Chatting on the Phone with Miquel Mir (22 April 2010)

[For background, see The “Mir Affair”]

Miquel Mir rang me this morning, ranting about my hating his books and the work he had done. When I made to answer him that I was merely exposing him as a fraud on the basis that … he cut me off, repeatedly shouting that I should listen to him, to which I replied that he was the one that needed to listen, and since he began shouting even more hysterically, repeating that everybody needed to listen to him, I hung up.

A few minutes later the phone rang again. It was Miquel Mir back to ask me, more calmly and in friendlier and rather incredulous tones, if I had hung up the phone, to which I said that if it was a phone conversation that he was after he would need to let me speak, not raise his tone of voice and show good manners, and that if he couldn’t play by those rules I’d hang up again.

The conversation proceeded, somewhat strained but within the parameters set, and the upshot was as follows:

1. Given my insistence that the name Josep Serra does not figure in the Control Patrols’ list of names, he initially argued that he had been with the CNT-FAI Investigation Service patrol. When I said that the name Josep Serra does not appear in the roll-call of that Service either, which shows Manuel Escorza was paid 84 pesetas, he was obliged to come up with a different story, confirming for me that there never was a Josep Serra. According to Mir, the name was taken from the papers of a quite separate individual. Using this name the actual patrol member, whose name is unknown, was able to live a clandestine existence and in fact that was the name they put on his grave. He indicated that he was unable to tell me the real name of the patrolman who had lived in exile under the alias Josep Serra, on account of an undertaking he had given to the family. My response was that this was all very novelish and convenient, because that way nobody could verify that the patrolmen and his diary ever really existed. But that this was not an historian’s approach and that he should in any event have explained that right from the outset. I stressed to him that he was amalgamating novel-writing and history and that he had no scientific methodology. “Miquel, you can’t decide whether you’re writing a mystery novel or a history book.” In any event, he finished up confirming my contention that THERE WAS NO JOSEP SERRA.

2. Repeatedly I emphasised to him that he had manipulated and tinkered with Asens’s memoirs and had changed the dates of Asens’s trip to France and Switzerland in that Asens had written “February 1937” whereas he, on page 229 of his book had altered the dates and put “October 1936“, because that fitted in with his contention that Terradellas pocketed the money handed over for the Marists. And this was not on and was a fraud deliberately perpetrated in order to defame Terradellas. To my surprise, his response was that “Asens’s memoirs are mistaken“, to which I replied of course that memoirs, no matter whose they might be, are never ‘wrong’ and in any event one could take issue with any memoirs just to suit the thesis of some historian who is manipulating them and that word is “fraud”. I got tired of repeating to him time and time again, this way and that way, that he had committed fraud, misrepresentation, deception and at no point did he contest this.

3. I also told him that a history book without footnotes was a novel and that he needed to make up his mind once and for all to have it on the cover of his books that they are novels and not history books. His excuse was that his publishers had removed the footnotes for reasons of readability. My answer to that was that he was insulting his readers by treating them like fools and that in any case such serious defamatory charges as he was levelling against anarchist militants or against Terradellas needed to be properly documented and explained with notes. Now he apologised, stating that the edition had been a very limited one and that it would not be found in the bookshops nor on “St Jordi’s Day” [Catalan national holiday], that to all intents and purposes it had been a commission from the Marists who were keen to see it in print, but that it was never meant for the wider public. I observed that many newspapers had joined in with the campaign of defamation targeting the anarchists and Terradellas, all on foot of the fraud that he had perpetrated. At which point he blamed his publisher, since he could show me his book with its hundred-odd notes. If I wanted to see it, all I had to do was arrange a meeting and he would show it to me. My answer was that I had the actual book in my hands, that it stank to high heavens and I was at a loss to know how to pick it up. I countered by saying that as the author he alone bore the responsibility for allowing the book to go out without footnotes and “massaged”. And that he had at all times had the option of not publishing under those terms. I further told him that he had no credibility as a historian. And that his audience was confined to a fascist, far right and/or Terradellas-bashing readership.

4. He accused me of having on several occasions come to the defence of the “Marqués de Terradellas”, to which I replied that apart from the fact that I did not think of that as an accusation I was not defending any marqués or anybody else but merely exposing his defamation of various anarchist militants and of Terradellas in particular in that these were founded upon the “massaging” of Asens’s memoirs. That I wouldn’t have opened my mouth if the documentary evidence produced had been authentic, but that I could not stomach this fraud of his which, in my view, was punishable under law, in that it was tantamount to libel. And that’s when he hit me with the numbered bills from the ransom payment.

