The Servicio de Evacuación de Refugiados Españoles or Servicio de Emigración de los Republicanos Españoles (SERE) (Emigration/evacuation service for Spanish Republican refugees) was, supposedly, a non-sectarian refugee support organisation set up in February 1939 under the aegis of pro-Stalinist prime minister Juan Negrín. Distribution of SERE’s funds — responsibility for which had been arbitratrily arrogated to themselves by Negrín and his Socialist Party (PSOE) cronies — was suspended in July 1939 on the grounds the organisation had ‘run out of money’. In reality, according to many informed observers, including Cipriano Mera and anarchist historian Francisco Olaya Morales, the funds had been misappropriated, administered and distributed without any proper oversight, and benefited, primarily, senior Republicans close to Negrín. Cipriano Mera wrote the following letter to SERE clarifying his role in militarisation, the National Defence Council and in the pre-emptive coup against Negrín — and effectively informing them what they could do with their offer to him of financial support.
“Those like myself who have travelled a piece down life’s highway, a path strewn more with thorns than with flowers; those like myself who are over the hill in life and closer to its setting than its rising; those like myself who have spent twenty years fighting to see to it that the long-suffering worker may live, if not well then at least a touch less badly; those like myself who have been, not onlookers but actors in the drama of war, are entitled, not to force others to follow in our footsteps, but to give us a hearing, since, amid the enormous brutality called war, we have left chunks of our dignity, pained by the impossibility of our acting in accordance with the dictates of our revolutionary consciousness; those like myself whose hearts have been hardened over the course of the struggle by the brutal errors made by an infinite number of individuals – some irresponsible for want of the understanding required to make a clear distinction between good and evil, but others bearing great responsibility because endowed with their vast learning – we, I say again, are within our rights in speaking candidly to any Spaniard who in one way or another, has had a hand in the war waged against international fascism.
“These lines, should they make their way through the darkness to public attention are – you will contend – meant for you, but I could equally have been addressing myself or each of the militants in charge; they could have been written for any worker, because when it comes to social, political, economic, trade union accountability, etc. all, absolutely all of those trading in public life, of whatever rank they may be, from the most obscure comrade up to the loftiest intellectual, are directly or indirectly answerable. And we say all because some, by dint of mental laziness, and others through lack of understanding of social issues and still others because, craftily or wisely, they scurried to join organisations and wasted no time on mulling over or refused to consider and gauge the seriousness of the problems facing us at each point and in each context. So, albeit that these lines may be addressed to you, may they serve to let each and every person know who remained in and who fled from his post, the post that proletarian history and humanity assigned to those of us Spaniards who play a part in this war and help shape this proletarian history.
“Those introductory remarks made, I have to tell you that, like many another, I was reluctant to embrace militarisation due to scruples of trade union and specific conscience, but, once the National Committees were convinced that the war, with all that it implied, could only be countered by warfare; once they became convinced that the chief actor in war is the army and that this is made up of public and private morality, discipline and obedience to commands, etc., then not only did I abide by militarisation at the request of lots of comrades, but, being persuaded both of that need and setting to one side – or, rather, placing scruples over principle in parentheses – I became a loyal servant and carrier-out of the orders that the government passed down to me through my superiors.
“I have nothing with which to reproach myself in respect of the performance of my duties as a serviceman and as a man, nor do I think anyone will make so bold as to show otherwise. To sum up: I fought as a true believer against fascism, because I was perfectly well aware that I was fighting to win freedom for each and every Spaniard and because [I] harboured the hope that our freedom might be a revolutionary pointer for the freedom of other peoples.
“What is more, I have nothing in common with those who, disguised as servicemen or walled up in their ivory towers in the rearguard, sully the good name of the People’s Army in some instances or, in others, undermine the morale of their own rearguard. However, I still have every respect for those who, regardless of their beliefs, have defended their post with vigour, sincerity and honour, marrying – in a manner that many cannot fathom – their feats of arms with their principles, insofar as the ghastliness of war allows.
