SABATÉ – Guerrilla Extraordinary by Antonio Téllez Solà eBook £1.50 (see eBookshelf)

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This compelling and moving book, first published in Spanish in 1972 (and in English in 1974), examines the life of one of the best-known of all the Spanish resistance fighters — Francisco Sabaté Llopart, known as El Quico, General Franco’s ‘Public Enemy No. 1’. But it is more than this, for the author, Antonio Téllez, traces in detail what has been called ‘a little-known period of Spanish history’, the period that saw the development of the Anarchist resistance to the Fascist regime following the tragic end of the Spanish Civil War, a resistance that continues to this day (1974). It paints a striking picture not only of the development of resistance in Spain, but also of its too-long ignored influence on contemporary (1960s and 1970s) urban guerrilla movements in South America and in Europe.

It is a sad story: of a man who would not compromise his ideals nor treat with a system he found tyrannical and vile, a man who devoted his adult life to freeing the most openly oppressed people in Europe. But Sabaté ‘s story does not end in 1960, as did his life, in the dusty street in San Celoni surrounded by Militia and Guardia Civil and broken by their bullets. His struggle was taken up by men and women throughout Spain. As Téllez demonstrates, Sabaté proved by his selfless battle that the individual is never helpless; there is always a possibility of rebelling and defending an idea one considers just. Francisco Sabaté, unquenchably brave, undismayed by failure, unmarked by treachery, gave to his people and to the free world the knowledge of the rightness of his cause.

‘Soy El Quico!’ 1Soy El Quico‘ – 2 — El Maquis a Catalunya

Antonio Téllez Solà (1921-2005), the Herodotus of the anti-Franco maquis by Stuart Christie

Antonio Tellez Sola (photo by Stuart Christie)

Antonio Téllez Solà, who has died at his home in Perpignan aged 84, was one of the last survivors of the anarchist resistance that fought to overthrow the Franco dictatorship. He was also one of the first historians of the post civil war urban and rural guerrilla resistance to the fascist regime. In his actions and his writings, Téllez personified refusal to surrender to tyranny.

The son of a railway worker, he was born in Tarragona and was radicalised by the October 1934 insurrection in Asturias, which failed when the unions outside the mining region failed to give their support. On 19 July 1936, when the workers, this time united, held at bay the rebellion of most of the Spanish officer class against the infant left-wing Republic, Téllez was in Lérida where he joined the anarchist youth organisation, the Juventudes Libertarias, immersing himself in the struggle to fight fascism and preserve the social revolution with which the union rank and file had answered the generals’ attempted coup.

Téllez joined the army aged 18, in the final stages of the Republic’s collapse, and saw action on various fronts until February 1939 when, with thousands of other anti-Francoist refugees, he was forced into exile in France. There he spent a year in the Septfonds concentration camp and then a further six months in the camp at Argeles sur Mer, two of many locations in which the French government interned the people who had held fascism at bay for almost three years. Escaping at the end of 1940, he joined a band of Spanish guerrillas operating in the Aveyron department, serving as part of the IX Brigade  (French Forces of the Interior), and resisting the occupation until Liberation in 1944.

In October 1944 Téllez took part in the ill-advised 10-day invasion of Francoist Spain by approximately 6,000 Spanish republican guerrillas of the CP-led Unión Nacional Española (UNE) via the Arán and Ronçal valleys in the Pyrenees, one of the first operations mounted by the maquis against the Franco regime. With the defeat of the UNE at the battle of Salardú, he moved to Toulouse where he set up clandestine arms dumps for the guerrilla campaign.

For two years Téllez served on the second peninsular committee of the Iberian Federation of Libertarian Youth (FIJL), carrying out clandestine liaison missions between the anarchist movement in France and Spain. Resigning from organisational activity in April 1946, he travelled undercover in Spain for three months establishing contacts with the guerrillas and what remained of the illegal anarchist movement. Téllez was unable to generate financial or organisational support for the Resistance due to the hostility of the Toulouse-based National Committee of the exiled anarcho-syndicalist union, the National Confederation of Labour (CNT) to armed struggle. Frustrated by oligarchic tensions and self-serving politicking, he moved to Paris where he worked as a reporter for Agence France Presse from 1960 until retirement in 1986, when he moved to Ceret in the Pyrenees and then to Perpignan.

