Resistencia Libertaria: Anarchist Opposition to the Last Argentine Dictatorship

This first appeared in the February 2003 issue of The New Formulation:
An Anti-Authoritarian Review of Books
 (Vol. 2, No. 1) .

 * * *

A broad and popular resistance confronted the military dictatorships that strangled Latin America in the 1970s. Activists from diverse political tendencies fought back, in both organized and spontaneous ways, and their efforts doubtlessly saved many lives and hastened the collapse of these brutal regimes.

Although some of their contributions have been celebrated in books, articles, and
films, important aspects of the resistance have never been studied. In particular, anarchist opposition to the dictatorships—which existed in Argentina, Brazil,
Chile, and Uruguay—has been almost entirely omitted from the historical record.

The following interview offers a corrective to that omission. It tells the story of Resistencia Libertaria, a clandestine anarchist organization founded shortly before the Argentine military seized power in 1976.

Resistencia Libertaria (RL) was active in the student, labor, and neighborhood movements and also had a military wing with which it defended and financed its activities. At its peak, it had between 100 and 130 members and a much broader network of sympathizers. The organization was crushed in 1978 and 80 percent of its members perished in the dictatorship’s concentration camps and torture chambers.

The RL sustained the long tradition of Argentine anarchism and also transformed it in the face of the new conditions confronting activists in the 1970s. The experiences of the RL—which have been essentially undocumented in Spanish or English until now—mark an important chapter in the history of resistance to the last Argentine dictatorship and post-World War II anarchism generally.

Although the New Formulation is normally restricted to book reviews, it is hoped that readers will welcome this small departure from our normal editorial policy.

This interview was conducted in Spanish by phone on October 13, 2002 with Fernando Lopez, one of RL’s few surviving members. Please see the “About Contributors” section for more information on Lopez.

~ Chuck Morse

Please tell me about the origins of the RL. How was it formed?
The RL was founded by comrades from the city of La Plata at the end of the 1960s. The founding nuclei constituted a community around a cooperative carpentry shop (which still exists to this day) and developed militant projects among university students and later in the workers’ movement (specifically in the shipyard workers’ and judicial workers’ unions).

A key event occurred when members of this group starting collaborating with the newspaper, La Protesta, and a very heavy, acute discussion took place between them and the old people that were there.(1) The discussion had to do with the appearance of the first, groups of armed action, such as the Tupamaros and the Ejercito Revolucionario del Pueblo (Revolutionary Army of the People). The young people tended to support the actions carried out by these groups and thus conflicted with the older people, who opposed these actions, because they rejected some of the Marxist positions of these groups. The younger group was expelled from La Protesta due to these differences around 1971. This cut their relationship with the older anarchist movement and rendered them independent from it.

Later, in 1973, an anarchist conference was held in the city of Cordoba, in which militants of groups from Cordoba, Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Salta, and Montevideo [Uruguay] participated. Myself and another comrade attended this conference as delegates from a group called Action Directa. It was here that comrades from La Plata, Cordoba, and Action Directa from Buenos Aires constituted Resistencia Anticapitalista Libertaria (Libertarian Anti-Capitalist Resistance) as a national organization.

A year or year and a half later, the name Resistencia Anticapitalista Libertaria was dropped simply for Resistencia Libertaria (this just happened naturally, there was not a discussion about changing the name). I joined the organization in 1974.

How was the RL structured?
The RL was an absolutely clandestine organization and it was organized in a cellular form by fronts of work.(2) The fronts of work were the workers’ front, the student front, and the neighborhood front. The RL also had a military apparatus that was, in reality, a mechanism for financing the organization—working in a moment of almost absolute clandestinity is very onerous and costly—and for protecting militant workers, etc., because things such as kidnappings and rightist actions against left-wing workers’ groups were common during this era. It was necessary to organize self-defense in some cases.

Continue reading


(From Perspectives on Anarchist Theory, fall, 2004)

In the spring of 2003, The New Formulation published an interview with Fernando López about Resistencia Libertaria, a clandestine anarchist organization founded shortly before the Argentinean military seized power in 1976.(1)

This organization engaged in militant opposition in the labor, student, and neighborhood arenas, and also had a military wing with which it financed and defended itself. The group was crushed in 1978 and 80 percent of its more than 100 members perished in the dictatorship’s concentration camps and torture chambers. López had been an active member of Resistencia Libertaria (RL) and our interview with him was the first published account of RL’s history in any language.

Shortly after that issue appeared The New Formulation received a letter from María Esther Tello. Writing from France, she informed us that she had been a member of RL and was the mother of three activists mentioned by Lopez: the beloved Tello brothers, who were among RL’s most active militants and now, like so many others, “disappeared.”

