THE IRON COLUMN: TESTAMENT OF A REVOLUTIONARY by Eliaz Manzanera
This is one mans story of an anarchist militia fighting Franco's fascism during the Spanish Civil War, detailing some of the standout characters and their acts of bravery. A lot of it seems romanticized, like when two brothers were killed by the fascists, it is said "…The local girls knew that two individuals, paragons of handsomeness and goodness, had been executed: Mothers wept, knowing that sons like the Pellicers are not readily conceived…" If you've ever seen any Spanish Civil War CNT/ FAI posters where the fighters are portrayed as big, proud, muscular figures, it feels like that's how they are being portrayed in here. But let's not forget the Iron Column were poorly armed (thanks again to the so called republicans who refused to send them arms, under the pretence that where they were fighting, the Teruel front, was of no account, when really it was to discourage growth and support of the anarchist fighters), initially they had "Four old rifles and little ammunition" and were fighting an army eventually backed by Italy, Germany and the Moors. But they had the absolute courage of their beliefs and with that they fought and won some important battles. The Column was set up in Valencia and, around 150 strong, they soon headed out to the front line and Sarrion where they won a bloody battle (the first of many) against the fascists (Fascists lost 93, Iron Column lost 7). From there their number grew as more volunteers poured in from the cities and they gained more arms usually captured from the fascist enemy.
Ultimately, due to pressure from the Republicans they were forcibly militarized (That is become an official army unit recognized by the state as opposed to the anarchist, revolutionary organization they were). They had little choice as they were being denied arms and support and threatened with isolation, which would include no cash payment for the volunteers. Basically they wanted to smash the column as it didn't promote the interests of the state.
Inevitably, partly due to the republicans wanting power and all on the left to play it their way, but also due to the massive backing the fascists were getting compared to that of the anti-fascists, Franco won. But Spain saw a glimpse of what could be and this period will always be remembered as one of the finest moments in anarchism's history.
One piece I just can't let pass without comment is where he talks of Moorish prisoners being found with severed heads in their knapsacks, waiting for time to extract gold teeth! I mean, if you're gonna go to the trouble to cut off a part of someone's body, ignoring the obvious gruesomeness of the act, surely it would be far more practical to just cut out the gums or something?! (Much easier and less bulky to carry around). It's just not practical! I'm not saying Manzanera is making things up but it sounds like urban myth to me. Anyway, an interesting read, which leads us nicely on to:
UNKNOWN HEROES: Biographies of Anarchist Resistance Fighters. By Miguel Garcia. which takes the battle against Franco after the Revolution and indeed after the war fought against fascists worldwide (This didn't stop Franco staying in power bizarrely!). This booklet is an anthology of biographies that first appeared in Black Flag magazine in the seventies. Santiago Garcia Fasco, it is said, "A machine gun emplacement stood between Santiago's detachment and the front. He dashed forward like a madman, moving this way and that, and with a grenade in his hands which he flung in the midst of the nest. Immediately all was silent. He turned the machine gun around and began firing against the fascists." Then there's El Negret who managed to escape from Franco's prisons some 17 times! Ramon Capdevila, who became a sought after guide by Jews and allied servicemen escaping from the nazis over the Pyrenees (in another chapter there's recollections of comrades escorting people OUT to escape Franco and IN to escape Hitler!!), after the war he was to blow up two electricity pylons, bringing the railroad to a standstill. He was later ambushed by the Guardia Civil and killed (as were many a resistance fighter). And if you've read Stuart Christie book, "Granny Made Me An Anarchist" Carballo Blanco's story will be familiar to you. In 1956, a member of the now clandestine CNT, "it was suggested to him by a friend in the resistance that he would be doing good service if he met a foreign comrade who was smuggling explosives from abroad for an attack on Franco. He was willing to act as a guide but was in no other way concerned with the plot." That comrade was Stuart Christie and they were both arrested. Christie got sentenced to 20 years but, due to international diplomacy, only served 3 ½ . Carballo Blanco being of no concern to the outside world got 30 years and at the time of this article appearing in Black Flag (May '76) was still locked up! And at that time, intended to isolate and break him, he was sent to Alicante, a prison only intended for sexual offenders. He was the only political prisoner there. There's other similar stories in here but these were the pick for me.
Miguel Garcia wasn't a historian of anarchist resistance to Franco, he was part of it (and was to serve 20 years in jail for his part). I found this booklet easier to read than the Iron Column one, mainly because Miguel is a good writer about this subject matter. Both booklets are entertaining though and offer a glimpse of a time we should be proud of and of comrades who will always be remembered. Both booklets are available from the Kate Sharpley Library, BM Hurricane, London, WC1N 3XX.
From: "Bald Cactus" #25 January 2007 www.baldcactusdistro.co.uk.