In Paris Téllez continued to contribute to the anarchist press, but from 1954 onwards it was clear that his life’s work was to write the histories of the legendary names of the anarcho-syndicalist action groups: Francisco Sabaté Llopart, José Luis Facerias, Wenceslao Gimenez Orive, Francisco Denis, Raul Carballeira, Marcelino Massana Bancells — and many more, from the mountains and sierras of Catalonia, Aragón, Asturias and Galicia in the north to the Levante and Extremadura in the west and east, to Andalucia in the south.

I met Téllez for the first time in Paris in 1973. While I was on remand in Brixton prison he had sent me a copy of his newly published biography of Francisco Sabaté, which I translated from Spanish into English. After my acquittal I visited him to discuss the book, which he was constantly updating and revising, as he did with all his work. We became firm friends. His archives were enormous and his apartment overlooking the Pêre Lachaise cemetery was stacked from floor to ceiling with boxes of files, documents and photograph albums. His accomplishments in a particularly difficult area of study were quite remarkable given that his subject matter was clandestine groups and secretive and highly individualistic militants who were activists rather than theorists, many of whom were outcasts from their own organisations. I witnessed a good example of this in Paris, when I introduced Téllez to Octavio Alberola, the coordinator of Defensa Interior, the clandestine anarchist group responsible for organising assassination attempts on Franco between 1962 and 1966. The two men had never met and Alberola was taken aback when from on top of his wardrobe, Téllez produced the original plans for the proposed 1963 assassination attempt on Franco at the Puente de los Franceses near the Oriente Palace in Madrid. We never did discover where he acquired them.

Téllez’s published and unpublished output was phenomenal, covering the period from Franco’s victory on 1 April 1939 to his death on 20 November 1975, and beyond. He had two main objectives: to record the lives of selfless men who would not compromise their ideals nor treat with a system they found villainous and vile, men who devoted their adult lives to freeing Spain from the last of the Axis dictators. His work has been a major contribution to the movement for the recovery of historical memory, which is now playing such an important part in contemporary Spanish politics. Téllez’s other objective was to demonstrate that the individual is never helpless; there is always the possibility of rebelling and defending an idea one considers just, even in the most unfavourable and adverse conditions.

Antonio Téllez Solà, anarchist, guerrilla, historian, born January 18 1921; died March 27 2005. He is survived by his partner, Armonía, and two sons.

Published work:

1) Sabaté: the urban guerrilla in Spain (1945-1960.)

2) Facerías: urban guerrilla (1939-1957). The anti-Francoist struggle of the Spanish libertarian movement in Spain and exile.

3) The MIL and Puig Antich.

4) The Unsung Struggle — The Plot to Assassinate Franco from the Air — 1948.

5) The Anarchist Pimpernel — Francisco Ponzán Vidal (1936-1944). The anarchists in the Spanish Civil War and the escape and evasion networks in World War II.

6) Apuntes sobre Antonio Garcia Lamolla y otras andares. Recuerdo (with José Peirats)

He was one of the founders of the publication Atalaya (1957-1958), and contributed regularly to Ruta, Solidaridad Obrera (Paris), CNT, Bicicleta, Cultura Libertaria, Polémica and Historia Libertaria, to which he brought fresh evidence on the little-known anarchist maquis in Asturias

Unpublished works include:

1) Guerrilla Warfare in Galicia — Mario Rodríguez Losada (O Pinche, O Langullo)

2) Atalaya.

