How Libertarian Memory was Hijacked South of the Pyrenees. The Story of a Theft

Part One

Retrieving our people’s memories, targeted for burial by more than just fascism. Restoring anarchism’s rightful place in the history hijacked by the PCE

You stand accused by us of hijacking, misrepresenting, usurping and twisting history. And History finds you guilty

Hello again, readers. A while ago I wrote one of those articles I most enjoy. It was entitled “Theft of Memory” and looked at how the PCE had hijacked the role played by Spanish emigres in the French Resistance.  I attempted to restore a portion of the memory of the libertarians’ contribution, which was actually on a much greater scale than had always been suggested. 

Today, let me do likewise, but focusing on the southern side of the Pyrenees. I am sorry, but, like it or not, the guerrilla war against Franco was no fiefdom of the PCE nor was it orchestrated by it. Regrettably, if you read most of the books still in circulation these days regarding the anti-Franco guerrilla war that is the impression one comes away with regarding the people involved in it. And do not think for one moment that this is going to be an article directed at the PCE’s grassroots; far from it. I have the utmost respect for them, male and female, and most of them gave it their all and were exemplary. My criticism is directed at the Stalinist top echelons and their propaganda/dis-information resources, as well as the top bureaucrats of the CNT, for one thing for countenancing this and also for opting for inaction, destructive criticism and turning a blind eye and leaving the guerrilla war to bleed out in the hills and in the cities, as well as their not lifting a finger to counter this situation.

And just to round off this introduction, and grist to my mills, I discovered on the web that a brand-new book on the guerrilla phenomenon has been released: it is a “joint” study by 15 writers and runs to more than 800 pages and its title is Maquis, la Resistencia armada: Historia de la guerrilla antifranquista 1939-1952. At first glance this is very welcome, but … there is always that damned ‘but’. The first ‘but’ I have come across is that they launched it in the Congress of Deputies (…) which many people in Spain find completely alien and discredited. In my modest opinion, if the intention is to pay tribute to all those who fought against the dictatorship, this would better have been staged in some bookshop, ateneo, cultural centre or even some factory canteen or farming cooperative than from a location from which common folk are usually robbed and repressed. The second ‘but’ is a perfect fit for today’s article: they invited along Enrique Santiago, PCE bigwig, and Unai Sordo, Workers’ Commissions bigwig – plainly as a joint and pluralist representation of the guerrilla movement. Enough said.

We all know that prior to 1936, the PCE had a very tiny foothold within Spain. That it was thanks to the aid and influence coming from the USSR during the civil war that it grew exponentially. But the notion that the huge masses affiliated to or within the orbit of the CNT-FAI pretty much evaporated and forgot what they believed in between 1936 and 1950 can be described as nonsense or partisan dis-information. What we can do is draw up a table. In the case of every communist guerrilla we can be clear as to his/her ideology, whereas, knowingly or otherwise we are clueless as to the ideology of the others. Not knowing, say, that he/she may have an interesting life story to tell, with nothing to alter his/her affiliations. There is a complete doctoral thesis centred on the figure and band of El Yatero containing all sorts of hints that he was a socialist. Which is a bum steer since, once Francisco Medina García aka El Yatero crossed over into France, he resumed his membership of the CNT

And while we are on the subject of El Yatero, the best-known bands in Granada were generally pluralist in ideological terms, but as it happens most were libertarian bands or bands led by libertarians: I am thinking of Los Clares, the Ollafría band, Los Queros, and El Yatero’s own band, among others. The official history ignores this, yet any band led by a communist is automatically assumed to have been communist to a man and obedient to the Agrupaciones

If we look at the geography of the anti-Franco guerrilla war, a variety of approaches can be taken. One approach is to talk only about the guerrilla Agrupaciones, as communist historiography does; for instance: “Against hell and high water, the PCE continued banking on the guerrilla warfare strategy. Groups operating in the country were fostered and organized into Agrupaciones and their activities stepped up, especially in 1945 and 1946, through an influx of new fighters who had earned their spurs in the French maquis.” Now, from the platform of Ni cautivos ni desarmados, let me suggest another equally partisan approach (albeit one traceable back in some places to 1936, nearly 10 years before) since I am offering you only our libertarian version of things. Mix the two together and you get somewhat closer to the reality even then you are going to have to probe deeper and look at the socialists, the pro-independence factions and so on. 

