Press release, founding of Jardun (translated by D.Breatnach)
On Saturday August 15, two events were held on Mount Albertia in Legutiano.
“At 12 noon, at the top of Mount Albertia, the Eusko Lurra Foundation remembered the Gudari activists who fell in the war of ’36 fighting against fascism. This year the participation of women who fought for freedom and for the rights of workers in the war of ’36 was especially remembered, since women are have been greatly overlooked in this war.
“Later, in the surrounding of the Gaztelua oak grove, a political act was held. There, to begin the act, three veteran Ekintzales militants who maintained their militancy for decades were honoured. Later the organizations Eusko Ekintza and Jarki presented the new coordination called “JARDUN”, as an initiative for the union of forces of the pro-Independence Left.
“Today in Albertia, we bring to mind the gudaris (patriotic soldiers – Trans.) who, faced with fascism, fought for the freedom of Euskal Herria (Basque Country) in the war of ’36. Even so, we cannot, in any way, bring them to mind in a folklorist type of perspective. Passing beyond tears, we must approach today’s event from the point of view of the working people, whose only desire is to win and fight. That is why today, beyond only memory, we proclaim the legitimacy of the struggle of all those who in Albertia and in different parts of Euskal Herria have fallen fighting for this people. Precisely, the Albertia Day of 2020 has been organized along the line of that desire to continue fighting, in which its organizers want to make public a new tool that must respond to the aspirations of the Basque Working People. A tool that should function as a space for activation and organization.
“Due to fractures that have occurred for different reasons following the end of the previous cycle, the various organizations have not been able to overcome our differences and mistrust in order to agree on spaces for unity and coordination. Today, Eusko Ekintza and the revolutionary organization JARKI want to present a coordination space called JARDUN to the Basque Working People. JARDUN is not a split from anything, rather a framework that should shelter different national and local organizations, combining them in a political project and a strategy of a revolutionary independence and socialist nature. So that everyone can, from their space of struggle, organize individually or collectively.
“Today’s presentation, far from being what certain organizations are raving about, is in line with the capacity that the Basque Working People has historically shown when it comes to self-organisation in the face of the oppression it suffers. JARDUN is not a brand for the organizations that compose it to impose their ideology or their political project. It is a meeting point whose objective is to encompass and coordinate the Basque Working People, and all the organizations that work in favor of it, around broad but defined ideological principles. Its strategic objectives are clear: The construction of an Independent and Socialist state that integrates Araba, Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa, Lapurdi, Nafarroa Behera, Nafarroa Garaia and Zuberoa.”
(i.e the seven provinces of the Basque Country, including those on both sides of the Border between the Spanish and French states – Translator).
Albertia is the site of a battle in the Anti-Fascist war in Araba province from 30 November to 24 December 1936. The Basque Government’s forces launched an offensive on Villareal to take the town from coupist military-fascist forces and relieve the pressure on Madrid. Though the Basque forces significantly outnumbered their opponents, the latter were in defensive positions and had substantial air cover, while the Basque forces had hardly any. Eventually the siege was relieved by which time the Basques had lost 1,000.
Clearly a revolutionary movement needs to unite within itself different organisations and groups if it is to succeed. The official Abertzale Left had succeeded in this to a large degree, including under its umbrella a daily newspaper, a trade union, along with its welfare, political, cultural and social organisations. However, in taking the road of not only abandoning armed struggle but also focusing on the electoral path above all else, the official Abertzale leadership has taken some of its parts down that ruined road, causing confusion and fragmentation around it.
Is this Jardun a first step in the process of unification of the revolutionary alternative? Will it include the Amnistia and youth movements? Can it also include different elements such as anti-authoritarian self-organising groups? Will the internationalist arm of Basque national liberation, Askapena, be re-activated on a revolutionary basis? And can the mistakes of the past be overcome?
The 5th of March is the anniversary of the naval Battle of Cape Machichaco (cabo matxitxakoko borroka, in Euskera/ Basque), which took place on 5 March 1937 off Bermeo (Bizkaia province, Basque Country), during the Spanish Anti-Fascist War, between the Spanish Military-Fascist heavy cruiser Canarias and four Basque Navy trawlers escorting a Republican convoy. The trawlers were protecting the transport ship Galdames, which was sailing to Bilbao with 173 passengers.
(The following account of the battle is from Wikipedia; the section titles and comment are mine)
On 4 March, four armed trawlers of the Basque Auxiliary Navy section of the Spanish Republican Navy, Bizcaia, Gipuzkoa, Donostia and Nabarra departed from Bayonne, France. Their intention was to defend Galdames‘s mail, passengers, machinery, weapons, supplies and 500 tons of nickel coins property of the Basque government.
Canarias sailed from Ferrol with Salvador Moreno as the captain, with orders to stop the transport ship. Galdames, which was steaming up with the lights and the radio switched off, and was unknowingly left behind by Bizcaya and Gipuzkoa.
FOUR CONVERTED TRAWLERS AGAINST A BATTLE CRUISER
Next morning, while all the trawlers were watching for Canarias, Galdames rejoined them. Bizcaya‘s captain was Alejo Bilbao, Nabarra‘s Enrique Moreno Plaza from Murcia, and Gipuzkoa‘s Manuel Galdós. The trawlers had the intention of luring Canarias close to the Biscay coast to have the assistance of the coastal batteries.[
The first trawler to spot Canarias was Gipuzkoa, 30 kilometers (19 mi) north of Bilbao. The Basque trawler was hit on the bridge and the forward gun. Return fire from Gipuzkoa killed one Canarias seaman and wounded another. The armed trawler, with five fatalities and 20 injured aboard, managed to approach the coast, where the shore batteries forced Canarias to retreat.
Nabarra and Donostia tried to prevent Canarias from finding Galdames and engaged the cruiser.
Donostia withdrew from the battle after being fired on by Canarias, but Nabarra faced the enemy for almost two hours. She was eventually hit in the boiler and came to a stop; 20 men abandoned the sinking trawler, while other 29 were lost with the ship, including her captain, Enrique Moreno Plaza.
The transport Galdames, which was hit by a salvo from Canarias and lost four passengers, was eventually captured by the military-fascist cruiser.
Gipuzkoa arrived at Portugalete seriously damaged and Bizcaia headed for Bermeo, where she assisted the Estonian merchantman Yorbrook with a load including ammunition and 42 Japanese Type 31 75 mm mountain guns, previously captured by Canarias and released.
Donostia sought shelter in a French port.
The 20 survivors from Nabarra were rescued by the military-fascists and taken aboard Canarias. Instead of the expected hostility and mistreatment, they were given medical assistance, and both the cruiser commander, future Francoist Admiral Salvador Moreno and Captain Manuel Calderón interceded with Franco when the Basque seamen were sentenced to death in retaliation for the shooting of two crewmembers of the armed trawler Virgen del Carmen, captured by Republican sympathizers and diverted to Bilbao in December 1936. The survivors were eventually acquitted and released in 1938.
In contrast, one of the passengers aboard Galdames, Christian Democrat politician Manuel Carrasco Formiguera, from Catalonia, was imprisoned and executed on 9 April 1938.
COURAGE, COWARDICE AND CRUELTY
The story is one of incredible bravery of a number of converted trawlers and their Basque crews, in particular that of the Nabarra and her Captain from Murcia. One account I read related that her Captain consulted his crew and they agreed to fight to the death or the sinking of their ship. Their valour and stubbornness (two qualities which commentators often associate with the Basques) was of such magnitude as to impress even their military-fascist opponents, to the extent of their interceding with Franco to save their lives.
It is also the story of the cowardice of at least the captain of the Donostia.
And of the bestiality of the military-fascists in the execution of a member of the Catalan Governmentreturning to his country with his family, guilty of no crime but to serve his the administration of his elected republican government (one of hundreds of thousands of such crimes of the miiltary-fascists coupists and their victorious regime).
VISIT TO CAPE MATXITXAKO
I visited the land part of the location on a number of occasions in recent years. Access by public transport is by a bus every hour but I was driven by friends.
On a windy promontory on private land I saw one of the shore artillery battery sites (which has had nothing done to conserve it) and, close enough, the monument to the battle. Not far from there is a local bar-restaurant which is popular and a short trip by car, the iconic hermitage of Gastelugatxe. Many tourists visit the area but I wonder how many get to hear of the story.
Thinking of the determination and courage of those crews, not even trained for war, in converted trawlers, facing a trained naval crew of a huge battle cruiser, I am not ashamed to say my eyes fill and my lip trembles.
(Para el informe en castellano haz clic en el enlace)
(Translated from Castillian by D.Breatnach)
(Reading time: 3 minutes)
MADRID 02/15/2020 1:57 PM ALEJANDRO TORRÚS
At last. The remains of 247 victims of Franco that have lain in a warehouse in Valladolid for over two years will be buried this Sunday in a memorial constructed within the Carmen cemetery. This will be the end of a long process that began in 2016 with the exhumations of communal graves in the cemetery itself, paralyzed since for a long time by the insistence of UGT to install a bust of Pablo Iglesias Posse. Finally, there will be a memorial, there will be the names of the more than 2,650 fatalities of the province, the 247 bodies recovered and there will be no bust of the founder of UGT and the PSOE.
(Trans: UGT is one of two main Spanish trade unions and is connected to the social democratic PSOE; both were banned — along with many other organisations — during the Franco Dictatorship but since then the PSOE has been in government more than any other party. Valladolid is about halfway between Madrid and the Bay of Biscay).
3) Letter sent by Julián Carlón to his wife and children from the Valladolid prison.- ALEJANDRO TORRÚS
“We want this tribute to be an act of democratic recognition and historical justice to all those who defended the Second Republic regardless of the party in which one was active,” explained Julio del Olmo, president of the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory (ARMH) of Valladolid, responsible for the exhumation and custody of the bodies, to Público.
The event will begin at 12.00 noon this Sunday and will include participation of relatives of the victims, the Valladolid writer Gustavo Martín Garzo, musical performances and the presence of the Mayor of Valladolid, Óscar Puente and the Secretary of State for Democratic Memory, Fernando Martínez.
However, the tribute comes too late for many victims. For example, for Saturnina, who passed away a few weeks ago. Her perseverance and struggle and that of her husband facilitated the ARMH in identifying the place where the graves were in the cemetery and proceed to their exhumation. Saturnina was only a child when Franco’s forces shot her father, Julián Carlón, on October 1, 1936.
Saturnina, in fact, barely knew anything about her father. He was four years old when he was taken. “I only remember the day he was taken and the place where he was buried, which my uncle told me about,” she confessed tearfully to this newspaper in September 2019. “I don’t even know how he was killed. I just know he was taken away, that he never came back and that, from that day, there were only tears in my home. My mother never told me about my father because of fear,” she said. However, thanks to the indications of a relative, Saturnina kept a memory of the exact place where the bodies were buried after their execution.
