The following extract from Pistoleros! The Chronicles of Farquhar McHarg 3:1920-1924 relates to a fictitious honour court –arbitration panel of CNT rank-and file members hearing charges against Federica Montseny and her husband, Germinal Esgleas, of treachery, malfeasance and — among other things — complicity in a murder plot against CNT militants Joaquin Ascaso and Antonio Ortíz, both pivotal figures in the anarchist Regional Defence Council of Aragón (December 1936— August 1937).
“… Picking up a sheet of paper, Farquhar pointed to Esgleas.
“‘For those of you who don’t know, let me tell you some details about this gentleman’s career. Germinal Esgleas Jaume, aged 73, a Catalan from Malgrat, spent his early childhood in Spanish Morocco where tribal rebels murdered his father and brother during the Rif uprising. Esgleas was the sole survivor. In 1919 his mother took him back to Calella, the family home, some fifty kilometres north of Barcelona, where he found employment in the textile industry, and where he joined the CNT. By 1920, the 17-year-old had been elected secretary of the local General Industries Union and, by 1923, was an established figure in the union, having been brought under the wing of Juan García Oliver who nominated him, unsuccessfully, for the post of regional secretary of the Catalan CNT.
“‘Then, in 1926, during the Primo de Rivera dictatorship, he met and began working with Joan Montseny, the publisher of the purist anarchist periodical La Revista Blanca — and father of his future partner Federica Montseny.
“ ‘In 1928, Esgleas was arrested and convicted of illegal association, spending a year in prison due to his union membership. On release, he worked as a union-sponsored teacher in a rationalist school in Mataro, and by the time of the 1931 CNT Congress he was the teachers’ union representative for Blanes, Calella and Malgrat — and a member of the Federación Anarquista Ibérica, the FAI.
“ ‘In August 1936, within weeks of the military-fascist uprising, someone, I don’t know who, selected him to be one of the three-man joint CNT-FAI-PSUC-UGT commission who, during the autumn and winter of 1936-37, travelled between Paris, Prague, Warsaw, Liège and Hamburg to acquire arms on behalf of the republican government, the Catalan Generalidad and the Anti-Fascist Militias Committee. The other members of that commission were fellow CNT-FAI members Manuel Mascarell and Facundo Roca Gascó. Questions were raised — both at the time and subsequently — about the competency and the financial irregularities surrounding the work of this commission, none of which have ever been satisfactorily answered. Few if any arms were acquired and substantial sums of money remain unaccounted for. Whether this was due to incompetence and inexperience in negotiating with wily European arms dealers and confidence tricksters, or to fraud, it is unlikely we will ever know.
“ ‘Comrade Meltzer here, on the Panel, may have more detailed knowledge of this aspect of Esgleas’s career as he himself was involved in procuring and shipping 840 tons of rifles, machineguns and ammunition to the CNT in Alicante on the SS Bramhill from the Free Port of Hamburg.
“ ‘First, however, we should consider the meteoric rise within the confederal leadership of Esgleas’s and Montseny’s mentor and protector, Mariano Rodriguez Vázquez, or “Marianet”, as he was known. Marianet was, in turn, the protégé of the CNT’s collaborationist secretary-general, Horacio Martínez Prieto, and Juan García Oliver.
“ ‘Marianet’s advancement within the Organisation from June 1936 onwards is suspiciously obscure — but meteoric. Like his sponsor in the apostolic succession that was the confederal leadership of the time, Martínez Prieto, “Marianet” was an “unconditional” supporter of the Negrín government which came to power on 17 May 1937, on the back of that month’s Stalinist provocations at the Barcelona Telephone Exchange. It is also undisputed that Marianet and his placemen, including Montseny and Esgleas here, were constantly manoeuvring for the CNT-FAI’s full participation in the Negrín government — and seeking peace negotiations with Franco.