Her letter was forwarded to Argentinean comrades, our interview was made available in Spanish, and Tello visited Argentina in the fall of 2003. Long overdue discussions about RL occurred there and old bonds between comrades who had not seen one another in years began to be renewed. It was an honor to know that The New Formulation had contributed to that process.

The history of RL, and all the losses associated with it, must never be forgotten. We publish the following testimony from Tello as a small attempt to help ensure that it is not.

~ Chuck Morse

– – – – –
My first contacts with libertarian activism

I was born in La Plata and the greater part of my professional life transpired there. I worked in public education, as a teacher in rural schools as well as in schools in working class and middle class neighborhoods. I was also a school inspector in rural and urban areas and a social worker of the Department of University Extension. This is to say that I was always linked to the disadvantaged or proletarian sectors of my country.

I was very young when I entered into anarchist activism. At fifteen years old, I began to link myself with an anarchist group called Voluntad (Will), together with someone who later became my husband and the father of my three disappeared sons. This group was made up of a dozen comrades who, for the most part, were university students or professionals. It was dedicated to the distribution of propaganda coming from the FORA,(2) or what survived of it, to [the creation of] illegal murals ( pintadas murales ), and to theoretical discussions based in the classical literature. Our material came from the Editorial Reconstruir and from La Protesta and Acción Directa or La Antorcha . Our most respected figure was Rodolfo González Pacheco, in whose vacation house I met Emilio Uriondo, an anarchist expropriator who had formed part of Ascaso and Rosigna’s group.(3)

At that time, and much later as well, marked opposition to Peronism and its depiction as a fascist movement was characteristic of the anarchist movement. It is for this reason that our practice remained remote from the working class-which was largely Peronist-except for the relations we maintained with the naval construction workers and the plumbers’ union, who were supporters of anarcho-syndicalism or the anarcho-communism of the FORA of the Fifth Congress.(4)

Although the Voluntad group dissolved, my husband, myself, and other comrades continued our activity in La Plata in a very similar vein. Our group was clandestine and did not have a name. Its methods of action were, in my opinion, more individualist and intellectual than rooted in the working class. Nevertheless, our diverse ties-which had more of a friendship than organizational character-permitted me to meet and in some cases maintain friendships with outstanding figures of Argentine anarchism, such as the aforementioned González Pacheco and Uriondo, the anarcho-syndicalists Umberto Correales and Carlos Kristof, and the veteran of the Spanish Revolution, Manuel Palanca, and his admirable companion Carmen.

This was during the final period of Perón’s rule. Perón was deposed in 1955 by a military coup that brought general Lombardi-a fervent Catholic-to power, who in turn was later replaced by Aramburu and the admiral Rojas. This was a powerful time for me. My comrades, who were primarily from the University of La Plata, discussed the possibility of joining the armed commandos-led by the center-left and above all by the Radical Party-who were to come out in opposition to a possible working class uprising in support of Perón. I knew the reality of these workers, through my students and from own family, whose lives had been objectively improved by the social laws introduced by Perón-the Christmas bonus, the loans for housing, the paid vacations, the support for health care-and I also knew that the improvements in their conditions were not due to the struggles of their unions but rather were concessions made by Perón to his supporters, in order to better manage them later. But, still, they were authentic benefits that had never been obtained-trying to suppress them was to oppose the working class that defended, in Perón, conditions of life to which they doubtlessly had a right. A little later that military government executed loads of workers, intervened in unions, censured the press.

I was the only woman in that group for a long time, although we were joined by Elsa Martínez, Amalia Peralta-Argentina’s first woman guerrilla, as a member of the Peronist Uturunco group, which she joined after leaving ours on friendly terms-and other young women on a temporary basis. This group eventually became inactive and disappeared.

Birth and Development of Resistancia Libertaria

Pablo Daniel, my oldest son, entered the Department of Engineering in 1967 and studied there for a year or two before going into architecture. He was active in the student movement of La Plata and twice arrested by the police during student demonstrations.

He and two other comrades began the nucleus of what later became Resistancia Libertaria . At the beginning it was a student group of three comrades-Pablo, Tino, and el Tano-but little by little others were incorporated. In the middle of 1969, my other two sons, Marcelo and Rafael, and their partners joined. Marcelo studied theater and Rafael studied philosophy in the Humanities Department. There was also myself, Perinola, Cristina, la Turca, Yogurt, Hernán and Elsa (who had been part of the group from the 1950s), and others, many of whom I did not meet directly (I note here that half of us were women).(5)

Almost all had finished or abandoned their university studies, joined the work force, and entered into labor struggles. In the beginning, the organization was structured around two areas of engagement ( frentes )-neighborhood and labor-and the group grew with the integration of other militants from Buenos Aires and especially Córdoba, who enriched it in every sense.

