Dar la vida, por la vida (Give a life for life): Miguel Garcia Garcia (1908-1981)

Miguel Garcia, who died in December 1981, was in some ways, perhaps every way, the reason why the Kate Sharpley Library exists. He was, as he himself ruefully admitted, the embodiment of a lost history of anarchism – part of a resistance movement, even now little known or understood by many. A movement that was disgracefully slandered by some anarchists as mere banditry. Search the “histories” of anarchism. Those “scholarly” tomes by Woodcock, Joll, Marshall. Search long and hard but you won’t find Miguel or his comrades there. These are top down histories of “great” men producing “great” thoughts with little understanding of either the dialectic of anarchist theory and practice, or the genesis of anarchist ideas. It is only through the groundbreaking work of Antonio Tellez Sola that some of the story of the Spanish Resistance has been told (although his great work Facerias is still waiting for an English language publisher). Miguel’s own book Franco’s Prisoner (1972) is long out of print. How many more Miguel Garcias? How many more stories waiting to be excavated? How long until a more realistic picture of anarchist practice is obtained that will inform and aid contemporary anarchist struggles?

Anarchism for Miguel was what you did. Fighter in Barcelona during the July days of 1936. Fighter on the Aragon Front and outside Madrid with the anarchist militia. His memoir, Miguel Garcia’s Story (1982), is full of powerful and illuminating vignettes on the resistance of the Barcelona working class and life in the anarchist front lines. Wounded in early 1937, Miguel went on to spend 32 months in the trenches. With the defeat of the Revolution he went into hiding, was captured and spent two and a half years in a concentration camp near Madrid. On his release he joined the anarchist Resistance against the Franco regime. These groups smuggled countless Jewish families into Spain in conjunction with the French Resistance. Not for medals but from a fervent anti fascism. His experiences with the Resistance and his subsequent imprisonment are outlined in his autobiography Franco’s Prisoner.

Rereading this autobiography one cannot help but be struck by Miguel’s unassuming modesty and wry self deprecation. This was no act. He wrote as he was. One cannot fail also to be struck by his commitment to anarchism. It runs through him like blood providing him with hope, obstinacy, humour and courage in situations many of us would have struggled simply to exist in. Trained by the British as a forger (as part of his work smuggling refugees from France into Spain) he worked with the Tallion Group until his arrest in 1949. Initially sentenced to death, the sentence was later commuted to thirty years. The early part of the book memorialises a lost generation of anarchist militants – El Yayo, Antonio Lopez, Jose Sabate (El Pepe), Gines Urea Pina – whilst his account of prison days rivals, at times, Berkman’s Prison Memoirs of An Anarchist.

Miguel left prison in 1969 and, at the invitation of Stuart Christie, with whom he had spent time in Carabanchel prison, came to England. He became International Secretary of the newly reformed Anarchist Black Cross and worked tirelessly to aid imprisoned militants. Together with other active CNT members he was a critical link between his generation and the new generation of anarchist militants that was growing throughout Europe. He campaigned to save MIL (Iberian Liberation Movement) member Salvador Puig Antich from execution and founded and ran the International Liberation Centre/ Centro Iberico in North London. Comrades from all around the world would visit. Black Flag was produced there and the Anarchist Black Cross flourished. Countless campaigns followed including the Murray Defence Group in 1976. He spoke throughout England and Scotland, in France, Belgium and Italy in support of comrades in struggle and imprisoned throughout the world. A powerful and emotive speaker, his death from tuberculosis was a great blow to all who knew him.