“ ‘This leads us to Esgleas’s and Montseny’s complicity in Marianet’s plot to smuggle gold ingots and jewels out of the country after the events of May ’37, the consequences of which were borne — out of loyalty to the union — by Joaquín Ascaso, an innocent comrade of indisputable integrity whom they later conspired to murder, along with comrade Antonio Ortíz.(2)
“ ‘On 17 March 1939, a week after crossing into exile in France, Secretary-General Marianet travelled to London with Bartolomé Pascual, José Pros and Facundo Roca Gascó — the latter being the Paris-based CNT-FAI intelligence officer who procured the poison intended to murder Ascaso and Ortíz — for a secret meeting with Bank of England officials in an attempt to negotiate the recovery of funds previously transferred to the UK by the Negrín government. This London meeting had been arranged through the offices of the Madrid-based British naval attaché, Captain Alan Hillgarth, a British Intelligence officer with staunch integrist Roman Catholic and ardent pro-Francoist sympathies.(3)
“ ‘Another reason for the National Committee’s trip to London was to liaise with Colonel Segismundo Casado, head of the former republican National Defence Council, to coordinate the shipping to London of whatever economic assets and produce that could be smuggled out of Spain.
“ ‘On his return to Paris, Marianet instructed González Marín, the CNT’s Treasury and Agriculture secretary in the Casado administration — which now constituted the republican government in Madrid — to order the director general of security in Madrid to collect the maximum possible amount of foreign currency, ostensibly to fund the activities of the various Evacuation Juntas, a sum that amounted to nearly 80 million francs. Marín also ordered four ships of large tonnage to put in at Valencia to load cargoes of almonds, mercury, and saffron, etc., to sell on the international market, the revenue from which was supposedly intended for the Evacuation Juntas. Again, no monies ever reached these committees.
“ ‘By the 18th of June that year Marianet” was dead, drowned while swimming in a lake by the river Marne south of Paris. In spite of the fact that he was known to be a strong swimmer, the coroner recorded a verdict of “accidental death by drowning”.
“ ‘Present that fateful day at the picnic with Marianet was José María Villanueva, a member of the CNT-FAI foreign intelligence service, who is here with us in this room today . . .’ Farquhar nodded in the direction of a well-dressed elderly man seated at the rear of the room. The man returned his stare, dispassionately. Farquhar continued: ‘. . . as indeed were comrades Esgleas and Montseny, all of whom watched from the shore as the “gypsy-king” of the construction union, the sobriquet by which Marianet was known, struggled helplessly in the water. No one went to his assistance.
“ ‘And so, the man who replaced the unfortunate Marianet as secretary-general of the Executive Council of the MLE, was Germinal Esgleas, a witness to — and a beneficiary of — his death.’(4)
“Farquhar paused for a drink of water, then resumed:
“ ‘Another statement I have here, from García Oliver, claims that immediately after Marianet’s death, both Esgleas and the CNT-FAI security chief, Manuel Escorza, went directly from the scene of the “accident” to the deceased’s apartment and removed the thousands of files he had been keeping on CNT-FAI members. It is probable that he also removed the documents and bank statements relating to the CNT funds at the same time. What became of these files and documents?
“ ‘Some of you may remember that among the ever-changing list of MLE’s Executive Council members was a character by the name of Serafin Aliaga, a pro-Stalinist member of the FIJL who challenged the Casado-Mera coup against the CP-led Negrín government in 1939, and who later joined the Communist Party (PCE) in 1940. Given the information about this person on file, how and why was he allowed to continue serving on the “Executive Committee” of a supposedly anarchist organisation when, clearly, his loyalties lay elsewhere?
“ ‘Another deposition in Cerrada’s files is from comrade Josep Trenc Cases complaining that in post-1939 Toulouse he was constantly running into all sorts of questionable people in the MLE claiming to have been militants during the war. “Plants and fifth columnists whose sole function,” he said, “was to cause mischief and sow confusion.” Surely Esgleas, with access to Marianet’s and Escorza’s extensive files, could have exposed and dealt with these people? Or did it serve his purposes to keep them on side?
