An advocate of a pacifist and very humanistic anarchism, he was a man equal to the circumstances he encountered. He was director of prisons under García Oliver (1936) and stood out for his decent treatment of inmates and his exposé of the existence of Stalinist Chekas (see the Cazorla case). Very active during the years leading up to the civil war, he was outstanding in the Madrid construction strike of 1936. After the civil war he was one of the mainstays of the clandestine CNT (arrested in 1946-47 and tried the following year on charges of smuggling propaganda into Alcalá prison). At a time when disenchantment was taking its toll of anti-Francoists he kept the CNT torch aloft and opposed Cincopuntista activity in 1965. Used the alias of Manuel Amador.
This was the basic sketch with which Iniguez started on his Encyclopedia of Spanish Anarchism.
Anti-communist historian Cesar Vidal (in Paracuellos-Katyn, a study of the communist propensity to exterminate opponents physically) has lots of praise for Melchor Rodriguez and this short biographical note on him (p. 324)
He came in for tremendous censure from a range of Popular Front personages for having halted the killings in Paracuellos. Come the end of the civil war he was court martialled and many persons from the Nationalist camp testified on his behalf, incluyding General Agustin Munoz Grande. Such gratitude ensured that after a year and a half behind bars he was freed and rebuilt his life as an insurance agent. During the postwar years he strove to secure the freedom of quite a few repubican prisoners, relying on the support of Munoz Grandes and other bigwigs from the Franco regime. His funeral was attended not just by old comrades from the CNT but also by leading Francoists. His coffin was draped in the anarchist flag and the Our Father was prayed over it. The left never gave him the recognition he deserved, perhaps because he was an eloquent witness to what the policy of the Popular Front had been.”
Partly as a spin-off from the whole ‘Historical Memory’ campaign in Spain, Melchor Rodriguez has been shot to new prominence recently. His humane actions are contrasted with the murderous conduct of Santiago Carrillo complicit in the murder of fascist prisoners and suspects. The Paracuellos murders of prisoners is being invoked as a counter to Republican victimology and Melchor Rodriguez’s prominence is one side effect of this.
In Germinal No 6 (October 2008) Alfonso Domingo has an article “Melchor Rodriguez and Los Libertos” – a study of the man, his work and his FAI group. It runs to about 20 pages and among other things refers to Melchor Rodriguez having saved the lives of upwards of 10,200 people (during the civil war) as well as harbouring about 50 in his own home and smuggling others out to France.
Translated by: Paul Sharkey.
In KSL: Bulletin of the Kate Sharpley Library No. 58-59, June 2009