Fidel Miró died on 29 June 1998 at the age of 88, after a lifetime of dedication to fighting for what he thought was fair.
A member of the CNT and FAI from a very early age, he was a member of the Nervio anarchist group and general secretary of the Libertarian Youth. After defeat in the Spanish Civil War he went into exile in Mexico where he lived out the last of his days.
From exile in Mexico he carried on working and collaborating with the libertarian movement - the Spanish as well as the Mexican. Albeit at some remove, he made an active contribution to the relaunching of the CNT in the 1970s and, among other projects, was one of the founders of the magazine Polémica and a member of its editorial team up until the day he died. His own man and a freethinker, he was a stranger to dogmatism and not much given to orthodoxy and among the books he has left behind are titles like Anarchism, Students and Violence (1969), Anarchism and Anarchists (1979) and his autobiography, Youth, Dreams and Hopes. This interview with our own Antoni Castells Duran took place on 14 December 1996 on the occasion of Miró’s last trip to Spain and it sums up the life of this tireless fighter.
Q. When did you start to show an interests in matters social and political?
A. My mother died when I was 9 and my father when I was 14, so I moved to Cuba where I had a brother and I had my 15th birthday on board ship. Even then I was a rebel, albeit with little in the way of social or philosophical awareness. This rebelliousness of mine came from what I had heard from my father and from the way he conducted himself. My father was a peasant, one of the rabassaires from up around Valls in Alt Camp (Tarragona province). From 1918-1920 onwards he played a leading part in the rabassaires‘ campaign to increase their own and reduce the landlords’ share of their crops. This was a campaign that had been going on for a long time and this time the rabassaires succeeded. Under the Republic they increased their share to four fifths. I also felt that I was something of a Catalanist in my sympathies due to the influence of my teacher. Over the headboard of my bed I had the portraits of Maciá, Lenin, Trotsky and the Noi del Sucre (Salvador Segui). I dumped those when I became an anarchist. In short I inherited my rebelliousness from my father and did not acquire it from philosophy.
Q. So, when did you return to Catalonia?
A. I came back late in 1933 at the age of 23, first of all to the countryside and then moved to Barcelona late in 1934. There I started to write a few short articles for Soli, the editor-in-chief of which was (Manuel) Villar, an Argentinean. First of all I write under the general heading of ‘Ramblings’ and later ‘Brush-strokes’ and I used the nom de plume of ‘Mirlo‘.
Q. So it was about then that you became secretary in the Libertarian Youth?
A. First I joined the FAI, as a member of the Nervio group, the leading lights of which were (Diego Abad de) Santillán, (Pedro) Herrera, Germinal de Sousa and Villar. After three of four months I joined the local Libertarian Youth. At 24 I was one of the oldest, most experienced, best-grounded members. So, after two or three months, at a Regional Plenum they elected me their secretary. I was secretary of the Catalan Regional Committee from 1934 up until the ‘May Events’ of 1937. So I was a member both of the FAI and of the Libertarian Youth, though not of the CNT. This was because the CNT had no Shopworkers’ Union, so we all belonged to the CADCI. After the CNT set up its own Shopworkers’ Union I joined the CNT.
Q. Why did you give up the secretaryship of the Libertarian Youth in May 1937?
A. I did not so much give it up. What happened was that the representatives attending the Libertarian Youth plenums were all from what was described as the reformist tendency - except for the delegates from Lérida (because (José) Peirats and (Felipe) Alaiz were publishing Acracia in Lérida and Peirats was at that time with the radical) and the ones from Hospitalet, where (José) Xena had his group. These two delegations were forever pestering everyone: about our not being equal to the challenge, about our not being revolutionary enough … We tendered our resignation two or three times but it was never accepted, until eventually we tendered it one last time, but, as it happened, the Plenum coincided with the ‘May Events’ and I was arrested on day one of them. Whereupon everybody resigned, but since I was not present at the Plenum my resignation was not accepted and they re-elected me. After my release from jail I went along to the secretariat one day, there to run into two sentries - Amador Franco and (Ramón) Liarte - who barred me from entering. When they asked me what I was doing there and I told them that I had come to offer my resignation, they told me that I had already been dismissed. In view of which I was about to summon a fresh plenum, but in the end I did not, in order to spare the remainder of the Organisation any problems. Shortly after that some delegates from Aragon and Valencia called to see me to ask me to go forward as secretary of the National Committee, but I declined. However, at the National Plenum that was held they elected me as secretary, even though Aragon and Valencia cast their votes for (Serafín) Aliaga. Catalonia did not vote for me either, so I reckon that the majority cast in my favour came from Madrid, Andalusia, Asturias and the Basque Country. Anyway, that is how I came to be elected national secretary of the Libertarian Youth organisation towards the end of 1937. In spite of my reluctance, I finally accepted the post, because the CNT general secretary, Marianet, and his chief advisor, Herrera (who had replaced Horacio Martínez Prieto) insisted that I should, telling me in a letter that if I declined it, the secretaryship would go to Aliaga, whom they did not regard as the man for the job. I can only suppose that they must have got wind of something, because in fact Aliaga wound up working for the Communists before the end of the civil war. A year later I resigned as secretary and was replaced by Lorenzo Iñigo and two months later I returned to Barcelona where I was the Local Libertarian Youth Federation delegate and worked as an editor on Soli under Josep Viadiu as editor-in-chief. I was on the Libertarian Movement Executive Committee as the representive of the Libertarian Youth.