Our home and library was the center of operations and study. The events of Córdoba in 1969, the references to the French May, as well as the more or less close links with the old anarchist comrades, were the breeding ground of ideas and debates. The Department of Architecture of La Plata was also a hotbed of groups and Left tendencies, and the place from where many militants emerged who joined the labor movement in some cases or the armed struggle in others. This is how the initial group expanded, incorporating young men and women that came from other tendencies or who were beginning, more often than not, their activist lives. Couples, who soon had children, also emerged, which created strong links and a sense of solidarity among all of these youths.

Given the organization’s cellular structure that we were obliged to maintain during various military governments, I never joined the same cell as my sons. We also did not discuss what occurred in RL within the family, although sometimes we shared responsibilities and resources.

The particular composition of our group, with an equal proportion of women and tasks not differentiated by sex, offered little ground for feminist objections. Macho attitudes seemed out of place and totally untenable. I remember our dear Perinola and Elsa Martínez confronting the police during the repression of a demonstration in La Plata with the same ardor and efficiency as their male comrades. These two died tragically and their memory always fills us with emotion, as well as that of Yogurt and Cristina.

Inside the organization, self-management was an essential and undisputed practice. It functioned as a style of life and as a solution to everything we embarked upon. I think that we all shared a strong sense of fullness, of living thoroughly, of loving ourselves, and of loving the struggle and all that it embodied.

Activism in Exile

Some weeks before the military dictatorship took power in March 1976, my son Marcelo disappeared. We were persecuted and I had to stay in France where I went in exile, on the decision of my RL group. There I joined in the activities of the Support Committee [for victims of the dictatorship], which a group of Argentines had created in Paris. Later I was a member of and contributed to founding other solidarity groups that fought for the disappeared as well as Argentine and French prisoners. In 1978 my other two sons, Pablo Daniel and Rafael, were disappeared, together with Hernán and Elsa Ramírez and other RL comrades. La Turk was executed in 1976.

I returned to Argentina in 1984 and joined the Madres de Plaza de Mayo of La Plata. That same year, I initiated a trial against those responsible for the genocide. I first did this in Argentina and, when then-president Ménem announced the pardon of the military and police criminals, I returned to France, where I now live. I have again taken legal action against those responsible for the genocide, this time in the French courts. I am presently a member of the CNT, to which I make a modest contribution.

Translated from Spanish by Chuck Morse.

– – – – –
1. Chuck Morse, “Resistencia Libertaria: Anarchist Opposition to the Last Argentine Dictatorship,”The New Formulation Vol. 2, No. 1 (February 2003): 75–88.
2. The FORA is the Federación Obrera Regional Argentina, an anarchist-led labor federation that played a leading role in social struggles at the beginning of the 20th century.
3. See review by Astrid Wessels in this issue for comments on Miguel Rosigna. Francisco Ascaso was a Spanish anarchist, best known for his close association with Buenaventura Durruti.
4. Tello refers here to the specifically anarchist wing of the FORA, which emerged as the result of a split in the organization.
5. In a private letter, Tello explained that “Yogurt” received his nickname “because he was very young when he joined our organization, almost a boy “that would have to drink milk.” As for “Perolina,” this name was an “allusion to her strong inclination to ingest all types of liquids, alcoholic or not, and without order or preference.”

New Release: Paradoxes of Utopia: Anarchist Culture and Politics in Buenos Aires 1890–1910

By Juan Suriano
Translated by Chuck Morse

paradoxesofutopiaWhen the Argentine economy collapsed in 2001, many were surprised by the factory takeovers and neighborhood assemblies that resulted. But workers’ control and direct democracy have long histories in Argentina, where from the late nineteenth century and well into the twentieth, anarchism was the main revolutionary ideology of the labor movement and other social struggles.

Most histories of anarchism in Argentina tend toward dry analyses of labor politics, lists of union acronyms, and the like. For Juan Suriano, that’s just one part of the story. Paradoxes of Utopia gives us an engaging look at fin de siècle Buenos Aires that brings to life the vibrant culture behind one of the world’s largest anarchist movements: the radical schools, newspapers, theaters, and social clubs that made revolution a way of life. Cultural history in the best sense, Paradoxes of Utopia explores how a revolutionary ideology was woven into the ordinary lives of tens of thousands of people, creating a complex tapestry of symbols, rituals, and daily practices that supported-and indeed created the possibility of-the Argentine labor movement.

Without partisanship or didacticism, Suriano creates an innovative panorama that gives equal weigh to the strengths and weakness of anarchism in Argentina, effective strategies and grave mistakes, internal debates and state repression, all contextualized within the country’s broader political, economic, and cultural history.

