Antonio Martín Escudero (1895-1937), "The Durruti of the Cerdaña"

Antonio Martín Escudero (1895-1937),

Antonio Martín Escudero, better known by the derogatory nickname “El Cojo de Málaga” (‘The Malaga Gimp’), was born in Belvis de Monroy (Cáceres). He was the son of Celestino Martín Muñoz, farmer, and Ascensión Escudero Jara, “her sex being her trade“. Both were 26 years old at the time Antonio was born. The limp from which he suffered was due to a wound sustained during the revolutionary events of Tragic Week in Barcelona (1909). Other sources put the limp down to osteitis.

As a smuggler he, along with Cosme Paules, specialised in the smuggling of weapons across the border for the CNT’s defence groups. By 1922 he and Paules were regular active collaborators with the Los Solidarios group to which they belonged. Between 1924 and 1934 Antonio was in exile in France. He ran a tiny little shoe repair stand in a yard adjacent to an Auvergne coal-yard on the Boulevard Montparnasse in Paris. In 1927, being resident in Aubervilliers, he had a daughter by the name of Florida Martín Sanmartín (she outlived him after he was killed in 1937): The mother’s name is not known to us. In Aubervilliers he worked, first, in construction and later in a garage.

In the wake of the revolutionary events of October 1934, Martin made his way back to Barcelona: whether he did this off his own bat or on a commission from the Organisation, we cannot say: so there is no truth in the rumour that he was jailed for three weeks on account of the October events, or that he was spotted, conspiring, in a number of villages.

It was at that point that decided to settle in the Cerdaña where he worked for a number of ventures and at a number of trades (bricklayer, day labourer, waiter) on both sides of the border; he was a general labourer at the SALI dairy plant in Puigcerdá, a bricklayer in Bellver, a farm labourer in Sallagosa, a waiter in Font-Romeu, or broke stones on the Meranges highway, paid piece-rates per cubic metre quarried, or at the Py de Osseja firm in the French Cerdagne.

In March 1936 he was active in Puigcerdá as a trade union leader and spokesman in dealings with the bosses and he took part in a number of local rallies. In May 1936 he was present at the CNT congress in Zaragoza, as delegate from the Cerdaña unions. Both of the facts illustrate the point that he was a prominent CNT militant.

He had a step-brother, Blanco Martín Milar, who served in the Defence department at the outset of the war; he was known as Rojo (Red) rather than Blanco (White) and that is as much as we know about him.

In July 1936 there were no clashes or fighting of any import in Puigcerdà, as it was very easy for right-wingers to slip across into France. There is no truth in the claim that Martin was freed from prison at about that time, as some contend, as he was not in custody, but was, rather, a guest at the Fonda de Ca l’Aragonés, where a fellow guest was his hapless friend Segundo Jordá Gil, who was shot in Gerona in 1943.

On the basis of the Mutua Puigcerdanesca (Puigcerdá Mutual Society) and thanks to a series of collectivisations of local businesses and the seizure of various local industries, a People’s Cooperative was launched and it was out to secure a trading monopoly in Puigcerdá and surrounding areas and tried to extend its remit to the whole of the Cerdaña, through the establishment of new cooperatives in various townships.

The Puigcerdá Committee, chaired by Antonio Martín, controlled the border and thus the traffic in arms and foodstuffs, as well as the escapes by priests and right-wingers, and, of course, the flight of deserters from the republican cause. Bit by bit, it was out to enforce fair prices for wheat, milk and beef produce right across the Cerdaña, the purpose being to stop speculation by owners and keep a famished Barcelona supplied with foodstuffs at affordable prices.

On 9 September 1936, Martín was on a tour around France, raising money, weapons and food supplies for the revolution. So he was not even in Puigcerdá when 21 right-wingers were killed. A few days later, though, at a popular rally, he accepted responsibility for those executions of fascists, arguing that the alternative, if that crackdown was to be repudiated, would be for the Puigcerdá Revolutionary Committee to step down en bloc. The rally decided that the Committee should carry on and in late October it was re-launched as a Steering Committee, with Martín handling the portfolio of Home Affairs.

