15 Floodgates; The First Twenty Black Flag Years; Novel Approach; Terrorist Links; The Magic Coat

I couldn’t paint golden angels - Chapter <span class="caps">XV</span>


Stuart and I wrote a book together, on the basics of anarchism, which we called The Floodgates of Anarchy. On the royalties we were able to continue the Black Cross and also fund Black Flag as a regular publication for several years. Floodgates brought anarcho-syndicalism into modern terms of reference, and ran into several editions, one of them a major paperback (Sphere Books). There was also a Spanish edition by the Argentine publisher, Editorial Proyeccion. Later we did an offset run ourselves to take into Spain. It attracted some interesting reviews, ranging from the leading Sundays to a bizarre review in Chile where a bewildered weekly paper criticised us for failing to conceal our sympathies on the dreaded subject of anarchism.

It gave Miguel the idea of writing his experiences and he used to come and see me at the Daily Sketch. It was laid back, in what we now know were its twilight years, and I found him a disused room which he could use as an office where he dictated his book Franco’s Prisoner. The security guard complained to me that nobody had told him it was to be re-opened as a ‘foreign correspondence room’ and I told him not to worry as it was hardly likely the room had been hijacked. I got an old fashioned look, an expression I had difficulty in conveying to Miguel.

I wangled him a canteen pass from the chapel committee and he looked with dismay at the food which he regarded as cooked leather. On being told to make up his mind sharpish by the serving lady, he shook his head sadly and asked if he could just have a glass of wine. “A glass of bleedin’ wine!” she cried incredulously. I apologised for him. “You must excuse my friend, he’s not used to our standards, he’s just come out of a Spanish jail.” I insisted this went into Franco’s Prisoner.

The First Twenty ‘Black Flag’ Years

Black Flag was from the time it appeared continually forced to battle with the misinformation campaign being waged against it, and against activist anarchism, in newspapers and books, TV and the police, not to mention pseudo-libertarian self-styled intellectuals. My responses were, I fear, virulent and, I hope, resented. It would be impossible to list all the illegalities of which Black Flag was accused between 1970 and 1990, from killing to inciting murder, causing riots to arson, kidnapping to sabotage, conspiracy to fomenting strikes. Some of our alleged actions were absurd, some impossible, some we would have abhorred, but what a pity some of them were not true! The Daily Express thought we had armouries and planes at our disposal, and the Tory MP Ian Sproat worried about our possessing the nuclear bomb. I don’t know whether Special Branch believed half of these stories. They invented some. For a long time we were under surveillance, Stuart in particular.

The police campaign was oppressive so far as Stuart was concerned but not unduly so, after the anti-Angry Brigade raids, to myself. On one occasion the Black Cross got an appeal from a Spanish prisoner for toothache powder and various other prescriptive drugs. In reply to a circular from Miguel and myself, a well meaning soul from the Australian hippy culture sent us marijuana by post, thinking this was what we really meant. I swiftly gave it to the nearest available pothead, thinking it might be a trap, but there was no comeback so I presumed our mail was not being opened, at least not at that particular address.

A sequel was that someone receiving the circular pointed out that doctors received enough samples of drugs from pharmaceutical companies to cover all our Spanish prisoners’ needs for years, no matter what the state of their teeth, so I wrote to two doctors instead. One, a Quaker but a woman of integrity, sent off all we needed, and had the prescriptions translated besides. The other, who claimed to be an anarchist, replied that he agreed with what we were doing but had to think of the ethical problem it raised. Manufacturers did not send costly samples free to doctors to be disposed of in that fashion. A little activity and you know what side they’re on.