Interview with Flavio Sosa: APPO is questioning the traditional ways of doing politics

Translated to English by Chuck Morse
November 9, 2006

By Hernán Ouviña

Flavio Sosa is a member of the “provisional collective council” of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO, in Spanish). Despite being one of APPO’s most visible faces at the moment, he insists on stating that “ours is a movement of the grassroots, not leaders.” What follows are some fragments of a much longer conversation that we had with him and other comrades in the tent city in the emblematic Santo Domingo Plaza, a bastion of communalist resistance in Oaxaca.

* * *

How did APPO begin?

There is a long tradition of assemblies in Oaxaca that goes back to the pre-Hispanic era–the popular assembly is the ultimate authority in indigenous communities–and APPO was born with the goal of being an assembly of assemblies; one that would include the Zapotecos, the Mixtecos, the Mixes, the rest of the indigenous peoples, and black people. It arose as an exercise in democracy carried out by the various people, communities, and organizations that want to participate in the movement.

There are 350 organizations in APPO?

Yes. Community and neighborhood organizations participated from the very beginning, as well as unions, political fronts, civil society organizations, and even professional associations. That’s why we say that APPO has many dimensions. We’re going to hold our founding congress on November 10 to November 12, in order to give ourselves a more solid and practical structure, with a platform of principles. Initially, APPO was a popular response to the aggression inflicted upon the teachers and a mechanism for reaching a common goal, which is the departure of Ulises Ruiz Ortiz. Later, the idea spread of working not only to topple Ulises Ruiz Ortiz but also to transform the conditions of life, to lay the foundations for a new relationship between society and government. In this context, there have been many interesting discussions about the reforms that Oaxaca needs and what direction the government we want should go. Intellectuals, academics, religious people, and members of other organizations have taken part. It’s as if there’s APPO on the one side and the street movement on the other, which is ultimately turning itself into a movement that is pacifist yet able to respond to attacks, such as those that we suffered at the hands of the Federal Preventative Police (FPP).

Why was the name changed from the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca to the Popular Assembly of the Peoples (plural)?

This happened in the beginning of September in response to a criticism. We used “popular assembly” because that’s the space in the community for discussion, where debates happen and decisions are made. However, after thinking about it, we decided that it had to be of the “peoples” not “people,” because we are many peoples, many ethnicities. We have different roots and therefore different perspectives.

How did the leadership emerge and what is its relation to the grassroots?

The leadership came out of a general assembly that took place on June 20. It’s a council that we call “provisional collective,” but we’re going to try to give it a more definitive character at our congress. It will represent regions as well as the movement’s most active organizations, considering that there are different levels of participation. Some people are active briefly, then withdraw a bit, and then engage again when there are marches or sit-ins. Involvement varies according to each organization’s commitment and ability. There are also some groups that are very localized in specific regions and so it’s difficult for them to be in the city all the time. Oaxaca is very spread out geographically. For example, it takes 10 or 12 hours to get to Isthmus (of Tehuantepec) and the Sierra is just as far. That’s why it wasn’t possible to have permanent leaders at a central level. We’ve made various efforts, but APPO’s regionalism still isn’t very consolidated. APPO needs to reflect all the communities, which is what we’re working to do.

What’s going to happen with APPO after the constitutive congress?

We don’t know what direction this will go in, because we first have to listen to what the grassroots say. This movement was born as a response to a brutal aggression, but began to question everything: to question the media, which it seized and took over in some instances; to question the traditional ways of doing politics and attempt to articulate new methods of doing them; to question the political parties and stop any one from calling the shots; even to question the leadership itself and create a collective leadership; and also to question a bad government and try to remove it. This has made it an anti-systemic movement that alarms the political class. “How can a protest movement challenge the status quo and how we do politics?” the politicians ask themselves. Well, since the people are questioning all the traditional ways of doing politics, we think that it’s the people who should invent something new at this congress.

Are there arrest warrants out for APPO’s leadership?

There are arrest warrants for all the leaders. In fact, apparently more than 300 orders have been issued. Yesterday we learned that there was a new search warrant for Radio Universidad, supposedly to look for arms and arrest some prominent militants. We do our best not to be there, in order not to give them any pretexts. The repression has been endless. They’ve even thrown Molotov cocktails at the homes of APPO’s principal activists and have tried to mess with the homes of others. Ulises has made terror a routine political practice. He uses the police as well as hired assassins and went after us up through Thursday, imprisoning us. There’s a radio station named Ciudadana, which we call Radio Raccoon, that tells people to persecute us, to go to our homes. They even try to implicate us in criminal acts like drug trafficking to justify the repression. None of this has any basis: ours is a popular movement.

