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.”

It is in Barcelona that the full force of the Anarchist revolution becomes apparent. Their initials, C.N.T. and F.A.I., are everywhere. They have taken over all the hotels, restaurants, cafés, trains, taxis, and means of communication, as well as all theatres, cinemas, and places of amusement. Their first act was to abolish the tip as being incompatible with the dignity of those who receive it, and to attempt to give one is the only act, short of making the Fascist salute, for which a foreigner can be disliked.

Spanish Anarchism is a doctrine which has gone through three stages. The first was the conception of pure anarchy which grew out of the writings of Rousseau, Proudhon, Godwin, and to a lesser extent of Diderot and Tolstoy. The essence of this Anarchist faith is that there exists in mankind a natural trend towards nobility and dignity; human relations based on a love of liberty combined with a desire to help each other (as shown, for instance, in the mutual generosity of the poor in slum districts in cases of sickness and distress) should in themselves be enough, given education and the right economic conditions, to provide a working basis for people to live on; State interference, armies, property, would be superfluous as they were to the early Christians. The Anarchist paradise would be one in which the instincts towards freedom, justice, intelligence, and bondad in the human race develop gradually to the exclusion of all thoughts of personal gain, envy, and malice. But there exist two stumbling-blocks to this ideal — the desire to make money and the desire to acquire power. Everybody who makes money or acquires power, according to the Anarchists, does so to the detriment of himself and at the expense of other people, and as long as these instincts are allowed a free run there will always be war, tyranny, and exploitation. Power and money must therefore be abolished altogether. At this point the second stage of Anarchism begins, that which arises from the thought of Bakunin, the contemporary of Marx. He added the rider that the only way to abolish power and money was by direct action on the bourgeoisie in whom these instincts were incurably ingrained, and who took advantage of all liberal legislation, all concessions from the workers, to get more power and more money for themselves. ‘The rich will do everything for the poor but get off their backs,” Tolstoy has said. “Then they must be blown off,” might have been Bakunin’s corollary. From this time (the ’eighties) dates militant Anarchism with its crimes of violence and assassination. In most of its strongholds, Italy, Germany, Russia, it was either destroyed by Fascism or absorbed by Communism, which has usually seemed more practical, realizable, and adaptable to industrial countries; but in Spain the innate love of individual freedom, a personal dignity of the people, made them prefer it to Russian Communism, and the persecution which it underwent was never sufficient to blot it out. Finally, in the last few years it has gone through a third transformation; in spite of its mystical appeal to the heart, Anarchism has always been an elastic and adaptable faith, and looking round for a suitable machinery to replace State centralization it found syndicalism, to which it is now united. Syndicalism is a system of vertical rather than horizontal Trade Unions, by which, for instance, all the workers on a newspaper, editors, reviewers, printers, and distributors, would delegate members to a syndicate which would negotiate with other syndicates for the housing, feeding, amusements, etc., of the whole body. This anarcho-syndicalism through its organ, the C.N.T., has been able to get control of all the industries and agriculture of Catalonia and of most of those in Andalusia, Valencia, and Murcia, forming a more or less solid block from Malaga to the French frontier, with considerable power also in the Asturias and Madrid. The executive militant spearhead of the body is the Federación Anarquista Ibérica, usually pronounced as one word, FAI, which, partly owing to acts of terrorism, partly to its former illegality, to-day is clothed in mystery. It is almost impossible to find out who and how many belong to it.

The ideal of the C.N.T. and the F.A.I. is libertarian Communism, a Spain in which both work and wealth are shared by all, about three hours’ work a day being enough to entitle anyone to sufficient food, clothing, education, amusement, transport, and medical attention. It differs from Communism because there must be no centralization, no bureaucracy, and no leaders, if somebody does not want to do something, the Anarchists argue, no good will come of making him. They often point to Stalin’s dictatorship as an example of the evils inherent in Communism. The danger of Anarchism, one might argue, is that it has become such a revolutionary weapon that it may never know what to do with the golden age when it has it, and may exhaust itself in a perpetual series of counter-revolutions. Yet it should be an ideal not unsympathetic to the English, who have always honoured freedom and individual eccentricity and whose liberalism and Whiggery might well have turned to something very similar had they been harassed for centuries, like the Spanish proletariat, by absolute monarchs, militant clergy, army dictatorships, and absentee landlords.