3) Notas para una eventual ebozo biográfico de José García Tella

And many monographs on individuals, publications from 1944 to the Iberian Liberation Council, Defensa Interior, the First of May Group, the MIL, GARI and the collapse of the Suarez trial in Paris in 1979. When he died, he was working on a number of projects including a history of the FIJL from 1935, an incomplete manuscript on Action Direct, the French anarchist action group, another incomplete manuscript on his personal relationships with the guerrilla, and an index of the names and personal histories of the urban and rural guerrillas. Harmonia, his partner, has indicated these will probably be loaned to the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam as part of a proposed Antonio Téllez Foundation.


One Response to “SABATÉ – Guerrilla Extraordinary by Antonio Téllez Solà eBook £1.50 (see eBookshelf)”

  1. christie

    Review by MH (‘Black Flag’, October 1974)

    Freedom’s cause can have had few more generous or affectionate friends than Francisco Sabaté Llopart (1915-60). For thirty years this man, known to friend and foe alike as ‘El Quico’, refused to accept his lot as powerless. He is famous, principally, for his struggle against the Franco dictatorship in the years 1945 to 1960; for instead of accepting defeat and exile he lived according to the dictum: “The revolutionary does not dedicate his life to preparing for the revolution: he makes it.”
    Now his friend and comrade Antonio Téllez has written this book which he modestly describes as “an outline, a cameo if you like, of a man whose biography is yet to be written”, but which is in fact a most powerful study, personal in form but deeply political in content, of a man whom he shows quite clearly to be a uniquely outstanding rebel.

    Love And Hard Work
    Sabaté came from a suburb of Barcelona and showed a great love of freedom while still very young. He was clearly a warm and steadfast soul, as the surviving photographs of him reveal. They also show him as thoughtful and resolute. He undoubtedly possessed great physical strength, which he took care to conserve, for he neither smoked nor drank. Although often isolated he was never a loner, a fanatic; when he was twenty he and his companion Leonor Castells Marti literally set up house together, building it “with love and hard work”; eventually they raised two daughters, born some years later.
    Always punctilious in his dealings with others, Sabaté expected the same in return. He took full public responsibility for his actions, as when the French police discovered his arms cache on the farm of a French comrade. When his activities involved innocent parties, as for example when he hijacked a car to use in a robbery, he would advise them how to escape suspicion that they were his accomplices. All the fabulous amounts he robbed from Spanish banks went into the organisation; in France, he and Leonor lived and supported their children entirely out of their earnings, his as a plumber and hers as a cleaner (for a brief period he was a farmer). He was a man of initiative and a hard worker, says Téllez; it is not difficult to believe him. He was loath to shoot first at his enemies.

    A Lifetime of Struggle
    Sabaté’s struggles began with his escape from a reformatory at a very early age. By the time of the Francoist uprising in July 1936 he had been an active Anarchist for over four years, from the age of sixteen. In those formative years his activities were inseparable from those of his much loved elder brother José, as they were to be again in the post-war period until José was shot down in 1949. A third much younger brother, Manuel, was captured and murdered by the fascists at almost the same time. For the Sabatés as for others the Anarchist slogan “The War and the Revolution Are Inseparable” meant just that.
    As a result ‘Quico’ spent some months of the war on the run, then in prison, whence he escaped to the front. Later he became a founder member of the French maquis.
    With the fall of Hitler, Sabaté resumed the struggle against his previous foe, the Franco dictatorship. His efforts were interrupted only by periods of imprisonment or banishment in France for illegal possession of arms. They finally ceased only when he was gunned down in a Catalonian village on 5 January 1960.
    Sabaté and his comrades faced a totalitarian State which draws upon and uses in an efficient and thorough manner all the methods of twentieth-century government by terror. A regime of bigoted and psychopathic jailers, torturers and killers, who between 1939 and 1942 led out and shot literally hundreds of thousands of political opponents. The heirs of Torquemada, the pupils of the Gestapo. If the regime of Franco appears any less fearsome or destructive than that of Hitler or Stalin it is, ultimately, because men and women such as Sabaté and his comrades have, over the years, rent its evil facade from top to bottom, not once but again and again.
    ‘El Quico’ and his comrades set up guerrilla bases and safe houses between Barcelona and the French frontier. These served as refuges, arms depots, and supply posts in the Anarchist struggle against the dictatorship. The guerrillas carried out reprisals against the fascist murderers of comrades; they killed informers or chased them out of town. They organised aid for prisoners and their families. They attempted the life of the vicious Eduardo Quintela, Barcelona Chief of Police, failing only by staggering bad luck. They bombed the consulates of powers friendly to Franco. As the years went by, propaganda — often by very unconventional methods — played a most important part in guerrilla activity.
    The methods of the Libertarian Resistance were bold, ingenious, and courageous — as are those of the men and women who carry on the same noble struggle today. Sabaté was always armed, usually in disguise. He displayed great caution and thought everything out to the last detail.
    Reading this book, in which many incidents are brought vividly to life, one has the feeling of looking over the shoulder of a great craftsman. Considering the meagre material resources at the disposal of the Resistance its achievements are still breathtaking.

