I have never been impressed with the contributions of learned writers, professors and academics to political or economic theory. Perhaps that is why I have persisted so long in the same political and economic opinions. I have seen every one of them altering their views, squirming when reality proved them wrong and inventing learned apologies insisting they were right all the time nevertheless, but what happened in reality was foreseeable. Anyone who experienced the impact upon the working class movement by the professors’ theories in the Thirties, and lived to see the collapse of Marxism, has the right not to take them seriously.
I am pleased to have seen communism collapse in my lifetime. Leah rejoiced in her last days to have lived long enough to see Leninism overthrown as well as Tsarism. My pleasure was not mitigated by the fact that Mrs Thatcher and President George Bush thought they were responsible for the collapse (though Interpol had propped the Soviet regime up for years), and what they thought they achieved didn’t seem much of an improvement. A few months later, their capitalist economy collapsed in the West too, and there was no lack of pundits to explain that this was a worldwide phenomenon.
As there has never been a shortage of materials nor labour nor willpower, nor the desire of working people to build their own lives securely with decent housing and education and health care, only economists could explain why they are unable to do so because of lack of banknotes which the printers could easily provide. The idea that war (which necessarily implies destruction of people, construction and materials, and disrupts where it does not end lives and education) brings prosperity, whereas ‘peace begets poverty’, is to me, as it was to radicals of a former era, the economics of the madhouse. The sciences of politics and economics, a soft option duo which has replaced theology as the queen of the sciences in the universities, are based on equally bizarre premises as it was.
While being healthily sceptical of experts, realising how easy it is for savants in different disciplines to create their own fiefdoms, I have been more flexible, though more passive, in my attitudes. When in the Fifties I discovered Immanuel Velikovsky’s theories of past inter-planetary collisions and how they were recorded by worldwide ancient mythology, including the Old Testament, I bought his books immediately. I was enthralled how he put the self-important scientific Mafia to rout. He might have been as wrong as they said he was, but as they fell over themselves with misrepresentation of what he said, abuse, academic cat-calling (‘cosmic collisions, he means comic collisions’), censorship and downright blackmail to suppress his theories, they gave lay people like me some reason to believe, even perhaps to hope, he was right after all. The message that we were all survivors of survivors of catastrophes was dismal, but the criticisms of the scientific establishment encouraging. It was odd that many scientists agreed with his criticisms, but of somebody else’s discipline, and his firmest supporters were civil engineers with some knowledge of what he was talking about but no hostages to fortune in the way of challenged scientific empires.
The pack against him in academic USA was led by the astronomy and geology professors who had reached a tacit concordat with the religious fundamentalists who controlled their foundations, and felt threatened if schools and colleges could no longer teach one absolute truth in one lesson and quite a contrary absolute truth in another. The attack that was made for the benefit of the lay public was led by Isaac Asimov, a leading science fiction writer who kowtowed to the scientific establishment. But his dilemma was that either Velikovsky’s theories were phoney in which case he was the best sci-fi writer of all, or they were right and Asimov was an ass. He could not have it both ways. In the curious battle royal American scientists waged against Dr Velikovsky, one noted exception was Velikovsky’s friend Albert Einstein who had been accepted by the scientific establishment from the first, however incomprehensible his work, and despite his being a humble patents clerk at the time. In later years Stephen Hawking’s way-out theories have become best-sellers (he successfully appeals to the public, for which Velikovsky was denounced as a charlatan) but while many of Velikovsky’s theories and predictions have been proved right, he offended too many vested interests for it to be admitted.
I cannot pretend to have the knowledge to pass judgment but I cavilled at a remark in one of his books, writing via an associate of his, Dr Ralph Amelan. I put it into a review of the book in the Cienfuegos Press Anarchist Review, small enough in influence, particularly scientific. Velikovsky more or less accepted my argument and incorporated it in one of his last books “Mankind in Amnesia”.