One can never joke without some imbecile journo or politico taking it seriously. When on one occasion we asked for donations and mentioned various items people could send instead of cash, like scrap iron, used postage stamps, luncheon vouchers, etc., a national paper reported seriously that Black Flag was so broke (which was true) we even were appealing for LVs. Perhaps producing the journal was how they thought we earned our bread. One occasion we reproduced a sarcastic Dutch poster saying the Pope was wanted for crimes against humanity and we offered £5, 000 dead or alive (as if we could have raised £50, even in luncheon vouchers). David Alton, a Roman Catholic by political affiliation, a Liberal by profession and a Member of Parliament by religious conviction, wanted us prosecuted for incitement to murder.

Nobody ever failed to mention our ‘links with international terrorism’. The tenacity of these links was such that a Spanish comrade associated with the First of May Group was described by the Daily Mail as “the brains behind the IRA”. When we wanted to run a campaign to help prisoners in the Irish Republic, like many Continentals he was under the impression that this had something to do with the British Government. Who knows, perhaps he was right, but I think the brains behind the IRA would not have proposed a march on the British Embassy. Perhaps the Mail journalist had been listening to some bar-room “Irish” joke and took it for serious news.

There was an international mood of rebellion that saw the future and knew it would not work. In this country it was in part the failures of the Labour government, and the planned attack upon the working class by the Tories that sparked off a series of protests. As in Paris, a minor part of it started among the students. Student-led factions like the Situationists enthusiastically supported it, Marxists saw it as an opportunity to try to cash in where they could not lead and did not participate. But nothing would have happened had there not been a sympathetic working-class base. The Situationists coined the phrase “Angry Brigade”, as later the hippies coined the phrase “Persons Unknown”, to describe something they did not influence.

Novel Approach

One briefless barrister who had been watching the trial, hoping to do a denunciation of all concerned, came out with a novel The Angry Brigade. It was to have been a funded propaganda exercise in denouncing resistance, but the verdict upset the apple-cart. It therefore appeared as a novel, allegedly based on interviews the author had with the real perpetrators, (nothing like the accused in style or ideology,) the tapes of which he had destroyed. There was at least no hispanophile or hispanophobe Scot. The prominent figure in an attempt to “kick capitalism in the balls” (as one of the characters put it) was a cowardly Jew, “son of a rich and famous rabbi”, who let his girl friend be beaten up by a police informer anxious to establish his credentials as one of the lads.

The only person ever heard of on the Left and, even so, light miles from the Angry Brigade scene who was the son of a “rich and famous rabbi” (and the grandson of another) was a rich and famous Communist Party lawyer, well versed in the law of libel, and whether he ever read it or not, the book vanished without trace. The Guardian had credited the tapes of the interviews as real and the book based on fact. If that were the case the author should have been prosecuted for destroying vital police evidence, instead of being quietly ignored. The Guardian can on occasion beat the Telegraph hands down at its own game, but it tries to be liberal, bless its little cotton socks.

Terrorist links”

What were our links with international terrorism? We had nothing whatever to do with the type of Third World nationalism by proxy in which guilt-ridden drop-outs from the middle-class or professionals living upon the poor. That, although frequently labelled “anarchist” neither I nor my associates had any connection. In its early stages we sometimes had a nodding acquaintance. The European and American New Left confused the two, misled by the professors and the journalists. Any semblance of contact vanished with the events in Germany and the adoption throughout the world by the Marxists and proxy-nationalists of military tactics, which involve indiscriminate attacks upon ‘enemy’ nationals and are modelled on national warfare. Previously they had imitated tactics based on working-class resistance which are discriminate attacks involving the people directly responsible for oppression.

The anarchist post-war Resistance was until the sixties centred on Spain. The Spanish Civil War hadn’t ended with the playing of “Carmen Mejorada” on the radio on the third of March 1939. The great days of the world and post-war Resistance were yet to come. It is a matter for bitter regret that the Resistance, as distinct from an open War, did not begin in July 1936, when the workers were powerful and had not been subjected to genocide. But the working class would never have understood a policy passively allowing troops to march in, even with the intention of biding one’s time and hitting back by guerrilla action, at which they excelled and which they finally had to adopt anyway. The Communist Party would have exploited to the hilt the apparent treachery and cowardice implicit in failing to wage open war.