REMAINS OF THREE WOMEN AND TWO MEN IDENTIFIED
To date, the Valladolid ARMH has managed to identify “with total security” five of the 247 bodies recovered. These are of three women and two men: Lina Franco Meira; Republican Army sergeant Francisco González Mayoral; the Mayor of Casasola de Arión, Mateo Gómez Díez; and mother and daughter María Doyagüez and María Ruiz Doyagüez.
“Of the four graves with the 247 bodies that we have found, we have only been able to certify those five people to almost 100%. Of many others, we can be almost certain that they correspond to one group or another of those shot, but we cannot name each skeleton. We lack the means and it is a tremendously complicated process,” laments Del Olmo, who, however, points out that the remains of the victims will be well preserved so that, if possible, they continue working on identifications.
Cases such as that of Lina Franco Meira, which has been identified, are exceptional when 81 years have elapsed since the end of the Civil War. Her bones could be identified thanks to a DNA test sample of one of her daughters, 93 years old. An exceptional case of longevity that has allowed name and surname to be given to some bones and, in addition, allows us to believe that among the rest of those sharing her grave are her other 14 neighbors of the town of Castromocho (Palencia) that were taken along with Lina Franco to Valladolid to be executed and buried.
“SO THAT FRANCO AND AMNESIA DO NOT WIN”
Franco’s forces not only killed Lina Franco and more than 2,000 people in this province (Castille-Léon). They also tried to erase their names, their life stories and their struggles. Now, 84 years after the coup, a memorial will recover their names and try to spread their fight in defence of Republican values. The challenge, however, continues and consists in being able to identify as many of them as possible so that Franco and amnesia do not win the battle.
When Basque independentists celebrated Gudari Eguna this year, the Day of the Basque Soldier, some of the celebrants were affiliates of the Abertzale (Basque pro-Independence) Left while others were supporters of the Basque Nationalist Party, nominally at least and often in reality, political enemies. However, it is not the same day for each.
The PNV (Basque Nationalist Party) commemorates the execution of 42 Basque fighters in one jail by the Franco forces on 28th October in 1937, whilst the Abertzale Left carries out their commemoration a month earlier, on the 27th of September, anniversary of the last executions under Franco (and, officially, in the Spanish state since): ETA martyrs Juan Paredes Manot (Txiki) and Ángel Otaegi Etxeberria, along with three members of FRAP (Revolutionary Antifascist Patriotic Front) Jose Luis Sanchez Bravo, Ramón Garcia Sanz and Humberto Baena, all shot by firing squads in 1975 (despite world-wide protests and riots outside Spanish embassies).
For much of the Abertzale Left, Gudari Eguna commemorates not only the martyrs of the 27th September 1975 but also all those who fought for Basque independence during the Spanish Anti-Fascist War and all who fought for it since, in particular those martyred in the struggle.
But even in agreement on that date and that purpose, there are differences too. For some years now some commemorations have been by supporters of Amnistia Ta Askatasuna (Amnesty and Freedom), who denounce the “Officials” for dropping the demand for an amnesty for political prisoners but also criticise them on many other political and cultural grounds: ceasing to push for the everyday use of Euskera (the Basque language), making political pacts with social democrats, etc.
Increasingly, ATA and the “Officials” find themselves incapable of sharing a commemoration or a platform as the latter move further down the path of accommodation to the Spanish regime, social democracy and the PNV, commemorating police killed, apologising for the ‘crimes’ of the now-defunct Basque armed organisation ETA.
JARKI – A COMPARATIVELY NEW ORGANISATION REJECTING THE ABERTZALE LEFT “OFFICIAL” LEADERSHIP
In Ireland, though they themselves might reject that appellation, the equivalent to ATA would be called “dissident Republicans” and Basques are not as touchy about being counted part of the dissidencia. But one new group has emerged which does reject that term as descriptive of themselves, while at the same time very clearly against the positions of the “Officials” and resolutely for independence and socialism.
This group is called Jarki, (of various meaning: “Resist/ Stand fast/ Push back/ Commit”; the first letter is pronounced like the Spanish “j” or the Irish “ch”).
Among other posters of factions of the Abertzale Left proclaiming Gudari Eguna in the Basque Country this September, I had seen one, very large, side by side with a declaration of position against the subjugation of the Basque nation, for socialism and class struggle. Curiously, there had been no venue advertised for a commemoration ceremony to take place. Was this group, this Jarki, not intending to have one? I made discreet enquiries, someone spoke to someone ….. who perhaps spoke to someone else ….
On Gudari Eguna this year,
27th September, I was met fairly early in the morning by my appointed guide. The mist gathered high upon the marshes and river and in the valleys as we drove higher, eventually coming out on a scenic site, the day cold but the climbing sun burning off the last of the mists. We rendezvoused with other carloads, then drove to another spot and parked. Asked to leave my mobile in the car, I accompanied my hosts on a long walk in unseasonal sun and heat to a field, where a temporary stage had been set up. It was to be a Gudari Eguna event organised by the Jarki organisation.
The security precautions were not excessive. This was taking place in the Spanish state, where fascism had never been defeated but had instead had a paint-over job in order to allow the Western states, after the death of Franco, to pretend it was a democracy. Until a few years ago, detentions of Basques had been like an epidemic, torture by police and army routine and just as routinely ignored by judges who sentenced the prisoners on the basis of their “confessions” or those of others to long years in jail. In contravention of EU and UN protocols for the treatment of prisoners, the political victims of the State had been dispersed to its furthest reaches, far from spouses, children, relatives and friends. And though the armed group ETA had ceased operation in 2012 and was now disbanded, persecution went on: that very month, 45 people of various organisations arrested in 2013, 2014 and 2015 for supporting the prisoners, including psychologists and lawyers, “supporting terrorism” according to the State, had been brought to trial1.
On the way to the rally, I saw many young men and women, in their middle-to-late teens or early twenties and also many others in ages ranging from late 50’s to 80s, also with a sprinkling of young adolescents. In other words, there were hardly any there of raising a family age. The sun was very hot now and I took off my jacket and tied it around my waist and, even so, was soon sweating.
I and one other were provided with a translator to Castillian (Spanish) for the speeches in Euskera – nobody else seemed to need one, a state of affairs that would not be matched in Irish Republican or Socialist circles with regard to our native language.
The heat beat down and I worried about getting sunburned, while at the same time very interested in what was going on. A large dragonfly wheeled above us, hovered a second then shot off. One of the folkloric Basque names for it translates as “Witch’s Needle” but it is important to recognise that in Basque society, sorgina or “witch” does not have the same negative connotations as can be found in much of western society, even today.
“THE STRUGGLE MUST CONTINUE — IN ONE FORM OR ANOTHER”
A man perhaps in his 60s took to the stage and recalled his years in guerrilla resistance (i.e in ETA), his capture and the killing of his comrades (one was executed on the spot by the Guardia Civil2). He went on to talk about his yearsbeing dispersed around Spanish jails throughout the territory of the State. Speaking about the historical memory of resistance, the man commented that it was necessary to keep that alive – both of the Antifascist War and of the resistance afterwards.
Euskal Herria3 was still divided and still not free, he continued and therefore the struggle had to continue in one form or another, despite the abandonment of the path of resistance by the current leadership of the Abertzale Left. Similarly the demand had to be maintained not only for an end to dispersal but for an amnesty for political prisoners.
After his speech, a young male bertxolari stepped forward to sing his composition. This is a cultural form of social and/ or political commentary, composed by those skilled in the art to fixed rules of rhyme, length of line and a selection of airs.4
He was followed by an elderly left-wing journalist who, apologising for her inability to speak in Euskara, did so in Castillian (Spanish). She referred to her family’s history of anti-fascist struggle, both in the War and in the resistance that followed the victory of the military-fascist forces. She too spoke about the need to continue resistance to unjust regimes and for the right to self-determination.
The journalist speaker was followed by the performance of another bertxolari, this time a young female.
Last to speak was a young woman, speaking on behalf of the Jarki organisation. She recalled the anti-fascist resistance in the Basque Country in ……….. (a nearby battle during the Anti-Fascist War) and elsewhere, also by ETA in the years following the victory of the military-fascist forces. While others might try to pacify the people and to wind down the resistance, the need for active participation in resistance is as great as ever, she said. The woman ended with the call “Gora Euskal Herria askatatua eta independentzia!” (“Long live a free and independent Basque Country!”), to which all the audience (myself included) responded with a roar of “Gora!”.
The young woman then led the audience with the song Eusko Gudariak (“Basque Soldiers”, similar in content to the Irish national anthem, the Soldiers’ Song), most of us who knew the words or not with raised fists, then a couple of women let out the irrintzi5 yell, raising goose pimples on my skin.
Obviously, given my presence, not all the attendance had been Jarki activists but on the other hand, not all its supporters had been able to come either, I was told on the long walk back to the caron tired leg muscles in the blistering unseasonal heat. I joked that if I’d had my mobile with me I’d have phoned an ambulance. Some cured sausage sandwiches and a few mouthfuls of ardoa (wine) from a traditional wineskin, kindly offered where the vehicles were parked revived me somewhat for the journey back to my pickup point that morning but thankfully, we also stopped on the way for lunch and a cold beer at a Basque bar (for which my attempts to pay were kindly but firmly refused by my other travelling companions).
“MOST OF THE RESISTANCE NEEDS TO BE AT STREET LEVEL”
Later, at an appointment with a Jarki activist, I asked what the relationship with other Basque organisations was, given that his group will not accept the appellation of “dissident” and others will. He told me that they enjoy friendly relationships with a number of other Basque political and cultural organisations that have also broken away from the “Official” leadership. Jarki is a revolutionary socialist organisation for an independent Basque country and in support of the Basque language, he told me. “Although we do not at the moment put forward electoral candidates, we are not necessarily against doing so as a tactic”, he added, speaking quietly. “But the ‘officialistas’ are only interested in the electoral path and we think most of the resistance needs to be at street level”.
The organisation expects a disciplined commitment from its members, for which it also recognises the need for political education, especially of the youth. There had been wide criticism of the lack of this kind of education within the Abertzale Left since the 1990s and earlier, right up to the present.6
“The national independence and socialism of the Basque Country is of benefit to the world and the independence and socialism of other countries is of benefit to our nation,” he said in reply to my question about the issue of internationalist solidarity. He admitted that the representative of Jarki at their Gudari Eguna commemoration had not mentioned that aspect.
CALL FOR RUPTURE WITH THE SPANISH CONSTITUTION
A few days ago, while I was writing this long-overdue piece from contemporary notes, Jarki issued a national call to Basque society (translated by me from a Castillian version): “The Basque working-class people responds with rupture to the Spanish Constitution.”