“ ‘We can only speculate as to the reasons for Esgleas’s calmness, and the equanimity with which he reportedly viewed Marianet’s death-throes in the water. I would venture to suggest that, with Marianet gone, the way would be clear for him to step into his shoes and take complete control of the MLE. There is also, I suggest, the possibility of Esgleas’s pique at the “horns” he believed he had acquired due to his wife’s lusty relationship with the handsome gypsy.’
“No sooner had Farquhar mentioned Esgleas’s “horns” and Montseny’s alleged affair with Marianet when at least half the audience — and the accused — jumped to their feet, hissing and voicing angry protests. For a few minutes all hell broke loose. It looked as though it might develop into violent situation, possibly even a gunfight. Many of those present were probably carrying guns. Eventually, however, Téllez restored order to the proceedings and, after he had admonished Farquhar to speculate less and keep to the substance of the matter, the hearing got underway again.
“ ‘I apologise,’ said Farquhar, ‘for my earlier digression if I appeared ungallant, but to return to the point, I should say that Cerrada’s archives included a statement from Juan Verde, the first Minutes Secretary of the MLE Executive Council, originally nominated for that position by García Oliver. According to Verde, neither Esgleas nor Montseny attended any of the first half-dozen or so meetings at which he took the minutes. Only after Marianet’s death, and Esgleas’s nomination as secretary-general, did he and Montseny start attending meetings. Verde, by the way, lasted only a few months in the job. He resigned after falling out with García Oliver over the undemocratic nature of the MLE’s Executive Council.
“ ‘Esgleas has consistently refused to discuss the question of the MLE funds and the movable assets entrusted to his and Marianet’s care in February-March 1939. Nor was he prepared to cede what he still sees as his absolute authority to any of the duly elected secretary-generals of the CNT in exile — José Germán González, Juan Manuel Molina — Juanel, who is here today, and Francisco Careño — or to the national or regional committees in the interior for prisoner relief, family support, for education and propaganda, or for those involved in the guerrilla struggle against the Franco regime. The story he told Juanel’s National Committee was, firstly, that the cupboard was bare and that there was no “MLE treasure” and, secondly, that had they acceded to every request for help from poverty-stricken and imprisoned members, there would not have been enough left over to cover their postage costs. Inevitably, the result split the CNT, a split for which Esgleas and Montseny, I would argue, bear the bulk of responsibility.(4)
“Jumping to his feet again, Esgleas shouted: ‘Point of order, comrade chairman. The facts are that in December 1944, I informed Juanel’s National Committee of the interior that there was no MLE “treasure”; if there were any treasure, the secret went to the bottom of the Marne along with Marianet’s body. Allow me to spell it out clearly, again, neither then nor subsequently have I been the depositary of CNT or MLE funds. I also informed Juanel and his colleagues that I would account for my stewardship only to a full CNT congress held inside a free Spain, and to no one else, certainly not to a kangaroo court such as this or to a National Committee headquartered in the Puerta del Sol whose regional committees operate from the country’s Civil Guard barracks. Juanel and the other National Committee members wouldn’t take my word for it, so, under the circumstances, we had no alternative but to break off all contact with them until the following year during a full congress of the CNT/MLE in Paris.’(5)
“ ‘Well,’ continued Farquhar once Esgleas had resumed his seat, ‘you can believe that if you like — I don’t. As I was saying: when the Nazis occupied France in May 1940, the other members of the MLE’s Executive Council — representing the national and peninsular committees of the CNT, FAI and FIJL — didn’t survive long: García Oliver and his wife Pilar fled to Sweden in July with the help of the SAC, shipping out from there to Mexico in November 1939; Germinal de Sousa, Valerio Mas and Francesc Isgleas were arrested in France, while Serafin Aliaga and Rafael Iñigo simply disappeared, leaving Esgleas and Montseny as the sole remaining members of the Executive Council of the MLE — with Esgleas as acting treasurer responsible for the assets of the CNT in Exile (CNTE), whatever and wherever they were.