Miguel was an anomaly of history. Somehow, he survived. Never, I would imagine, could he have thought in 1959, as he sat in prison, that fifteen years later he would have been active with a whole new generation in a country he had never visited before. He had been part of a movement grounded in the everyday life and experiences of ordinary working class people that was driven into clandestine activity and guerrilla warfare. How easy, then, to live in the past. Miguel, though, was no historical artefact. Of course he carried in his heart and head the memories. Memories the like of which you and I can only sense. Of course he told stories from his life and of the comrades he knew. He missed them. Yet he had the ability to concentrate on the here and now and not the past. His arrival in London confirmed what some of us had been instinctively sensing anarchism could be and was. His very presence epitomised for us the necessary unity of anarchist practice and theory. Irascible, spiky, possessed of a ferocious temper that could leave as quickly as it came, certainly not given to suffering fools gladly, he carried with him a dignity and remarkable lack of arrogance.

This memorial booklet comprises the pamphlet Looking Back After Twenty Years of Prison (first published by Simian Press in the early 1970s) and a series of previously uncollected letters sent to various London newspapers and journals. Looking Back After Twenty Years in Prison offers us important information about the structure and decision making of the anarchist resistance groups. No leaders and all have equal voice in decision making. All skills are needed and valued: “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.” It is an important start in documenting the complex, organic relationships that the groups possessed and how the individual functioned in them. It’s an important antidote, also, to the tendency to hero worship comrades like Sabate. Yes they were brave. No they were not any more important in the operation of the group than anyone else.

Miguel didn’t write as much as he should have. He was busy doing things, trying to make things happen. He kept the memory of his dead and brutalised comrades alive by carrying on their work into new areas of contestation. In the appendixes to Miguel Garcia’s Story Goliardo Fiaschi, Italian comrade of Facerias and Miguel’s fellow prisoner, wrote: “When Anarchy comes the new generations must be told what the anarchists endured in order to liberate humanity from injustice, and the name of Miguel Garcia must be written in the annals of the future.” This pamphlet is a small part of the project Fiaschi outlines.

Finally, Miguel Garcia, and all the thousands like him, help us identify what anarchism is. We see through his life anarchy in practice. Not a theory handed down by “great” thinkers which they, marvellously, have evolved. Not an intellectual strategy in the battleground of ideas. No. Anarchism is the self activity of ordinary people taking action in any way they can, in equality with others, to free up the social relationships that make up their lives. Such action will feed theory as it always has, imbuing it with feelings and emotions as well as ideas. Without those critical components anarchism will be as intellectually onanistic as any other scheme to save the world.

Further Reading

Miguel Garcia Franco’s Prisoner. Rupert Hart-Davis, 1972
Miguel Garcia’s Story. * Miguel Garcia Memorial Committee/ Cienfuegos Press, 1982
Miguel Garcia Spanish Political Prisoners. Comite Pro-Presos CNT-FAI, nd
Miguel Garcia wrote extensively in the early volumes of Black Flag [see Unknown Heroes : Biographies of Anarchist Resistance Fighters] & appears in the wonderful autobiography:
Albert Meltzer I Couldn’t Paint Golden Angels. * AK Press, 1996

For background material on the Spanish Resistance

Octavio Alberola and Ariane Gransac L’Anarchisme et l’action revolutionnarie internationale (1961-1975). Christian Bourgois, 1975
Francesc Escribano Cuenta Atras: la historia de Salvador Puig Antich. Peninsula, 2001
Albert Meltzer The International Revolutionary Solidarity Movement. Cienfuegos Press, 1976
Antonio Tellez The Anarchist Resistance to Franco. * Kate Sharpley Library, 1996
Antonio Tellez Facerias. Ruedo Iberico, 1974. English trans. awaiting publication.
Antonio Tellez El MIL y Puig Antich. Virus Editorial, 1994
Antonio Tellez Sabate, Guerrilla Extraordinary. * AK Press and Elephant editions, 1998
Antonio Tellez The Unsung Struggle: The assassination attempt on Franco from the air. KSL 1992
Antonio Tellez The Anarchist Pimpernel: Francisco Ponzan Vidal (1936-1944). Meltzer Press, 1997. The Meltzer Press POB 35, Hastings, East Sussex, TN34 2UX, United Kingdom
* Available from AK Press or KSL