The Spanish Constitution, despite not being accepted in the Basque Country7, is being imposed upon us. It is a document edited by the Francoists in a pact with the Spanish political parties. This document denies the self-determination of the peoples and besides accords to the military the role of guarantor of the union of Spain.
This Constitution designed the administrative separation of the provinces of the southern Basque Country.8
Faced with this imposition it is more important than ever that the working-class population of the Basque Country creates a revolutionary alternative which should be a political vision to lead the struggle for national construction and liberation and for socialism, the struggle for a united Basque Country, without classes.
For all those reasons we call for the organisation and mobilisation against the imposition, in which the Basque working-class population should follow its own path. Because of all that, we call for participation in the demonstration to take place on 6th December (Spanish Constitution Day) in Durango.
Although they wished to silence us, they will hear us. We have enough reasons. It is time to take to the streets. This people needs a revolutionary alternative.
1The day after 50,000 demonstrated for the right to support the prisoners and in solidarity with those on trial, Basque society was shocked when those charged admitted their “guilt” in exchange for walking free or a maximum sentence of five years’ jail for the “leaders” (instead of the up to 20 years normal from the Spanish court). The reverberations of that – the act of pleading ‘guilt’ itself but also permitting 50,000 to demonstrate in ignorance of the intention — are still travelling through the Abertzale Left and are likely to cost the “Official” leadership, who must have approved or perhaps even brokered the deal, very dearly. In contrast to the 45, another four, leaders of Askapena, Basque organisation for internationalist solidarity, charged with similar ‘crimes’, had fought the case earlier, for which they had won much respect and had beat the charges. Askapena, however, had quietly split from the Abertzale Left some years previously.
2The Guardia Civil is a militarised police force of the Spanish State with a very political role, the most active in the past against the Basque national movement and now similarly against the Catalonian. In addition the Spanish State has the Policía Nacional, also armed and active against movements for self-determination. Each region also has a separate police force, for example the Policía Foral in Nafarroa, the Ertzaintza in Euskadi, Mossos d’Esquadra in Catalonia, etc. And there are urban police forces too in every town or village.
3Meaning “the country where they speak Basque”, the term is now used to describe the whole Basque nation of seven provinces, three currently within the French state and four within the Spanish territory. “Euskadi”, the former term, now only describes the “Basque Authority” area of three provinces: Bizkaia, Alava and Gipuzkoa.
4This cultural form, at one time perhaps in danger of dying out, has become very popular and national competitions are broadcast on the Basque TV network. I have witnessed two bertxolari given pieces of paper laying out their respective roles (for example an Irish landlord and a Polish tenant) and, minutes later, engage in a battle of bertxos (verses) which had a Basque audience in roars of laughter and appreciation for the wit and skill of each. Close attention is paid by Basque listeners to bertxolari which, for a nation not culturally given to admiration for the song of the single voice (unless they can join to sing along), is truly remarkable. The Irish “comhrá beirte” is a similar performance art form but much less developed, certainly now, in Irish tradition.
5It is a long ullulating or yodelling cry, by males or females, said to be a call to war or to encourage Basques while fighting (it was also the name of a short-lived Basque resistance organisation functioning in the “French” Basque provinces). Such calls are common for communication of different kinds among mountain people, the sound carrying from one mountain to another and echoing but curiously enough it is also a feature of Arab culture in the desert and of some Native Americans. Example with a commentary in Castillian: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gcSaW6JUnUc
6That this has been neglected for decades in the Abertzale Left is a fact admitted even by many who remain within the “official” line.
7The Spanish Constitution was presented on a “take it or leave it” basis during the Transition period after the death of Franco, with much violence from police and fascist organisations and the fear of a return to the full-blown fascist dictatorship. The Spanish Communist Party with its huge and then militant trade union, Comisiones Obreras and the social-democratic PSOE, with its smaller Unión General de Trabajadores, were both legalised on condition they supported the monarchist and unitary state Constitution. In such circumstances it was hardly surprising that the referendum on 6th December 1978 brought in a huge majority for the Constitution – but not in the Basque Country, where it was rejected.
8Three of the four southern provinces, i.e those currently within the Spanish State, are under one regional government administration while the fourth, Nafarroa, has its own.
As fascism begins again to raise its ugly head in Ireland, it is necessary for all its opponents, whether social-democrats, revolutionary socialists of various types or democrats, to consider effective means to restrain its growth and to nullify its influence upon the ordinary masses of Irish society. These masses are at this point generally hostile to fascism and to racism (a seed-bed of fascism) but that can change and in history, has changed before, not just in other lands but in Ireland too during the 1930s.
Traditionally, the views on effective means of defeating fascism in western european society have varied between defeating their arguments, legislating against them or denying them any public space within which to grow. It might be useful to briefly examine the premise and experience of these different approaches in order to evaluate their efficacy.
DENYING FASCISM ANY PUBLIC SPACE
Taking the last case above first, most active antifascists, whether Anarchist, Irish Republican, Communist or Socialist, proclaim the need to physically prevent fascists gathering in public spaces or on platforms. This approach puts these elements into direct confrontation with the forces of the State which see the methods of the Antifa as illegal, as subverting their own roles and, often enough at different times, as a threat to their own plans for repression of resistance to regimes of austerity. 1
In 1970s Britain, those who advocated such an approach, despite the fairly recent history of the War Against Fascism and the 1930s struggles in Britain, were in a small minority and seen, not just by social-democrats and liberals but also by most of the socialist and communist Left, as “ultra-leftists”, “adventurists” or just plain “hooligans and thugs”.
A small English marxist-leninist party2, with its African, Asian and Latin American student connections, promoted the “no free speech for fascists” policy and managed, for awhile, to have the similar “no platform for fascists” policy adopted by the National Union of Students. Some revolutionary Communists, Socialists and Anarchists combined with some militant groups of the ethnic minorities targeted by the fascists to pursue this policy on the streets. The National Front and the British Movement found their marches, meetings, concerts3 and rallies attacked and they were eventually driven off the streets, with many sacrifices in the antifascist movement from the deaths of at least two antifascists4 to jail sentences, heavy fines and physical injuries.
In 2016, the islamophobic party Pegida was prevented by popular direct action from launching itself in Dublin. This approach does seem to have been successful in Britain, at least for decades, and in some other European areas, with ethnic and other minorities gaining a space in which to promote their culture and develop their politics. At the same time, it has to be acknowledge that many of the concerns of the ruling British elite had been successfully addressed or contained during the 1980s: restriction on the trade unions through industrial relations legislation, defeat of the National Union of Miners (1984-’85), of the printing unions at Wapping (1986-87), of the dockers through buy-outs and redundancies; repression of the Irish community through the operation of the Prevention of Terrorism (sic) Act 1974 and the jailing of nearly two score Irish people framed on bombing charges in five separate trials; increasing workers’ insecurity and dependence through large-scale change from being renter-occupiers to mortgage holders.
LEGISLATING AGAINST FASCISM
Legislating against fascism in western european democracies has largely been imposed opportunistically, as with France, Spain and the UK, as the ruling elites faced up to war with states where fascism was already dominant. In the Spanish state it proved ineffective and heroic popular resistance was ferociously overcome by a military-fascist uprising backed by the resources of two fascist states, while the ‘democracies’ stood by or imposed a blockade on relief for the beleaguered Republic. In France, any measures were nullified by the German Nazi invasion. In the UK, the measures proved effective due to the wartime posture of the ruling elites, facing a possible invasion and needing a mobilisation of the entire population to resist that possibility5. In the Irish state, where a new quasi-Republican government was facing the real possibility of a fascist coup aided by elements in the military, some banning measures were effective but these were preceded and assisted by popular mobilisation and direct action against the Blueshirts.
After the defeat of fascism by war and popular resistance, antifascist legislation was imposed on the defeated fascist states by victorious insurgents or by conquering forces. But today, fascism is on the rise in all those states that have been the subject of antifascist legislation. In the Spanish state, where fascism was victorious and remained so for three decades, fascists and their crimes were actually protected and, despite the democratic veneer of the “Transition”, no action was taken against fascists openly parading, displaying fascist paraphernalia and honouring fascist leaders such as General Franco and Primo Rivera (founder of the fascist Falange).
Liberal, social-democratic and even some socialist elements call for the State to bring in and to enforce legislation against “hate speech”. However, apart from being an insufficient answer, the label of “hate speech” has been used in the Spanish state to penalise denunciation of the Spanish State and its police forces.
DEFEATING THE ARGUMENTS OF FASCISM
Defeating the arguments of fascism, such as racist propaganda against ethnic minorities and for special rights for one section of the population, conservative and homophobic ideology, arguments in favour of male superiority, are argued to be necessary to defeat fascism since legal repression and active suppression can only drive those forces temporarily underground, from where sooner or later, they will emerge again.
Not quite the same but a similar non-State and pacific line is that the fascists need to be over-awed by the mobilisation of their opponents and their pariah status demonstrated to a passive public by the mass of anti-fascist numbers.
In the 1970s and 1980s in Britain, this was the dominant line among anti-fascists, among social-democrats such as the Labour Party, liberals, the Communist Party of Great Britain and the Trotskyists of the Workers’ Revolutionary Party and of the Socialist Workers’ Party6. Their first tactic upon hearing of a plan for a fascist mobilisation was to build an antifascist mobilisation near the same point, to show large numbers opposing and hopefully outnumbering the fascists.
However, the fascists were already attacking ethnic minorities and other groups and hanging around oppositional mobilisations to pick off individuals or small groups. They had also attacked a number of antifascist public meetings with clubs and bottles and even a gas spray into eyes. Left-wing paper sellers were targeted on the street. Irish solidarity and other solidarity marches and meetings were also attacked and though certainly the Irish proved able to defend themselves, during the scuffles, the police were able to find an excuse to arrest the Irish marchers.
The leaders of the peaceful opposition to fascism policy refused to change their line and, as the likelihood of violent confrontations between fascists and their opponents increased, would call for a rally near the fascist mobilisation and then lead the antifascist march away from the fascists. The SWP promoted youth concerts under the banner of Rock Against Racism, but the fascists continued to mobilise.
In retrospect, it did seem as though the small and large-scale pitched battles with with fascists and with the police escorting and protecting them were what was demoralising the fascists and leading to splits within their organisation, ultimately defeating the fascist offensive of those decades.
Even so, the leaders of AFA (Anti-Fascist Action) which mobilised most of the successful actions against the British fascist organisations and their mobilisations, certainly in London, argued that it was necessary also to defeat fascism politically7 and that failure to do so would ensure a resurgence of fascism at some time in the future. This prediction has surely come true in Britain with EDL and UKIP, for example.
In my opinion, each of these approaches is necessary but overall reliance on any individual approach is likely to bring the democratic forces to tragic defeat.