During, and just after, the struggle of Facerias and the Sabater brothers in Spain, Paris was the centre of the First of May circle for years (later it was Brussels). I was there one year (I forget which) with Evie, who had some fashion review to attend, when we accidentally bumped into Gomez. He remained fairly constantly over the years connected with the intelligence service set up by the Spanish anarchist resistance but was working for a multi-national concern (which is why he used the pseudonym Gomez). I did not meet most of the inner circle until a year or two later and did not appreciate why Special Branch for years afterwards made such a fuss about my meeting Cerrada Santos, when they interviewed me for such suspicious matters as passing through Customs after holidays abroad, acting as bailee or giving evidence in political trials.

I had been meeting, though socially, members of the active resistance against Franco who were engaged in a coup which did not come off, but took a toll, leaving several in Franco’s prisons and some in French jails.

Among those I met at the Centre, but who went to prison soon after, was Ignacio Perez Beotegui, twenty-four years old in 1975, who called himself “Wilson”. He was a friend of ‘la inglesa’, and though in ETA, very much inclined to anarchism rather than nationalism. He was accused of being involved in the blowing up of Carrero Blanco in December 1973, in the same city of Madrid that Carrero Blanco, in defiance of his oath, had waged incessant bombardment upon in the Civil War.

I had met earlier the veteran Cipriano Mera, who played an important role in the first phase of the Resistance and who had been in the forefront of the battle of Guadalajara. I told him how English historians had distorted the picture, giving the entire credit to the International Brigade. He had smiled but I could not draw him out. People like him did not really care about the historians. “Enough, finally we lost!” But it was a tragedy that the truth could not be passed on to a new generation of activists. Only gradually now do we pick up the pieces.

I did not know at the time what was afoot that made these contacts so important to the police. I genuinely knew nothing of what was going on in the armed struggle until they needed subsequent problems sorting out. There was this reserve always in the resistance movement in Spain. They had the attitude “the least you know the better, the least number of people who know the better”. They were constantly penetrated by informers just the same. These were often blackmailed by the police holding their families in a state of open hostage.

The legendary Mera died in 1975, to such an impressive turn out in Paris of anarcho-syndicalist veterans that even British TV featured it. At the funeral I met Cerrada Santos, who had a magnificent record of resistance in before and during the Civil War, during and after the World War. He had founded the railway union of the CNT and responded to my questions about its most famous member, Buenaventura Durruti. I was flattered to find he had heard about me from Melchita even if it was as ‘el Sancho de Londres’. It was probably justified in their eyes and somewhat unflattering but all my non-anarchist friends in London, even Joe Thomas, thought me incurably quixotic. It depends by which windmill you stand, I suppose.

During the World War Cerrada had been involved in urban resistance of a non-violent nature in France. His specialty was forgery. It was not until I met Miguel Garcia that I learned that the many forgers within the movement had all learned their trade from British Secret Service agents. Cerrada did not care to mention that. It was all they got out of their work in the war. They had forged identity cards, ration books, passports.

Hundreds of French Jews and Allied escapee soldiers owed their lives to new identities acquired from him and other Spanish comrades or being smuggled by people like Sabater into Spain, and housed when they got there by people like Miguel Garcia. It is true a secondary reason to the humanitarian one was to embarrass Franco who during the war was doing a balancing act between Hitler and the Allies, but that was not the main consideration. After the war the gratitude of any Jewish organisation was no greater than that of Britain or France, who not only declined them a pension, but a mention.