“ ‘Given, therefore, comrades Esgleas and Montseny’s allegedly modest circumstances, I would like them to explain how they were able to purchase a farm so soon after arriving in France in 1939? Between 1936 and 1939 Esgleas was a paid union official, seconded to the Economic Council of the Generalidad, on, one imagines, a relatively small salary. As for comrade Montseny, she was Minister of Health and Public Assistance for only six months. When the Caballero government fell in May 1937 she reverted to being a full-time salaried member of the CNT, which was unlikely to have paid a great deal either; nor could her novel-writing have brought in much money, certainly not sufficient to purchase a farm in France.
“ ‘If indeed it was the ubiquitous André Germaine who purchased the farm and the land, what was the financial basis of their arrangement? Was it a loan, a gift, or something more sinister? And why did comrade Montseny adopt the name Fanny Germaine prior to the German invasion, especially when there was, at the time, no likelihood of her being extradited from France?’
“ ‘As for Esgleas and Montseny’s high-minded about-face on the vexed question of collaborating with governments and state agencies after their ministerial and organisational experiences during the Civil War, why on earth did they agree to serve on the committee of the Spanish Republican Emigration Service, the SERE — Servicio de Emigración de los Republicanos Españoles? Where did they think the assets of that organisation came from, if not from government? Did they not think that this conflicted with their much-vaunted principles of non-collaboration in — or with — government agencies?
“ ‘Pursuing this question of “purist anarchism” versus governmental collaboration, I’d like to ask them about the MLE Council’s ongoing relationship with the French government. Was it not the case that after the Liberation in 1944 the only organisations granted official recognition in France were those who could demonstrate a record of armed struggle against the Nazis? So, in order to claim the right for the MLE to exist as a legal entity in France, Esgleas would have had to claim credit for a resistance which he initially opposed, and in which he did not participate until obliged to do so, and for a very, very short period of time, by force of circumstance, having been liberated from prison by the Resistance.
“ ‘It was Esgleas, remember, who was responsible for the MLE’s official denunciation of the Resistance, in 1940, on the basis of their alleged principles, and their commitment to preserving the “moral and material” values of anarchism. It was precisely on these grounds that comrade Francisco Ponzán Vidal, one of the most outstandingly brave and selfless heroes of the Resistance and the escape and evasion lines, was expelled from the MLE — after resigning first in disgust at Esgleas’s stance!
“ ‘The reality is that during Germinal Esgleas’s time as secretary-general of the MLE and the CNT-in-exile, he was responsible for the expulsion of well over a thousand of the Organisation’s most committed rank-and-file militants. What Esgleas and Montseny and all the rest of these “heresy hunters” on the Executive Committee did, in fact, was to impose their patent on anarchism and exploit the office of the Executive Committee of the MLE as a modern version of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith — in other words, the Holy Office of the Inquisition — and, in the process, doing for anarchism what the Franciscans and Dominicans in the thirteenth century did for Christianity. In their manoeuvring to ensure their apostolic continuity they subverted and neutered a once-mighty, vital and revolutionary union, turning it into a monument frozen in time — a self-perpetuating, self-congratulating old comrades’ mutual aid association
“ ‘Equally, in July 1945, although the National Committee of the CNT appointed by the Paris Congress adopted a virulently anti-collaborationist line, it still issued, through Ángel Marín Pastor — a formerly highly regarded comrade and veteran of the Durruti Column who was later exposed as a police informer — a circular to its federations and committees urging all MLE personnel who had held officer/NCO rank in the Republican Army to join the AFARE, the Agrupación de Fuerzas Armadas de la República Española (Spanish Republican Armed Forces Group), an officially recognised veterans’ organisation in France. The idea was to establish the MLE’s Resistance credentials and raise its profile in anticipation of the Allies possibly honouring their promise to overthrow the Franco regime.
