Barcelona 1936

Woke one bright morning – not so long ago –
heard the sound of shooting from the street below.
Went to the window and saw the barricade
of paving stones the workingmen had made
– not so long ago.

Met a man that morning – not so long ago –
handed me a leaflet, on the street below.
Lean and hard-faced workingman with a close-cropped head
– held me for a moment eye-to-eye, then said:
Read it, read it, read it, and learn
what it is we fight for, why the churches burn.

Down on the Ramblas, she passed me on her way,
weapon cradled in her arm – it was but yesterday.
Not just for wages now, not alone for bread
– we’re fighting for a whole new world, a whole new world, she said.

On the barricades all over town – not so long ago –
they knew the time had come to answer with a simple Yes and No.
They too were storming heaven – do you think they fought in vain;
that because they lost a battle they would never rise again;
that the man with the leaflets, the woman with a gun,
did not have a daughter, did not have a son?

Hugo Dewar (1908-1980)

This poem first appeared in Socialist Worker (23 August 1975). Two fragments appear in Soil of Liberty (Minneapolis) v.2, n.4 (undated but advertising events in July 1976): ‘Down on the Ramblas’ to ‘she said’ and ‘They too were storming heaven’ to end appear as boxes in ‘The CNT, a history of struggle’ by Jess Gordon. The poem was reprinted in Cienfuegos Press Anarchist Review #3 (Autumn 1977). It was then quoted in various anarchist publications (The Sheffield AnarchistLand and Liberty: Anarchist influences in the Mexican Revolution) before being published by Dewar in a collection of poems: Arsy-Versy World (Bookmarks, London, 1981). The 1981 version lacks ‘bright’ in the first line but has better line-breaks (which are used above).

Anarchists obviously took to this evocation of the Spanish revolution despite the fact that Dewar was a Trotskyist. It makes a connection of historic struggles  with current ones. It’s telling that Dewar meets two people, and that they interrupt their journeys to have their say, before he looks at the big picture. The morning setting matches the hopeful theme.

The poem does carry (why wouldn’t it?) signs of when it was written. Were many militants busy writing and handing out leaflets explaining what was going on, on the morning of the 19th of July as the revolution got going? Unlikely, but Dewar’s ‘Lean and hard-faced workingman’ is meant to reach out to us, across the years, with his message. And he forms a counterpoint to the (historically accurate) ‘woman with a gun’ who surely represented ‘a whole new world’ to people in the 1970s as much as she did in the 1930s. All that without making them seem as if they’re just there to repeat someone else’s historic slogans. You try and tell me which one is supposed to be a symbol of the destructive aspect of the revolution, and which the constructive!

Thanks to for a copy of the original Socialist Worker printing.