5. I asked him what this new fairytale was all about. He gave me some sort of a story about two brothers, lawyers to the Marists, who had traced these numbered bills all the way to Terradellas with whom they had spoken during his time in exile in France on several occasions, accusing him of pocketing the ransom paid for the Marists. I replied that this was news to me but that if he had the documentary evidence he should produce it. He told me that he would be doing precisely that in his next book, to which he would also add the arrest orders issued by Escorza and statements made by the families of the murdered Marists. My answer to that was that he had no credibility and that he could come up with whatever he pleased. Whereupon he talked about showing me other memoirs from a different anarchist militant plus some letters from the latter. He could not photocopy them for me but we should meet up, I could read them and hand them back and later promise to help him tackle the presentation of them in another of his books. So after my accusing him of fraud and libel here he was offering me a chance to help him draft his next diatribe!

6. In an effort to break off what by then had turned into a real pain of a phone conversation, I asked him sarcastically if he was familiar with the three-card tricksters of the Ramblas because he was in the same game himself, what with “now I’ll let you have a look at some photocopies, oh yes I will, oh no I won’t, three cards on the ground, card here, card there, where is the ace?” He replied very sniffily that he never frequented the Ramblas, to which I responded sarcastically that he really ought to from time to time, to see the outrageous or ordinary folk, the pretty girls strolling around and the ideas being tossed around and to clear his head: to which he repeated, rather shocked, as if I had just invited him to sample the whores, that no, he never went to the Ramblas. I insisted that he did not know what he was missing, that it was interesting to see all the three card tricksters in action together, one dealing the cards, one positioned to invite wagers, card here, card there and one always came away the loser, especially if one won, because then somebody would give you a punch and make off with your winnings. But no, the Ramblas were not his cup of tea.

7. At the end of our conversation he switched tactics. Having tried stick and carrot he now switched to divide and conquer. He told me that his targets were not the FAI, (he had nothing against them; they were just out to make their revolution). But there had been a Companys and a Terradellas who had worked hand in glove with the revolutionaries, signing off on decrees, pocketing money and betraying the ERC (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya). And they needed calling to account. He insisted on inviting me yet again to work with him on this: he would let me see Bundó’s memoirs and in return I would help him make sense of them so that they worked to the detriment of Companys and Terradellas, that is, but not to the detriment of the FAI. Again I insisted that he send me the memoirs and once I had read them I could offer an opinion but working together with somebody ignorant of historical methodology and capable of “massaging” the documentary record was out of the question. I recommended him a handbook on historical methods so that he might bone up on the scientific rudiments of the historian’s work. I’m not sure he got the insult. He insisted that we should meet up so that he could let me in on a couple of who-knows-what terrifically confidential matters. And that, seen or unseen, he would let me read Bundó’s memoirs. Again I told him to make me photocopies so that I could read them at my leisure, comparing them with the bibliography available and then make a judgement of them. Again he insisted that he could not make photocopies but that we should meet up. It seems he was going to send me twenty photocopies of these memoirs and ring me back inside the fortnight. Or maybe not.

8. In short: Mir has acknowledged that there never was a Josep Serra and has acknowledged “massaging” Asens’s memoirs “because Asens was mistaken“. Meaning that he has confirmed the two points I raised against him in the article “The Mir Affair.”

9. Obsession: He has some sort of issue (I know not what) with Companys and Terradellas. I imagine that Mir does not agree that Companys and Terradellas should have collaborated with the anarchists and the CNT. He fails to understand the balance of power at the time which left them with no alternative. He will carry on with his drive to defame libertarians and Companys and especially Terradellas because he has an irrational obsession. Only a court case for libel could stop him. A complaint tabled by a range of historians might be interesting as it might “shock” the publishers well disposed towards Mir.

10. Conclusions: Despite Mir being a non-entity as a historian, somebody who knows practically nothing about the existing bibliography on the Civil War and who has no overall grasp of the thing, we are faced here with somebody who does possess certain documentary evidence (we have no way of telling in advance whether it is genuine or not) and who has proved that he will not hesitate to “massage” it to suit himself. He is feted by certain like-minded publishers and newspapers, out of ignorance, morbid fascination, inadmissible political pressures, commercial considerations, clerical and class hatreds or ideology. Mir is more than capable of feeding a market for anti-libertarian and Terradellas-bashing trash-history bereft of all historical rigour. In a matter as delicate as political violence during the Civil War, Mir may well play a poisonous role and thwart the slightest progress on this topic.

From: Translated by: Paul Sharkey.