“ ‘I suggest that Esgleas’s and Montseny’s “anti-collaborationism” was never rooted in principle, but in out-and-out jealousy of their orthodoxy and their lust for power and influence. Don’t you find it strange that anti-collaborationism became their guiding principle only after the Mexican-based republican government in exile of José Giral y Pereyra failed to offer them cabinet portfolios?
“ ‘In a statement Cerrada took from Ramón Alvarez, Ramonín, a former CNT sub-committee secretary-general in 1945 — who is also here with us today — the Giral government asked the CNT in Spain, through the organisation in Toulouse, to nominate four members to fill the Public Works and Agriculture portfolios. The National Committee of the Interior proposed Montseny and Horacio Prieto — from the exterior — and José Sancho and José Leyva from the interior. Giral chose Prieto and Leyva. Only then did Esgleas and Montseny take exception to the idea of government participation and invoke “sacred principles”, ordering Leyva to return to Spain and instructing the organisation in the interior to reconsider and desist from appointing ministers to the Giral government. And when Prieto and Leyva eventually did take up their portfolios in Mexico, they were denounced — viciously and patronisingly — in a Montseny editorial in her mouthpiece, CNT, the official organ of the CNT in exile. I quote: “The so-called confederal ministers in the Giral government represent nobody. They are simply two former workers who represent only themselves.” Where, I ask, does that leave Montseny, whom I doubt has ever done a day’s waged work in her life, let alone been an ex-worker?
“ ‘It was this affront to Esgleas and Montseny’s dignity that triggered the split in the CNT, leaving those who supported the committees of the Interior, led by Ramonín, to set up an alternative CNT, known as the “Spain is the real movement” faction, focusing on clandestine union activity inside Spain.
“ ‘Toulouse’s patronising attitude to the comrades of the interior was typical of Esgleas, Montseny and their cronies. Let me give you an example. In 1945 the regional CNT secretary for Poitiers was Juan Bundo, a man with a FAI background, but with absolutely no union experience whatsoever. In his view, the emigré organisation in France was the real — the only — CNT. The comrades in the Interior, on the other hand, he dismissed as “collaborators” and “nameless types”, “canon fodder”! Comrade Enrique Marco Nadal (the secretary-general of the clandestine CNT in the interior between May 1946 and April 1947 when he was betrayed, arrested, and subsequently sentenced to death, then reprieved to serve 17 years in Francoist jails) told Cerrada that at the crucial Paris Congress of 1945 a speaker from the Esgleas/Montseny faction stood up and announced, shamelessly, that as far as the CNT was concerned the Spanish Civil War ended the moment the bulk of its members crossed into France during the retirada. Those who remained behind in Spain were, he claimed, “easily replaceable masses, once more favourable conditions returned”.’
“At this point Antonio Téllez, the chairman, intervened, suggesting the meeting adjourn for lunch and reconvene at 3:00 p.m. Esgleas, Montseny, and their acolytes, filed off to a bistro round the corner. Their supporters included Nisse Lätt, the one-eyed Swedish editor of Brand, a veteran of the Durruti column and the 1937 May Days. In spite of his own negative experiences with the ‘prominent leaders’ in Spain and his hostility to Montseny and Esgleas’s SAC paymasters, Latte consistently defended Montseny’s decision to accept a cabinet post in Largo Caballero’s government. Lätte always thought the best of people, believing Montseny’s story that she accepted the position out of loyalty and obligation. According to her, joining the government was what the rank-and-file wanted. Unfortunately, the question was never put to them. They were presented with a fait accompli by the national and regional committees of the CNT and by the peninsular committee of the FAI. ‘Those who attack Federica attack themselves’ was Lätte’s angry response to criticisms made of her in his presence. “
2: In May 1937 Spanish republican carabineros at the Puigcerdá border post stopped and searched a CNT staff car carrying two members of the CNT National Committee: Máximo Peris García and Aurelio Pernia Álvarez. The driver was Gregorio Elías Soriano. In the car they found suitcases containing gold bars and precious stones to the value of 700,000 pesetas. Threatened with summary execution unless they admitted to whom the haul belonged the pair gave a written statement that the gold and gems were given to them by CNT secretary-general Marianet to sell in France. The proceeds of the sale, they claimed, were to be used to purchase goods and equipment for the organisation.