Let us begin with Upper Aragon and the bands of Ródenas Valero or of Burillo/Carrueco, organized as part of the GAA which some identify as the Anarchist Action Groups and others as the Aragonese Action Groups), flying columns that came down from France; in Navarra, we find Comandante Lago’s group operating out of Urepel; In Cantabria there were the groups of Pin el cariñoso and the group of El practicante de los Carabeos; in Asturias, the groups of Santeiro and César Terrón (albeit that these two groups might as easily be associated with León as they operated on both sides of the Cantabrian mountains, or the Los Facciosos group; in Galicia there was the Agrupación Neira, or the bands identified with Cruxas, Foucellas or the Rodríguez González groups; in León, there were the Las Arias, Sabero or Tejerina groups; in Extremadura, there was the group headed by El chato de Malcocinado or by El cojo de la Porrada; in Castile-La Mancha, there was Teniente Veneno’s group or Lazarete’s group; in Levante and Lower Aragon, there were the groups of Francisco Gomar, El Cinctorra, Petrol or Pedro Mezquita’s group; and in Catalonia,  to name but a few of the less well known groups, there were Els Patacons, Ramón Claret’s group, Los Anónimos, the Blas Zamudio groups, the Arróniz groups or Juan Catalan’s group. And that, note, is but a quick run-down. 

I skipped Madrid, it being the hole in the donut. Madrid, the heartland of the communist urban guerrilla campaign. No offence to Vitini, Cristino and other groups within the communist orbit, who unfortunately perished in the ‘city of freedom’ that Ayuso spoke of let me offer you a sampler. Sticking to a quick overview and lest we drone on too long, let us begin in 1940 with the attempt organized by Celedonio Pérez to assassinate Franco on the Extremadura road. In 1941 Agustín Bermejo’s group was picked up for carrying out hold-ups. In 1942, the remnants of Antonio Raya’s group mounted several hold-ups and engaged in several gun-battles in the city. In 1946, a batch of anarchists from the Alcudia valley arrived in the city and a spate of expropriations and shoot-outs followed, with police personnel and guerrillas killed. In 1947 Andalusian CNT personnel tried again to eliminate the dictator using Cipriano Damiano’s infrastructure and forgeries. Also in 1947, three members of Teniente Veneno’s libertarian band carried out hold-ups and one murder before they were arrested. In 1949 the latest arrivals in Madrid were the Los Maños group, carrying out hold-ups and planning assassinations. That same year El Cubano and another comrade showed up in the city collecting intelligence for yet another attempted assassination and carrying out a hold-up. Shortly after them came Teófilo Álvarez Hernándo’s group, who managed to pull off two armed robberies and a raid that was frustrated. Add to all of this the relentless activities of Laureano Cerrada’s groups, passing counterfeit money and engaging in other clandestine activities. Not bad and deserving of a re-examination of the heartland of the communist guerrilla campaign. Since I have plans to write another piece on Madrid shortly, I shall leave it at that.
And our tour of the country brings us at last to Andalusia. And, sticking by our practice of talking about libertarian bands rather than guerrilla Agrupaciones, here goes: El Madrileño’s band, El Raya’s band, the Salsipuedes band, Los Jubiles, El Carbonero, Bernabé’s band, the Los Alacranes band, the Los Pataletes, El Cuco’s band, Chico Pérez’s band, El Niño de la Inés band, Los Merenos de Cortes, Casero’s band, the El Mandamas band, Cristóbal García’s band, the Ojén group, Antonio Machuca’s group, El Dios de Istán, Eugenio del Real’s band, Vicente del Puerto’s band, Santana’s band, Cipriano Damiano’s group, El Checa’s band, El Parreño’s band, the Collares and Archidona bands … and I am not listing groups that were libertarian-led, but the bands mostly made up of libertarians. And all the talk about the Agrupaciones makes us light in the head.

