In the second half of 1907, Pa Chin’s immediate family moved to Kuang-yüan in northern Szechwan, where his father served as the local magistrate. Together with his parents, two elder sisters, and two elder brothers he lived in the yamen, an official walled compound. Life was pleasant for Pa Chin. Every day a mild-mannered tutor taught the basic classics to him and the other children in a special room. While classes were being held, an elderly gray-haired servant waited on the pupils. After class every afternoon, Pa Chin played in the courtyards with his elder brother and a 13-year-old bondservant. The courtyards were overgrown with tall grass and mulberry trees and filled with chickens. The children picked mulberries, gave names to the chickens, and played games.
German anarchist Rudolf Rocker’s (1873-1958) little-known novel, Die Sechs (1938: The Six) is a philosophical allegory about a great and mysterious black marble Sphinx that stands in a desert. Six roads from widely separated lands converge on the desert sands; along these roads travel six well-known characters from world literature: Faust, Don Juan, Hamlet, Don Quixote, Medardus the Monk (from E.T.A. Hoffmann), and the bard Heinrich von Ofterdingen. The character of each is described individually (in the words of their creators) before meeting at the end to solve the ancient riddle of the Sphinx.
Seven Red Sundays is Sender’s third novel. Published in Spanish as Siete domingos rojos, it forms a prominent landmark in modernist Spanish literature. It was written in 1932 in the aftermath of the unsuccessful anarcho-syndicalist ‘declarations of Libertarian Communism’ (uprisings) in Figols, Berga, and Cardona in Alto Llobregat (Catalonia), and also in Alocorisa and Teruel (Aragon). The complex story covers seven consecutive days, each a ‘Red Sunday’ of socially transformative class struggle: agitation, street fighting, and a revolutionary general strike triggered by the killing of three anarcho-syndicalists by the police during a banned protest meeting. Following mass labour unrest heightened by the betrayals of the anti-working-class Second Republic, a public funeral in Madrid ends in street fighting, sabotage and the prospect of a nationwide general strike. Sabotage throws the city into darkness, leading to mass arrests, and more state terror, including the torture and cold-blooded murder of union activists by police applying the ‘Law of Flight’ (legitimising the shooting of escaping prisoners). Sender’s use of perspective — in which he looks at the network of connections and the unfolding course of events from ten different viewpoints — explores not only the ambiguities, selfless heroism, frailties and inner conflicts of the central personages struggling for change: love, sublime faith, self sacrifice, religion, betrayal and treachery. It is also a hauntingly beautiful and tender book that captures the mood and feel of revolution as well as the spirit of the Second Spanish Republic in 1932.
“That land was the land of wine, and Salvatierra, with the impassivity of the abstainer, cursed the power that alcoholic poison wielded over the people, transmitting its evil from generation to generation. The bodega was the modern counterpart of the feudal fortress that held the masses in slavery and abjection.”
Literature often offers a window into the cultural feelings and attitudes of a given time and place. By examining how the representations of Spanish anarchists in literature are related to the actual historical rise and development of the movement, we can more easily understand the obstacles and influences such a movement faced in the larger culture. Such study provides an important cultural context to the literature of anarchism while adding value to the works themselves.
When in 1910 Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, engaged Jules Bonnot as his chauffeur in London he could hardly have realized that here was a character every bit as colourful as one of his own inventions. Returning to France at the end of that year, Bonnot went to go on to become Paris’s public enemy number one, an inspired bandit leader of a group of anarchists who struck terror into bourgeois pre-WWI France and triggered a ferocious anti-proletarian crackdown. Bonnot’s gang consisted of a group of French anarchists associated with the magazine L’Anarchie. The founder of the group, Raymond Callemin (nicknamed Raymond la Science), regarded Mikhail Bakunin and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon as his role models. Bonnot joined them in December 1911, and that month their first robbery took place at the Société Générale Bank in Paris, netting them booty equal to 5126 Francs, with more in securities. They have the dubious honour of being the first to use an automobile to flee the scene of a crime – the getaway car was a stolen Delaunay-Belleville — presaging by over twenty years the methods of John Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde. The French central police were determined to catch the gang; using the registry of anarchist organizations they managed to arrest one man as well as many of the gang’s supporters. In March 1912, gang member Octave Garnier sent a mocking letter to the Sûreté Nationale – with his fingerprints. The French police did not yet use fingerprinting. Sûreté chief Xavier Guichard took the matter personally. Politicians became concerned, increasing police funding by 800,000 francs. Banks began to prepare for forthcoming robberies and many cashiers armed themselves. The Société Générale promised a reward of 100,000 francs for information leading to arrests. On April 28, police tracked Bonnot to a house in a Paris suburb. They besieged the place with 500 armed policemen, soldiers, firemen, military engineers and private gun-owners. By noon, after sporadic shooting from both sides, Paris police chief Lépine sent three policemen to put a dynamite charge under the house. The explosion demolished the front of the building. Bonnot, hiding in a mattress, returned fire until Lépine shot him in the head. Two weeks later 300 policemen and gendarmes and 800 soldiers began another siege in another Paris suburb. The firing from both sides was intense, and an explosion again decided things in favour of the Sûreté chief, when the remnants of Bonnot’s gang of robbers were blown up once and for all.
Pino Cacucci offers us an affectionate, fast-paced but accurate account of the life of the extraordinary Jules Bonnot — car enthusiast, chauffeur, worker, soldier, bank robber — a man with a long-cherished dream of absolute freedom; an anarchist who felt it his duty to challenge bourgeois society, staking his all. A tragically romantic hero, Jules Bonnot.