Josep (José) Ester Borrás was born in Berga on the second floor of No 3, Carrer Baixada del Vals (otherwise Carrer Mossén Comellas) on 26 September 1913. Josep was the second child of Francesc Ester Escobet, from Berga and Dolors Borrás Solanas, from Freixenet (Lérida). At the time of Josep’s birth, his parents were 23 and 22 respectively. Josep’s older sister was Antonia, a year and a half older than him. Their father Francesc Ester, who had previously been a bricklayer was doing his mandatory three years military service at the time.
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.”
Maggie Torre’s welcome and rigorous study analysing the CNT’s trajectory during its thirty-five years of clandestinity and exile, describes, convincingly and in satisfying detail, the internal and external vicissitudes and complexities that led, in December 1979, to the steady eclipse of anarcho-syndicalist influence following the CNT’s first Congress in Spain since Zaragoza in 1936: the carrot and stick of thirty-five years of vicious and murderous repression and co-option of militants into the Francoist vertical unions; thirty years of the baleful and corrupting influence of the Gestapo-compromised Federica Montseny (1905-1994) and Germinal Esgleas (1903-1981) controlling an oligarchic mutual aid society in exile, and seeking to control — and betray, —the clandestine union organisation inside Spain; the changing nature of Spain’s labour movement in the 1950s and 1960s; the impact of the guerrilla action groups and Defensa Interior’s direct actions targeting Spanish tourism and its attempts to kill Franco; ‘cincopuntismo’ and the CNT’s relations with the vertical union; the ideological evolution of Spanish anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism in the 1960s and 1970s; the Scala-type machinations of the ‘Bunker’ to ensure a seamless, Dr Who-like transition to power and retain control in the brave new world of post-Francoist democracy.
Defensa Interior (DI) was a clandestine anarchist organisation, founded in September 1961 by the congress of the Movimiento Libertario Español(Spanish Libertarian Movement: CNT, FAI, FIJL, Mujeres Libres) and disbanded by their 1965 congress. The objective of the DI was to revitalise and co-ordinate international resistance against the Francoist State, and to organise the assassination of General Franco. It quickly became clear, however, that it was, primarily, the new generation of young libertarians (FIJL) who demonstrated the political will to relaunch the armed struggle against Franco, a strategy that in reality had long since been abandoned — and actively sabotaged! — by the Toulouse-based leadership of the CNT-FAI (principally Federica Montseny, Germinal Esgleas and Vicente Llansola. My personal preferred explanation [i.e. SC] for Esgleas’ and Montseny’s behaviour — which is outlined in Pistoleros 3 — is that they had been seriously compromised by their collaboration with the Gestapo during the Occupation, which explains why they were never handed over to Franco, as occurred with most other prominent Spanish Republican exiles. After the war the Gestapo’s archives fell into the hands of the Soviets, which would have provided the Communists with leverage over the CNT/MLE in exile, thus ensuring the CNT’s passivity and allowing the PCE free rein as the principal opposition to the Franco regime. The Gestapo’s information was also more than likely available to the Spanish police and security services). It was to be the last time the CNT, the Spanish anarcho-syndicalist labour union in exile, created a defence structure and funded the formation of action/defence groups.