Moving on. Another canard that has been fed to us in generous helpings is the claim that the years 1936 to 1944 were the years of the “runaways”. After which, once the ‘little father’ Joseph Stalin, decided that the time had come to start dispatching Spanish maquis cadres down from France in order to educate the “ragamuffins” fighting in the hills inside Spain, the age of the “guerrillas” began. Sorry? So, prior to then, there was no fighting and opponents of the regime were not being tortured, nor were they dying in armed clashes …? Apparently, it was only when those communist cadres started to arrive that folk “in hiding” in the hills and cities stated to get frightened and made up their minds to organize and act … Again, no comment.

As it happens, I have come upon a thesis dealing with the anti-guerrilla struggle in Spain, which has this to say on the subject: “Both organizations (the PCE and the Civil Guard) reinforced the idea that the guerrilla war began in 1944 and not before then. [The PCE] was out to portray itself as its chief organizer, and [the Civil Guard] to highlight its successful part in the irregular war.

And, speaking of theses, here I have another one that states, word for word: “Another factor in the weakening of the anarchists was the mass defection of militants into the communist orbit”, and it cites the example of the 5,000 guerrillas from the Unión Nacional’s CNT Agrupación (ACUN). Instead of arguing that there was a very significant number of libertarians within the ranks of the communist guerrilla war, it holds that they simply switched ideology and went over to the communists. Naturally, some of them did go on to become communists, whereas others would retain dual membership, but the merest glance at the history of most of them shows that – despite their serious issues with the Spanish Libertarian Movement [MLE] in France – they neither swapped nor reneged upon their ideology. 

But back to the theft/manipulation. Whereas most of the reports on groups within the orbit of the PCE are assumed by historians or just people interested in the topic to be wholly trustworthy, libertarian historians like Eduardo Pons Prades, of whom it is said that his research is all good and well, being one of the first, is dismissed because of his very partisan approach. This is no joke: the mere fact that you are in the wrong camp makes you wrong. Or the fact that he wrote a book about UFOs. He wrote one book about UFOs and a further 19 books on the civil war, the anti-Franco guerrilla war or the resistance in France. 19 books. Yeah, but he wrote a book about UFOs! Do not fail to see the wood for the trees. Anyone with doubts about Eduardo should be urged to drop by the National Archive of Catalonia and run an eye over the Pons Prades holdings. Few people have had as many direct connections or so much primary material.  

Another example would be the French website a rich source of varied information about the guerrillas, a subject that is not treated with the same seriousness as it deserves, especially by quarters other than anarchists. A lot of the information it holds will not be corroborated by the PCE’s historical records and, sometimes, not by the archives of the Civil Guard either and so is not taken seriously. The architects of the site were Antonio Téllez, that other great historian of the Spanish anarchist guerrillas and the French historian Rolf Dupuy. So when some writers acknowledge that initially they placed no great credence in what was on this libertarian website only to express their thanks later, having located further testimony and corroboration – the way the authors of the book Maquis y Resistencia en la sierra de Alcaraz y el campo de Montiel, Aurelio Pretel and Manuel Fernández have done – they have restored the guerrilla Francisco Gomar Torró and his associates to their proper place after their efforts had gone utterly unrecognized, except by the Los de la Sierra website.

For some time now there have been maps available showing the theatres of operations of anti-Franco guerrillas and I have always marvelled at how Catalonia is not even featured in any of them. We are ourselves finishing off a listing of the Catalan libertarian maquis and have catalogued more than 500 names – and not the names of contacts but of fighters operating mostly in Barcelona and its environs but covering all four of Catalonia’s provinces. It looks as if one’s maquis detector cannot geo-locate one unless one holds a party card. 