What can you tell us about the dialogue due to begin this Monday, November 6, in the city’s Cathedral?

We had always wanted a space for dialogue between APPO and civil society, because we knew that we had to address the conflict. But then the FPP came and began to raid people’s homes and arrest popular leaders in some neighborhoods. That was when the idea of the dialogue in the Cathedral arose. We spoke with Oaxaca Church authorities, who imposed a series of conditions on us. At first we agreed, even though we thought that they were excessive, because peace is an urgent necessity. However, our position changed after the battle in the University City, given that the correlation of forces and also the spirit of the people had changed. The situation in Oaxaca also looks different from a national perspective. Since the FPP’s defeat in battle, the existence of the FPP itself is now at risk, politically speaking. This gives us a very important role in the national context and, although we think that peace is imperative, we don’t want to our actions to always be defensive and conditioned. We want to go on the offensive. This is the framework for the megamarch that we’re organizing on Sunday. But it was our discussions with organisms of civil society that prompted us to create the dialogue that will begin on Monday.

Will a representative from the federal government attend?

I don’t think so, although we’ve asked to speak with them and for them to listen to us. And if the participants that are there tell APPO: “it’s not necessary for you to speak,” then we’ll respect that. We’ll leave this space to civil society. We think it’s an important space and that it will help us find a path to peace. There will be this route on the one hand and, on the other, that of popular mobilization, on which we’re going to push very hard. We also have a proposal for direct dialogue with the President, but we need our prisoners to be freed and the FPP to get out first. There’s no doubt that the solution to the conflict has to involve the departure of Ulises Ruiz and the implementation of the existing commitments for the transformation of Oaxaca.

If there is no governmental delegation at the dialogue, who will be your counterpart?

It won’t be a bilateral dialogue, but rather a multi-lateral space. We intend to say what we think so that we and various civil society actors can come to a conclusion about the best routes for peace and for getting the police and Ulises Ruiz to leave Oaxaca. That’s our objective, at least. What we expect from the discussion is good sense, proposals, and serious thought. We’ll see if we can come to an understanding.

What will happen if you force Ulises out but the federal government installs another governor with similar characteristics?

That’s not possible, because Oaxaca won’t allow it and they know it. There’s going to be a party here when Ulises falls. People who haven’t protested with us before are going to run into the street saying, “We won! . . . I was always with you!” We’ve already seen this happen during the marches. Some people don’t participate at first, but when they see themselves in this enormous mirror of the megamarches, they join.

What is the goal of this Sunday’s megamarch?

To demonstrate the movement’s strength and popular support. Also, to show our opposition to the FPP and our desire for a peaceful solution to the conflict.

Are you thinking of coordinating your struggle with the other great movements in Mexico, like the Zapatistas and the civil resistance to the electoral fraud?

Sadly, that’s not our priority right now, although we are committed to the democratic transformation of the country. We will see what’s the best way to fight for this. The social fabric in Oaxaca has suffered terrible wounds: people have lost jobs, the teachers aren’t teaching; there are problems in the communities; the health sector has shut down. Third parties have been affected, it has to be recognized. We’re in an emergency situation and need to resolve local matters first. But in no way does that mean that we will disregard national issues. In fact, we think it’s necessary to connect ourselves to the Other Campaign, the National Democratic Convention, and various additional organizations.

Some criticize you for focusing on the fall of Ulises Ruiz, given that the election of Felipe Calderón was also the result of fraud.

While it wouldn’t be right for Calderón to become president, that’s not our principle responsibility but rather that of the entire national movement. We don’t want to become the vanguard of the country’s movement. That isn’t our task. The people didn’t take to the streets of Oaxaca so that the APPO can become Mexico’s vanguard.

Members of APPO say that your movement isn’t about leaders but the grassroots. What are they talking about?

Look, you’re speaking to one of APPO’s most visible faces right now. Suppose that I decide to make a deal with Ulises: in that case, they’d push me aside and the movement would continue. I don’t make the decisions. I have a responsibility—to speak with the press and articulate a position—but I don’t control APPO. Sometimes my opinions are received favorably in the assemblies and other times they say “this guy is crazy” and simply ignore me. This isn’t a party-based movement. And you can’t try to discipline it, because it isn’t an army either. For example, yesterday it took the “provisional council” a great deal of effort to get something passed in a general assembly, despite the fact that we brought a proposal, agreed upon by consensus, arguing that the main highways should be cleared. We barely managed to get it passed. But it’s going to take a lot of work to get the base to accept that agreement, even if we explain all the virtues of the proposal. That’s something that no leader can pull off.

