clandestine activity: propaganda, weapons, travel costs, aid for comrades’ families and paying prisoners’ legal advisors. Nor is there any denying the political-psychological spirit behind the hold-ups. During one hold-up, QS not only said: ‘I’m El Quico’, but left behind a note saying: ‘We’re not bank robbers, we’re libertarian resisters. What we take away will be used to feed the children of the antifascists you have shot.’
‘On another occasion, he explained to staff at an office that he was holding up that the money was destined to support the anti-Francoist resistance. Let it be said also that QS was never involved in hold-ups in France. He was only ever charged with possession of arms and explosives and nothing else (other proceedings against him resulted in charges being dropped, twice). In France my father always worked for his living and he enjoyed his work.
‘QS was not embittered nor was he suicidal. On the contrary, he was a man who loved life, who lived intensely in the moment and was something of a joker. As Antonio Téllez says: ‘ If El Quico managed to survive so many years of unrelenting and risky action, this was due largely to his intelligence, vim and personal courage, but also in large measure to what is usually referred to as ‘luck’, although in his case he was consistently extremely prudent. He was brave but not suicidal.’ Nor was it revenge that drove QS: it was the fight against Francoism.
‘For some days the French and world press was full of reports on Quico Sabaté’s death. The Toulouse newspaper La Dépêche du Midi carried a very respectful account of Quico Sabaté’s demise. He received tributes from many unnamed Spaniards and French people too. Afterwards, trade unionists and workers from the Renault plant and French printing workers organised whip-rounds to provide material assistance to his wife Leonora and his daughters.
‘These were echoes of the workers’ solidarity for which Sabaté had fought. All were keen to pay tribute to a guerrilla who perished in the cause of Life, Justice and Freedom.
‘Finally, I should like to say that what is said about QS holds true also for all who fought and perished under Francoism.
Alba Sabaté (San Celoni, 5 January 2012)
(Translated by Paul Sharkey)