Not to put too fine a point on it, this angers me and I lose my temper. For one thing there is the claim that the communist cadres started to arrive in Spain in dribs and drabs in late 1944, and more frequently from 1945 onwards, that 1946 and 1947 were their heyday and that in 1947 the moustachioed gent who ruled the roost in Moscow decided that the time was right for those guerrillas to tun themselves into trade unionists, step inside the system’s structures and set aside the armed struggle. Maybe some party expert would care to explain how this could be done at a time when the Civil Guard and the Falange were perfectly well aware of the names and faces of virtually every resistance activist. So, if the PCE is to be believed, we had four years of guerrilla activity against Francoism, 1944 to 1948, ranging from the cross-Pyrenean invasions to the meeting of Carrillo and La Pasionaria with Stalin.  Given that Stalin had a low tolerance for those who opposed him and was a big fan of purges, Santi[ago Carrillo] and Lola [La Pasionaria] chose not to mention anything to him about the entry of their guerrillas into the vertical syndicates’ not being feasible and they opted instead to leave the latter to their fate.

Moving on. When “the guerrillas” (none of them female) started to arrive, it just so happens that up in the hills and cities around the country, there were heaps of rebels, “male and female runaways” waiting to host them. They may have been few but there were women in the hills and in the cities, fighting alongside then menfolk. And the blame for that lies not just with the PCE but also with the CNT which displayed just as much machismo and backwardness.

What the new arrivals intended to do was, on the one hand, coordinate and train these groups, which was all well and good, as well as bringing in a modicum of good weaponry, in addition to which these groups needed to be linked together and placed under the orders of the party, but this was not said out loud since it was happening on a small scale. The point is that a lot of the groups operating in the sierras were not communist; many of them were umbrella groups and included all persuasions, making what had seemed so straightforward and self-evident on paper anything but. In fact, the years when the Agrupaciones were in operation were the years with the highest numbers of murders and internal executions within the guerrilla ranks, but more of this in a later article.

El Salto, 28 December 2023

Part Two

Hello readers. Here we are again, as we were at the end of last month, ready to press on with the topic that we left half dealt with in our first article. As I mentioned, I was holding over the matter of the Guerrilla Agrupaciones, dealing with it from the vantage point of the PCE’s theft and hijacking of the libertarian strand within the topic of guerrilla activity. It was not my plan to split this article into two parts but once I saw how the text was growing, I chose to pay heed to one of the things my father used to joke about: “That hen is getting too much corn.” So here we go with Part Two.

Let me say too that I was startled to find that Part One was by far one of my most widely read articles and I was even approached to give a talk on the subject. And there was something else that I was to do before getting back to business; I need to apologize to my dear friend Juanbe from La Gavilla Verde, as I included a photo of him in the preceding article without even realizing it. Both he and La Gavilla Verde have done and are doing great work on the guerrillas.

So now down to brass tacks.

For openers, we are going to recalibrate somewhat the overall image of the matter presented to us. As I have stated before everything can be viewed from a different angle and I am merely speaking from my own vantage point. The official histories offer us the image of Guerrilla Agrupaciones led and trained by communists throughout the land. But if we focus we begin to spot things that do not fit. The Fermín Galán Agrupacion which operated between Cadiz and Malaga turns out to have been commanded by Bernabe Lopez, an anarchist, and the bulk of its guerrillas chose him to command it. The Almería Guerrilla Agrupacion was under the command of Juan Nieto Martínez aka el Cuco, a CNT member, because the libertarian bands in that province were in the majority. That these were smaller agrupaciones I know, but why has less noise been made about them? Plainly, they were denied publicity or were mentioned only in passing.

The Guerrilla Agrupacion of Galicia surfaced following problems stirred up by the communists themselves inside the León-Galicia Guerrilla Federation which had been operating in an exemplary fashion for years. Let me explain. For one thing, it needs saying that the PCE, when it came to launching and setting up its own units modelled itself on the León-Galicia Guerrilla Federation [FGLG]. This FGLG worked perfectly as an umbrella group for more than four years up until the PCE’s guerrillas, on instructions from the party, decided to break away and launch a federation of their own. But how come, following the ‘Little Father’ Joseph Stalin’s men took that group as their model?  