Q. What exactly was that Executive Committee?
A. The Executive Committee was set up in mid-1938 and arose out of an idea of (Juan) García Oliver’s that the libertarian movement ought to be able to deliver an immediate response to matters as they arose and make decisions without having to consult the rank and file - which was a breach of our federalism. The committee was made up of five delegates from the CNT, three from the FAI and two from the Libertarian Youth. At García Oliver’s suggestion I was appointed as the Committee’s secretary. However, even though he had put my name forward, we had our differences and I resigned the post after three months.
Q. What part did you play in the fighting against the army in Barcelona in July 1936?
A. I was in the battle for Barcelona which was a very short-lived one. On the night of 18 July, when the militants were at their union locals, a message came through from García Oliver telling us that he had had talks with (Lluis) Companys and that Companys had promised him that we would be issued with arms and that we should proceed to the Generalitat building in the Plaza de Sant Jaume. The square was immediately flooded with people and we were told to proceed to the Assault Guard barracks in Barceloneta where the arms would be handed over. There, once the captain had spoken with Companys, they began to issue us with weapons. About twenty to twenty five rifles had been issued when the word arrived that artillery troops were approaching down the Avenida Icaria, whereupon the issuing of the guns stopped and we took to the streets. Using some bales of cotton being unloaded from a ship, we erected a barricade on the corner near the Columbus memorial and the ones with rifles, plus the odd Assault Guard took cover behind it. The artillery troops appeared on the Paralelo but all they did was pop their heads round and, when they quickly came under fire, the battle was over. The soldiers threw away their guns, saying that they had had it with military service. A few joined us and the rest made their way home. Later I went over to the Atarazanas barracks until it fell too.
Q. What did you do once the army had been beaten?
A. Once the fighting was over there was an assembly at which García Oliver set out his proposals for going for broke. This was opposed by Federica Montseny and Diego Abad de Santillán. Federica said that it was tantamount to our imposing our dictatorship, which would be the utter negation of our whole philosophy. Santillán argued that going for broke meant setting up a CNT government in Catalonia, but what about the rest of Spain? And the rest of the world? We would be left isolated. The only person to vote in favour of García Oliver’s proposal was himself, as spokesman for the Nosotros group, plus the people from Hospitalet. Later the Antifascist Militias Committee was set up as the government of Catalonia and they elected me on to the committee as part of its comarcas (counties) department. In that capacity I travelled around the villages replacing the municipal governments with Revolutionary Councils or Committees. Not that there was anything difficult about that. Acting in that capacity I was informed that Cardinal Vidal i Barraquer (a man respected by the people and one of the few bishops and cardinals not to have endorsed the document supporting Franco’s mutiny) had gone to ground in Poblet and that the occupants of a carful of uncontrollables, led by the Cano brothers, had arrested him and where holding him in Montblanc. We went there and forced them to set him free.
Q. What would you regard as the most significant and positive aspect of the period that began on 19 July 1936?
A. As I see it, the most important and positive achievement was the collectivisations. Immediately after 19 July forms and services were taken under collective management and everything was set in motion again and worked well under the workers’ supervision: the rams, the gas and power companies… The revolution achieved much in very little time. The finest achievement was the collectivisations of industries and agriculture, especially the industries in the case of Catalonia: the wood industry, textile industry, metalworking industry. Anything of any significance was collectivised and so were service industries. As I see it the collectivisation was the crucial and most enduring achievement (this goes for the agricultural collectives too, like the ones in my village) and although there may not have been many of them, what there were endured and brought out the best in the people. Better administration, better farm machinery and improved harvests.