Life in Barcelona begins very early — that is to say in the small hours, when the cocks begin crowing, as in the tropics, and batches of the sixteen thousand reinforcements star t leaving for Madrid. Later, after breakfast, it is good to walk down the Ramblas while the sun beats warmly through the wet planes and shines on the long rows of flower-stalls, covered with roses, lilies, violets, and tuberoses, till one reaches the harbour. Most of the houses bear banners and initials; We have too many banderas” is a common saying. There is the red and black of the F.A.I. and C.N.T., the red with joined hands of the U.G.T. (Caballero Socialists), the hammer and sickle of the Catalan Communists, the separatist flag of Catalonia, and that of the Trotskyist P.O.U.M. Gradually one learns to differentiate between the faces; where there used to be the inevitable couple of priests mumbling about pesetas, or the business men in their wicker armchairs, one learns to recognize the U.G.T. type of pleasant and intelligent young Socialist, the restaurant-manager or head- waiter face (Right-wing, Besteiro or Prieto Socialist), and the types of the C.N.T. and F.A.I. The C.N.T., since it contains a great many Murcians and also appeals to all the thoroughgoing have-nots, includes the most alarming of the faces met with in Barcelona and also most of the young militiawomen. Among the F.A.I. is to be found the pure Anarchist type, the long head with highbrow and thin nose, enlivened by the mixture of mysticism with revolutionary energy which is so characteristic. These are the men who saved Barcelona, who destroyed a whole military division within twelve hours and rushed a battery planted in the Paseo de Gracia in open cars armed only with kitchen knives. Along the Ramblas are booths selling the local newspapers (no others are obtainable) together with photographs of Marx, Lenin, Kropotkin, and the chiefs of Anarchist columns, Santillán, Ascaso, Durruti.

An English journalist, chiefly on account of our non-intervention policy and the Fascist propaganda of our newspapers (headed by the ghoulish Daily Mail), is not a popular figure. The Spaniards do not understand non-intervention, – nor why it should be harder for Madrid and Barcelona to get arms than for Burgos and Seville. They consider that the battle between the democracies and the tyrannies of the world is being fought out by them on their soil, and are inclined to ask if we think they would refuse an English Labour Government arms, supposing the English Fascists to be attacking London with Indian troops.

In the afternoons one can wander about the old town or the harbour or the crowded patios and the Generalidad or the park with its zoo, or up in the gardens of the Montjuich where the Exhibition used to be. The churches are mostly locked and blackened, like our city churches; the Sagrada Familia has been destroyed except for its extraordinary front, whose two vast towers now stand up like a radio-station. I was five days in Barcelona and only once was stopped for my papers, and that was on the way up to the military post on the Tibidabo. When I told the Anarchist guards I wanted to look at the view they let me proceed. One could walk about the patios of the Generalidad or into the actual rooms of the Anarchist building quite freely, nor did I ever come across any kind of rowdiness or even hear a shot fired. Yet the American residents have to report three times a day to their consul to show they are still alive, and there are rumours of some English living in a kind of compound down by the sea. At night the Ramblas become a huge milling crowd of people, radios blare out, cafée fill up. The streets are very badly lit and acquire a rather sinister wartime aspect. Small things bring home the civil war, like the restaurant menus, where all dishes including food from enemy parts of the country (sea food from the Atlantic, butter and mutton from the West) are struck off, and the notices in every room about air raids. The cinemas are all open, showing Top Hat and a gruesome Anarchist film of the storming of Sietamo. Afterwards there is the cafe of the Oriente. It is huge and badly lit; three enormous coffee-machines glitter in the darkness and there is a counter which sells cakes and sausages. It is used almost entirely by men and women of the militia, who clank their rifles up against the bar. It is sitting there at night that one gets the completest picture of the world’s youngest nation, Anarchist Catalonia, fighting its first war. A man will begin to talk about the siege of Madrid, show one his Anarchist permit, explain how he drives a lorry there every week, hand one an enormous revolver to look at, and suddenly pay for any drinks one has had before his appearance. “Look here. You can’t pay for that whisky, I had it before you came.” “But I feel like it; besides, what’s money anyhow? We shall soon have abolished all that.” “Very well then, you must have one with me.” “But I don’t want to have one with you, why should I have to have a drink with you because I give you one? It is not dignified or logical — next year, perhaps, you will give me a drink; you do not understand our Anarchist principles,” and he goes out to his lorry. After one o’clock the streets are deserted and silent except for the screech of the brakes of the vigilant patrols as they tear down the Ramblas or face each other suddenly at corners.