You’ll also clear the area around the Ciudad Universitaria, like the Cinco Señores Crossing (where the FPP was defeated last Thursday)?

There’s going to be a special situation there. If you suggest to the university people that they remove the blockades around the Ciudad Universitaria, they’ll tell you to go to hell. That’s why I said that this movement doesn’t depend on leaders. Here’s another example: they have a committee that runs Radio Universidad and, on the day of the fighting I said, “Listen, give me a moment to send a message.” They told me, “No, you can’t go in. There’s an emergency.” I insisted, telling them that I only needed a minute, but the response was the same. That’s why we say that this movement isn’t homogeneous, but multi-directional. It’s the conventional view of politics that leads people to search for someone to be the leader, perhaps someone who is at the head of the demonstrations or appears most frequently on television. Actually, some guys here painted “if you create a leader, you create a tyrant” on a wall. They have good reasons to say that and we respect them. That’s why it’s important to understand that this movement is about all of society, trying to live together and move forward together. There are comrades that wear the hammer and sickle symbol and then there are the base church communities that come with the Virgin of Guadalupe. That’s the great strength of our movement. That’s why we always say, “it’s not about the leaders.” On one occasion, when this phrase began to circulate, someone made a sign saying, “This isn’t a movement of leaders, but the grassroots” and the group later signed it. Shortly afterwards, some thoughtful young guys added underneath with a pen: “it’s not about leaders . . . or even groups.” That’s the reality.


The Revolutionary Institutions: The Central Committee of Anti-Fascist Militias

Anarchists played a pivotal role in the early phase of the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939, particularly in Catalonia. They led the resistance to Franco’s forces, their organizations and unions structured social life during the tumult, and they alone had a strong vision of what type of society they wanted to create.

To some militants in the CNT and FAI, it seemed that the time to declare libertarian communism had arrived: they could finally begin building the new world that they had been dreaming of during their nearly seventy years of organizing. They were on the threshold, they believed, of a truly anarchist society.

Others disagreed. The fact that the majority of anti-fascists—not to mention the majority of Spaniards—were hostile to the anarchists meant that they would need to rule against their opponents if they attempted to institute their utopian ideals. They would, in parlance of the day, have to impose an “anarchist dictatorship” if they tried to “go for everything.” Many found this possibility intolerably frightening and contradictory.

But there was another option: they could cooperate with the other anti-fascist forces—some of whom were bitterly anti-anarchist—and try to garner enough support to later realize their maximal program on a more consensual basis. This way they could avoid the obvious dilemmas of an “anarchist dictatorship,” although it would mean pushing their revolutionary aspirations into the (potentially very distant) future.

They decided to collaborate, as is well known, and by doing so set the parameters of their intervention for the remainder of the civil conflict.

The following article offers insight why they made this fateful choice, describes their decisive first encounter with the President of Catalonia, and details the activity of the Central Committee of Anti-Fascist Militias, the institutional framework for their cooperation with the other anti-fascists tendencies. It is one of few accounts of anarchist activity during the early period of the war written by a direct participant.

The essay (“Los Organismos Revolucionarios: El Comité Central de las Milicias Antifascistas de Cataluña,” in Spanish) was first printed in Solidaridad Obrera and later republished as a chapter in a book titled De julio a Julio: un año de lucha (Barcelona: Tierra y Libertad, 1937). It appears in English here for the first time.

– Chuck Morse

* * *

J. García Oliver:
The Revolutionary Institutions: The Central Committee of Anti-Fascist Militias

In addition to the other articles in this volume, which first appeared in the special issue of Fragua Social on July 19, we felt it appropriate to include the following piece from Solidaridad Obrera, which was printed on the same date. It offers a general overview of the revolution in Catalonia through a description of the activity of its particular institution: the Central Committee of Anti-fascist Militias.

– – –

The leader of the Mozos de Escuadra [autonomous Catalan police] met us at the Generalidad entrance. We were armed to the teeth—rifles, machine-guns, and pistols—and ragged and dirty from all the dust and smoke.

“We’re the CNT and FAI representatives that Companys called,” we told him. “The people with us are our guard.”

He greeted us warmly and led us into the Orange Tree Courtyard. There was confusion and disorder in the Generalidad Palace, but joy was also visible in the faces of all those old and young Catalanists, Mozos, Guards, police, and youth from the Esquerra and Estat Catalá. They were delighted by a glory dreamed of for centuries and yet not experienced until that very day, during which some CNT and FAI men were brought to meet the President, determined and making an impressive racket with their weapons. Catalonia, always mistreated and oppressed by the central government, trampled by Spain’s military caste, had just defeated the fascist monster. And how easy it was! In thirty hours of heavy fighting, the men from the CNT and the FAI, whose way of doing battle reminds one so much of the Almogavars, distinguished themselves above all others in the bloody and victorious struggle for freedom. This is why their representatives were welcomed with such affection and esteem, despite the fact that they carried an abundance of arms which, in anarchist hands, would previously have been regarded as murder weapons but were now justly seen as instruments of freedom.