The model of active denial of a public space has a position of central importance; the action to prevent the launch of Pegida proved successful and no doubt such actions will be necessary again in the future (though perhaps learning from that action to prevent or at least minimise arrests of antifascists).
I do not believe it is the role of antifascists to call for capitalist state action against fascists and any prohibitive legislation should be specifically anti-racist, anti-homophobic etc. A wide catch-all “anti-hate speech” legislation will find revolutionaries its targets more often than it does fascists (as is happening in the Spanish state at the moment).
Defeating the arguments of fascism must have a role in denying the fascists many of their recruits. As in European countries in the 1930s including Ireland and Germany in particular, some of the foot soldiers of the fascists are the oppressed poor, the educationally disadvantaged, the misguided as to who their real enemies are and where they are to be found.
In the 1930s the enemy was portrayed as being the Jews, Communists and homosexuals inside the country, whilst today those bogeymen are replaced by migrants, moslems, gays and supporters the right to choose abortion. In the 1930s the external enemy was the then-dominant European powers, France and the UK, as well as the Soviet Union; today, it is the EU.
It is not the role of anti-fascists to defend the EU (which to my mind is indefensible and which in any case will gain us nothing) but rather to point towards the real enemy, Irish capitalism and foreign imperialism. We need to show that through constant demonstration of examples and by leading struggles against those institutions.
In particular in Ireland it is of the utmost necessity to expose the nationalist posture of the fascists and racists. In two showings of Gemma Doherty supporters in Dublin recently, they flew many Irish tricolours, played ‘rebel songs’ and sang the Irish National Anthem (The Soldiers’ Song, by Republican Peadar Kearney). In a confrontation between them and the anti-fascists, it can seem that the fascists and the racists are upholding the honour of the nation. However the Blueshirts actually upheld the partition of the nation and the granting of a portion to a foreign power and fascists will end up supporting our foreign-dependent capitalist class. In addition, Irish fascists have been seen making overtures to Loyalists in the Six Counties, forces loyal to an occupying power.
Apart from the fact that we are all descended from migrants, many of those historic heroes celebrated in ‘rebel songs’ were born abroad, were descended from recent migrants or had at least one foreign parent; that list would include Wolfe Tone, Henry Joy and Mary McCracken, Thomas Davis, Tom Clarke, Patrick Pearse, James Connolly, Jim Larkin, Constance Markievicz, Eamon De Valera, Erkine and Molly Childers …..
We need to deny the fascists any place in popular anti-capitalist struggles, as successfully done with the brief flare of Yellow Vests organisation in Dublin and will no doubt need to be done again, for example in housing demonstrations.
Migrants need to organise themselves against attacks and increased exploitation and we need to be active in their support. This is the case too for other targeted groups; liberal cries for justice or for the application of “anti-hate speech” legislation will avail them not at all in the long run.
Having said that active denial of a public space for fascists is necessary, I would add that secret mobilisations should be for work that needs to be secret; however it is ludicrous to gather secretly and then to march out to stand in front of the fascists shouting at them. That work of visible opposition does need to be done but publicly, with mass mobilisations – antifascist forces should be able to outnumber the fascist and racist mobilisations in Ireland by a factor of ten to one. We should have effective amplification systems, play antifascist songs, and fly relevant flags (in particular, in my opinion, the Starry Plough, flag of the Irish working class in struggle in 1913 and in 1916).
It is crucial for us to realise that without revolutionary answers to crisis, fascism will present false solutions and diversions, calculated to have an appeal to sections of the population. And the revolutionary answers need to be not only theoretical but seen in practice also, actions that seem as though the revolutionaries and their allies are seriously fighting the system to advance the cause of the working people.
Fascism is one of the faces of Capitalism in specific circumstances. Ultimately, as long as capitalism exists, the danger of Fascism will never be far away.
1Recently the media reported judgement against a number of people who had allegedly attacked Irish fascists while the latter were on their way to the 2016 attempt to launch the Islamophobic party Pegida in Dublin. Others are currently awaiting trial for allegedly attacking apparently Polish fascists who were trying support the same launch. Of all the European countries where the launch of Pegida had been planned, Ireland may be the only one where this was signally unsuccessful.
2English Communist Movement (Marxist-Leninist), which became the EC Party (m-l). It was mostly active in London and Birmingham. The NUS currently has a a “No Platform” policy but which applies to specific organisations and individuals, including some British fascist and racist organisations.
3For example of the fascist skinhead band Skrewdriver.
4Both were killed by London Metropolitan Police truncheons: Kevin Gately, Leeds student of Irish parents, 1974; Blair Peach, New Zealand teacher, 1979.
5In the USA, fascism was only repressed to any great extent when the USA decided to enter the Second World War, which was after the bombing by the Imperial Japanese of Pearl Harbour.
6There were elements within all these sections that did not agree with official line and some acted in opposition to it. The SWP expelled those who practiced direct action against fascists and many of those elements went on to form Red Action and Anti-Fascist Action.
7For this premise and a partial history of the physical struggle against fascist organisations in 1980s and 1990s Britain, see for example, Beating the Fascists – the untold story of Anti-Fascist Action, by Sean Birchall, Freedom Press, 2010.
(Reading time: 10 minutes)
(Translation by Diarmuid Breatnach of review in Castillian in 2016 of the book of that title and interview with one of the authors in El Confidencial). Para versión original en Castellano mirase al enlace al fin.
‘The boarding schools of fear’ (Ed. Now Books) came into our hands a few days ago. We devoured the 300-page book in just three afternoons. Each page that we turned was leaving us more exhausted, confused and horrified. How is it possible that even today there are no consequences following what happened then?
We talked about sexual abuse, psychological abuse, physical abuse, experimental operations, baby theft and slavery, among other things, that thousands of children experienced during the Franco regime only because they were classified as ‘children of sin’. These children were children of single mothers, they came from poor families or, what was even worse at the time, their parents were Republicans.
The State ‘hunted’ these children and interned them in centres, of which the vast majority were managed by religious orders by government grant. Judging from the research in the book, in what more than boarding schools looked like prisons and torture rooms for minors. In the text we read a dozen testimonies of victims that leave us nauseous: boys raped by priests, nuns who mistreated hundreds of girls until they tired of it, Salesians who employed all kinds of torture, children who died of beatings, minors who were sold as slaves for 100,000 pesetas (600 euros today), young people locked up in psychiatric hospitals who were subjected to injections the nature of which remainsunknown … A series of horrors that have never been recognized by the State (it was the entity in overall charge of the centres and had the judicial guardianship of minors), nor by the Church (according to the book, hundreds of Salesians, priests and nuns committed atrocities with children), much less by companies that benefited from the slave labour of these imprisoned children.
We have many doubts and we want to know more. We need someone to explain to us how even still this can be silenced. That is why we get in touch with Ricard Belis, one of the authors of the book, together with Montse Armengou, who offers us his view of the past, present and future of this situation. Ricard is an expert in Franco’s history, a subject to which he has dedicated decades of journalistic research. After chatting with him, we come to a valuable conclusion: the damage is already done, but to make known the history of these children and that those responsible for it be known publicly can heal the pain of many victims of the ‘boarding schools of fear’.
QUESTION: As soon as we begin the book we find a statement. You say that, contrary to what happens in other countries – from Argentina to South Africa through the Congo, Bosnia and other places – here in Spain there is no state agency responsible for investigating complaints that arise from people who, from one way or another, themselves suffered from the Franco dictatorship. Why is there no such body in Spain?
ANSWER: Everything is the result of the transition to democracy in Spain. It was done with a system that, although in the first years had its reason for being, decided not to look back at any time. In this way, one enters into a dynamic of many years of silence, which leaves all the victims of the regime forgotten and separated. That has done terrible damage to the victims themselves – for the fact of not being able to express their pain and having it remain inside them – and to Spanish society in general – because the fact of not knowing well what happened would be quite unthinkable in another democratic country.
Q: Do you think that at some point such a state agency could be created or do you consider it something utopian?
A: Well, I would like to see it … but I see it as impossible in near future. This book is the offspring of a documentary that was screened in Catalonia, where it was successful in terms of viewing figures, but nothing happened. There were signatures to a petition demanding that the Church ask for forgiveness, but nothing more. I think it is of greater importance that the Spanish State make these apologies, because it is ultimately responsible for the majority of these boarding schools, centres that were run by religious orders but by state concession. That task remains pending.
I will recount you an anecdote. We took this documentary to a very famous festival in France, in which reports from other countries were screened. After viewing our investigation, the French public did not understand how the Spanish State never apologised or accepted what happened to those interned. Then, by coincidence in the same room a Swiss documentary of a similar theme was projected (child abuse in Swiss boarding schools). The big difference is that this documentary began with the current Swiss Government asking for forgiveness for what previous governments had done.
TV3 DOCUMENTARY ON WHICH THE BOOK IS BASED
Q: In the absence of policies on historical memory, in a country denounced by different international organizations (UN, Amnesty International and the Council of Europe) and with a Partido Popular Government that fulfilled its electoral promise to close the office of Victims of the Civil War and Dictatorship, associations and the media are the only platforms to which those affected can go. Could this situation change with a new government? If, for example, a new political party like Podemos won the elections, do you think they would be willing to investigate all these cases and apply pressure for the creation of such an organization?
A: I am not optimistic for two reasons: first because there is no survey that predicts victory for Podemos, which, although it is one of the few parties presenting at state-level which contains this in its electoral program, it is hardly going to obtain an absolute majority to implement the policies they propose; and second, in this country we have had more years of left-wing than right-wing governments and both have been very shy and inactive on this issue, including the PSOE. It is true that Zapatero brought in a Law of Historical Memory, but it fell short and has hardly been applied. Anyway, I’m not very optimistic. I hope that some year something will happen, although at this rate I fear it will be when the victims are no longer alive.
Q: Why does the Spanish Government not pronounce on this? Is it afraid of the reaction of society?
A: I don’t know very well how to answer that question, because its inactivity is incomprehensible. Because it does not matter if a government is right-wing or left-wing, what cannot be consented to is that the victims of a dictatorship are forgotten and the pain they have suffered is not recognised. I give the example of Angela Merkel, who strongly condemns the crimes committed in the Nazi era.
P: The children of these boarding schools were mistreated both psychologically and physically. They burned their bums with a candle, were forced to eat their own vomit full of insects, were subjected to sexual abuse … Is this perhaps the worst episode that has happened in the history of Spain?
A: The theme of childhood is one of the toughest episodes. When abuse, violence and ill-treatment is employed against a child, it is very traumatic. And not only the pain left inside them but also in their families. It is difficult to rank the hardest moments in the history of this country.