Bellver’s mayor, Joan Solé, a cattle-trader and small-time cattle breeder and farmer in the area (he had a mule, about 20 cows and, from time to time, a bull) led the resistance in the town, where the Esquerra (ERC) party had conserved its strength by not taking part in the October 1934 revolt. Besides, Solé wore the mantle of a local civic society: the Catalanist Republican Bloc. Joan Solé stood up to the hegemonic ambitions of the Puigcerdá Committee, whilst trying to protect his own private interests. As a cattle-trader he was devotee of the free market and, like many another Bellver property-owner, was viscerally opposed to the Puigcerdá Committee’s ‘monopolistic’ collectivist policy.

It was nothing personal, nor was it an ideological clash. In the eyes of Bellver’s cattle dealers and small farmers, Antonio Martín and the Puigcerdá Revolutionary Committee were anarchist ‘blow-ins’ and savages attacking their traditional way of life, so as to line their own pockets at the expense of Catalan champions of private property and the ‘age-old’ civilised order.

Hence the dark legend surrounding the “Malaga gimp”. Antonio Martín was a real demon as far as the property-owners in Bellver were concerned, because he trying to impose a per-kilo beef price that was 1.25 pesetas lower that what they were after, because he had similar plans for the milk and wheat trade and because he also intended to cut off another traditional income source: smuggling (cattle smuggling included) and clandestine people-trafficking across the border, an operation run by Estat Catalá and PSUC personnel who earned significant sums of money from it.

The Puigcerdá Revolutionary Committee had set up La Comunal, a production and consumption cooperative that meant to monopolise all agricultural and livestock production in the Cerdaña, with an eye to eradicating speculation and so as to be able to market wheat, beef and milk to a famished Barcelona at low process. That was the Malaga gimp’s “mortal sin”: preventing Bellver’s small proprietors from getting rich on the back of the hunger of Barcelona workers.

After the failure of a pro-independence coup mounted against Companys in November 1936 – a failure ensured by the CNT’s intervention – one of the units that was to have participated in the coup, the No 2 Pyreneean Regiment of Catalonia, decided to dispatch a company of ski troops to La Molina that December, for the purpose of winding up the Puigcerdá anarchists’ hegemony. On the pretext of guarding and protecting the border, it posted standing patrols in Bellver, thereby enabling that village to embark upon a series of clashes with the Puigcerdá Council, the underlying intent being to mount an all-out defence of the financial interests of the cattlemen. Over January and February 1937 various armed groups were gathering in Bellver on the most widely varying pretexts: they were made up of Estat Catalá, ERC and PSUC personnel and indeed of a gang of mercenaries led by “El Penjarobes“, who was probably a Stalinist sympathiser planted in the ranks of the Puigcerdá CNT.

On 10 February 1937 Joan Solé Cristòfol was returned for another term as mayor of Bellver, a post he had previously held from October 1934 to October 1936.

Meanwhile Martín, fed up with all the meddling and by arrangement with some POUM militians on garrison duty in the Alp Sanatorium, decided to raid the La Molina Chalet and round up the entire ski company. That military operation was carried out in the early morning of 1 March 1937. It was a complete success; without a single shot’s being fired, all of the skiers, including the officers, were captured. The latter were immediately shipped out to Puigcerdá as hostages.

Holding on to the officers, Martín’s men then shipped the troops back to Barcelona, where telephone reports of what had occurred had arrived the same day, thanks to a couple of skiers who had escaped from the chalet in the momentary confusion.

On Saturday 6 March Tarradellas and Santillán set off by car for Puigcerdá and Bellver to look into the serious incidents that had occurred there. On 8 March Tarradellas reported back to the Barcelona press on his trip to the Cerdaña.

Tarradellas had hurriedly entered into negotiations with the CNT to secure the swift release of the hostages. In addition to Santillán, his interlocutors were the head of the (Generalitat) Defence Department, Francisco Isgleas and Antonio Martín himself; they came to a gentleman’s agreement with Tarradellas: not only would the officers not be shot, as the ‘Puigcerdá Council’ had initially threatened, but they would be set loose, on condition that the Pyreneean Regiment did not show its face in the area again, and the Generalitat also promised not to post any more troops of any description there. The abducted officers were immediately freed, but the Generalitat government failed to honour its word.