I tried to launch an appeal amongst the Jewish community to help those now, like Cerrada, in need, but the total response I got here in Britain was nil. Only the American Jewish needleworkers, themselves hardly wealthy by modern American standards, gave splendidly for years to help these other victims of Nazism. For this, every credit must go to Nancy Macdonald in New York. In Spain ex-combatants could not work in their trades, war-wounded had to beg and prisoners’ families do as they could. There was no social security. Those who had fought against fascism were left to starve but for the aid channelled through this devoted woman. After help to those living in France, aid could be extended to prisoners’ families within Spain. The notion of the Spanish government itself doing anything was too preposterous to be considered. Should prisoners’ families get social security? It felt they probably shared the prisoners’ views and should be locked up too.

A few years after I met Cerrada Santos and after Miguel Garcia came to England, we went to Paris intending to renew our acquaintance. Miguel and he had not met for thirty years. A week before we were to have met (October, 1976), as he was coming out of his favourite bar in Belleville, he was shot down by a Spanish government agent, well known as a thief and informer and enjoying French police protection. Cerrada was seventy-four and unarmed, but the gunman took no chances and shot him in the back.

Afterwards the assassin escaped to Canada. The last heard of this gentleman was that he had changed his name from Ramon Canuda to Ramon Lerida, and was believed to be in Quebec. He fled from there when we gave it publicity. The combination of Lerida’s occupations is not unusual. What was unusual was that he should disappear swiftly when he had official protection. It is possible he added peace-time espionage to his occupations, always a tricky business.

Interpol, who were curious as to my quite innocent trip to Paris when I just happened to meet Cerrada Santos, were not in the least interested in following up the person who had murdered him but Cerrada must have greatly upset its founder, Heinrich Himmler, quite as much as he did the Generalissimo.

We tried to bring Cerrada’s murderer to account. He had slipped away from Europe and been given sanctuary by Canada. The authorities had denied entry to defenders of the Spanish Resistance even when invited to speak by Canadian Broadcasting. The immigration authority pleaded defence against terrorists, but they were known to have admitted dozens of war criminals who weren’t considered terrorists any more than the man who shot somebody for having dared to attempt Hitler’s life. This, I suggested in a letter signed by many in the trade union movement, pointed to where their sympathies lay.

I never received an answer. But the immigration authorities had been stung, as I learned years later, and also over-estimated the significance of my name preceding so many leading trade unionists. The Mounted Police visited my brother, who had emigrated there. “I came to Canada to be a goddamn capitalist, ” he protested when asked what connection he had with “the famous English Anarchist” (sic). He had seen me once in thirty years at the time. The Mountie who interviewed him had much the same military fixations and memories and continued to meet him on what appeared to be a friendly basis, becoming intrigued with his Masonic connections. He went along to meet his circle, but, far from being revolutionaries, they proved to be Jewish businessmen delighted at the idea of meeting socially a real live Mountie. Equally proverbially able to catch their man, they were anxious to know where the Mounties placed their contracts for uniforms and headgear, and he retired from the fray not to be seen again.

The Magic Coat

A Spanish exile group in the South of France one day had a surprise telephone call from a sympathiser who said his name was Jose Martin Artajo. As this was one of the most distinguished names in the Franco regime and close to Government circles, they were not unnaturally suspicious at least of being hoaxed. But the call was genuine. The civil war divided fathers from sons, brothers from sisters, even wives from husbands, contrary to hostile chroniclers like Professor Woodcock who alleged people were shot by the anarchists “just for their family connections”.

Admiral Franco himself had been living incognito in Madrid during the civil war, and when the Anarchist militia visited him, having been tipped-off as to a presumed fifth columnist, demanded angrily “What have I to do with my idiot son?” (an argument they accepted). Like many descendants of “conversos” (or New Christians) after 1492 — referred to contemptuously, in a name they accepted with pride, as “marranos” — pigs — when in secret they kept alive their old faith, the Admiral was a Republican and Freemason and only nominally a Catholic. The marranos predominated in the police and armed forces even under the Monarchy and continued to do so in the Republic. His other son Ramon was an aviator who had conferred popular acclaim on the name for his pioneering exploits in the air long before his younger brother Francisco (who took his mother’s side in the family squabbles) made it infamous. The Admiral had long since disowned the General and left Madrid when the latter re-entered.

