César Broto Villegas died on 15 March 2009 at the age of 84.
If there was anything about his personality and activism that stood out it was his refusal to be bullied. The very best proof of an anarchist personality. The passage of time has not been kind to the generation of militants who lived through the Republic and were eye-witnesses to a revolution and one by one we are losing them. But there is much about them that we must never lose sight of. For one thing the uncompromising activism. And for another the exemplary way in which they conducted themselves under Francoism’s militaristic yoke and before enemy gunmen from the Falange. And this at a time when the whole of Spain was one huge prison. It was in such dire times that extraordinary personalities like César Broto Villegas came into their own.
César Broto Villegas was born in Zaragoza on 3 November 1914 at a time when Europe was convulsed by war. Shortly thereafter he moved with the family to Lérida and his class consciousness did not grow out of nothing. His father was a socialist activist and César was barely 11 years old when he joined the Print Workers’ Society which was close to the CNT. During the Second Republic he became general secretary of the Lérida CNT and founded the review Acracia. At the same time he encouraged the establishment of the city’s Ateneo Libertario and was also a member of a FAI group. From 1936 on he was provincial CNT secretary and active in the confederal defence groups.
With the outbreak of civil war he went to France with José Peirats in the hope of procuring weapons. But Broto was uncomfortable in the rearguard and he set off for the front with the Durruti Column (later the 26th Division) with which he served as a dispatch rider practically up until the end of the war. He escaped death at the hands of the fascists and of the communists.
Come the end of the war he initially avoided capture by the fascists. But then he was picked up in Lérida, tried and given a 15 year prison term. In prison he learnt electronics and other trades. On leaving prison in 1943 he moved to Barcelona and entered the underground struggle of the CNT. At the CNT national plenum held in Carabaña in 1945 he was elected general secretary of the CNT of the Interior. In October 1945 he was arrested and jailed, only to find there were no less than ten CNT national committees behind bars. After that he served time in a variety of prisons (Alcalá de Henares, Ocaña, El Dueso, Yeserías, etc.)
He was freed from prison in 1962 only to be rearrested in 1968 after which Broto decided to go into exile. He did his bit for the libertarian anti-Franco resistance from exile and returned to Spain in 1980.
Although he remained aloof from active commitment he was at all times a champion of anarchist beliefs. Together with Miguel Ángel Berges Saura he wrote the book La Lleida anarquista (Anarchist Lérida). The Fundación Anselmo Lorenzo (FAL) is currently working to publish his memoirs La gran trata de esclavos (The Great Slave Trade) in which he lifts the lid on the Francoist exploitation of political prisoners. The Francoists profiteered from slave labour on the megalomaniacal whims of Franco and the grasping capitalism of firms that boosted their profits at minimal cost. Fascism and capitalism hand in glove.
Publication of those memoirs is expected sometime this year and it will represent a fitting tribute to this fighter for freedom.
Julián Vadillo Muñoz of the FAL
From: cnt (Cáceres) No 356, May 2009. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.