This argument was that the period described in the Bible as the Exodus relates to a period of worldwide disaster due to cosmic collision. He also ascribed the beginning of anti-Semitism to mistaken ancient chronology (echoed by Josephus) that the Shepherd Kings (Hyksos) were the Israelites entering Egypt, when in fact (he says) they were the Amalekites, hated by everyone as an enemy of mankind. He shows that the Israelites encountered them when fleeing Egypt, fought and finally defeated them but the later confusion with them caused the hostility of the nations towards the Hebrews. Surely, I asked, it would be logical, if the nations of the world suffered a universal calamity, and the Hebrews tried persistently to persuade them to the belief it was divinely staged to help one small tribe escape slavery, to cause universal antipathy to them. Velikovsky amended his earlier statement to say there were two causes, later fed by many others, and characteristically added that his sources now revealed the Israelites too suffered crossing the Red Sea.
He had a quick answer and a ready quotation for everything. I found his books mentally the sort of exercise I had once got physically from pugilism. When I questioned him in a lecture I had, like everyone, to admit to myself that where he did not win the argument on a knockout, he was way ahead on points. The great thing was that after all, the decision did not matter so far as I or the lay public generally were concerned. There was precious little one could do about a return cosmic collision, let alone one already suffered, even if he were right. One good thing did come out of it. It got many thinking along lines of preserving the Earth, whose ability to sustain life was finite, and which could perish like other planets had done, though it took me some years to realise that.
At the time I only thought it enjoyable to see his critics getting floored and also to see him ducking and weaving. Having got fat and lazy (despite investigative journalist Gervase Webb who thought I was a hunt saboteur, which would at least have kept me fit) it was a lot less strenuous than boxing.
When I was in Copenhagen in the ‘70s, I had some unexpected local publicity, both because the English printers were news and on a different level so were anarchists. I was invited to speak by the Danish Anarcho-Syndicalists, who were well organised at that time, with an imposing HQ and a bookshop, and the Anarchist Federation very active. Nevertheless, inevitably most publicity went to the squatters’ city in Christiania, a drop-outs’ utopia, founded by a Calvinist clergyman. It purported to show the best features of “anarchism” but struck me as a Statist alternative, more like a ghetto (at least of the Tsarist type). In this little town the police contained drug-takers (though still occasionally raided them) in an otherwise worthless abandoned shipyard. I was taken around like a tourist visiting an African camp. They made and sold handicrafts, lived and worked communally and so long as they stayed within bounds could smoke pot freely. Big deal.
It was the old story of false currency driving out genuine.
Gomez, to whom I had given cover in my Grays Inn Road days, was one of the last of the counter-intelligence service set up by the Spanish movement first in an endeavour to penetrate the various police agencies working against them both in the Monarchy and the Republic, which developed into an anti-Axis network during the Civil War. They uncovered many intrigues against them and also military intelligence, some of it from the homes of wealthy sympathisers with the fascist cause. Gradually, as the “moderates” — in then contemporary journalese, the Communist Party — took over the Republic, their work was realised as essential even by those prepared to collaborate for the sake of unity. However, the divisions in the movement extended to counter-intelligence and Gomez broke away to form a separate group which worked with the Friends of Durruti and other “irresponsibles”, which was the name then given to one of the many groupings who actively resisted the destruction of the collectivised industries and farms and all forms of revolutionary conquest. (Later the name was mistakenly ascribed, by a Trotskyist historian, Felix Morrow, to cover them all, perhaps to diminish their number).
During the world war the counter-intelligence continued to exist, sometimes giving information to the Allies. The anarchist Resistance fighter Poznan actually got decorated by the British and French governments, for what it was worth. Like all intelligence services this one brought in some dodgy characters, which is the occupational disease of the job, and in London particularly so. This was partly because of the disability under which the CNT in exile worked in England. When the war broke out the decision of what to do, certainly not the life, was easier for them on the Continent. They carried on the struggle and were in the front of the Resistance fighters in Spain, France and Belgium. They were held in suspicion by the Allied command anyway, which was far from being anti-fascist so far as Spain was concerned and dubious enough so far as the actual enemy was concerned. There was no chance to compromise even for those who had made compromises during the civil war on Spain. Neither the Resistance nor the anarchist intelligence got, nor expected, any thanks from the Allies for their work of sabotage. All they expected was the chance to march back into Spain but even in that they were to be disappointed.
