1. Carlo ALVISI: Barber, born Bologna on 5 May 1918. In October 1936, he set off to defend the Spanish Republic, enlisting in the Italian Section of the CNT-FAI’s “Ascaso” Column and fought on the Huesca front. In late January 1937, he returned to Luxembourg and was arrested there by the Germans in July 1941 and put in a concentration camp near Berlin. On 20 April 1942, he was released and made his way back to Luxembourg where he worked in a foundry. Rearrested, he was handed over to the Italian police and convicted for failure to do his military service. After 8 September 1943, he was freed, but during the Nazi occupation of Italy he was deported to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Freed at the end of the war, he went back to living in Luxembourg. After 18 January 1971, he adopted the name PIANELLI, having been acknowledged by his father, Ambrosio PIANELLI. Date of death unknown.
“You may not want to admit it but you know very well that whenever you revert to a certain form of struggle that might be described as armed struggle, there is a very good chance that things are not going to come to a happy conclusion.”
I am Michel Camilleri and I was known as Ratapanade, meaning Bat, but between ourselves and as Jean-Marc (i.e. Jean-Marc Rouillan) has stated in his books, back in the day a lot of folk reckoned that that was my real surname.
I am 66 years and 2 months old, whereas Jean-Marc is 66 years and 1 month. It is like when you were a kid, you used to say you were 13-and-a-half and to begin with you counted in halves and then when you come to the end you are still counting in halves. No need to kid yourself. Your impression is that time passes slowly whereas it whizzes by (Laughter).Continue reading…
Today we shall try to add our own particular grain of sand to the odd and sometimes thorny topic of the role of women in the guerrilla struggle. Whereas their part in support roles and their roles as couriers meant that their participation was unquestioned and crucial … estimates say that they made up about 40% or almost 50% in regions like Galicia and Asturias … it is scarcely surprising that estimates of their engagement with guerrilla activity fall to about 2%, giving an overall figure of 150. Or maybe this not such a surprise, if we look at the overall status of women within Spain, with a slight exception made for the republican era, as witness this late 19th century article in La Vanguardia:
“From her intellect to her stature, everything about her is inferior and the opposite of men … Woman, per se, is not like man, a complete being; she is merely the instrument of reproduction, the one destined to perpetuate the species; whereas man is destined to bring her progress, the generator of intelligence, at once creative and a demiurge of the world of society. And so everything bends in the direction of inequality between the sexes and to non-equivalence.”Continue reading…
It is 36 years now since I wrote ‘Stefano delle Chiaie. Portrait of a Black Terrorist”, an investigation into the so-called Strategy of Tension that led to the Piazza Fontana bombing of 1969, the subsequent murder by the Milan police of Anarchist Black Cross secretary Giuseppe Pinelli, and the eleven years of indiscriminate terror that followed, up to and beyond the Bologna Rail Station massacre on August 1980. I haven’t written much about it since then, but I recently received the following ‘L’Europeo’ (November 1974) article by three journalists — Incerti, Ottolenghi and Raffaelli — on AGINTER PRESS (International News Agency). It was sent by long-time comrades of the Circolo Anarchici Ponte della Ghisolfa (the original meeting place of the Milan Anarchist Black Cross) who continue to publish relevant documents in the interest of historical memory, and as a means of understanding the historical and political context of the Strategy of Tension.
It is quite an experience discovering Stuart Christie’s “Spanish” background. This Scottish lad, barely 18 years old, knowing nothing of Spain and without speaking a word of Spanish, hoisted a rucksack full of explosives on to his back, strapped packets of plastic explosive to his body using bandages and secreted the detonators, wrapped in cotton-wool, in the lining of his jacket and headed off to Spain to put paid to the infamy of a populace terrorised by a bloodthirsty dictator and his sinister cabal of generals, bishops, latifundists and bankers.
Now, 40 years on, he is back again, bringing us his book leaving us a bittersweet taste of “auld lang syne” (Stuart will get my reference here) from the good old days, back when we were all a lot younger. The rest is just the filthiness that Stuart had to endure: beatings, torture, interrogation and imprisonment. Typical of those times and of the ignominy, nonsensicality and mediocrity into which a people that had fought bravely and right to the finish for freedom had been thrust.
Maybe a reading of Chesterton’s story The Man Who Was Thursday holds the key to the reason why Stuart was arrested the moment he set foot in the Puerta del Sol. The author himself suggests that spies fall into three categories: journalists, security service personnel planted inside an organisation (especially an organisation with such an all-embracing banner as the red-and-black flag) and those bribed by the police into acting as informers from within (see pp. 36 et seq).
The book offers an endless parade of personalities from the time: the old fighters in exile: Salvador Gurruchari, Laureano Cerrada, Cipriano Mera … The men and women who, to borrow Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s words, “are neither weary, nor neurotic nor drug-dependent. They do not complain. They do not curse fate. Their defeats have not made cynics of them. They know that they made mistakes, but they do not try to wipe out the memory of them. These elderly men, revolutionaries still, are stronger than all who came after them”
And the boys from the Puerta del Sol – Eduardo Blanco and Saturnino Yagüe – pop up too … Further comment unnecessary. Forenames and surnames suffice. The military judges, the sentencing, Carabanchel. In Carabanchel we find the ‘ordinary’ prisoners of the Seventh Gallery, astutely depicted by someone who was just starting to learn so many new things, and the political prisoners in the Sixth Gallery, with a sprinkling of not particularly fond references to the inmates belonging to the PCE (Communist Party of Spain), real personalities such as the counterfeiter Miguel de Castro who, as Stuart remembers him, was “a prison mentor, a wise guide versed in the art of the possible”, the comrades from the ‘First of May’ Group, and Luis Andrés Edo, my own beloved comrade and friend.
Half-history and half-reportage, the book is a supremely interesting read. We find frequent flashes of Stuart’s British sense of humour inviting us to smile: “In real life, there was never a cavalry troop around when you needed one”, a reference to the cells of the Brigada Político-Social; or the fear he feels when they moved him to what was then the Yeserías Prison Hospital, when he suspects they are going to “trepan him or subject him to some other sort of sub-Pyrenean psycho-neuro-surgery.” Or the delicate touch displayed by the kidnappers of Monsignor Ussía in furnishing him with a Bible, only to discover that, “they were not particularly well-versed in matters of theology”, it turned out to be a Protestant Bible; or, indeed in his inspired brief description of Don Pablo, a fascist brute of a prison officer “he was the A to Z of anal retention.” The passage which I personally most enjoyed reading, on account of my repeated fond readings of the adventures of both characters, was the one where he says that “Don Quijote had taken on the personality of William Brown.”
In short, in my view, there is another aspect to this book which is not to be sniffed at: its verfremdungeffekt, that distancing, elegant gift for recounting events, no matter how dramatic, as if he were not involved, as if they were happening to someone else. As Carlos Fonseca has stated in his Foreword, which is spot-on and as clear as water, “Go ahead and read”.