One thing that is perfectly clear, after seeing Barcelona, is that, in any ultimate sense, it cannot be conquered. Catalonia, unlike the rest of Republican Spain, is a compact country; its language frontiers are now its class frontiers, and the whole population of the Eastern coast, so rich in industry and manpower, are now racially and politically solid. These provinces could also much more easily attain unity of command. President Companys is a figure of enormous power and prestige who works in co-ordination with the now combined forces of the C.N.T. and U.G.T. There are six hundred thousand Anarchists in Catalonia, and they have already, without outside help, the organization and determination necessary. A Spanish Fascist in Paris has declared: “There are two million people in Spain we have to get rid of, and we have already accounted for five hundred thousand.” He will find he has miscounted. It is much more interesting to speculate what will happen afterwards, when the victorious Anarchists wish to abolish the State, and the victorious Socialists to preserve it. While everybody, including the Anarchists, prophesied another civil war, it now seems possible that it can be avoided. The Coalition between the two parties is working well and they may be able to divide up Spain in such a way that the Anarchists recognize a highly decentralized government as a necessary étape on the road to its complete disappearance, or they may themselves become corrupted.

I fear I have written all this and still not explained the feeling one gets in this city. The pervading sense of freedom, of intelligence, justice, and companionship, the enormous upthrust in backward and penniless people of the desire for liberty and education, are things that have to be seen to be understood. It is as if the masses, the mob in fact, credited usually only with instincts of stupidity and persecution, should blossom into what is really a kind of flowering of humanity. We are used to processions in London, either State or dismal affairs of policemen and mackintoshes, but round the procession in Barcelona on Sunday there were no police. Two hundred thousand people marched by in the sunshine — Anarchists, Socialists, Communists, Federalists in their brown and green with their bands playing nostalgic sardanas, foresters with their axes, peasants with their hoes, nurses, children, regiments of militia-girls, all singing and watched over by a few stewards with badges. They took five hours to pass. Anyone who could see this could see that here was something which it would be an unimaginable piece of human malignity to destroy, which it would, indeed, be impossible to destroy; for such a movement can only go underground, as it has gone in Seville and Saragossa, to reappear in some Sicilian Vespers with a bitterness that is now lacking. Meanwhile we must learn to sit quiet and practise non-intervention, an arrangement by which every democracy is allowed to remain in the privacy of its own burrow, awaiting the visit of the stoats.

* * *

 II

Coming back to Spain, with the papers full of the threatened bombardment of Barcelona, the rain falling all day, the passengers thinning out after Perpignan, one had a certain apprehension. Everything about the country had assumed a wartime aspect. “Militians! Not a word to your brother, not a word to your sweetheart about your positions!” read one notice, and the familiar “les oreilles ennemies vous écoutent” had made its appearance. Other slogans warned people against wasting time in the café or the brothel. “Are you doing your bit?” one felt, was near at hand. The vast influx of refugees from Madrid had made an appreciable dent in the food supply. Sunday was a day of impressive gloom marked by the funeral of Durruti.

Why did half a million people turn out in the rain on this occasion, marching in silence twenty-five abreast, climbing up trees, crowding the windows to see this man’s coffin carried on its six-hour journey by the pall-bearers? Why did the car bringing his body from Madrid have to speed through the villages in the small hours to avoid the lorry-loads of waiting flowers which there would be no time to fetch? It seemed that if one could get the answer, penetrating beneath the verbose eulogies, one would understand something of the Spanish revolution.

Durruti was born in 1896 in Leon. He came to Barcelona in his teens, and was already a metalworker and a militant Anarchist. There he met his two lifelong friends, Ascaso and García Oliver. Ascaso had been a baker and a café waiter in Saragossa. Both had been in sufficient strikes and other activities to have had to leave Spain by 1917. They went to the Argentine, where they started an Anarchist organization and were accused of holding up a bank. They wandered through Chile, Peru, Brazil, and found their way to Paris, where Durruti went back to his steelwork after having had to live in the woods of the Dordogne on mushrooms. In Paris, after the Argentine had made an unsuccessful attempt to extradite them and enforce the death-sentence, they founded a bookshop called the Librairie Internationale, and, with García Oliver, an anti-monarchist newspaper which was smuggled into Spain. They were accused of an attempt on Alfonso and imprisoned in the Conciergerie (Durruti had Marie Antoinette’s cell). They were released and went to Belgium, whence they were expelled into Germany and back again, at one moment having to camp out on the International Bridge. Finally they returned to Spain, where they were imprisoned, released, and imprisoned again for their activities in the general strike in Saragossa. Their friends broke into the Archives and destroyed the dossier of the case.

When the 6th of October revolution collapsed in Barcelona they were imprisoned for nearly a year in Valencia. When the Fascists, who had left their garrisons in the small hours of July 19th, were defeated in the Plaza de Cataluña, the Anarchists, led by Durruti and Ascaso, went down the Ramblas to the Plaza de Colon. On the top platform of the column, sheltered by Columbus himself, two machine-gunners were firing on the crowd, and the whole of one side of the square was occupied by the barracks of the Atarazanas. While they were storming these, Ascaso was shot through the heart. He was small, consumptive, with a pale, intelligent face and large dark eyes. To-day there is a monument on the site where he fell, a few yards from the barred windows and gaping walls of the shattered barracks.

Durruti was one of the first to realize the importance of attacking, and led a column up to Aragon. He proved a natural organizer, and his column, on the front of Bujaraloz, became famous as the perfect example of “organized indiscipline,” that is to say, of a kind of 4 ‘honour system” by which the Anarchists, who detest militarism and disapprove of all orders and words of command, were able to establish a sort of natural obedience to his wishes. He lived the same life as his men, accessible to all, going barefoot till all had received boots, and differentiated only from them by the possession of a pair of field glasses. He was put in command of the Catalan reinforcements sent to Madrid, and was killed while returning by car from the front by a bullet in the spine, fired from behind, from the upper window of a deserted villa. His last words were “se me para el corazón,” though he had previously said that he could never regret dying now, for he had lived, in the last three months, through what had been the dream of every revolutionary for centuries. He was a rugged, lion-like man, possessed of natural intelligence and reckless courage, capable of complete devotion to his ideals of “madre anarquía” and to the people who shared them, and of equally untiring energy in using direct action against the capitalists who didn’t. His gift of leadership made him an extreme danger to the Fascists (who had already shot his mother), and his death made him a revolutionary martyr, a symbol to all the parties of the Left of the sacrifices they would have to make and the privations they would have to undergo. His mammoth funeral (“no king could have a better,” said an Anarchist to me) was not only a tribute to him but an act of defiance to the enemy.

A week later I went to see the coffin moved from a vault to its ultimate grave. The cemetery of Barcelona is one of the most beautiful in the world. It lies on the western slope of the Montjuich, and to get there one has to skirt the gloomy fortress whose cells were so often full of Durruti’s comrades and in whose trenches they were shot. The cemetery is laid out in rocky terraces planted with groves of cypress, pepper, and eucalyptus. On the extreme edge, overlooking the huerta and the sea, they had made a grave for Durruti and another for Ascaso, beside a third, that of the unfortunate Ferrer y Guardia, the old gentleman who was shot in 1909 for attempting to introduce secular education into Catalonia. This time it was a very small crowd} the sextons were incompetent at getting the huge coffin into the grave; they talked and asked advice, the others stood about smoking or watching the winter sunset. When it was lowered, a soldier laid the black and red Anarchist flag over it and said, “We, the German soldiers serving in your column, will not forget you. Salud! Kamerad.”

* * *

“Yes. I like New York best — ever been to Rockaway Beach? That’s where I like in summer; my girl and I go out there with a bottle of whisky or we go to the movies, Ginger Rogers, Laurel and Hardy. Look at the orange groves — we must be getting into Castellon. I wish this full moon would be over. Marlene Dietrich in Desire — there was a good film now. They turn all the lights out in the train here and we must go on in the dark. They ’ll give us candles in the restaurant car. Well, I dunno. I dunno. Of course, I think we’re right, but maybe you ought to go in on the other side and see what they’re thinking. I only know I got seven bullets in this gun and the last one’s for myself. Jus’ now the planes come two or three times a week to Cartagena; where I live is about 5 kilometres out when I’m not on the ship. I hear them come over in the night. Brrrr. Zoooom. Then they drop them. There’s nothing you can do but stay in bed. Then if they get you, well, bad luck! The only safe place is in a field. You see, these bombs don’t explode when they strike; they have a time-fuse in the end that rotates, and when they fall in a field the earth stops it rotating. That’s why they go through eight stories of a house and don’t explode till they get to the bottom, and the refugios are not much good. We have no Metro in Valencia or Cartagena. If you go out you get hit by glass or by antiaircraft bullets or by a Fascist from a window. That’s why I carry this. You see, the anti-aircraft is not much good. They can light up all over Cartagena with searchlights and when the planes are in the lights they can fire, but when the planes fly high above the lights it is no good. And when they fly very low they lose their heads and it is no good either. And often they send over one plane with lights and the gunners all fire at that while the bombers are somewhere else. I dunno. They do terrible things. We all do terrible things. Since we had the Prison Ship nobody eats fish any more in Cartagena.”