One of the things that has impressed me most doing this research, beyond the abuse, violence and ill-treatmentis the fear and lack of affection felt by most children who lived in these boarding schools. Such was this lack of affection that many of those children came to confuse the first symptoms of sexual abuse as affection. I think it’s a terrible perversion. Some children who have never received a caress, accustomed to receiving beatings, when a priest arrives, touches them and that ends in sexual abuse … it has to mark them for a lifetime.
We always emphasise that this is not a historical investigation, but that it is current, because the damage that was done is still present. That the State does not recognize what happened only increases and magnifies the damage to the victims. The damage that the Dictatorship did is multiplied by the neglect of democracy.
Q: The Church played a great role in that drama. Do you think that with your research, like the one in this book, you will end up engendering a total rejection of the Church in the new generations?
A: I believe that the Church, on a global level, is beginning the process of acknowledging its guilt. The previous Pope, Benedict XVI, has already begun a firm policy against child abuse and sexual abuse, and in that sense it can be said that they are beginning to clean up their house. Late, yes, but we already know that the Church goes a little slower in everything. Here in Spain, there has not been any movement yet. The Church needs a modernization and many duties remain to be carried out, therefore it is normal for new generations to find it harder to believe in the Church.
We have testimonies of victims who ask that the Church apologize, because they are believers and for them it would be of great significance and even very restorative. Others, on the other hand, do not want to know anything about the religious orders, since they are never going to forgive them. In this regard, I think it would be good for the Church to ask for forgiveness, but I think it is more important for the Government to do so, because it is the one ultimately responsible. Although the Popular Party, which currently governs, has no responsibility for what happened, it is the heir of that State. It would be Mariano Rajoy who should ask for forgiveness, but not for anything on his own behalf but rather because he is the current President of Spain (since this was written Sanchez of the PSOE has been the President of the Spanish State – Trans.).
Q: If Mariano Rajoy recognized and apologized for what happened in those boarding schools, would it benefit him in any way with regard to public opinion?
A: In any case it would not hurt him. That a leader recognizes that the State did something wrong, but has no responsibility for it himself, is worthy of admiration. So I think it would mostly be to his benefit. I do not think that it would seem bad to any well-intentioned person that he apologized for the abuses that were committed at that time. Rajoy has no responsibility for it but he is the heir of that dictatorship.
Q: A lot of money was generated around the boarding schools. The Church received huge amounts from the State for the support of the little ones (and only a small part of it reached the minors, since they lived in subhuman conditions and were very hungry) and also pocketed millions of pesetas with the sale and labour exploitation of these children…
A: Yes, the Church took advantage of the situation and profited by it. The minors were a source of funding. The Church found a workforce to which they taught trades with the excuse of training, but the situation resulted in pure and hard exploitation. This situation reminds me of what happens in other countries, where thousands of children, such as from India or Asia, are exploited.
Q: In addition to the Church, large companies in our country also took advantage of the situation and hired this cheap workforce. In the book you mention El Corte Inglés – which at that time were the Almacenes Preciados (Precious Stores – Trans.) – and even Banco Popular and Caja Madrid. Did these companies know that they were hiring exploited children who lived as ‘prisoners’ in boarding schools?
A: I give you the example of El Corte Inglés (chain of shopping malls in the Spanish State – Trans.). They went to religious orders and paid the nuns for labour. They paid little, but they paid. They never hired a child directly. What happens is that, of course, we could say that they could suspect or intuit something with regard to the service being provided so cheaply. I could not tell you that these department stores are directly responsible, because they did not hire the children, although they have some social responsibility. They could imagine what was happening there.
Q: You spoke with those responsible for El Corte Inglés about the subject. And, although at the beginning of the conversations they were pleasant, they ended abruptly with a total refusal on their part to collaborate with your investigation. Do you think that if it was shown that these department stores made use of these children for their business, it would affect their reputation or sales?
A: I think it has been a long time. They are tactics that are currently being used by numerous countries abroad. And, in addition, it could not prove more than than that the Cortes Inglés had a contract with religious orders. The company did not have to know what was done with these children or if they were paid. They could intuit what was happening, but they did nothing illegal. It would be more of a moral issue.
Q: As for you, after gathering so many testimonies and talking to more than 200 victims of these abuses, do you feel that this investigation has taken its toll in some way?
A: We are not made of stone. When you talk to a person who has suffered these abuses you are making her return to one of the worst episodes of her life. Sometimes you leave the interviews affected. But on the other hand it is very comforting, because the victims feel relief through having the opportunity to tell their story to their fellow citizens. In addition, these investigations are doing what the State should do, in the sense of making it known and recognizing it, which is the start of repairing the damage caused.
Report by RAÚL BOCANEGRA in Publico.es (translation and comment by Diarmuid Breatnach).
“The City Council of Seville has guaranteed on its own to provide the necessary funding — 1.2 million euros — to exhume the Pico Reja pit, in which historians believe that there are at least 1,103 bodies of of victims of the repression, led by the General Queipo de Llano, following the military coup of July 18, 1936.
This exhumation will be the largest ever to be undertaken in Spain, following that which that was carried out in Malaga, in the San Rafael Trench, between 2006 and 2009, and may indicate the path to take for the other capitals (of Spanish state regions – Trans).
The Mayor of Seville, Juan Espadas (PSOE), guaranteed that the grave will be exhumed throughout the mandate of the current Council. “It is a truly historic step in Seville and one of national importance, since it is perhaps the biggest mass grave that [at this moment] has a definite project for its exhumation,” the Councilor said at a press conference.
“And, therefore, it is also one of the most important projects in terms of Historical Memory to be undertaken in our land, due to the importance and volume of the Pico Reja mass grave. It was a commitment that this Government (i.e of the Andalusian region) gave during the past mandate to relatives and memorial groupsand today it is made a reality with this tender,” added Espadas.
“Next Friday the City Council of Seville, through the Governing Board will approve the specifications and, therefore, the public tender for a technical service for the exhumation and genetic identification of the bodies of the Pico Reja mass grave, in the Cemetery of San Fernando,” reads a statement issued by the City Council. “The ultimate goal [of the exhumation] is to dignify the memory of the people who were thrown there, give them a dignified burial and attend to the requests of their families,” adds the Council (statement – Trans).”
BEGINNING AND COMPLETION OF WORK
“Accordingly, Espadas will not wait for the Council of Andalucía or the Regional Government to sign the agreement, to which they had committed themselves. Confirming now, at the start of the mandate, the works, the Mayor ensures that the exhumation will not be delayed and will be carried out throughout this term. Municipal sources assured Público of their belief that both the Council and the Andalusian Government will collaborate with the exhumation, the Andalusian Council not before September.
Should they contribute money, the amount would be deducted from the 1.2 million that the Council calculates as necessary to carry out the works. Espadas recalled that the signing of an agreement in this regard with the Board and the County Council to finance these works is still outstanding. “And let’s hope that it is signed as soon as possible.”
“This contract guarantees the beginning of the work and its conclusion, without waiting for the remaining public administrations –- provincial, Andalusian and national — to finalise their contributions,” reads the Council’s note.
Espadas and the Delegate for the Department for Equality, Education, Citizen Participation and District Coordination, Adela Castaño, related the details of this contract to relatives of the victims and to the different organisations involved in the area of Historical Memory in Seville. “Do not fear, the exhumation and the identification of bodies will be done,” the Mayor assured them.
The company that gains the contract must include at least one historian, five professionals in Forensic and Physical Anthropology, five in Archeology and 10 auxiliary support workers. “With the maximum guarantees of scientific rigor, a survey will be performed, material collected on the surface, excavations made in the pit, exhumations and recovering of bodies and remains,” says the City Council in the note. “Likewise, it must preserve and safeguard, also with all scientific guarantees, the samples of bone remains and biological samples taken from the family members until delivery to the University of Granada for genetic identification,” the City Council insists.
The project will be be completed in three phases, explained the Council. The first concerns the exhumation itself and the identification of the bodies, along with works including: the archaeological excavation; dealing with the remains found (the excavation and the direct and individualized identification of these bodies will determine whether or not they are relatives); exhumation (identification, recording of traces of violence and individual extraction of each body or remains); forensic anthropology (that is, determining sex, age, pathologies or anomalies); anthropological analysis in a laboratory manner; and conservation and protection to preserve these skeletal remains and DNA analysis.
The second phase will consist of the presentation of a final report as a logical contribution to the history of Franco’s repression. And the last phase will be the final destination of the remains.
The City Council will respect at all times the wishes of relations about the identified remains. The unidentified remains and those which the relatives wish to remain in the same place, “will be buried in an authorised space with appropriate technical indications for future identification”.
After finishing the works, “the area will be restored as an expository and explanatory site of the historical significance of the Pico Reja pit”. The successful bidder must submit a proposal for reconstruction of the current site that includes a columned monument to honor the victims.
According to official figures, 120,000 victims have been identified (not exhumed) from 2,591 unmarked graves around the Spanish state. The areas with the largest number of graves are Andalusia in the south and the northern regions of Aragón and Asturias – in Andalusia alone, 55,000.
A mapping work undertaken by the Council of Andalusia region, which was presented publicly in the regional capital in 2011, illustrates 614 mass graves in 359 Andalusian municipalities. Only around half of the 47,000 bodies that were discovered have been identified due to there being no relatives available for DNA tracing or because calcium oxide (quicklime) had been thrown over the bodies.1
“In Malaga province alone there are 76 mass graves in 52 towns, containing the remains of 7,471 people who were killed by General Franco’s forces. The largest of these mass graves was discovered in Malaga city’s San Rafael cemetery. 2,840 bodies were exhumed in early 2010, although more than 4,500 are registered as having been buried there”.2
The usual figure given for the total of non-combat killing by Franco’s forces is 150,000 and which does not include those who died of malnutrition and lack of adequate medical care in prisons and “penal battalions” or through confiscations, or economic and financial sanctions in areas occupied by his forces. Nor does it include the civilian victims of bombing by military-fascist air force, whether of cities or of refugee columns.
Against that, the total figure for non-combat killings by the forces against Franco are estimated at around 50,000. Also, while the latter killings for the most part took place in the early months of the military uprisings, before Republican Government control could be established, most of the non-combat killings by Franco’s forces were carried out after they had beaten the resistance and occupied the area and much of it also after the war was over. Typically too, according to Paul Preston (The Spanish Holocaust (2012), Harper Press), women were routinely raped before they were shot.3
The issue of the executed after a cursory military trial or simply taken out and murdered by Franco’s forces is a live one in the Spanish state today. Before Franco’s death it was not even possible to discuss it publicly and bereaved relatives were not permitted to mourn publicly – to hold a funeral or to have a mass said for their souls according to Catholic custom or even to mark their graves.