The FGLG was set up on 24 April 1942, (which is to say before the creation of the guerrilla brigades launched by the PCE in France) after a gathering of 24 guerrillas from various bands and ideological persuasions in the hills of Ferradillo near Ponferrada. What were their intentions? To equip the guerrilla struggle with a new leadership and galvanize it politically and militarily, setting up a pluralist organization, look to the civilian population for support and trying to explain to it the motivation behind their struggle. They were the first to go on to the attack by publishing a newspaper called El Guerrillero, the first to boast a guerrilla court of justice to sit in judgment of its own mistakes, to run a field hospital and it was the guerrilla unit with the highest female membership (something that the PCE did not copy) or operating in a range of provinces and regions. It all worked pretty well up until the PCE ordered its guerrillas to withdraw from it and set up their own unit. July 1946 would witness the holding of the last [the 6th] congress – dubbed the “reunification” congress – in the hills of Casayo, which was interrupted due to the arrival of the Civil Guard, which happened to claim the lives of the two communists with the greatest interest in preventing the PCE members from breaking away from the Federation. Later, on 18 August, the breakaways were led by Rocesvinto and Guillermo Morán; they quit the Federation, setting in motion the decline that would prompt several groups to cross into France and others to join the communist-controlled Guerrilla Army of Galicia-León while others reverted to operating on an autonomous basis. 

And there is something else showing that the Stalinist copy was not at all the same. There was the matter of rapes carried out by guerrillas but these, fortunately, were few. 

An anarchist guerrilla – O Porco – attached to the Federation – raped a peasant woman. The Federation tried him and executed him. There was a number of rapes carried out in Ciudad Real and Badajoz. The communist commanders chalked these up to anarchists from the 2nd Agrupación, even though they knew that the perpetrators had been el Manco de Agudo and Chaquetalarga, both of the communist persuasion. The later were not court martialled and suffered no punishment and most of the blame was pinned on the libertarians. A great contribution to guerrilla history.

The guerrilla agrupaciones of Catalonia, Euskadi and Madrid were ephemeral in terms both of duration and membership, but you will find them on guerrilla maps as well as in many texts … and then you can look for the Almería federation mentioned earlier; it was bigger than the three agrupaciones mentioned. Oddly enough, in non-libertarian publications on Catalan soil, Sabaté’s debut in the summer of 1945 is taken as the date of the launch of anarchist guerrilla activity. This may be down to ignorance or carelessness, but in 1939 alone there were already several groups operating in and around Barcelona, groups such as Juan Pallarés’s group, or the Union of Young Antifascists (UJA), the libertarian group that attempted to raid the El Prat airport, or the Gómez Talón brothers’ group, the group of the Gómez Izqueirdo brothers and a few other lesser-known groups.

Let us turn now to eastern Andalusia where one of the PCE’s star agrupaciones – the Malaga-Granada Guerrilla Agrupación operated. According to Jorge Marco’s study – and no one can accuse him of being a ferocious pro-libertarian – during the years 1944-47, 21 of the 43 guerrilla groups he looked into refused to join the agrupación, 13 agreed to, but with reluctance or under threats and a mere 9 groups openly agreed to join. 

That agrupación was among the last to be set up and to disband and yet there are texts stating that there were no libertarians in its ranks, when there were quite a number of them. The autonomous bands were petering out, due either to the repression or after some of their members managed to leave the country, so some of those left behind in the area finished up being absorbed into the agrupaciones. This agrupación earned itself a reputation for sectarian politicking and carried out several executions and had the policy of banishing groups far from their native areas or splitting up persons connected by neighbourhood affinities or former guerrilla affiliations. 

The same was not the case with the 3rd Guerrilla Agrupación in Córdoba province and taking in the Sierra Morena. There even though the commander was a communist the varying outlooks of its members were respected and they got along well together.

The issue in Asturias was different. Most of the people up in the sierras were socialists and the communist minority tried and ultimately succeeded in having their own approach prevail. All on a very pluralistic basis, they rubbed along together.