We left our guard in the Orange Tree Courtyard, which became an encampment.

Companys stood to receive us. He was visibly excited. He extended his hand and would have hugged us if his pride—clearly impacted by what he intended to say—had not stopped him.

The introductions were brief. We sat down with our rifles between our knees. Companys stated the following:

“First of all, I must acknowledge that the CNT and FAI have never been treated in the way that they deserve, given their real importance. You have always been harshly persecuted. Even I, who had been your ally, was forced by political realties to resist and persecute you, much as it pained me to do so. Today you are masters of the city and Catalonia. It was you who defeated the fascists, although I hope you will not take offense if I point out that you had some help from Guards, Mozos, and men loyal to my party.”

Companys paused for a moment and then continued slowly:

“But the truth is that you—harshly oppressed until two days ago—defeated the fascist soldiers. And, knowing who and what you are, of course I will speak to you in the most heartfelt terms. You’ve won. Everything is in your hands. If you do not want or need me as President of Catalonia, tell me now, so that I can become another soldier in the war against fascism.

“However, if you think that in this office—which I would have left only if the fascists killed me—I, my party, my name, and my prestige can be useful in the struggle—which has ended in Barcelona, but rages on in the rest of Spain—then you can count on me and my loyalty as a man and politician. I am convinced that a shameful past has died today and genuinely want Catalonia to march in forefront of the most socially advanced nations.”

Companys was speaking with obvious candor. He was a malleable, realistic man, who experienced the tragedy of his people very deeply. They had been saved from secular slavery by the anarchists and he, using the language demanded by the circumstances, took the lead in a uniquely dignified way, something so uncommon among Spanish politicians. Without letting himself be frightened by the revolution, and understanding that it would redefine the boundaries of the possible, he intended to play a central role, as a Catalan who knew that the hour of his country had rung and as a man with extremely advanced ideas who did not fear the most audacious social interventions, which are always expressed in lived reality.

We had gone to listen and could not commit ourselves to anything. It was our organizations that had to make the decisions. We explained this to Companys.

The importance of this historic encounter between Companys and our organizations will never be fully grasped: indeed, Spain’s fate was decided in Catalonia, between libertarian communism, which would have meant anarchist dictatorship, and democracy, which meant collaboration.

Companys told us that representatives from all the anti-fascist groups in Catalonia were waiting in another room. If we agreed to participate in the meeting that he, the President of the Generalidad, wanted to call, then he would propose the formation of a body that could continue the revolutionary struggle in Catalonia until victory.

We agreed to attend the meeting, in our capacity as intermediaries and emissaries. It took place in another room where, as Companys had said, representatives from the Esquerra Republicana, the Rabassaires, the Republican Union, the POUM, and the Socialist Party were waiting. I don’t remember the names well, either because of the rush, exhaustion, or because I was never told them. Nin, Comorera, etc., etc. Companys explained why a militias committee should be created. It would reorganize life in Catalonia, which the fascist uprising had disrupted acutely, and build a military force that would fight the rebels wherever they might be. Indeed, the balance of the adversarial forces was still unclear in those moments of national confusion.

For democratic collaboration and against revolutionary dictatorship

The CNT and FAI’s reply to President Companys’s proposal was extremely significant. We responded to him, the President of a region saved from servitude by non-governmental forces, in a way that reflected the unanticipated revolutionary maturity and constructive potential of forces that had never had their capacity to rule tested, even though they were a majority in the country.

The CNT and FAI decided to accept collaboration and democracy, and thus renounce the revolutionary totalitarianism that would strangle the revolution with an anarchist, confederal dictatorship. Trusting the word and person of a Catalan democrat, we permitted Companys to carry on as President; we agreed to the formation of the militias committee and a distribution of forces within it that was not just–the UGT and the Socialist Party, minorities in Catalonia, received the same number of seats as the triumphant anarchists and CNTistas–but a sacrifice designed to lead the authoritarian parties down the path of faithful collaboration and away from suicidal competitions.