The Transition process to convert Franco’s Spain into a “democracy” accorded legal impunity to the perpetrators of even the worst atrocities during the Civil War but unofficially extended beyond, to the years afterwards and even to murders carried out during the “Transición” itself. And why not, when all the upper echelons of police, army, judiciary, civil service, Church, media and business were and are for the most part the same people as before — or their sons and daughters? When the Head of State and of the Armed Forces, the King Juan Carlos, was specifically chosen by Franco to be his successor and even after the Dictator’s death glorified him and his political trajectory.
‘LET THE DEAD STAY BURIED’
The fascists and their descendants want the dead and their stories to stay buried and even when a very senior judge like Baltasar Garsón, who presided over the repression and torture of many Basque and Catalan political detainees (but is incredibly lauded as “a foremost human rights defender” by liberals!) decided to play a power and publicity game and and became a problem by authorising the opening of some mass graves in 2012, he was slapped with legal appeals, charges of wire-tapping and disbarred from office for 11 years.
The other graves they don’t want opened are the mausoleum of Franco himself and of Rivera, founder of the Spanish fascist Falange, who lie in the memorial park built by political prisoner slave labour to honour Dictatorship and Fascism, a shrine for fascists today. The order of the PSOE Government to exhume and transfer them to a family graveyard has been paralysed by the Spanish Supreme Court after protests by Franco’s descendants.
If the Pico Reja exhumation in Seville goes ahead and is properly documented, it will be as the PSOE-controlled Seville City Council says, of huge historical — but also of huge political – importance. Can this happen in the same region where the corrupt PSOE administration has lost power after decades without se
rious challenge and is now ruled by a de facto coalition of all the main parties descended from Franco, the Partido Popular, Ciudadanos and Vox? The Seville City Council says it can and that if necessary they will fund it all themselves. We can hope.
About Franco: “I pay homage to his memory; and I believe that the best way to interpret his legacy is to march without stopping towards social justice objectives, that give strength and unity to our people.”
Translation by Diarmuid Breatnach from article in Castillian by DANILO ALBIN @danialri BILBAO 06-30-2019 08:17 AM Updated: 06-30-2019 08:17
There are things that time cannot erase. Words and phrases that seem forgotten but, nevertheless, are still there. Written and permanent. The Royal House offers the collection of speeches by Juan Carlos de Borbón in its digital archive. In those archives, available for those who wish to find them, are the Francoist statements that the now emeritus king pronounced in the first steps of his reign and about which, according to what different historians emphasise, he never made any self-criticism.
November 22, 1975. Two days after the death of the Dictator, Juan Carlos offers his message of remembrance: “An exceptional figure enters history. The name of Francisco Franco will be a milestone of Spanish events and a milestone to which it will be impossible not to refer in order to understand the key to our contemporary political life,” the King proclaimed.
There he showed his “respect and gratitude” towards he who “for so many years assumed the heavy responsibility of leading the government of the State”. “His memory will be for me a demand for behavior and loyalty to the functions I assume in the service of the country. It is a feature of great and noble peoples to know how to remember those who dedicated their lives to the service of an ideal. Spain will never be able to forget who, as a soldier and statesman, consecrated all his existence to its service,” he added.
The file on the website of Casa Real offers another speech by the King of that same day, in that case addressed to the Armed Forces. “I express my gratitude and gratitude to our Generalissimo Franco, who with so much dedication and commitment has led you until now, giving us a unique example of love for Spain and a sense of responsibility,” he said then.
Twenty-four hours later, Juan Carlos went to the National Brotherhood of Combatants, another self-declared Francoist entity. He promised them “to march forward with determination on the path traced, perfecting and complementing the work Franco did“. “Today, before you, who were his soldiers, I pay homage to his memory; and I believe that the best way to interpret his legacy is to march without stopping towards social justice objectives, that give strength and unity to our people,” he said.
For the historian and researcher Pablo Sánchez León, these speeches by the monarch “show a preconstitutional legitimacy (? Trans) of the Royal Household”. In any case, Sánchez León believes that if they are available in the digital archive, the monarchical institution “has an opportunity to tell a different story of itself”. How? “If they want to preserve those speeches there, something must be added,” he says.
In his opinion, these historical documents should be accompanied by a “furious criticism”. In that sense, he points out that there is a “repository” of Juan Carlos as former monarch, and that “the speeches that speak of Franco should be accompanied by a text in which he is allowed to say that it is abhorrent that there was been a king who once said those things”.
None of that is in the list of of the king’s speeches. “The year that ends has left us with a stamp of sadness, which has had as its centre the illness and the loss of what was our Generalissimo for so many years”, can be read in the Christmas speech of 1975, which also highlighted “the enormous human qualities and feelings full of patriotism” on which Franco “wanted to base all his performance at the head of our nation.”
For Emilio Silva, president of the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory (ARMH), the Royal House should also include in its file “the video of King Juan Carlos swearing to uphold the principles of the Movement” (i.e the Spanish fascist Movement – Trans). “If there were an exercise in real transparency, it would be told where that (Head of State – Trans) succession comes from,” he told Público.
“The reality is that the king was installed as successor by Franco”.
“Surely it is not the best thing for a democratic system to see texts extolling Franco on the website of of the Head of State,” says Julián Sanz, professor of Contemporary History at the University of Valencia. In any case, he remarks that “the reality is that the King was installed as successor by Franco and Juan Carlos’s relationship with the dictatorship has never been officially reviewed, nor has he abjured it.”
“Generalissimo” and “Head of State”
“My memory of the Generalissimo, who presided over this Military Passover for so many years and so much satisfaction when he met his comrades-in-arms,” reads the document “Words of His Majesty the King on the occasion of the Military Passover“, dated six January 1976. The following month, in Berga (Catalonia) he took advantage of the inauguration of the Baells Reservoir to argue that “the transformation that Spain has had in recent years of Franco’s mandate, cannot be stopped and all steps will be taken to allow this process to continue. “
The King kept referring to Franco as “Generalissimo” in July 1976, when he went to Santiago de Compostela to make the offering to the Apostle St. James. “Generalissimo Franco, who preceded me in the leadership of the State, personally presented this offering to you on several occasions,” he said then. Something similar happened that same month in Ferrol, where he recalled that this Galician town “was the birthplace of the Generalissimo, a great figure of our history, to whom I am honored to renew a public tribute in this city whose egregious name is forever linked to that of the most illustrious of his children. “
In February 1977 – just four months before the first democratic elections – the king took advantage of a visit to the General Military Academy to “pay tribute to the efforts of two great soldiers who had already gone down in history and who were the architects of the event that we celebrate: General Primo de Rivera, creator of the General Military Academy, and Generalissimo Franco, its first director”. (Primo de Rivera was also the founder of the fascist Falange organisation, which murdered unknown multitudes during and after the Anti-Fascist War, also known as the “Spanish Civil War” – Trans.)
In fact, the official biography of Juan Carlos de Borbón presented by the Royal House on its website also avoids referring to Franco as a dictator. “After the death of the former Head of State, Francisco Franco, Don Juan Carlos was proclaimed King on November 22, 1975, and delivered his first message to the nation in the Cortes, in which he expressed the basic ideas of his reign: democracy and to be the King of all Spaniards, without exception, “says the text.
“Reflects the past”
For Sánchez León, the inclusion of these discourses without nuances is nothing more than “another example of the thin line of shadow that separates the absolutely abject and unconstitutional, typical of a criminal regime, from a constitutional order.”
The historian José Babiano does not object to the fact that “there is a set of discourses”, since “it reflects a past without twisting it”. In fact, he maintains that “it can help to contradict a sweetened version of the period, its role and of its transition”. “The first speeches are linked to the origin, and the origin is that it was Franco who appointed him. It would have been worse to remove them, because it would have been an attempt at a whitewash,” he said.
In this context, Babiano points out that while “he never repeated the praise (of Franco–Trans) of 1976, there was no self-criticism” about this type of discourse on the part of the King. “He did it when he had no choice in order to be the Head of State and once he gets there, all that is forgotten,” he said.
Público also contacted the Royal House to know if the possibility of contextualizing these speeches has ever been considered. To date we have received no response.
COMMENT — A SUPREME IRONY
Taking the history of the current Spanish monarchy into account (as referred to above) along with the judgement of the Supreme Court in June last, it is abundantly clear from the mouths of the executives of the State that the “Transition” to democracy, as many of its critics have said, was only ever the drawing of a veil over the fascist essence of the State. Of course, the actions of the State down through the years, whether under social-democratic government of the PSOE or right-wing of the PP, have given ample evidence of its nature.
In a judgement delivered last month (4th June), the Spanish Supreme Court halted the planned exhumation of Franco’s remains and their transfer from the mausoleum in the Monument to the Fallen built by prisoner labour during the Dictator’s regime. In justification of its halting the operation that was to take place on June 10th by order of Government, the Supreme Court declared that General Franco had been the Head of State since 1st October 1936, that is to say, two months after the date on which he and other Generals, with the aid of military transport, armaments and personnel from two foreign powers (i.e Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy), launched their military-fascist armed coup against a democratically-elected government of the Spanish State, resulting in a bitter war of over two years with huge loss of life.
This decision of the Supreme Court constitutes a supreme irony. A dozen Catalan social and political activists have been on trial for months and are now awaiting verdict – the main charge against them is of “Rebellion”, which entails an attempt to overthrow the State through violent uprising. The Catalans in question called, not for the overthrow of the Spanish State but rather for independence for Catalonia — and did so peacefully; nevertheless they were charged with rebellion, kept in jail awaiting trial and are still there, awaiting verdict. In answer to a legal challenge by the Catalans’ Defence team, the Supreme Court decided the Catalans did have a case to answer on “rebellion”. Now the same court, in the same year, decides that Franco, who DID lead a violent overthrow of the State, was the legitimate Head of State barely two months after the coup he led and while the the democratically-elected government he was rebelling against still had another two years to go before it was overthrown.
A brief account of the fascist horror between Cantalpino and Villoruela (Salamanca) during the Spanish War, forwarded to me for translation from Castillian (Spanish). I will post the original separately.
Comment: If another reason were ever needed to ensure we crush fascism before it gets strong! Stories like this illustrate how fascism was not defeated, much less rooted out in the Spanish State and remains at its heart to this day. No progress can be made towards democracy in that state without taking that fact into account. DB.
(Translator’s note: Villoruela is a municipality located in the province of Salamanca, Castille and León, in western Spain).