At 6.30 p.m. on 8 March 1937 the Generalitat Council met under Tarradellas’s chairmanship, with every one of the councillors in attendance, except for the councillor in charge at the Justice Department.

Tarradellas reported on his trip to the Cerdaña which he had made along with Santillán. He explained that a meeting had been held with all of the organisation represented in the government, they being in the know about the situation in the comarca. Together with Juan Montserrat, Defence delegate, and a section from the Battallón de la Muerte (Death Battalion), they had climbed up to Alp castle which was manned by around eighty POUM militants where “a mixture of militians and alleged nurses have fortified themselves in an excuse for a sanatorium which is a sort of a whorehouse. All those militians are on the payroll of the Generalitat and they have the comarca terrorised.

Such a bare-faced calumny of the POUM members was possible only because the party had been thrown out of the government and it was part of a process of marginalisation and demonization of the party which was blamed for every difficulty encountered by the government of antifascist unity. Alp castle was a sanatorium for POUM militians. The aim was to discredit those militants as a first step towards their expulsion from the area, since their presence was weakening the counter-revolutionary PSUC, ERC and Generalitat government forces.

Antonio Martín was called upon in Puigcerdá to “abide by this instruction and pull back all of the men who are blockading a number of villages“. Tarradellas removed from the area a lieutenant whose conduct and character was tending to make frictions worse and then ordered that all of those arrested be set free.

Tarradellas made a report on the “unfeasible innovations” making up “the programme of those ruling Puigcerdá and its comarca” who “on the pretext of a general cooperative have overrun the entire village and not refrained from bullying [folk] in order to buy all goods at low cost and sell them dearer in Barcelona“, generating a problem that was hard to remedy.

Tarradellas insisted that, as part of the implementation of the new Public Order arrangements and the decrees issued on 5 March overhauling said agencies, all forces present in that comarca were to be withdrawn. He moved that Martí Feced be sent up to thrash out Cerdaña’s economic problems, which motion was passed.

Santillán endorsed “everything that the First Councillor has stated“. Comorera asked for wages payable to militians not abiding by the government’s orders to be suspended.

The CNT’s Isgleas pointed out that the central government’s Finance ministry had appointed a brand new officer commanding the carabineers and this had to be taken into consideration. He then asked that the UGT withdraw the armed groups it had in Camprodón, Maçanet and elsewhere.

Valdés said that the UGT would do just that as soon as the Public Order decrees came into effect. Tarrdellas moved that “mossos de escuadra be posted to Bellver“.

That was agreed.

Comorera called for an investigation into the mistreatment doled out to his secretary in the border town of La Jonquera. Aguadé stated that the issue of the border needed settling once and for all.

Next there was a discussion of the fascist and counter-revolutionary character of the POUM and the need to suspend La Batalla; only a few anarcho-syndicalist councillors mounted a timid defence of the POUM.

Santillán’s stance was wholly complicit with the Stalinist and government guidelines. In the end, Isgleas’s statements regarding the defencelessness of people in Barcelona in the face of airborne and seaborne attacks, for which he pinned the blame entirely upon the central government, placed a question mark over the responsibility of the Generalitat and every other antifascist organisation in view of the stark inhibition and universal desire to establish active anti-aircraft defences, although it was all more understandable and rational if one remembered that bombs and starvation were the government’s best weapons in bringing the revolution to heel.

Between 8 March and 26 April, the Generalitat government built up the presence of troops in Bellver and adjacent villages, as well as close to the border. The Valencia government did likewise with the carabineer presence, massing up to 500 of them in Ripoll: after failing in their attempt to attack Puigcerdá on 24 April, they stormed the local telephone exchange, erected machine-guns in the railway station and other strategic buildings, as well as a barricade on the Barcelona road, with whole-hearted backing from the local PSUC which was boosted when it was joined by a UGT column which had hitherto been based in Camprodón.

Around 25 April Artemi Aguadé sent a bunch of seven former “escamots” from the Estat Catalá Youth (JEREC) with explicit orders to bump of Antonio Martín and the rest of the anarchists, if possible.

On 27 April, at 1.00 a.m., a group of anarchists from La Seu decided to travel across to Puigcerdá for a meeting with their comrades there to discuss the substantial deployment by the carabineers at the time: in Ripoll, for instance, upwards of 500 men had been camped in Ripoll since 23 April.