The Central Committee of Anti-fascist Militias, the real revolutionary government of Catalonia

The Central Committee of Anti-fascist Militias (CCAM) was constituted by a decree from the Generalidad. It was composed of popular, anti-fascist forces. For our sake, accepting Companys’s proposition, we did not object to the inclusion of any anti-fascist group. We were the largest force, and it was upon us that the challenge of creating real democracy fell, although we did not imitate the bigwigs who relentlessly harass their so-called “junior partners.” Without respect for the real strength of the groups in question, the CCAM was made up by the CNT, the FAI, the Esquerra, the Rabassaires, the Republican Union, the POUM, the Socialist Party, and the UGT. The Generalidad sent a representative named Prunés and a military leader by the name of Pérez Farrás, both of whom were appointed by Companys.

The Committee immediately set up shop in a large, modern building in the Palace Plaza, which had previously been occupied the Seamen’s School. It quickly organized the first expeditions of militiamen to the Aragon front. Three of its members–Durruti, Pérez Farrás, and Del Barrio–took control of two sectors of struggle in this first departure of forces. In later expeditions, the Committee sent me, Rovira, and Durán y Rosell to the front. The cataclysm had shattered the social, political, legal, and economic foundations of the life in Catalonia. The CCAM, a dynamic, popular body and authentic representation of the proletarian masses, had to respond to the war, hurrying to create, through the tireless efforts of some of its men, everything that it demanded. The organization of armies, military training, health, supply, transportation, arms production, directing operations, etc, etc.

As a whole, it was the CNT and FAI men on the CCAM who were best prepared and offered the most to the magnificent work of consolidating Catalonia’s freedom and independence. They were indefatigable; true slaves to work. After them, it was those from the Esquerra, the Rabassaires, the Republcan Union, the POUM, and finally, last among all in terms of their contribution, militants from the Workers’ General Union (UGT) and the Unified Socialist Party.

Durruti, Aurelio Fernández, Asens, Santillán, Marcos Alcón, and I represented the CNT-FAI on the CCAM; Miratvilles, Aiguader, Solá, and Tarradellas were there on behalf of the Esquerra; Torrents spoke for the Rabassaires; Fábregas for the Republican Union; Gorkín, Rovira, Gironella for the POUM; Del Barrio, Vidiella, Miret, García, Durán y Rosell (etc) represented the UGT and Socialists.

There were three very important and completely loyal military men on the CCAM; the Guarner brothers and Colonel Giménez de la Verasa. The first two were well-qualified to organize and lead the armed forces being created; the latter specialized in artillery and arms production. The CCAM began making weapons under the guidance of CNT men like Vallejo and Martín, who have done a tremendous job at rapidly transforming our metal and chemical industries into centers for making armaments, which today are vital to the war and the revolution and will be vital to the future of Catalan industry once the conflict ends.

The CCAM mandated the construction of a network of fortifications throughout Catalonia, which safeguard our freedoms and the security of our fronts. Thus far, the enemy has not attacked them, preferring instead to assault areas inadvertently left defenseless.

The CCAM also organized the internal security forces that permitted the speedy construction of a new revolutionary order. Aurelio Fernández and Asens from the CNT-FAI; Fábregas from the Republican Union, and González from the UGT worked tirelessly on this. Miratvilles put together the Propaganda Section with unrivaled skill.

Tarradellas applied his formidable will to arms production. Torrents, from the Rabassaires, patiently procured military supplies. Durán y Rosell and Marcos Alcón coordinated transportation. Santillán, Severino Campos, and Sanz organized militias that took off for the front. I was General Secretary of the War Department, the nerve center of this entire splendid enterprise.

Meanwhile, under the direction of the CCAM, Ortiz, Durruti, Jover, Del Bario, and Rovira re-took villages and lands in Aragón that had been subjected to fascist slavery, never losing a kilometer, always advancing the war for liberation and thus, in this way, placing our fields, factories, and homes beyond the reach of devastation and death.

Catalonia had a tremendous institution in the Central Committee of Anti-Fascist Militias and through it achieved unanticipated prominence. It affirmed, in a way that has never been done before, that Catalonia truly deserves liberty.

The Dissolution of the CCAM

The prolongation of the war and its international repercussions; a committee that became the real government as it eclipsed and even annulled the Generalidad; these things compelled a very significant change in Catalan political and social life: the incorporation of the CNT into the government of the Generalidad. Objective? To continue the great work of the CCAM from within the government.

We can consider the impact of the CCAM’s dissolution on Catalonia when we have won the war that we are waging against international fascism. Today I would simply like to recall—and it is unfortunate that a record of it was not made—the short speech that I gave at the CCAM meeting at which we decided to terminate the body. Those who were present know that there was a bitter note running throughout my comments, which was inspired by a concern for the future, one that was already threatening to be defined by discord within the anti-fascist family and, should it continue, will likely prevent us from being victorious in our battle against fascism and will ensure that a great Catalonia and a Spain admired throughout the world will never be created.

[Translated to English by Chuck Morse]