Fear ravaged Cantalpino, where the Falangist hordes killed a woman and 22 men; where they robbed and raped. Mrs. Alejandra tells the story and her eyes seem to look inside herself: “They murdered many here and Eladia Pérez, the Jaboneta, too. They went looking for her son Guillermo, whom they “took for a walk” later, and she did not want to open for them; so the bastards shot and killed her; then they took her to the cemetery and her body did not fit in the hole and the bastards cut off her head with the shovel … the murderers were people from the town and strangers, Falangists, priests, friars and that kind. The priest was the worst, he gave his blessing to the “walks” .. They also cut the hair of about a hundred women to the scalp and, in the rain and everything, they took them in procession, the music playing and the Falangists shouting “Up Spain!” and “Long live Franco!” and … I shit on the mother who gave birth to them! “
Alejandra continues with her story: “… they did a lot to me, they raped others. Five Falangists raped me. They took my husband out of bed, may the poor man rest in peace, and they pushed a pistol against him, in the chest, and there, in front of him, they raped me. Some had me by the arms and others, by the legs, and here, Saint Ines, to what they wanted to do, and the guns on the bed in the presence of my Desiderio. Poor Desiderio! They also stole everything they could. Yes, yes, they were from here, from Cantalpino. Unfortunately, this violation was not an isolated incident. In Poveda de las Cintas, a few kilometers from Cantalpino, the story was repeated, this time with the wife of the secretary of the town hall .. “
On August 24, 1936 the blood did not stop in Cantalpino, the impunity of the murders encouraged the Francoists. That same afternoon they appeared in Villoruela, less than 10 kilometers from Cantalpino, 3 Falangists accompanied by fascist neighbors of the town: They arrested the following people: Eustasio Ramos (51 years old), Elías Rivas (43), the brothers Leonardo (43) , and Leoncio Cortés (41), Daniel Sánchez (35), Esteban Hernández (29) Francisco García (25) and Benigno Hidalgo (18).
The fascists gave criminal replies to the families of the detainees when they went to look for them at home: Leonardo Cortés’ wife was asked where her husband was; she replied that she did not know and they answered: “Do not worry, even though he were underground, we will find him”. Daniel Sanchez had been risking his life to save the lives of other people with his mules and his cart to cross the flood, regardless of what color or what party they were. When they went to look for him at home, the woman said to them: “Wait, he is taking off his clothes, he is all wet”; the answer was: “Do not worry, he will get it all the same”. When they went to Esteban Hernández’s house, his mother told them: “wait, he does not have socks”; the answer was: “Do not worry, he will not need them”. When they went to look for Benigno Hidalgo, his mother told them: “I have to give him an injection”; “Do not worry, we’re going to give it to him,” they replied.
Once captured, they were arrested at the City Hall tied hand and foot with ropes. The members of the City Council called a meeting and decided that the 8 detainees should be shot. So bound, they were put on a truck in Villoruela, after midnight, and they were moved to the end of Salvadiós, a town in the province of Ávila. There, at a crossroads, they were shot and left lying in a ditch. Right there they were buried by neighbors from Salvadiós. The murderers were 7 from the town, the one that drove the truck and the 3 outsider Falangists.
Two of the detainees’ wives, María Engracia Cortés and Angeles del Pozo, went to ask for help from the nuns of the convent. They told the nuns what was happening and the nuns answered that this was a crusade, and that if they had not done anything why had they had been fleeing, to which the neighbors correctly answered: “Jesus Christ was also persecuted and though had done nothing, was crucified. “
Jaime Cortés, the son of one of those shot, said that “after the suffering they caused, the fascists appointed among the townspeople a policeman, allegedly civic, to control our movements from home, the demonstrations of suffering. We spent the whole night crying with my mother and my grandparents in the kitchen .. it takes a lot of patience and resignation to live a lifetime with the criminals who shot your father .. We had to go through calamities and sufferings … I always remembered very well a phrase that my mother told us very often: “Children, I never want to see you with blood on your hands” … the only reasons for which they were shot were their way of thinking differently from the Franco regime, that is, to defend freedom, the rights of workers, social security and education … they were shot for defending the largest right of all person: freedom .. “
From the date August 15, 1936 to June 16, 1939, there is no document or record book of the Villoruela archives. Who were the ones who made that documentation disappear? In the book of death certificates for March 13, 1937 the entry inscribed by the judge Iñigo de la Torre these 8 people shot dead are listed as missing.
Originals by Ángel Montoro in Jiminiegos36 and Foro por la memoria (Intervíu nº 177, 4-10 October 1979). Photo by Xavier Miserachs
Summary: Fascism is mobilising across many parts of the world including the very Spanish state where it caused a war through a military-fascist coup and brought in four decades of a fascist dictatorship. The main point of commemorations of the anti-fascist resistance and of the International Brigades should be of raising the alarm and mobilising resistance anew. Why in some instances is this not happening?
What is the point of commemorations of the International Brigades? Or of the ‘Spanish Civil War’? Yes of course I believe these things should be commemorated but I still want to know what the point is.
I would think that most people would agree with two reasons:
To remind us never to let fascism take over again
To honour the memory of those who fought it, many who sacrificed their lives or their liberty or their health in the struggle against fascism.
I believe there is a third important reason though perhaps most people wouldn’t put it up there right away, though I doubt they’d disagree with it:
To learn from the successes and mistakes of the past.
How is it then that one can go to an event to celebrate the the Irish International Brigaders but at the same time not hear a mention once in a number of hours about the mobilisation of fascist forces in Europe? How is it one cannot hear even a passing reference to the fascist forces that are stridently mobilising within the very Spanish state, at this moment? How is it that there is no mention of the Irish State bringing antifascists before the courts now for allegedly taking part in actions against the intended launch of the fascist Pegida organisation in February 2012?
Sure, we can all forget some very important point in a speech, forget to name somebody who should get a mention, etc. But all throughout the evening? And no placards or posters to challenge the rising fascism of today? That cannot be just a slip. Were it amnesia, it would be bad enough but if a tacit or tactical agreement not to remind us that would be worse, much worse.
Bob Doyle, the last of the Irish Brigaders to die, who is often mentioned at such events, would not have had it that way. In his nineties, I heard him speak a couple of times and he was always clear that the main point is to stop the fascists today. Frank Ryan, who regularly gets references at commemorative events (often without anyone mentioning he was IRA before he went out, as were many of the other Irish Brigadistas), would have agreed with Doyle, I’m sure.
TODAY FASCISM IS RISING IN THE SPANISH STATE – but then, it never went away.
In the very territory where what is usually called the Spanish Civil War and less frequently the Spanish War Against Fascism (and other things)1 took place, Spanish fascists are openly organising, marching, threatening right now. A few weeks ago they were commemorating the dictator General Franco and Primo Rivera, founder of the Spanish fascist organisation, La Falange. Earlier in November they were provoking Catalans by having a rally in Barcelona. A little earlier still, they were provoking Basques by rallying in Altsasu, the town from which Basque youth got jail sentences of up to thirteen years arising out of a late-night pub brawl with off-duty Spanish policemen who provocatively went into an independentist bar and in which the most serious injury (if it was an actual result) was a damaged police ankle.2
All that would be bad enough if it were not that the Spanish State is actively tolerating them. Throwing fascist salutes, flying the Spanish fascist flag and shouting fascist slogans are all illegal under Spanish law; but the fascists brazenly do all these things and they do not get arrested!.
Of course, fascism was never defeated in the Spanish state. Fascism won there. We can shout “No Pasarán” (‘they shall not pass), the slogan for the defence of Madrid3 as much as we like but sadly, eventually sí pasaron (‘they did pass’), despite the enormous sacrifices of Castillians, Asturians, Andalucians, Basques, Asturians, Catalans and other peoples there, despite the bright internationalist spirit of the International Brigaders from well over 60 nations and states. And the victorious fascists tortured, shot, raped, humiliated, confiscated and stole food, valuables, businesses, imprisoned and half-starved the vanquished. And exported prisoners and jews to Nazi concentration camps.
Then the fascist regime consolidated their power, converting the schools to places of instruction in fascist and religious indoctrination, re-imposed a patriarchal ideology and ‘morality’ on girls and women, repressed languages other than Castillian, banned all trade unions except the fascist one, beat up and shot strikers and demonstrators, tortured independentist activists, shot some dead …. All of this went on for 40 years under General Franco.
During the first decade of that fascist reign of terror in the Spanish state, Fascism at first trampled over western and eastern Europe, North Africa, Asia …. until the tide began to turn, first in Eastern Europe and then in Asia and at last the fascist powers were defeated. Fascist leaders faced popular vengeance and Nuremberg and Tokyo Tribunals, executions and prison sentences. The societies they had sprung from were subjected to anti-fascist education. A great many of the guilty escaped but some were hunted down in following years.
During World War II on the other hand, Spanish fascism gave material and intelligence aid to the German and Italian fascist states and cooperated in hunts for the “French” (i.e Basque, Asturian, Catalan, Occitan and some Spanish anti-Nazi resistance, the maquis or maquisards4along the French-Spanish Border. It also sent back to the Nazis escaped prisoners, Jews and downed Allied airmen.
After the War, nothing happened to Spanish fascism (except that it sheltered hundreds of Nazi war-criminals, either permanently or on their way to South America, often with Vatican help). Fascism continued unimpeded in the Spanish state until ETA assassinated Carerro Blanco, Franco’s nominated successor and Franco himself died5 two years later.
Under internal pressure from Opus Dei and externally by European powers and especially by the USA, it was decided to modernise and rebrand the State6. The social democratic PSOE and its affiliated trade union the UGT were legalised under conditions and so were the Communist Party of Spain and its union, the Comisiones Obreras7. The conditions were that these would control their supporters (hence the trade unions) while the Transition was being carried through with repression; although republicans all, they would agree to the reimposition of a monarchy; that they – God forbid! — not go hunting fascists if they ever got into government; that they support the inviolability of the Spanish state union. The PSOE and the CPE agreed to the conditions and delivered, the latter even swallowing the fascist murder of five of its trade union lawyer members and serious injury to another four during the Transition and the PSOE swallowing the attack on the offices of the CGT.
The Transition took place in an atmosphere of hope and fear, repression against resistance: the new Spanish unionist and monarchical constitution was voted in, with regional autonomy to placate subjugated historical nations within the state; the new King, Juan Carlos de Borbón was installed. Ten years later, the Spanish State was admitted to the European Union8. That same year, the new Spanish Government under the PSOE was conducting fascist-police-military assassination squads against left-wing Basque independence activists9.
But all throughout those years and still, the fascists kept their plundered wealth. The fascist clergy, judges, civil servants, police, military and media all kept their positions and wealth. They just had to open up their ranks a little to let in the climbing social democrats and “communists”. Not one fascist was tried for any of the crimes carried out during the “Civil War” or during the Franco regime afterwards.
WHY THE FASCISTS ARE COMING BACK (but then, they never went away)
Two things are exercising the Spanish fascists at the moment. First among these is the long struggle of the Spanish State to hold on to its forced union of the nations and regions conquered by monarchs of the Royal Houses of Spain and by fascist dictators, then maintained by both the mainstream constitutional political parties, the PP an the PSOE.