As they approached Bellver, the La Seu anarchists were halted at a roadblock manned by armed men. After some time spent arguing and mutual swopping threats, the La Seu folk were finally able to go on their way and eventually reached their destination. But had the altercation been random or was it a premediated provocation?

On reaching Puigcerdá and given that the La Seu anarchists were all fuming now, a meeting was convened at which the guys from La Seu briefed their Puigcerdá comrades on the altercation at the roadblock in Bellver as well as their concern at the mass deployment of carabineers at different points along the border or the presence of strange faces in some villages, like Bellver for instance. For these reasons the anarchists talked about the constant provocations to which they had been subjected: the roadblock on the highway at Bellver, the massive influx of carabineers into Cerdaña and all along the border, the meddling by the Pyreneean Militias, and so on and so forth.

At 2.15 on the afternoon of 27 April 1937, anarchist militians coming from La Seu and from Puigcerdá, as well as POUM militians and anarchists from Alp and Das encircled the village of Bellver. The current state of research means that we can posit this hypothesis for what happened: Antonio Martín from Puigcerdá and Julio Fortuny from La Seu d’Urgell and, some say, another two militants, were murdered in an ambush, just as CNT-FAI vehicles crossing the bridge stopped at the barricade placed at the fork in the road leading to the town, on the left bank of the river Segre. As the cars reached the end of the bridge, intending to parley, the anarchists came under point blank gunfire from a culvert, from a group that had been lurking there. At the sound of the gunshots, a gun battle erupted between the wall and the besiegers. The young 19 year old Julio Fortuny was killed instantly. Antonio Martín, with a gunshot wound to the chest, died a lingering death during the night in the house situated on the right bank beside the bridge. The provocation had achieved its purpose.

The dark legend surrounding Catalan anarchism, a legend peddled through the slanders from Catalanists and Stalinists, held Antonio Martín personally to blame for every murder, theft or other criminal act that happened in the Cerdaña during the civil war and, furthermore it inflated the numbers of violent deaths (somewhere between 40 and 50 and not the hundreds and even thousands of legend) and attributed responsibility for a collective antifascist crackdown exclusively to “anarchists” when it had been the handiwork of the CNT-FAI, to be sure, but equally of the PSUC-UGT, ERC, POUM and Estat Catalá. There is documentary evidence showing that the list of the 21 men shot in Puigcerdá on 9 September had been drawn up by ERC-Estat Catalá.

But proving that Antonio Martín had no hand in the 9 September massacre (21 men shot) in Puigcerdá, simply because he was not there does not go far enough: it is not enough to point out that the killings were a settling of old scores between Estat Catalá’s Catalanists and the españolistas (Spain-lovers) of the Unión Patriótica, revenge for the felon-setting and denunciations that triggered the anti-Catalanist crackdown in October 1934; it is not enough just to document that the violent crackdown on fascists across Catalonia in 1936-1937 was also the handiwork of stalinists, POUMists and Catalanists and so, not exclusive to the anarchists; not enough to argue that revolutionary violence targeting such fascists and right-wingers was legitimate, in that they had, through their coup against the republican government, opened up the path of violence as a way of resolving social and political conflict. All of this evaporates and is ignored in favour of an irrational campaign to defame and criminalise libertarians, a campaign in which Francoist, Catalanist and Stalinist found themselves as sworn allies; together they turned the dark legend of Catalan anarchism in an incontrovertible tenet of their Sacrosanct History and now that the fascist martyrs have been beatified they are out to magnify and sanctify it once more.

Part of this infamy was the dismissive nickname that the Catalanists and Stalinists bestowed upon Antonio Martín, in an attempt to make him a figure of fun, giving him the showbiz name of a celebrated flamenco singer of the day who, as it happens, was also a ‘gimp’ and an ‘outsider’. Antonio Martín was never ‘the Malaga gimp’, among other reasons because he had never visited, let alone been born in that city: no, he was ‘the Durruti of the Cerdaña’, a revolutionary who was murdered by his enemies in an ambush set at the entrance to Bellver, as some eye-witnesses have testified.