So far as we were concerned here, what to do was far less clear. It was a difficult decision for British Anarchists. So far as the Spanish were concerned, however few illusions they had about the British Government (which some did have) they were hardly in a position to express them. During the war most of the males went into the British Army, where some were in the foreign sections of the Pioneer Corps, many in commando units in and beyond the front line. They did not have the chance to form independent or illegal partisan units as in France. However, some were in more forward units, especially if they came directly from the French Foreign Legion, some for instance in Crete and Norway. In this case the War Office issued them with false identity papers giving their birthplace as Gibraltar, in case of capture by the Germans. One “Gibraltarian”, a good friend now settled in England, was interned after these battles in a German POW camp, and was able to pass over food and cigarettes to Spanish deportees from what Prof Allison Peers at the time described in “The Spanish Dilemma” as their ‘voluntary exile’. The dilemma was not the one the worthy prof thought. In many cases this exile was terminated involuntarily and they were sent back to Franco to be shot. Even those in Britain had to watch their step in regard to choosing between enlisting or deportation. In German-controlled territory, in the absence of a direct request for repatriation, they were worked to death in the camps or murdered for non-submission.
It was natural in these circumstances for the counter-intelligence of the Spanish movement to work differently in England. A small group of Spanish people, separate from those in the armed forces or in industry, were working for the BBC as translators and so on, and from there it was a short step for those who had been caught up in the world of intelligence and counter-intelligence to pass to the Ministry of Information, as the propaganda arm of government called itself. Ultimately those who may have started out as anti-fascists became absorbed, as they would not have been in the French situation, in officialdom.
One such was Garcia Pradas, a professional journalist who had edited a CNT newspaper at home, and continued to write fairly inane books in Spanish after the war, including a disclaimer on why “we deserved to lose” — and “we” of course were his first love, not his new. One of the counter-intelligence agents, closely associated with Sonia Clements, was Porter (formerly Polgare) who was in fact a Central European by birth, but always insisted he was Spanish (not that anyone cared about origins in the Spanish movement). He was involved in British Government propaganda and information on Spain. Gomez, whom I met after the war, was highly suspicious of him, though others were not. He apparently reverted after the war and was in fact quite useful in uncovering the story of how Premier Juan Negrin had stolen the entire gold of the Republic and caused the loss of the war. It was revealed finally years afterwards and exposed the role of the Socialist Party, but had no effect, not even electorally.
“Gomez” was not the real name of my friend from Grays Inn Road days. He earned a living working for a multi-national concern. Though I have not heard from him for many years, if still alive and in the country to which he emigrated with his second wife, revelation of his name and past activity would do him harm. I bestowed the name on him (a friend of mine, in typically English fashion, called all Spaniards “Gomez”) when I was giving him cover. His daughter had been shot by Franco’s Falange more or less randomly when they entered Valencia, his two sons had been killed in prison after the war ended, and their mother died in the bombing of Madrid. He spent many years working for revenge. I did not know his history until Miguel Garcia came to London. Miguel recognised him immediately. Miguel spoke admiringly of his activity, and as he rarely over-praised anyone I deemed it sensible not to ask questions where the answers could be compromising. When I met Laureano Cerrada in Paris, he laughed heartily when I referred to “Gomez”, but recognised him instantly and remarked, “He’s the only one of us who always stays out of prison, and if he got in he’d take the only mattress”. They called him ‘el mono’ (the monkey) as he still claimed, by virtue of his War Office papers, to be Gibraltarian.
It amused them that everybody else in that circle entered Spain at their peril, like Sabater and many others backpacking, or at best with a mule, over the Pyrenees like smugglers (as some were) whereas he travelled at ease by car like a tourist. Both Miguel and Laureano warned me to be careful when I said Audrey and I had taken him as a passenger several times into Franco’s territory, but one can hardly accept a caution from people as audacious as they. Finally Miguel decided it was the least hazardous way of returning. Waving British and American passports saw us through, and sometimes not even troubling to do that with a British number plate, in the days when the English were popular. At the time of Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee we were even saluted by the Guardia Civil, which produced a rare smile on Gomez’s face.
The British police, and ultimately some journalists, seemed to think I had something to do with the Spanish Resistance but if so, I am, like the Spanish police, unaware of what I did.
It is not hard to know what James Abra did to deserve years in prison. It was literally nothing. He was the unlikeliest person in the world to be even a dissenter, let alone a spy, but he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was a technician working at Plessey’s, sent to Libya to work on a Government contract. He had finished his contract and made a map to find his way to the airport as it was understandably difficult to follow the road signs in Arabic. That and a copy of “Jane’s Fighting Ships” were all the documents he had that were in the least ‘suspicious’ when he was stopped by guards. He was immediately taken to prison and tried for espionage, these documents representing all the evidence.
