The first time I met Miguel was in June, 1975, in the Centro Ibérico which was then situated in Haverstock Hill, Camden Town. Miguel had made a paella and told me that we Germans always took everything seriously. I agreed, because I suddenly realised that he was right: we do take everything seriously.
So my first memory of Miguel is that I just had to agree with him because he was right. I had the same impression again and again over the six years I knew him. There were others in the Centro who had been fighting in the Spanish Civil War and the Resistance and who had been suffering in prison, like Miguel. Although I was full of admiration for what he had suffered and what I had read in his book, I felt attracted to him not because of his past, but because of his presence, the full force of reality that was in him and with which he was talking to me.
It was impossible to be absent-minded in his presence; he actually wouldn’t allow it. He wanted to be understood. So I used to go to the Centro to have a paella or a fried rice he had prepared (‘prison food’, as he used to call it) and to listen to him. In this short article I just want to render some of the remarks he made in order to give a picture of Miguel as he appeared to me and to pass on some of his principles.
One day he told me that he couldn’t see anybody suffer. He said a man couldn’t pass by another man, lying helpless on the road, without having a guilty conscience. Man needed to help his fellowmen – here Miguel hesitated, thinking of the right word, and then said with a smile, in English: ‘…for the soul.’
Sometimes I argued with him, trying to prove that his political ideas wouldn’t work. He said that I was taking things too seriously. Life shouldn’t be taken seriously, but rather like a theatre play, a comedy; when I’d be old, I’d understand what he wanted to say by that. In his opinion, in every ideology there was something that was right, otherwise it couldn’t work. The important thing was that a man is sincere and believes in his cause instead of seeking only to gain his own advantage.
He asked me whether I was ready to make sacrifices; without being prepared to make sacrifices, we wouldn’t achieve anything. He was disappointed about men because he had realised that the majority were just trying to save their own skins. Regarding his own life, he said he felt satisfaction to have always acted according to his principles. He told me that nobody could live without an ‘ilusión’, which is not ‘illusion’ in the English sense, but a ‘hopeful anticipation’, a dream that may become true.
One day I realised what his life had been like. He wanted to move a printing machine from the Centro to his home. The machine was as heavy as a rock, so I was wondering how on earth it would be possible to lug it up the narrow steep staircase without a pulley. I thought I’d have to help; I didn’t really feel enthusiastic about it. To my relief Miguel told me to go because they were enough to do the job. The four or five chaps around him were looking depressed because of the enormous task awaiting them. But Miguel was full of will-power, strength and decision, and I knew he would have it move. When I saw him again a couple of days later, he had a dangerous looking lacerated wound on his right hand, caused by pulling up the machine. I thought it must have caused him awful pain, but Miguel told me that he had suffered so much in his life that this was a matter of no importance.
In 1976 I lived in Edinburgh where Miguel came together with his friend and comrade Albert Meltzer to give a speech at the university. He was talking about his life and about anarchism, both being in fact one and the same thing on which, as he said, he had to speak and to write, ‘because I need it.’ I realised what a good speaker he was, capturing his audience by speaking from his heart. to their hearts, not about abstract theories, but about concepts derived from his own life and sufferings. Therefore his concepts were true; I believe the people were getting the feeling that this man Miguel Garcia was himself true. In this way he told or rather, he taught his audience: ‘Be free yourselves before pretending to fight for the freedom of others’, and secondly: ‘Don’t give the power to nobody’. These are the two points he mentioned in his speech as being the most important.
He told me that he didn’t like the word ‘enemy’. The only enemy he accepted was the majority: If the majority outvoted him, he had to put up with it. If their decision was wrong, all would have to suffer the consequences of it and revise the decision. The important thing was that they would have to suffer the consequences of their action themselves. A ruling minority like the communists, Miguel said, wouldn’t themselves suffer the consequences of the mistakes they made. They’d perhaps correct their mistakes, but they’d not admit to having been mistaken in order not to lose their authority.
Later in 1976 I stayed three weeks at his home in Finsbury Park, a simple basement flat he said he didn’t want to exchange for a palace because it suited him so well. He was a bit ill, so at one time I suggested to him to stay in bed one more day in order to recover completely. He refused and said in his usual vehement way that he knew best himself what was good for him. I argued that he didn’t seem to have known this when on a previous occasion he went to a meeting in Cambridge in spite of being very ill. He admitted that then he had felt so bad that he believed that was the end. However, he had wanted to go to Cambridge because it was an important meeting; his reason was that one must give one’s life for the sake of life, ‘dar la vida por la vida.’ There I heard him say this for the first time; he said it some more times later on when he was fighting for ‘La Fragua’ in Barcelona and I told him to mind his health.
Miguel’s insistent way of talking to people and the effect this caused on his interlocutor has best been described by Hans-Dieter Hambrecht who lived with him for half a year in 1978 and who wrote to me: ‘As you know, Miguel sometimes starts speaking with you, talking to you. I went out with him today, and again it was excellent, these two hours of brainwashing have once again convinced me of him completely. I’m back on the right track, I know again what’s good and what’s bad… But the crucial point isn’t to what extent Miguel is right in an “objective” way; it’s rather his way of explaining things with a persuasive power that just doesn’t admit contradiction. I’d like to go further, it’s a sort of bodily well-being that befalls me when I’m drawn in this way to assenting to him. Everything appears to be agreeable, clear and right.’
When I saw Miguel for the last time in September, 1981, in Barcelona, we agreed that he would come and visit me in Hamburg the next year. Three months later he was dead. Although I knew that he was 73 years old, that he didn’t mind his health and that his principle was ‘dar la vida por la vida’, it had never occurred to me that he could die. He was so much alive. When I heard the news of his death, I felt the same as Albert who told me on the phone: ‘I couldn’t believe it.’
This man Miguel was free. He was true. He was a fighter. He was kind-hearted. He was my best friend. He was alive. His life was full of sufferings that now have come to an end. He has died as everybody must die, but he himself gave his death its meaning: he gave his life for the sake of life. That’s how he led his life up to the end; that was his ‘ilusión’. He was right.
So in a way I still can’t believe that he’s dead. I believe that there’s something of Miguel, of his truth, that lives wherever people are suffering, wherever men are helping their fellowmen, wherever they want to be free. Miguel, my friend, I’ll be alive to you forever. This extraordinary great man Miguel Garcia will never be forgotten.
Gerfried Horst, Hamburg, W. Germany
From Miguel Garcia’s Story edited by Albert Meltzer (1982) p63-66
Miguel’s involvement with Centro Iberico brought him into contact with the anarcho-punk world. He’s mentioned several times on the website devoted to the zine Kill Your Pet Puppy.
‘Miguel used to love hanging about the punk gigs when we moved downstairs. He used to love watching it all set up and the soundchecks, but when it got busy he’d vanish.’ [Tony Puppy ]
‘I remember [Tony] saying he had a conversation at the Centro Iberico with Miguel about Spain in 1936 and asking why the Spanish anarchists were successful then – and the reply being
“Everyone was an anarchist”’ [alistairliv]
From: Miguel Garcia’s Story edited by Albert Meltzer (1982) p63-66.