The Cerdaña in the Wake of Martín’s Death

On 28 May 1937, the CNT-affiliated cooperativist Pedro Lozano organised a cooperativist rally in Puigcerdá: held in the Cooperative Cinema “premises belonging to the so-called People’s Cooperative“, the rally had in-put from José Rovira, Miquel Mestre (of the PSUC) and Francisco Campos, present as representatives of Catalonia’s Federation of Cooperatives.

Following the successful uprising on 19 July 1936, La Comunal had been launched, taking over the so-called Puigcerda Mutual Society, as well as almost all trade locally “with or without the use of coercion.”

That People’s Cooperative “founded in the heat of revolution” possessed a huge general store selling foodstuffs, another selling wine, a number of outlets selling beef, clothing, dry goods and other items. But that cooperative had no share-holding members, no regulations, as required under the Law on Cooperatives “all it had was a panel appointed by the people and a chief, in the person of Lozano. Meaning that it was not so much a cooperative as a confederated revolutionary body (La Comunal) which had a monopoly on trade in Puigcerdá and part of the Cerdaña.

The rally’s purpose was quite simply to regularise the position and set about winding-up La Comunal or the People’s Cooperative, by handing back to the former owners any assets that had been seized and distinguishing between assets of the erswtwhile Puigcerdá Mutual Society and what had been seized thereafter.

The revolutionary efforts of the anarchist canton of the Cerdaña, under the leadership of Antonio Martín and embodied in La Comunal, had to be dismantled in order to facilitate a reversion to republican legality, assets owned by the former Mutual Society cooperative handed back and former owners restored to full possession of their confiscated assets.

But destroying La Comunal did not go far enough. The counter-revolution was also out to wipe out the revolutionaries who had made it feasible. This has always been the practice in every counter-revolutionary phase, in any country in which the revolution has been defeated. And May 1937 had indeed been a defeat for the revolutionaries.

A report from the CNT’s Legal Commission explained how, at 9 o’clock on the morning of 10 June 1937, as “comrades José Basagañes, José Anglada, Juan Maranges, Esteban and Jaime as well as a guy from Casagañes” were working in the building known as ‘La Serradora’, “troops galore, made up of Carabineers, Assault Guards and Vigilance Police” showed up and, in accordance with “a plan drawn up in advance by the Public Order Delegate, by the name of Fernández, started shooting ” at the building for the sole purpose of “giving provocation and seeing if the comrades within would fight back” so that they might have an excuse for the public order troops’ having attacked them earlier.

All the eye-witnesses testified that the police records misrepresented the facts and that it was untrue that the CNT personnel had thrown bombs and fired revolvers “for, had that been the case, there would have been wounded and maybe even dead” among the security forces, when they had no wounded, not even slightly wounded.

Doctor Córdoba who certified the deaths of “the comrades so foully murdered” could “provide details regarding the deaths of our militants.”

Indicative of the savagery of the attack was the fact that two of the comrades who had sustained wounds were finished off with bursts of machine-gun fire. Some of the murdered men had served on the Revolutionary Committee: that was the reason for the killings.

A number of CNT militants then fled Puigcerdá in an attempt to escape the brutal repression that was under way “comrades José Cartafel, Ángel Cortés, Pedro Parés, Joaquín Ortas, Felipe Ugalde, Valentín Pous and Antonio Martínez being arrested later, charged with and tried on various charges preferred against them.”

Miguel Domengé, Juan Escoriza, José Anglada, Eusebio Meranges, José Sals, Salvador Cinquilla, Julián Gallego, Luciano Durán and the elderly Tricheaux (a prominent French anarchist militant) and his son-in-law, as well as two Durruti Column militiamen picked up in the vicinity of Puigcerdá were taken into preventive custody.

Also held in preventive custody, albeit hospitalised, was “the prominent militant Mariano Puente” and the word among the populace was that this was done completely arbitrarily.

On 12 June 1937, at an extra-ordinary sitting chaired by Public Order Delegate Gerònimo Fernández (the very same Fernández who had directed the attack and the killings at La Serradora), a brand-new town council was appointed in accordance with the decrees of 9 and 12 October 1936, the line-up being as follows: mayor, Josep Clot (ERC), deputy mayor, Antoni Junoy (ERC), second deputy mayor Pedro Lozano (CNT), with the rest of the council comprising of Joan Casanovas (Unió de Rabassaires), Agustí Sánchez (CNT), Antonio Gordillo (CNT) and Elisi Font (ERC).