Just at that time the Libyan Embassy in London had been involved in an incident involving the shooting of a woman police constable. As the British Government were complaining about the murder, the Libyan government, with Islamic reasoning and socialist rhetoric, complained that the British had sent Jim Abra on an espionage mission. The trial was in Arabic which he did not understand but any defence was useless, as the US government had decided to bomb the country for other reasons. Whenever Washington told Mrs Thatcher to jump, she asked “How high?” and that sealed Jim Abra’s fate.
The press kept mightily coy about it and apart from a mention or so it was dropped from discussion. His wife was told the situation was delicate but the Foreign Office was acting. Indeed, they were acting the part of Pilate and washing their hands of it. For years this went on. Other wives at Plessey’s were enraged at the inaction in support of Jim, one of them being a cousin of mine, whose many petitions went ignored. We rarely met but when we did, she raised the question with me. I did not know about the case.
I sussed it was not much use writing petitions to the British or Libyan Governments, and decided to strike at the soft underbelly of Gaddafi. He was pouring money into “the revolution” abroad, something he interpreted very liberally, including Trotskyists, Black Nationalists, the IRA, the National Front and all stations in between. Through the Black Cross we embarrassed the Trotskyists, particularly their then daily paper, with petitions from Plessey workers (false I regret to say, but they never printed them anyway), and also Sinn Fein, saying they were supporting a regime that unjustly jailed fellow-Irishmen. I hope Abra, whom I never met, forgives me but I changed his alleged affinities many times in the course of the agitation. Anyone backing Gaddafi got hassled, in the hope they’d explain the reason to their paymaster.
I have no idea if it worked, but when Abra was released unexpectedly after several years in jail he thanked my cousin for the campaign on his behalf which had led to his release in the months after she had long since all but given up and the sustained nature of which she knew nothing about.
During the years in which Alberola was regarded as Public Enemy No. 1. by the Franco police and connected with the Interior Defence of the libertarian movement, there were innumerable disasters. In the events of 1962 which preceded the downfall of the Franco regime, arrests and frustrated plots followed one another as volunteers rallied to the final thrust against the Franco regime.
The apparent immunity of the dictator to every attempt against him gave rise to many suspicions. Gomez kept himself aloof from the Interior Defence (DI) until the end. He remarked that Sabater and his brothers, as well as Facerias and others had always gone it more or less alone, and it was a last resort to choose an affinity group. He accepted with equanimity Miguel’s description of him as another holding ‘rancho aparte’, pointing out that Miguel himself had done twenty-two years in jail, and while he respected him for his record, could hardly regard him as an expert on avoiding the repressive methods of the fascist police.
After the capture of two dedicated comrades Delgado and Granados, doubts were again raised and ugly suspicions voiced in anarchist circles. Those in the MLE who did not wish to disturb a comfortable lifestyle as a fossilised non-leading leadership, left over from the days of the civil war, denounced the whole idea of urban guerrilla activity. This attitude was forced on the International Workers Association by the sheer predominance of the MLE, though the Swedish syndicalists, the SAC always gave the fighters active support, ironic when one thinks that the MLE and IWA (AIT) was at the same time accusing it of reformism.
I am sure the passive attitude would have been echoed by the sham-ans clustering round the Anglo-American scene, who never lost a chance to sneer at resistance, if only they had known it existed. It was a reaction to these attitudes that caused me, at least, and many abroad to put down to sheer bad luck what pursued the Spanish resistance of the fifties and sixties. Time and again the Spanish police covered up with ridiculous stories how they managed to trap conspirators, such as the yarn about Stuart wearing a kilt when he entered Spain, for instance. The truth of the matter only came out in 1993, when it was revealed that Alberola’s trusted aide Guerrero Lucas had openly joined the Spanish police years previously, presumably being an informer before being taken on the strength.
The fact that in the finish General Franco died in bed, the only persons to torment his rest being his doctors, was a greater victory for him than 1939. Had it been otherwise, Spain would have abolished, not liberalised, its dictatorship.
© 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).