As a combination of factors combined with State repression to halt and disintegrate the southern Basque march towards independence, Catalonia took up its own struggle10. The independence movement there, which has left, right and centre elements but at base is popular and democratic and with wide support, has been steadily advancing. At institutional level, the ‘autonomous’ Catalan Government is a coalition of pro-independence forces (but with a numerous, strong, right-wing and Spanish-unionist opposition) and the majority of town councils have pro-independence majorities and Town Mayors. At grassroots level, the cultural organisation Omnium and especially the ANC (National Catalan Assembly) have organised massive independence demonstrations, a referendum on independence (disrupted with violence by the Spanish police11) and a protest General Strike. Some of the movement’s social and political leaders are in jail (four on hunger strike as this is published) and about to go on trial for their activism.
The union of the Spanish state is an article of faith for the Spanish fascists and reflected in the Spanish fascist slogan of España, Una, Grande y Libre!12 The “Una” is the forced unity, the denial of independence to the Basques and Catalans (or any others who might consider going for it).
But it is not only an article of faith for the fascists in the Spanish state, it also the case with regard to the Spanish ruling class. Catalonia and the southern Basque Country are two of the best-performing economic areas in the Spanish state and together account for a substantial part of the State’s exports and revenues, apart from land mass and extent of coast. Furthermore, the successful exit of these two regions would undoubtedly encourage similar plans among others, such as Valencia and the Balearic islands (which are also Catalan-speaking) and the Celtic nations of Galicia and Asturias. Uprisings might be the result in impoverished Andalucia and Extremadura …. None of that is a scenario which the Spanish ruling class is inclined to even consider and it has its Constitution to depend on, with legal punishment for any secession without a majority vote in its Parliament and the ultimate guarantor in the Spanish Armed forces.
All this is bad enough but a substantial section of the Spanish Left is also against any secession from Spanish State territory. The PSOE of course (which also means the UGT), since it takes its turn as the government of the Spanish ruling class, is one opponent but also the Spanish Communist Party (and the Comisiones union), much of the Trotskyist-Communist alliance of Izquierda Unida (the inappropriately-named ‘United Left’) and the populist Podemos, to which it gave unclaimed birth. For those, the argument against secession is about “the unity of the working class”13. That the “unity of the working class” against Spanish unionism, capitalism, imperialism and fascism might be achievable by agreeing to the right of secession and supporting it, while building a united front against all that is reactionary in the state, does not seem to have occurred to them. Of course their issue might be in reality about control.
DIGGING UP THE PAST
The other issue exercising the fascists is the movement around the historical memory of the anti-fascist struggle and the effects of the 40 decades of Franco dictatorship.
Throughout the territory of the Spanish State, which currently includes the southern Basque and Catalan countries, there are graves of dead anti-fascists, usually unmarked and sometimes of many bodies together. The Catholic Church in most areas refused funeral services to the families of “los Rojos” (the Reds, i.e anyone who opposed the fascists) and the terror was such that often relatives were afraid for themselves and their children if they were too insistent with enquiries as to where their relative had been killed or buried. These burial sites are by roadsides, in quarries as well as in or near cemeteries and other places. Many of those were combatant and non-combatant prisoners who were executed, others fell in battle. Historical memory associations in different communities have been documenting the sites and trying to identify the occupants, an activity which fascists and some others consider as “causing divisions in society”.
In 2008 Judge Baltasar Garzón (since disbarred) ordered the opening up of 19 mass graves from that War14. Naive liberals and leftists (or perhaps those with very limited concerns) rushed to hail Garzón as a defender of democratic rights while ignoring his history as a judge presiding over repression of Basque independentists, including closure of newspapers and radio station, and prison sentences based on ‘confessions’ obtained through torture15. Despite Garzón’s repressive credentials there was an outcry from the Spanish right-wing and the exhumations were halted.
Also across the Spanish State’s territory there are plaques, monuments and street names dedicated to Franco and other fascist notables which in some areas have been the scene of protests. Most notable of all these sites is the mausoleum of General Franco and of Primo Rivera (founder of the fascist Falange), located within the Valle de los Caídos (‘Valley of the Fallen’). This monument, constructed in part by political prisoner labour,
“covers over 3,360 acres (13.6km2) of Mediterranean woodlands and granite boulders on the Sierra de Guadarrama hills, more than 3,000 feet (910m) above sea level and includes a basilica, a Benedictine abbey, a guest house, the Valley, and the Juanelos — four cylindrical monoliths dating from the 16th century. The most prominent feature of the monument is the towering 150-metre-high (500ft) cross erected over a granite outcrop 150 metres over the basilica esplanade and visible from over 20 miles (32km) away.” (Wikipedia).
The mausoleum, only 60 kilometres (just under 38 miles) from Madrid is the scene of many fascist ceremonies and demonstrations of adherence to the ideology of Franco and Rivera.
For all of these reasons, varying forces on the Spanish Left and other antifascists‘ spectrum have called for the removal of the cadavers of the two fascists to ordinary graves, the destruction of the mausoleums and the rededication of the whole area to the victims of fascism. When last in government, the PSOE committed itself to some of these objectives but did not carry them out. Now in government again, it has renewed that commitment which is another reason for Spanish fascist hysteria. The two main political parties of the constitutional Right (Partido Popular and Ciudadanos) combined with some smaller right-wing parties in abstaining from a recent Parliamentary motion “strongly condemning” the dictatorship and “any kind of exaltation” of the Franco regime. The motion was passed on 21st November 2918 with 97 votes of Spanish social democrats, Basque and Catalan independentists …. but there were 136 abstentions.
The Spanish Left has a serious difficulty in opposing fascism, committed as so much of the Left is to a central tenet of Spanish fascism, the current territorial integrity of the State. Also the Left in many other places besides the Spanish state is divided on how to respond to fascism in general; responses varying from replying with force by popular action to calling on the State to ban them, campaigning politically against them to generally ignoring their mobilisation.
Is it possible that some notion of preserving the ‘unity of the Left’ could be at the bottom of the silence about the growing fascism in the world and in particular within the Spanish state at some commemorative events?
THE WORTH OF COMMEMORATIONS
The Friends of the International Brigades and other associations of what is often described as “historical memory” have done very important work in recovering the history of resistance to fascism. Not only that but also in tying that history not just to the territory of the Spanish state where battles were fought by the International Brigades but to places where those Volunteers came from in Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland. That work helps the people of those areas to locate themselves within the continuum of history and to emulate the ideals of those Volunteers should they choose to do so. The narratives of the sacrifice made and risk taken by the Volunteers counter the capitalist ethos of greed and of self-preservation above all else and suggest an alternative.
Such commemorations and monuments, if they are to survive and if they are to have real practical meaning, must also serve as calls to action, to mobilise to stop the rise of Fascism and to drive it back. And to support those who are fighting fascism, here, in the Spanish state and elsewhere. If we are to shout No pasarán! let us mean:Ésta vez no pasarán – y nunca jamás! (‘This time they shall not pass – and never again!)
1Although there people of fascist mentality everywhere in the Spanish state, they were outnumbered in most places by anti-fascists and without the logistical and manpower assistance of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, fascism could not have succeeded. Therefore many argue that it was not a civil war but instead a coup, a military uprising though supported by fascists both native and foreign. In the southern Basque Country and probably in Catalonia, some view it as a military invasion rather than a civil war. In Nafarroa (Navarra), because of the reactionary Carlist movement there, it did take on the character of a civil war and the Carlists murdered 3,000 leftists and republicans – when the Falange got there, there was no-one left for them to kill.
2A debate in the EU on a ban in all its membership against fascist symbols took place in December 2012 but has not yet resulted in a decision. A Catalan independentis MEP contributed to the discussion https://www.greens-efa.eu/en/article/press/eu-wide-ban-on-nazi-and-fascist-symbols-and-slogans/ with perhaps a rather tongue-in-cheek declaration that the Spanish Government had no interest in fascist symbolism; the truth is more complicated than that (see WHY THE FASCISTS ARE COMING BACK and DIGGING UP THE PAST sections).
3This slogan is said to have been coined for the crucial antifascist defence of Madrid by Dolores Ibarruri, known as “La Passionara” because of text she wrote in her youth and later her speeches too. She was a Basque and a member of the CPE. The slogan has been repeated many times since in different parts of the world but in Cable Street in 1936 it became a reality when an alliance of forces, chiefly Jewish and Irish community with some local Communist leadership, stopped 20,000-30,000 of Mosley’s “Blackshirts” and their escort of 7.000 police, along with all the mounted police in London, from marching through a predominantly immigrant Jewish quarter.
4“Maquis” is “dense scrub vegetation consisting of hardy evergreen shrubs and small trees, characteristic of Mediterranean coastal regions” (Internet description) which is where the ‘French’ rural anti-fascist or anti-Nazi Occupation resistance fighters camped and hid. “Maquisards” was the word describing those Resistance fighters in French but “the Maquis” was erroneously later applied to the fighters and their organisation.
6The Spanish State was not a member of the European Union and there was concern in many quarters about admitting an unreconstructed fascist dictatorship into membership. However, under USA patronage, it had joined NATO in 1982 and US air bases were being built across the territory. Opus Dei is a Catholic association mostly of people from professional and upper-middle classes and, in Spain, with right-wing views but with a technocratic approach rather than ideological which pitched them against the fascist Falange in the “democratisation” of the Spanish State.
7Both the PSOE (Partido Socialista Obrero de España) and the Unión General de Trabajadores had been illegal and persecuted under Franco, as had the more militant PCE (Partido Comunista de España) and the Commisiones Obreras trade union (in acronym in Castillian usually shown as CCOO). Those two trade unions are by far the most widespread in the Spanish state with the majority of members (except in the Basque Country and Galicia). The PSOE is one of the two mainstream political parties in the state, alternating with the right-wing Partido Popular.
8The Spanish State was admitted in 1986 but negotiations had been going on for some time.
9See GAL and BVE assassination squads operating in the Spanish and French states (1983-1987).
10Catalunya is an ‘autonomous’ region under the post-Franco Spanish Constitution, as are the two divisions of the southern Basque Country, Euskadi and Nafarroa (Navarre, Navarra). The Popular Front Government of the Spanish State had recognised the self-administering right of both Euskadi and Catalunya and they were important parts of the anti-fascist resistance; their autonomous status was revoked under the Franco dictatorship.
11On 1st October 2017, one of a number of Spanish police invasions of Catalunya last year.
13This argument has over the course of time been used by sections of social democrats, Communists, Trotskyist and Anarchists against liberation struggles in colonies and also in opposition to a boycott against South Africa or Palestine. The argument of class solidarity has been employed in a manner and in situations which have actually weakened the class struggle, bound the working class to their masters in common cause and also encouraged the growth of racism. As long ago as the mid-19th Century, Marx and Engels and others argued against this identification interest with the ruling class, encouraging the British workers in their own interest to support the Irish people in their liberation struggle against British colonialism.