Guerra, exillio y cárcel de un anarcosindicalista by Cipriano Mera [Review]

Cipriano Mera’s life was, for many years, closely linked to the evolution of the Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI) and the CNT, and from 1925 until his death in 1975 he was always in the middle of the struggle. This dedication to the anarchist movement, together with his honest and sincere modesty, tends to make this memoir rather dry and almost skeletal in parts. In spite of his generalship, with its command of three divisions during the war he used to say, to explain his return to his trade of bricklayer in exile in France: “My greatest victory was with the trowel”.

Cipriano Mera’s memoirs take us from 1936 to 1947 during which period a number of problems facing the anarchist movement are underlined. There are powerful reasons for his recurring theme of the organisation of an anarchist army: fear and the instinct of self-preservation (which outweighs good intentions and militant self-discipline); and the lack of military efficiency with its resultant losses of good militants. He makes the point that the military - soldiers and officers alike - can succumb to panic, but the army has tactics and training to fall back on which the militants lacked. Mera also recognises the fact that there were some militants with more experience than others and that in military warfare, in badly organised actions, these militants were to die meaninglessly when compared with their greater possibilities as organisers (p39).

Another point of view on this subject which isn’t dealt with in the book is the question of the moros. Franco employed Moroccans - moros - as shock troops. These men had no choice in the matter - they were “colonials” and therefore expendable canon fodder. I do not know if it was Garcia Oliver, or Peiro, an anarchist Minister at the time (for whatever that is worth!), who declared that the CNT/FAI had suffered too many losses and would, therefore, have to fall back on the moros - or non-politicised - in the Republican sector (those who had not volunteered for the militias), but certainly Mera protested vigorously against this anti-anarchist mentality (see the anthology in the new French edition of my book L’autogestion dens l’espagne revolutionnaire).

Another recurring theme is the need for collective discipline, of making concessions for the sake of the idea and eventual victory. It is interesting how Mera interprets this in his own way and in the name of what he considers to be a fundamental criticism: governmental collaboration of the CNT and the flight from Madrid of the Government and the National Committee of the CNT; the replacement of Durruti following his death; the need to instill more discipline among Republican officers; and the need to destroy the Communist Party militarily. Disgracefully, this last point is not explored further. In 1939 Mera and Garcia Pradas, together with a number of socialists, organised the liquidation of the communist controlled forces and initiated negotiations with Franco in a last attempt to obtain free exit from the country of thousands of the most compromised Republicans. It was a failure.

Mera goes on to recount his experiences as a prisoner - first as a captive of the French in North Africa and later in Spain when he was handed over to Franco by the French authorities. Sentenced to death and later pardoned and released (on the same day as Joaquin Maurin according to a book published in Spain by Manuel Sanchez). He describes the re-organisation of the clandestine CNT and its contacts with Francoist generals to prepare a coup against the regime with assistance of the French and British armies (who had only recently won the war) (One detail worth noting here is than many Spanish anarchists served as moros for the Allies during World War II. A friend of mine was told by De Gaulle - while being decorated in Monte Cassino in 1943 - “Today Paris, tomorrow Madrid.”)

Mera’s testimony opens up horizons far wider than those described in his book. Up until the last few weeks of his life Mera contributed a good part of his retirement pension to support Frente Libertario, an anarchist paper published in exile - his life meant less to him than the collective strength of Spanish anarchism.

From: Cienfuegos Press Anarchist Review, no. 2 (1977).