Es sabido que un Estado soberano necesita una serie de medios cuyas características varían según el servicio que hayan de prestar y de las condiciones históricas en que se encuadren. Ha de contar con un territorio, base geográfica del poder, delimitado por unas fronteras militares y por unas barreras económicas —las aduanas—que sirven para defender, y controlar, a los nacionales y a los extranjeros. Debe tener, asimismo, un gobierno y una administración; el grado de participación de los gobernados en estos organismos y la distribución social de los beneficios nacionales sirven para definir al Estado como autocrático o democrático. Finalmente, la autoridad considerada no sólo como ejecutivo, sino también como cuerpo teórico que configura toda la organización, puede proceder de una situación de hecho o de derecho, y autodefinirse de forma más o menos democrática.
After a 40-year silence, our group, all former members of COPEL [Coordinadora de Presos En Lucha — Prisoners in Struggle Coordinating Body], reports on the role played by prisoners in Francoist Spain’s so-called ‘transition to democracy’ between 1976 and 1979.
The process of Spain’s democratisation from dictatorship wasn’t a gift granted from on high following Franco’s death; it was taken from below by the direct actions of many campaigning movements, starting with the assembly-based wildcat strikers of the 1970s.
The amnesty law, for example, was only secured as a result of countless street and prison rooftop mobilisations — and near permanent confrontation — with the regime’s riot police at the cost of a number of lives.
COPEL (Coordinadora de Presos En Lucha) emerged through spontaneous mobilisations by prisoners pushing for the amnesty law of October 1977 to be extended across the prison population; it developed as a rank-and-file body that gave voice and leverage to those excluded from the political process, and which challenged the State for more than two years, exposing its injustices and the inhumanity of society’s punitive machinery.
This documentary, focusing on Franco’s and post-Francoist’s prisons and the plight of its prisoners, is told by the victims of the regime, activists who lived through those long years of struggle and who are determined to expose the truth about the nature of the regime and its penal system.
“… The Scottish revolution of 1638 introduces a last group of provincial rebellions in which the external aspect was decisive. Despite their many differences, all shared the fundamental common property of originating in the grievances of subordinate or provincial kingdoms within dynastic unions. Either the absentee ruler and paramount state were guilty of unaccustomed demands and innovations that violated the autonomous liberties of the provincial kingdom, or they inflicted upon it an increasingly repressive government that finally became intolerable. Whether the one or the other, or some combination of the two, rebellion erupted.
“We see such cases in both the Spanish and the English monarchies. The revolt of Aragon in 1591 and the revolutions of Catalonia and Portugal in 1640 were alike a resistance to the pressures and intrusions of the central regime in Madrid. The several revolts of Ireland and the Scottish rebellion of 1638 were directed against subjugation or domination by England. We need pause for only a brief glance at the revolt of Aragon against Philip II to see how it fits into the picture of provincial rebellion. In its kingdom of Aragon, the Habsburg monarchy was confronted by a Cortes and other indigenous institutions that restricted its powers in considerable ways. With Aragon was also associated the famous (although historically fictitious) oath, according to which subjects were bound to render obedience only if their prince observed their privileges, otherwise not (si no, no).71 These privileges, or fueros, often served as a cover for local misgovernment and aristocratic oppression; however, they also stood as a real obstacle to royal absolutism.
Although the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in July 1936 was followed by a far-reaching social revolution in the anti-Franco camp—more profound in some respects than the Bolshevik Revolution in its early stages—millions of discerning people outside Spain were kept in ignorance, not only of its depth and range, but even of its existence, by virtue of a policy of duplicity and dissimulation of which there is no parallel in history.
—BURNETT BOLLOTEN, in “The Grand Camouflage”.
IN THE PREFACE TO The Spanish Labyrinth Gerald Brenan quotes Karl Marx’s observation that the knowledge of Spanish history in his time was altogether inadequate. Marx went on the explain that this was because historians ‘instead of viewing the strength and resources of these people in their provincial and local organisation have drawn at the source of their court histories’. Paraphrasing Marx one could say that the inadequacy of Mr. Hugh Thomas’ The Spanish Civil War 1 lies in the fact that he is so fascinated by the personalities of politicians and military men, so carried away by considerations of military strategy and international political intrigues that he more or less overlooks the chief actors—the revolutionary workers—in a struggle that held the world’s attention for nearly three years. The military insurrection in July 1936 would have been one more coup d’état with which we are all only too familiar, for the Spanish government deprived of its real source of authority could only hope to save its skin by either arming the people or seeking to negotiate with the rebel generals. And in July 1936, the government of Casares Quiroga pinned its hopes on the latter. Indeed the socialist journalist Julian Zugazagoitia asserts2 that Quiroga not only refused to arm the people but also announced that anyone who gave arms to the workers without his orders would be shot. Mr. Thomas writes: