November 1936: “Farquhar was adamant that things began going badly wrong in 1936 with the vertiginous rise to power of Mariano R. Vázquez . ‘Marianet’, as he was known, was the protégé of the CNT’s collaborationist secretary-general, Horacio Martínez Prieto, and Juan García Oliver —first to the position of regional secretary of the Catalan CNT then, in November 1936, to the post of secretary-general of the CNT National Committee…
“According to Farquhar, it was Marianet who — largely single-handedly, but ably assisted by Montseny, Esgleas and others who should have known better — began suffocating the revolutionary process with his bureaucratic and cowardly deference to the Catalan and Madrid governments, and to the British and French consuls in Barcelona by ensuring that the CNT did not socialise those countries’ important commercial interests in Catalonia. Tragically, the majority of the membership acquiesced to this, by allowing the CNT-FAI street patrols to be replaced first by the Central Committee of Anti-Fascist Militias, then by security forces answerable only to the Generalidad Defence Council…
“Although the French police and security services had had Laureano under regular surveillance since the Liberation (of Paris), they had only been able to arrest and convict him on a handful of occasions. According to Spanish and French police reports, he had been involved in large-scale black-market and counterfeiting operations during and after the Nazi Occupation and was reputed, according to their reports, to have amassed a fortune: ‘reckoned at over two hundred million francs, with which he funds the Spanish Libertarian action groups—within Spain as well as abroad’. Equally they knew Laureano’s counterfeit IDs, driving licences and ration cards had saved the lives of countless members of the Resistance, Allied and Jewish evaders and escaping POWs, as well as ordinary French men and women who had to reinvent themselves to escape the Gestapo and the Milice. For that reason—and for his role in the Resistance—they respected him and to a large extent turned a blind eye to his activities. But as the bitter memories of the Occupation receded, new geopolitical and domestic pressures began eroding French sympathies for the exiles who had contributed so much to the Liberation.
“The big man from Govan [Farquhar McHarg] harboured no illusions about the extent to which Cerrada’s activities straddled conflicting and seemingly irreconcilable worlds. On the one hand there was the Cerrada he had known and respected as a comrade and friend for over fifty years; on the other was this distinct ‘Mr Hyde’ personality, one whose nature and behaviour functioned on a completely different macroscopic level.
“Things had started going wrong for Cerrada in the autumn of 1949. Political tensions resulting from the trauma of defeat and the subsequent post-1939 power struggle within the emigré community, particularly among the members of the Executive Council of the Spanish Libertarian Movement (MLE) in exile(1) — aggravated by Cerrada’s clandestine activities and his compromising criminal connections made during and after the Nazi occupation — led, in 1950, to his expulsion from the CNT. His black market activities cost him many friends in the movement, or people he thought were friends but who turned out to be opportunistic acquaintances.
“At the time of his murder in October 1976, Cerrada was a supporter, albeit on the periphery, of the anarchist Grupos de Acción Revolucionario Internacional (GARI), the successors to the First of May action groups (1966-1972). Even after his expulsion and imprisonment in 1950, he continued in the role of ‘facilitator’ and as a ‘wise head’, someone the younger militants, the ‘Apaches’, could turn to for advice, moral solidarity and, when required, logistical and financial support.
November 1936 was a milestone in the civil war. Having surrounded Madrid, the mutinous fascist army was making a supreme effort to overrun the capital. On 4 November 1936 the ‘notable leaders’ [Horacio Prieto (CNT National Secretary before Vázquez), Mariano R. Vázquez (CNT National Secretary), Federica Montseny (Minister of Health), Diego Abad de Santillán (Secretary of the Peninsular Committee of the FAI), Joan Peiró (Minister for Industry), Juan López (Minister for Trade), García Oliver (Minister of Justice)] of the anarcho-syndicalist CNT and anarchist FAI Peninsular Committee finally and completely abandoned the Confederation’s apolitical stance by taking it upon themselves to accept four nominal ministries in the central government of Largo Caballero. Many believed this was a cynical move on the part of Caballero to facilitate the government’s flight to Valencia and to pre-empt any criticism, or, presumably, any revolutionary initiatives from the anarcho-syndicalist rank and file. Coincidentally (if you believe in coincidences!), two days later, on 6 November, Largo Caballero and his cabinet, including his newly appointed anarchist ministers, fled to Valencia — while the people of Madrid rallied to the city’s defence to cries of ‘Long Live Madrid Without Government!’