Sitting on 30 June 1937, the council introduced taxation on bars, milk production in the comarca (with a resultant rise in milk price for the population of Barcelona who were going hungry): La Serradora (under self-management between 19 July 1936 and the killings on 10 June 1937) was taken under municipal control.

At the 15 July 1937 sitting, the CNT indicated that it agreed to replace its representatives on the council – Lozano, Sánchez and Gordillo – with the new representatives picked by the Organisation in assembly, namely, Joan Coll, Pau Porta and Eduard Martin. The ERC opposed Eduard Martín’s appointment alleging that he had been involved in the May Events

After three sittings that failed to go ahead due to the absence of the CNT councillors, who had received death threats, the 27 July session did go ahead: at it, the CNT announced that it had replaced Eduard Martin who was facing prosecution, by Doctor Ramón Córdoba. At the same sitting the PSUC appointed its own councillors to the council: Juan Salom and Lluís Pubill.

In late August, Puigcerdá town council, like many another in the comarca, was all but disbanded, its functions having been taken over by the Cerdaña Executive Committee.The Legal Commission’s rapporteur pointed the finger at “Vicente Climent (PSUC) and a person by the name of Juan Bayrán Clasli from the PSUC as the “main instigator of the persecution of anarcho-syndicalist militants in Puigcerdá: together with “Bellver’s mayor, a Vigilance officer by the same of Samper, plus another agent whose name I do not presently know, but both of them members of Estat Catalá, [they] have formed an Executive Committee and vent their spleen by persecuting the members of our Organisation“.

As a token of the cruelty of that Cerdana Executive Committee, the rapporteur noted “the assault suffered only days ago in the public square by comrade Eulalio Oña, who was attacked and slapped by agent Samper, and warned to get out of town within twenty four hours“, the threat being that if he did not “they would do away with him“.

This Executive Committee which had imposed terror by means of its harassment of CNT personnel in Puigcerdá got together to pass “serious motions“, that included the decision to expel all CNT and FAI militants from the Cerdaña, threatening to ‘disappear’ any who failed to comply with the order.

The relatives of the La Serradora murder victims were constantly harried, the explicit purpose being to drive them out of the comarca.

The CNT members Leocadio Mediavilla, Antonio Gordillo and Agustín Sánchez, one-time members of Puigcerdá’s town council, had fled in the face of threats of arrest and were being “sought by agent Samper’s gang and residents and the mayor of Bellver“, who were interrogating CNT members with an eye to “discovering their whereabouts and arresting” or murdering them.

The rapporteur stressed that the Libertarian Youth local had been commandeered by public order troops “and troops from the Carabineers had moved in there“, the library that was there had been handed over to the UGTor to the Delegate that the Generalitat had sent to oversee the hand-over“.

The CNT’s union hall had been stormed “by a gang of individuals belonging to Estat Catalá and the PSUC“, so that it might be handed over to its former owner. The report closed by mentioning La Seu de Urgell, which was undergoing persecution akin to the one in Puigcerdá.

The upshot of this repression was that fascists and enemies of the 19 July 1936 revolution reappeared in Puigcerdá: Obiols, the judge driven out on 19 July, was the very same judge that welcomed all complaints against CNT members, but who went sick so as to dodge all responsibility for the murders of CNT personnel; the mayor from the days of the Primo de Rivera dictatorship was back: the priest’s family “and many others, heeded when they bring such complaints and press claims against our militants“, the sole purpose being “to heap all the blame upon our Organisation and its membership“.

The Public Order troops, the former authorities, the fascists and the bourgeoisie were winning back the Cerdaña, unleashing fierce, brutal repression against anarcho-syndicalist militants, a repression that covered anything from murder, imprisonment and banishment to systematic harassment of relatives and of all CNT members, not forgetting the seizure of premises, death threats or out and out physical elimination. And as the inevitable, complementary pretext for this Stalinist, government and class repression, the dark legend relating to Catalan anarchists in general and to Antonio Martín in particular was reasserting itself and spreading.