“In my own view as the champion of an ideal, a cause, high-mindedly doing my utmost to humanize its impact, anyone who, without any hypocritical dissembling, champions the humane cause of freedom for all the oppressed, is deserving of respect and will, ultimately, be respected by humanity, if not in this generation, then in generations to come when proletarian history comes to judge their conduct, which will be a model for all men of upright conscience. Men who settle everything with one bold stroke, very often followed by a sort of blessed ignorance, all that is left of them being a memory with no positive impact.
“Now let us take a look at how those who were forever saying that they were committed to rescuing it dealt with the Spanish people.
“Days before the Communist Party revolt, I requested, through Colonel Casado, a meeting with the leader of the government, Señor Negrín so as to avert any hint of indiscipline, that having been my wish at all times. The meeting took place in my command post in Alcohete (Guadalajara). Senor Negrín arrived with his private secretary, Señor Soley, Modesto’s adjutant and member of the PCE. Señor Negrin, Colonel Casado, Feliciano Benito, an orderly and I were present at the meeting. I explained the object of the meeting to one and all, reminding Señor Negrín that on 6 September 1938 I had sent him a private report exposing the acts of treachery being committed within units of the army by persons belonging to the PCE [Communist Party of Spain]. He indicated to me that he had received same and had ordered an investigation, the outcome of which had been communicated neither to the commander of the Army of the Centre nor to me. At which point I handed him a copy of the afore-mentioned report which Señor Negrín accepted without comment.
“I told Señor Negrín that I was going to speak to him the way a son would to his father: If you are still a socialist – I said to him – you ought to be the first to recognise that the aims harboured by the PCE are nothing short of capturing all Army command positions, mounting a coup d’état and successfully representing to the world that the PCE is holding out to the bitter end whereas anarchists, socialists and republicans and other political groupings were agents provocateurs. If, in order to save Spain – I went on – prominent persons have to be sacrificed, I place myself at your disposal. I deem it a serious error urging the people to resist when it is a certain fact that all is lost. As is demonstrated by the fact that those who were haranguing us about standing fast had removed their own families and capital to safety by sending them abroad. Add that to the under-nourishment and crushed morale of the army.
“Lest he believe that these claims were spoken in the heat of the moment, I invited him to visit the perfectly fortified lines, safe shelters and underground powder stores we had established, etc.
“In the course of that interview with Señor Negrín, I put it to him that, in my estimation, there were only three options for saving Spain, if not entirely, then at least morally and these were: Colonel Casado’s scheme, as put to him six months previously at the Armies Grouping, to wit, establishing a line along the Segura [river] so as to have access to a port and take a selection of our Army, no more than 80,000 men and, naturally, stockpiling all of the supplies that army was going to need in terms both of war materials and provisions; the second was the preferred option of the signatory, consisting of boosting our army’s morale on the basis of breaking through on every front and switching from a regular army to the establishment of great guerrilla armies, all reserves being held in a strategic location to await deployment to wherever we might have met with the greatest success. I do not feel that there is any need for me to go into fuller detail because I believe I have lived this war: the third [option] consisted of the government’s taking full responsibility for parleying with the enemy, without any necessity for recourse to foreign emissaries, so as to spare the greatest possible number of lives among the active proletariat.
“Of Señor Negrín’s silent reception of all of the above, we shall say nothing; his sole response being to attempt a coup d’état so as to thwart all those of us who were not in cahoots with political communism and to present us to the wider world as agents provocateurs. As Señor Negrín, director of the disastrous policy that did for the war and for countless fine comrades, is the very same man who oversees and handles SERE policy, there you have the reason why I wash my hands not only of any personal benefit but indeed of any negotiations relating to myself.
“To conclude: I am refugee No 111 from Camp Morand at which camp Ossorio y Tafall visited us a few days ago: I had a brief conversation with him. He opened by expressing his surprise at finding me in that camp and with a series of nonsenses that I cut short by telling him in reply that the folk at SERE ought to realise that the millions in gold that they, and chiefly, Negrín had smuggled out, belong to the Spanish people which fought for its independence, its blood irrigating the soil of our homeland, rather than to some gaggle of wise men deserving only contempt from anyone with a clear conscience.
“So nothing links me to the SERE. My duty is to my trade union and to my beliefs and I will receive all my instructions and everything relative to myself as a man and as a refugee from our National Committee. To the SERE I have not one word to say.”
Signed: Mera, 15/7/1939