When the National Committee learned of the arrests, and the damning confession made by its two members, Marianet instructed CNT lawyer Benito Pavón to extricate them from the embarrassing predicament in which they now found themselves. His advice was to find someone of good moral standing within the organisation, to act as scapegoat and take responsibility for the contraband. That someone, at Marianet’s and Esgleas’s suggestion, was Joaquín Ascaso, the president of the troublesome and embarrassing — to the CNT’s National and Catalan Regional Committee that is — independent Council of Aragón. The choice of Ascaso as criminal fall guy served a double purpose of course, with the likelihood of the CNT’s exclusion from the incoming Negrín government, in spite of Marianet, Montseny and Esgleas’s hard lobbying for ministerial positions in the new administration. A now desperate National Committee was ready to seize upon any excuse to demonstrate its respectability, especially if it was at the expense and to the detriment of the reputation of the Council of Aragón, whose radical programme of socialisation had caused it and the regional committees serious political discomfort.
When Esgleas initially proposed the idea to Joaquín Ascaso, in May 1937, he played on the awkward situation the affair would create for the CNT when it came to court, promising Ascaso that if he agreed to be the scapegoat the case would be dealt with quickly, and he would be in no danger. García Oliver, the then outgoing Justice Minister in Largo Caballero’s government, would ensure that the files disappeared. So, as a good militant, and against my advice as well as that of Antonio Ortíz, head of the Confederal 25th Division in Caspe, Ascaso naively and selflessly agreed to carry the can for Marianet and Esgleas in order to spare the CNT’s good reputation.
Ortíz warned Ascaso he was being set up: ‘Can’t you see what you are doing?’ he said. ‘You are handing over Aragón, the Council, the collectives and everything we’ve achieved over these past twelve months just to keep these miserable, cowardly arseholes out of jail. Marianet and Esgleas should have the good grace to admit what they have done and resign from the National Committee.’ Our protests went unheeded. The file, a big fat one, didn’t go astray; it went straight into the hands of the incoming Minister of Justice, Manuel de Irujo, a deliberate act by Esgleas and Marianet to incriminate Ascaso who, in spite of everything, continued to insist on shouldering responsibility for the smuggling operation. Ascaso was finally arrested on 12 August as he was preparing to return to Caspe after a CNT plenum of regional committees in Valencia. His arrest coincided with President Azaña’s public announcement of the dissolution of the Council of Aragón. Both the examining magistrate and state prosecutor in the case, Eduardo Ortega y Gasset, knew that Ascaso was innocent of the crime to which he had confessed and urged him to defend his good name and integrity by refusing to take the blame. But Ascaso, loyal comrade that he was, stuck to his confession, claiming the gold and jewels came from the revolutionary committees of Aragón and he, personally, had given them to the two National Committee representative to sell in France to buy much needed agricultural equipment for the Aragón collectives.
The case, however, was dropped and Ascaso was released after 32 days without bail or pending charges. Negrín had achieved his aim: Marianet, Esgleas and the National Committee were now firmly in his pocket. By which time, of course, it was too late to save Aragón. As soon as the August 1937 harvest was in, the Aragón collectives were forcibly dismantled and brutally plundered by Stalinist general Lister’s 11th Division, a pogrom which, shamefully, went unchallenged by any of the CNT’s national and regional committees, who ordered the anarchist columns on the Aragón front that under no circumstance were they to leave their lines to come to the aid of the collectives. The ‘notables’ connived at all this in order to protect their reputation, discredit a challenge to their confederal hegemony, and to bolster their candidacy in return for a Mickey Mouse portfolio in a Stalinist government. The same ‘notables’, especially la señora Montseny, were simply repeating the treacherous and cowardly behaviour they had exhibited during the Communist coup d’état in Barcelona four months earlier, in May 1937, when they called on the militants to abandon the barricades and give up their weapons.
