Book review: Guerrilla José Moreno Salazar remembers

This is the tale of a man who served with the anarchist guerrillas in Andalusia up until his entire group was wiped out by the Civil Guard. Badly wounded, he survived and thereafter had to live the life of a fugitive throughout the whole of Franco’s dictatorship. At no time did he stop being an authentic libertarian battler, but a clandestine existence and sheer necessity required him to step back time and again, unable to carry on playing his part in a head-on struggle that his organisation was no longer able to sustain.

His name was José Moreno Salazar and he died in 2007 at the age of 84. He was born in Bujalance, Córdoba in 1923 the third of seven children born to a couple of farm labourers. He grew up surrounded by people and by a village with long and solid libertarian traditions. He lived out the civil war in Córdoba and Jaén as a refugee, in the direst of conditions.

During the war his village was run – up until it was occupied by Francoist troops – by a Popular Front Committee set up by CNT personnel. The main political leader in the township was Francisco Rodriguez Muñoz who chaired the local committee before going on to command the 88th Mixed Brigade of the Popular Army and finishing the war as commander of the 8th Division. His two brothers Juan and Sebastián would later be outstanding in the resistance.

With the civil war over and now aged 14, José Moreno Salazar joined the network of couriers trying to support the militians who had fled into the mountains in the countryside and sierras near Bujalance, Montoro and a broad swathe of the provinces of Córdoba and Jaén. Virtually his entire family and indeed most of the neighbours were actively collaborating with the guerrilla campaign.

In the wake of the defeat, repression yanked Jose Moreno Salazar’s father away to prison, before his brothers Antonio and Francisco were arrested, as well as his mother, and savagely tortured, with Antonio left crippled for life only to be sentenced to a 20 year jail term of which he served virtually every day in Burgos. Jose’s father was given a 12 year term and removed to the penitentiary in Vitoria.

The resistance band in the sierras grew to fourteen fighters, all of the anarchist persuasion and led by the Rodriguez brothers. Their network of couriers in the various villages and on various estates ran into hundreds.

The series of arrests and tortures inflicted upon the family was so relentless that Jose himself had to flee into the sierra and join the guerrilla group in 1941. In his village lots of José Salazar’s friends and acquaintances had been shot in the post-civil war years, some of them in front of him. He had endured another two arrests that resulted in his taking a tremendous beating from the Civil Guards.

For two years he stuck with the armed resistance in the hills, playing his part in numerous actions in various villages and hamlets, including clashes with the Civil Guard forces which were eroding the group’s capacity to resist.

In the end his guerrilla band was wiped out at a farmhouse in Mojapiés in Cordoba province in January 1944, thanks to treachery by a Civil Guard ‘plant’.

There were only two survivors: a comrade who was well away from the area at the time and whom the Civil Guard was to capture shortly afterwards and who would be tortured and shot in quick succession. Plus José himself.

After some very tough interrogation José was sent to Cordoba prison to await trial. Knowing that the prosecution would be asking for a number of death sentences for him, he managed to escape in December that year.

After escaping he managed first to reach Manzanera in Ciudad Real province where he hid out in the home of some comrades from the underground organisation and then it was on to Madrid.

In Madrid he worked as builder’s labourer on various sites in very precarious circumstances, keeping in touch with his organisation which was all but completely smashed and barely able to survive, until, with the Civil Guard closing in, he was forced to go on the run again, making for Valencia this time.

At the end of some exhausting adventures, he settled in Algemesi in Valencia province in 1945 where he turned his hand to all sorts of jobs and managed to survive thanks to pilfering rice together with some local comrades.

Moving on again to avoid being identified, he worked on farms in Catalonia and Aragon before eventually settling in Barcelona with a fruit shop in the Barrio Chino, only to be forced to move on given the chances of his being recognised by the large numbers of people from Bujalance, Montoro, Bailén and other places in close proximity to his birthplace and underground activities who were moving into the city and heightening the chances of his being recognised.

In 1949 the Civil Guard in Córdoba killed an unaccompanied guerrilla, alone in the hills. Not knowing who he was and as the corpse was badly disfigured, it was certified as the corpse of José Moreno Salazar and the local press carried reports to this effect. From that point on, José Moreno was no longer a wanted man, but he could not let himself be seen by anybody that knew him, lest his entire escape strategy collapse.

He managed to buy himself phony papers in the name of Antonio Pérez Sánchez and using these he settled down against in the villages around Valencia where he tried his hand at all sorts of jobs and married and had children who, to this day, do not bear his real name. But after some years he had to move on again to more out of the way places where nobody knew him. In the end he took refuge is some villages in the area around Cuenca where, ironically enough, he made a living selling funeral insurance. Years after democracy was restored in the country he obtained some authentic papers in his real name and carried on working in Osa de la Vega as an insurance agent right up until retirement age. He never got any support from the state, financial or otherwise, for the years he had spent as a guerrilla, behind bars or on the run with no chance of regular work. He lived with his wife on a pittance of a pension and died in his daughter’s home in 2007.

In 1954 he set down his memoirs of life as a guerrilla and fugitive in a tiny note-book. Years later he had his notes typed up and in 1982 added an afterword dealing with the most telling events of more recent years, as well as correcting and adding to the text.

That is the document now made available to us [José Moreno Salazar, Los perseguidos. La guerrilla libertaria cordobesa de Los Jubiles (Ed. La Torre Literaria y Asociación Archivo, Guerrilla y Exilio, AGE, Madrid 2011, 326 pp.)] together with a fair number of family snapshots from his resistance years. It is a stunning account of his life, including an ongoing depiction of those years of hunger and violent repression experienced at first hand by a clear-sighted man who never lost his anarchist ideals and who had had to grapple with the direst conditions merely to survive.

Recently, the outstanding Córdoba historian Ignacio Muñiz managed to track down in Seville’s Captaincy-General the dossier on the court martial mounted against José Moreno and nearly a hundred of his fellow villagers after the smashing and killing of all the guerrillas, save himself and that other guy who was captured far away and then shot. A reading of the court martial records, with the statements to the Civil Guard and military judges made by all of the accused established with absolute clarity that his memoirs are entirely accurate and that Jose Moreno’s account of things is entirely true to and as brutal as the way things really happened.

From: Translated by: Paul Sharkey.