Q. And what was the worst?
A. The worst thing was the bureaucracy that grew up, unprompted. There were comrades of no great ability who were entrusted with a post and clung on to it like grim death and if anything got done it was down to the secretariats. I myself, when I was appointed national general secretary for Child Evacuees by the Ministry of Education lapsed unconsciously into bureaucratic practices. Ultimately, the worst thing was this bureaucracy that we were unable to shrug off.
Q. What would you say were the main reasons why the war was lost?
A. The war was unwinnable because the ‘democratic’ nations were a lot more scared of revolution than of the military, in that revolution might spread, whereas all the military required was recognition. We had nowhere to buy arms and nobody to help us out. Some might argue that the USSR helped us out, but in addition to paying top dollar for that aid, when equipment was forthcoming, it all went to forces under their control, to the Communists. Not a thing went to the Aragon front. We could not have won the war, not us, nor any other people and the odds are even greater were a similar situation to be repeated today. That’s what I believe. These days, unless there is a general crisis, something like a breakdown due to a very grave crisis - which could happen - and unless there is a social backlash against it (although there seems to be no sign of one at present), only then might revolution be possible.
Q. And afterwards, when the war ended, what did you do?
A. When the war finished I was working for the Education ministry. A week before Catalonia fell I fled to France on a diplomatic passport. Shortly after that, in France, the leadership - Marianet, Herrera, (Horacio Martínez) Prieto and a few others - set up the General Council of the Spanish Libertarian Movement in Exile - made up of five CNT members, four from the FAI and two from the Libertarian Youth, of whom I was one. None of the five or six meetings held at which I took the minutes ever drew the attendance of more than five or six people. Federica Montseny and her partner never attended. After a couple of months, the idea arose from there of contacting the International Red Cross to get it to lobby the French and British governments to send seven or eight ships to Spain to evacuate those Spaniards who would be killed or imprisoned for certain. They appointed Doctor Morata Cantón and me to make these overtures on our behalf and we travelled to Geneva for that purpose. The Red Cross ignored our requests and in the end only Britain sent one ship and that, instead of making for Alicante where they were waiting to embark, put in at another port, where they embarked about a hundred people. I remained in Switzerland (a country that did not welcome refugees) for three or four months until I was arrested and expelled because of forged papers. I crossed into France illegally and, having no papers, I went to ground there for a time.
Q. And from France you moved to Mexico?
A. No. From France I shipped out of Le Havre and went to Santo Domingo which was under the Trujillo dictatorship at the time. I was there for four years, working during the first two as a farmer on a sort of commune and the following two as a secondary school teacher. While in Santo Domingo I was expelled from the CNT for refusing the post of delegate in the farming commune. I turned it down because I was going through a period of reflection and clarification of my ideas and because there was nothing for a delegate to do. From there I moved on to Mexico.
Q. And it was in Mexico that you launched your publishing house?
A. Yes, ‘Mexicolee’ (Mexico Reads), aping the name that Santillán had given to the publishers he founded in Buenos Aires, ‘Americalee’. Ten years later I was able to launch a publishing house called ‘Editores Mejicanos Unidos’.
Q. And in Mexico you were a member of the CNT?
A. I ought to explain here that following the CNT plenum held in Paris at the end of the second world war in 1945, a plenum that was manipulated by Federica Monsteny and her crew, the Organisation split and it split in Mexico as well. They published Solidaridad Obrera and we had our own CNT under the editorship of (Progreso) Alfarache, plus a review Comunidad Ibérica, the main contributors to which were Santillán and Ramón J. Sender. Then there was Cano Ruiz and his group bringing out Tierra y Libertad. In 1961 there was a congress held in Limoges at which the two factions were reunited. In fact what there was organisational unity rather than unity of outlook and later on the CNT split again.
Q. And when did you return to Spain?
A. I returned to Spain when I was allowed to, in the 1960s. I made several trips and bumped into old acquaintances, including Manuel Salas’s group to which Armando López and Casasús also belonged. Prior to Franco’s death I gave the first lecture in the name of the CNT and did so as a result of a talk I had with Martín Villa and Socías Humbert, at their request and at which comrade Farré Vilamart was also present. At that meeting we talked about the world situation, about Franco … and Mart’n Villa said to me: you won’t be the ones to topple Franco. We will, we young Falangists. In that conversation I said that if I might I would like to give a talk: their answer was: Consider it done. You have permission. And so it was. The talk was organised for me by Heribert Barrera and Josep Pallach, the latter a one-time POUM member who went on to launch the PSC(R). I put a suggestion to them that seemed to tickle their fancy: that they launch an organisation called something like the Federation of Socialist and Republican Leftists. Later I returned numerous times to Spain, but here and in Mexico, the Organisation split again, being full of prejudices and sectarianism and thus is going nowhere.
From: Polémica. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.