    Tyrants Shall Not Rule Forever!
    The following lines from Shelley seem to place Sabaté’s struggle in perspective:

    Fear not that the tyrants shall rule forever,
    Or the priests of the bloody faith;
    They stand on the brink of that mighty river
    Whose waves they have tainted with death;
    It is fed from the depths of a thousand dells,
    Around them it foams, and rages, and swells,
    And their swords and their sceptres I floating see,
    Like wrecks in the surge of eternity.

    Never did El Quico and his comrades cast themselves as deliverers. Téllez is explicit on this point, saying: “For Sabaté, the struggle against Franco could not be considered in the light of group or party politics. His only concern was to create a climate of insurrection. Victory for him did not consist of building up the power of a political name or tendency, but in the incorporation of all people’s forces against tyranny.”
    Unfortunately, however the established Spanish Libertarian Movement (MLE/CNT) in exile, ruled by an ossifying bureaucracy spawned from the apathy and general impotence of its adherents, saw itself precisely in the role of a “vanguard” to return “one day” to Spain and proclaim itself the saviour of the people — just as politicians do when a dictatorship falls. Sabaté and his comrades moved further away from the bureaucratic inertia and interference of the MLE/CNT, claiming and exercising more and more autonomy in their efforts to rouse and support opposition in the Interior.
    Eventually the bureaucracy became downright antagonistic to the Resistance, even engaging in highly damaging slanders against Sabaté, to which he could not reply without breaking cover.
    The Francoists were not slow to take advantage of the isolation of the Resistance and sought and obtained the co-operation of the French authorities in suppressing it. The guerrillas had little defence in France since the “official’ voice of the MLE/CNT was not raised on their behalf.
    The assumption of power by De Gaulle and the institution therewith of the ‘regne des flics’ —- the quasi-police-state – made matters worse still. In December 1959 Sabaté was literally driven from France by the revival of a murder charge, against which he had already defended himself successfully, into the meshes of a massive dragnet in the Spanish Pyrenees. The Francoists had prepared an orgy of vengeance against their ‘Public Enemy No. 1’. Mortally wounded, his four comrades killed, ‘El Quico’ nevertheless made a spectacular escape from the trap and was finally shot down only as he collapsed at death’s door.
    Here is a fine book about a great revolutionary, Written with devotion and insight.‘ Thanks to Antonio Téllez, and to Stuart Christie who translated the original Spanish work while in Brixton prison awaiting trial, Sabaté will inspire many who never even heard of him during his lifetime. As I put down this book I was reminded of some words by Albert Camus who, by coincidence, died the day before Sabaté:

    ‘At this moment, when each of us must fit an arrow to his bow and enter the lists anew, to reconquer, within history and in spite of it, that which he owns already, the thin yield of his fields, the brief love of this earth, at this moment when at last a man is born, it is time to forsake our age and its adolescent rages. The bow bends; the wood complains. At the moment of supreme tension, there will leap into flight an unswerving arrow, a shaft that is inflexible and free.’

    MH (‘Black Flag’, vol 3, No 14, October 1974)