But that wasn’t the end of the matter. These ‘notables’, specifically Marianet and Esgleas, spread poisonous rumours that comrades Ascaso and Ortíz had, between them, accumulated a personal fortune in France worth millions — the mythical ‘Treasure of Aragon’. The gold and jewels discovered by the carabineros in Puigcerdá were a drop in the ocean according to the stories they fed to the rumour mills at the time. Little wonder then, with threats growing against them from Negrín’s Communist-led military high command and a coordinated whispering campaign conducted by their alleged comrades on their own National Committee, that Major Antonio Ortíz, Joaquín Ascaso, former president of the Council of Aragón, and nine other members of the 25th Army Division (the militarised Ortíz militia column) escaped into France in the early hours of 5 July 1938, where they surrendered themselves to the Gendarmes in Vic. According to the French police report, the men were starving and none was in possession of weapons, money or valuables. When Farquhar met them in Perpignan the following year not one of them had a peseta to his name.
The story circulated by Esgleas and Marianet was that the comrades had ‘deserted’ their posts and absconded to France with stolen CNT-FAI funds — and they had Ascaso’s ‘confession’ to prove it. Miguel García Vivancos, a vaultingly ambitious ‘comrade’ from the 1920s who had replaced Ortíz as commander of the 25th Division, was among the quickest to denounce them as traitors, ordering his men to shoot them on sight. There was to be no arrest, no hearing, and no trial.
Astonishingly, and with the complicity of all the other members of the National Committee — including, shamefully, Farquhar’s former comrade-in-arms Juan García Oliver — the National Committee issued a ‘capture and kill’ order to the CNT-FAI Foreign Intelligence service, the Servicio de Información y Coordinación (SIC), who sent an eight-man team, led by two psychopaths, José and Justo Bueno Pérez, into France to murder the ‘fugitives’. Ortíz and Ascaso knew too much about Marianet’s and Esgleas’s financial dealings to live. The plan was to poison them with arsenic supplied by the FAI’s Paris representative, Facundo Roca Gascó, and administered, albeit unwittingly, by Durruti’s widow, Mimi, whom they would never have suspected. The plot failed, partly due to the killers’ incompetence, but mainly to the fact that the French police arrested Ascaso and Ortíz on 10 September 1938 and kept them in custody until April 1939, by which time the Spanish Civil War was over. The murder plot also proved expensive for the National Committee, with the would-be killers’ expenses bill exceeding 150,000 pesetas.
3: Captain Sir Alan Hugh Hillgarth Bt, OBE (a former British consul in Palma), whose job it was to monitor German submarine activity in Spanish waters and German waterfront activity in Iberian ports, was a close friend of both Winston Churchill (he was his personal adviser on Spain and was largely responsible for Britain’s non-intervention policy during the Spanish Civil War) and Juan March, Franco’s banker. It was March’s Foundation that recruited the two pilots, SIS officers Cecil Bebb and Hugh Pollard (a member of the British Union of Fascists) and paid for the Dragon Rapide aeroplane that flew Franco from the Canaries to Tetuán in Spanish Morocco to take command of the Army of Africa. It was also the ubiquitous Hillgarth who arranged the escape to the UK in March 1939 of Colonel Segismundo Casado and other members of the anti-Communist National Defence Council aboard a Royal Navy ship that was sent to collect them from Valencia. Hillgarth was just one of a zealous Catholic, pro-Francoist cabal that operated in the British Foreign Office, the Ministry of Information and the Madrid Embassy under Tom Burns, first secretary and press attaché. Burns, a director of the rabidly pro-Francoist Catholic newspaper The Tablet, and a member of the Catholic Evidence Guild (formed in 1918, the year after the Russian October Revolution), resisted and subverted every allied attempt to overthrow Franco during WWII.