The candles gutter in the restaurant car. The sailor looks out of the window at the laden orange trees, the sea breaking on nameless coves in the moonlight. He has a small, brittle face and a sensual mouth, like a lemur. All the other tables are taken by Anarchist militia on their way from the front at Barbastro to Madrid; they have black and red scarves tied round their heads, and their appearance, by candlelight, is terrifying. They give one cigars which they light from lengths of dynamite fuse. When the ticket collector appears, the first one asked cries, “I am a Valencian going to Valencia. That is my ticket,” and the others applaud him.

Valencia at night is perturbing. Up till ten o’clock lights are allowed. The streetlights are painted dark blue and the white houses under them look like something on the moon. At ten o’clock they are all turned out, the town is in darkness; outside many houses and windows are piles of sandbags. By day it rains. The town is noisy and political; it is the seat of the Government, so one sees and hears much more of the official democratic point of view in it and less of the revolutionary one than in Barcelona. This point of view is naturally more pessimistic, for while the workers are fighting to create a new world for themselves, the liberal bourgeoisie whom the original Azaña Government represented are fighting only to preserve something of what they had before. Consequently they are more able to see the extent of the destruction which the Civil War has brought, the ruined towns, the scattered harvests, the decimated population, the acts of violence, the appalling spectacle of a brave race splitting itself into two and by its very bravery (as with the miners outside and the rebels inside Oviedo) prolonging the agony of the internal conflict. There is no defeatism — it is the difference between August 1914 and January 1915, that is all. In the evening, sitting with the sailor and his doctor friend in a music hall, one is conscious of the gravity of the Civil War for those to whom it is not the dawning of a new day, but the eclipse of an old one. They sit on chairs in a box with their backs to the stage, across which passes, from time to time, an enormous undressed woman singing the same words to the same time. The doctor is talking of his wife and children whom he has not heard of since July, when they were holidaying in the mountains in what has become rebel territory. “Is there any organization in England for finding out if such people are alive?” The sailor says good-bye. “We are going on to Cartagena now by car. I do not think there will be very much of it left — the planes came last night, while we were on the train, and they were there five hours. Well, I dunno. Maybe I will see you in England or you will come on my ship to New York and I shall be the purser again — but I dunno. If not, it will be bad luck.”

* * *

In fact, it would be hard to find an atmosphere more full of envy, intrigue, rumour, and muddle than that which exists at the moment in the capitals of Republican Spain. While Malaga falls and Madrid struggles heroically, the farther one gets from the front, the dimmer grows the memory of the 19th of July, the louder the mutual accusations and reproaches of the parties. They are now even jealous of their one hope, the International Brigade, and it seems useless to clamour for unity of command when there is no one worthy of it. Here are some notes on people’s conversations. They will show how many different points of view are permitted.

* * *

A German: “They ask why don’t we attack on the Aragon front. I will tell you. I am in the International Column. There are twelve of us alive out of my company, and a hundred out of my battalion. If we do decide to attack it is known to the other side almost before we know ourselves. The Spaniards will not attack at night in any case. We have no artillery, few machine-guns, and obsolete 1870 rifles, old German ones bought from Mexico.”

A Hungarian of the P.O.U.M.: “Look at those crowds. Look at those women. It’s disgraceful. All bourgeois, bargain basement people, pram pushers. Is this what I’m fighting for? I tell you we are only at the beginning — yes. There will come a day when father will be killed by son and sister by brother, not just at the front, but here in the streets of Barcelona! At least I hope so. But the Spanish people are like this.” He lights a match and holds it upwards till it goes out.