The endless searches, seizures of money and utensils from homes, intercepted correspondence, beatings (even public beatings on the open streets), the threats of death or disappearance spat at militants and their family members, plus an extensive list of outrages and harassment perpetrated by the police and Bellver residents, ensured that by September 1937, the CNT as an organisation covering the whole of the Cerdaña comarca had evaporated.

In 1938 Joan Solé was appointed municipal commissar over several villages in the comarca where his writ ran unopposed, whilst the CNT was starting out on a faltering reorganisation drive that faced obstacles galore.


Legend means the tale of fabulous events, handed down by word of mouth as if they were real historical facts. The archives house the documentary record, the threads from which the historian weaves a reliable and rigorous reconstruction of the past.

On 1 October 1937, Martín Salvat Pujadas, who was in charge of the cemetery in Puigcerdá, stated that the number of those buried as a result of death by violence since 19 July 1936 came to thirty one in all. Examination of the burials registered in the town’s cemetery has allowed us to break these down by date: twenty one shooting victims of the 9 September 1936 massacre, two women clubbed to death up against the cemetery wall on 30 October 1936, two anarchists (Antonio Martín and Julio Fortuny) gunned down in the armed clash in Bellver on 27 April 1937, and six anarchists murdered in La Serradora. In all, 23 fascists and 8 anarchists.

The myth surrounding mass shootings in the Tosas mountain pass, ordered by the Puigcerdá Committee, collapses in the face of the detail and comprehensiveness of a document included in in the Causa General that concludes, after some 26 bodies had been located, disinterred and analysed, that most of these belonged to young people, some identifiably right-wingers and deserters who had been gunned down by carabineers whilst attempting to cross the border. So, no committee-ordered shootings but carabineers shooting deserters and, in any event, deaths unconnected to internal issues in the Cerdaña that should be chalked up as the products of social and political frictions in the comarca.

But the historical facts do not matter, any more than the documentation that demolishes the fantastic slander does. What we are dealing with here is a highly complex sociological and anthropological phenomenon beyond the reach of historical science, because historical facts are transfigured into legend and mythical beliefs that help to underpin a sort of proud Fuenteovejuna-ism on the part of the village of Bellver, united in its Catalan-ness, its republicanism and its civilisation and pitted against the savagery of anarchist revolutionary blow-ins from Puigcerdá. That all of this is a nonsense from the historical point of view does not matter: we are dealing here with the heroic foundation myth of the village of Bellver, one that is not open to questioning, having much to do with irrationality and religion.

And that legend allows for contradictory variations upon a theme: each and every one of the men who opened fire from behind that wall fired the shot that mortally injured Antonio Martín; which is why they had their pact of silence, never to disclose the name of the man who really did kill him; a retired Civil Guard. And this ‘all for one’ stance makes them feel all the more heroic.

And the legend has its articles of faith which are not open to challenge and against which there is no appeal:

1. It is beyond question that the gimp was a thief and a killer, like every anarchist.

2. In requisitioning the livestock from Bellver, the gimp was out to line his own pockets.

3. He crossed that bridge like a lunatic, out of bravado: he had no intention of parleying, even though he was aware that the bridge was in the sights of lots of armed men posted in the high walls and that the attack on Bellver, where the bridge was, was suicide. A gimp charging across the bridge!

4. Ambush? There was no ambush.

5. No one (not even unwittingly or at gunpoint) would take Martín – dying from the gunshot received – into his home.

When history is turned into myth, and, more so, into the identity myth of the village of Bellver, the historian vanishes, swallowed up by the sacrosanct epic whereby anarchists have always been, still are and always will be guilty of fighting for revolution. That and that alone, plus the boundless hatred it inspires in the bourgeoisie, is support and justification enough – yesterday, today and tomorrow alike – for the dark legend woven around Catalan anarchism. Sacrosanct history (the sort produced by historians who write to please their paymasters) does not care if this is false: all it is interested in is the irrational condemnation of revolutionaries and their ‘obvious’ diabolical, criminal and malign natures. Their offence was to dream of a better world, a world with justice and without exploitation. Their crime? Fighting for freedom, for the power to determine one’s own life, for shared management of socio-economic priorities, for destruction of the state and for libertarian communism. Nothing more and nothing less.

From: Translated by: Paul Sharkey.