The family feud, begun when the Admiral left his deeply Catholic wife, was expressed in the younger son’s persecution of Republicans and Freemasons when he came to power. Roman Catholicism was glorified and divorce, such as the Admiral had wanted for years, illegalised. Typical of the Popular Front government, it had rejected as impractical and absurd the Anarcho-Syndicalist demand to abolish the Army (a hotbed of right-wing reaction and oppression) and instead gave promotion to people like Franco, relying on his father’s background, or other future rebels because of their Basque or Catalan origins.

Martin Artajo’s father was a leading Catholic publisher. His uncle, later a Minister under Franco, had been among those imprisoned as fascists during the civil war in Madrid, when an excited crowd wanted to lynch them all. They were not unreasonably agitated at being bombed from the air by the very air force they had unwillingly paid through the nose for years to defend them against foreign enemies.

Many of the prisoners may not have been fascists and the warders felt they should go to trial for what they may have done. They sent for the local chief of police and such was the twist of fate, some of the warders, and the chief of police himself, were anarchists. This was one of the many strange consequences of the compromises with the Popular Front. The chief of police [Melchor Rodriguez Garcia] held the crowd at bay with a pistol in each hand, saying the (since famous) words, “Que nadie pase!” (Nobody gets through) and saved their lives. Later, when Franco won, the unlikely war-time police chief was on the death list, but saved at the last moment by Martin Artajo’s uncle and some other prominent ex-detainees who dubbed him “the red angel” and received a rare pardon for having been a defender of law and order during foreign invasion and rebellion.

For years, not having to conceal his identity, having been pardoned, the “red angel” organised legal defences, acting as intermediary for funds for that purpose, or for prisoners and their families from abroad. Now he vouched for Jose Martin Artajo on the other side.

Jose Martin Artajo was in the Diplomatic Service in Greece when he ‘defected’ from the regime and associated with musician Lucy Duran, daughter of the one General who stayed with the Republic until defeat, and a wealthy American woman. He could not stay in Greece but came to London with her. He worked for the Resistance with Miguel Garcia. Though I felt he never overcame his upper-class background, however much he dropped into what we once called bohemianism and now call dropping-out, I have to say he devoted a great deal to the ongoing struggle.

On one occasion in 1974, there was a series of police raids on various addresses, including Stuart’s, Miguel’s and mine, in fact by the French police, though they came along with Special Branch officers to make it look legal, asking about a purely Franco-Spanish matter. As there was a Labour Government in power it would have been a political embarrassment if they had trailed along a Spanish policeman as they would have liked. It was part of the investigations into the kidnapping of a Spanish banker in France, by a section of the Spanish Resistance. I infuriated them when they came to me by answering only the British officer and acting as if the French one could only understand music-hall pidgin-Franglais (he spoke English perfectly well). “Nice country, non? Mini-skirts, mademoiselles, oo la la. It rains always but plenty jig-jig, wee-wee — you wanna go?” I admit I was outrageously betraying my principles but it was worth it to see the purple necks of both. I am sure the warrant, if any, did not cover foreign police or they would never have swallowed this behaviour. They were interested in wardrobes, asking for a coat. When they visited Martin Artajo and Miguel they searched all the coats. They did not make a search in any of the British subjects visited.

Later Miguel explained the matter, to me at least. Someone had written from a Spanish jail that if Martin Artajo could pick up a certain coat coming over, he would have all the information he needed. But in prison slang “a coat” was “a guy”.

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© Copyright: 1996 Albert Meltzer
Published by AK Press Book details and the Kate Sharpley Library.
Marked up by Chuck0 in 1996, originally posted at http://www.spunk.org/library/writers/meltzer/sp001591/angeltoc.html
(Reproofed by KSL May 2010).