A High Official (Catalan Left): “We are all sick of the war in Barcelona. The front is just for people who like fighting, I think. Most people on this side don’t know what Communism means, most people on the other don’t know what Fascism means. The priests were not Fascist, most of them didn’t know about the large sums of money hidden in their churches — only the bishops did — and we got the archbishop out all right. I don’t even think Franco is a Fascist.”

Another (Catalan Left): “This is a very interesting revolution, because it is the only Western revolution since 1789 — only do not exaggerate it. We have taken over a few large factories and estates, but we have only socialized transport, hotels, cafés, theatres, cinemas, barbers, and boot cleaners — not very much, really. You see, we are a nation of petits bourgeois and we have naturally left them exactly as they are — no, I should rather describe our present regime as a ‘capitalism without capitalists.’”

English Communist: “But how can one co-operate with these people? The P.O.U.M., of course, are simply Fascists: as for the Anarchists — one can’t go bumping people off in 1937! And besides, they’re inefficient, anti-militarist, they won’t accept officers, they can’t keep step. You know Durruti was killed by an Anarchist, they were jealous of his friendship with the Russians: his views were very unpopular. And look at the Aragon front — if the enemy attack they will get to Lerida, and a very good thing too, it will bring people to their senses. That and a stiff bombardment of Barcelona is what we’ve all been hoping for for two months.”

Spanish Communist: “I see no reason why the Anarchists and Communists shouldn’t be united. The Anarchists are very simple people, they do not realize how long their ideas must take to put into practice. Their Ministers do— and they often turn into Communists when they realize this.”

Anarchist at the “Shanghai”: “Anarchism with us is very old, very old indeed, and very international — look at me, I drove a tram at the time of the strike in 1935. I arranged some sabotage, I was an idealist — so I escaped to England, and then Belgium. I knew García Oliver, I drove him eight hours unconscious in my lorry once, after the police had knocked him out. You found him friendly? We of the revolution are like that — besides, who cares about death? A tile might fall on my head at this moment; in any case, to die for an ideal is not death.” “But what about being blinded or lamed for an ideal?” “Spain would never forget her sons!” “Would you say there was still a revolution here?” “Don’t you worry about the revolution, the F.A.I. will take care of that — nor about Russia — Oliver sleeps in the Russian Embassy, that is the terms we are on. You worry about England and France; it is they who are deceived about where their interests lie. England and Spain, what couldn’t we do together, two rich democracies like ours!”

* * *

I was able to interview the two men of to-morrow, if there is a to-morrow, in the Spanish Cabinet, Juan García Oliver, the Minister of Justice, and Indalecio Prieto, the Minister of Munitions, Marine, and Air.

* * *

Oliver is a man in his thirties, sturdy, good-looking, with one of those stoical, open Iberian faces which reflect the Anarchist blend of idealism and militancy. He was indeed one of the three heroes of the street-fighting in Barcelona. I asked him if the idea of violence was really part of Anarchism or not.

“Certainly not; our ideal is the brotherhood of man. Man first is a beast on four legs, then the family make an agreement to tolerate each other, then that is extended to the tribe, then to the nation, so that it is murder to kill in one’s own country and war to kill in another, and ultimately that must apply to all nations. Anarchism has been violent in Spain because oppression has been violent; in England it has not. But Anarchist justice will not be violent; we will consider ignorance of the law as a real excuse. The law has been made by the rich and strong, as in feudal times, and crime can never be suppressed till the economic and cultural level of everybody has been raised. Revolutions fail because they do not raise the country, only the towns. They do not even acknowledge the problem — all culture and education is centred in the towns, in the museums and universities, while people in the country who do not even know their own name are punished for ignorance of the law. I would abolish military service and substitute instead service by which everyone who is well educated has to spend a year passing on his education to the peasants; the capitalists and the professors are guilty of hoarding culture which must be digested by the whole country in a solid block. People who say ‘après moi le déluge,’ they are the real criminals. I would like to re-educate Fascist prisoners after the war in reformatories — if a guard used violence on them he would go to prison himself. I have been fourteen years in prison, and I know. There are not many books about Anarchism, because the Spaniards prefer to talk in meetings and act. It was theorizing that caused the failure of the Austrian and German democracies. If I had to sum up Anarchism in a phrase I would say it was the ideal of eliminating the beast in man.”

 November 1936.

(From The Condemned Playground. Essays: 1927-1944, George Routledge and Sons, November 1945)

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