Which brings us to the ‘star’ unit, the Levante-Aragon Guerrilla Agrupación [AGLA], the jewel in the crown – sorry – of the party and which, as it happens, had lots of libertarians in its ranks. Naturally, only those who complied with Moscow’s orders achieve any ranks of note, so from 1947 onwards, the atmosphere inside the agrupación started to become unbearable, leading to executions as well as to mass desertions of socialist and anarchist militants. Anyone wishing to know more is referred to

I imagine that not many will be aware that the embryo of what was to become the AGLA was a seed planted by a militant expelled from the PCE by his own leaders. He was Demetrio Rodríguez Cepero aka Centenera. After his expulsion he carried on operating as an autonomous force with his own group and even produced a newspaper entitled El Palleter. Following serious discussions with the party, he agreed to lead “the guerrilla group”. That would have been sometime around November 1944 and his task was quite simply to finance the band by carrying our robberies. After the proceeds from one such robbery was not handed over to the leadership, the guerrillas were accused once again of treachery and disloyalty to the cause. Given this backdrop, when it came to trying to bring the autonomous and pluralistic guerrillas bands with their neighbourly and local connections around the country together and to getting them to embrace the narrow outlook of the PCE back then, inevitably, sparks flew and they were treated to more negative responses and abuse than kind words.

Whereupon the party reacted as it usually did by eradicating the voices of dissent.  As ever, the problem was the way that the PCE normally set up unifying structures to bring all persuasions together, but at all times placing them under the orders of the party and, as a rule, they were not working. Take for instance the UNE which is plentifully cited in every communist text and in the writings coming from the formal academic world; it was obliged to disband because it represented only the PCE and a tiny sparkling of the other parties and trade unions. Which brings us to the guerrilla agrupaciones. It was a case of UHP (Unite, Proletarian Brothers!) for all of the armed personnel up in the hills, but the orders came from the party and the proceeds of their raids were funnelled into the party and we know that prior to this they had operated along different lines, but from that point on, a new approach was going to be imposed. Anyone not prepared to kowtow to this could leave. Meanwhile, the hush-hush order issued to one of the loyalists to this policy was that anyone who quit should be shot. They did not even need to quit. If they refused to play ball, they would be shot. Just ask Petrol about that. Or Federico Bada, who tried to join the CNT personnel in AGLA and do the same as the communists did in León-Galicia, to wit, peeling off to launch an Agrupación of his own. The upshot was that lead flew. This was the very same lead directed at many anarchists from the AGLA once they witnessed how the party was using them as cannon fodder and tried to quit. The very same lead as was directed at lots of AGLA communists who took issue with the direction in which things were going inside the Agrupación.  

And allow us to finish with the 2nd Agrupación which operated in Ciudad Real, northern Jaén and part of Badajoz. Issues cropped up there early on as it included many guerrillas of the socialist and anarchist persuasions. Of course, when they were informed that the proceeds of their armed robberies were to be turned over to the UNE and the PCE, they response was “No way”! Even after several UNE bigwigs and party leaders showed up at the Almadenejos congress, not only did agreement prove elusive, but a majority initially decided to jettison the UNE (communist) policy and embraced that of the ANFD (representing the rest of the left-wing parties and trade unions, plus the odd right-wing faction); they washed their hands of Fermín (one of the leaders of the guerrilla army of the Centre) and stood down Julio, the commander of the Agrupación, replacing them with the libertarians Lavija and, later, Veneno. Which explains why not much is heard about this Agrupación either, the upshot being, very often, that efforts have been made to discredit the non-communist camp. 

This brings us to the summer of 1946 when – again according to the PCE version of things – the socialists and anarchists cut and ran and abandoned their posts. They link this to some issue involving womanizing, pretty typical of the party’s idiosyncratic ways of discrediting people. So now, if you will, lend an ear to the other side of the story. Due to the escalating repression, several groups started to look around for other ways of staying alive and, initially, they relocated to Madrid. But they were not abandoning the struggle; they were just quitting the Agrupación (and the party’s discipline there) and the location where they had been fighting up to that point. Madrid witnessed a flurry of armed robberies, shootings and deaths (of both guerrillas such as Lavija, and of police personnel). Some of them, meanwhile, had moved up to Barcelona to see if they might join the Catalan groups, as Julio Rodríguez aka el Cubano, Fernando Maraña aka el Joven, Clavel or Julián Núñez Gil finished up doing. Most of them were to perish in prison or on the streets of Barcelona, which adds up to a strange way of running away and abandoning the struggle, right? Depending on who is telling the story, things can be presented in a variety of lights, so we would do well to familiarize ourselves with the different versions of events so that we can settle on one of our own. 

El Salto 25 January 2024