4: In October 1938, at what was for the CNT the crucial national congress of regional committees, one that had been specifically convened to examine the mistakes made by the libertarian movement since 19 July 1936, Esgleas, representing the CNT of Catalonia, was the prime mover in promoting the idea of what was to become the Libertarian Movement Liaison Committee. Within four months, after the fall of Barcelona and the escape to France on 8 February 1939 of CNT general secretary Marianet and Esgleas, this profoundly undemocratic body re-invented itself as the self-appointed General Council of the Spanish Libertarian Movement in Exile. The secretary-general and vice secretary general of this highly secretive group were, respectively, Marianet and Esgleas.
5: Ironically, Esgleas’s argument — like Montseny’s — was that Franco’s victory had been entirely due to the CNT abandoning its fundamental anarchist principles and collaborating with government, a policy they themselves had lobbied for — and were complicit in — in the period 1936 to 1939. Esgleas’s hostility to the CNT National Committees of the Interior was, he claimed, due to their ongoing collaboration with the socialist UGT union and the political parties represented in the Spanish republican government in Exile, especially after the formation of the Giral government in exile in Mexico in November 1945. It was a stand-off situation that left Esgleas and Montseny together in the enviable position of being the salaried guardians of anarchist orthodoxy, going nowhere politically and answerable to no one.
Esgleas’s refusal to support, financially, the CNT committees in the Interior was an act of sabotage that caused tremendous hardship and suffering, particularly considering the extraordinary humanitarian and prisoner support efforts and the agitational and propaganda work carried out by the seven National Committees in the interior led, sequentially, between April 1939 and July 1945, by Esteban Pallarols, Manuel López López, Celedonio Pérez Bernardo, Eusebio Azanedo Grande, Manuel Amil Barcía and Sigfrido Catalá Tineo. These National Committees organised and supported the guerrilla resistance in the mountains of Ciudad Real, Levante, Galicia, León and Asturias.
By the end of 1947 the organisation in the Interior was more or less in disarray. With the western democracies clearly not coming to the aid of the Spanish people, Franco’s repressive apparatus had a freer hand to intimidate, torture, imprison and murder with impunity. By April 1948 the sixteenth National Committee of the CNT in Spain had fallen, as had numerous regional, provincial and local committees, with hundreds of comrades arrested, thanks largely to the treachery of confidentes and police infiltrators, some of them in high places in Toulouse.
These brave men and women who, since 1939, had helped ensure the survival of the 60,000 strong organisation in the Interior at the same time as printing and distributing the union’s regularly published clandestine newspapers Solidaridad Obrera and CNT — had not received one single peseta from Esgleas’s emigré organisation.
The anomaly of Esgleas’s situation was that in the post-Liberation election campaign for the post of secretary-general of the CNT in Exile in May 1945, he had been obliged to turn for support to his future victim, Laureano Cerrada Santos, the now wealthy and influential secretary of the Local Paris Federation. In fact it’s probably fair to say that between 1944 and 1950, Laureano — who, although perhaps not the most prominent anarchist figure in the public realm — was undoubtedly, because of his wealth and influence, the most powerful single individual in the whole of the CNT.
Although Cerrada despised Esgleas’s lack of moral fibre, he was, above all, a pragmatist. Esgleas’s and Montseny’s new-found hostility — albeit tactical and opportunist — to collaborating with the bourgeois politicians of the republican government in exile and other anti-Francoist political parties and organisations was what won him over, thereby ensuring the Toulouse leadership of his considerable financial, logistical and political support. For Esgleas it was a Faustian bargain. The price he was to pay for turning a blind eye to Laureano’s extensive illegal commercial operations seriously compromised the CNT’s legal standing in France and put the entire Toulouse leadership at risk. As for Laureano, the price he paid, five years later, in 1950, was expulsion from the union that he held so dear. Ultimately, of course, he paid with his life …