Memoirs of a FAI Gunman and a Chronicle of Anarchist Barcelona [Book Review]

A review of Miquel Mir Sierra’s Entre el roig i el negre. Una crónica de la Barcelona anarquista (Llibres dels Quatre Cantons, Gerona, March 2005, in Catalan, 250 pages)


What we have here is a book in which the author knowingly blends and mixes up genres - the novel and the chronicle - which are mutually exclusive.

The historical novel is a fictional work pretty loosely based on historical research and, availing of certain literary licence that is not bound by any scientific rigour, it seeks to characterise, illuminate or afford us an understanding of a given period from the past, by placing the novel’s plot or some adventure within it, or by illustrating the character and psychology of a leading personality, as well as the individual and collective usages and lifestyles pertaining to that time.

Outstanding examples of the historical novel are Margueirite Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrian, for a splendid Spanish translation of which we are indebted to Julio Cortázar, or Robert Graves’ fiction, a supposed autobiography of the Emperor Claudius, or Max Gallo’s fictionalised lives of Julius Caesar or Napoleon.

Robert Graves pretends that his novel has been written in the first person by the Emperor Claudius and at the core of his book are the domestic poisonings of Livia designed to ensure that her son, Tiberius, becomes Augustus’s successor. Nobody cares whether the poisoning of various likely successors to Augustus with prior claims to Tiberius’s claim is strictly truthful. This is an historical novel wherein the novelist enjoys certain literary licence that no historian would be allowed. A historian might even register the rumours in existence about Livia’s activities as a poisoner as rumour or slander, but he could never make them the heart of his narrative without failing to measure up to the most elementary rigours of historical research. And he could not do so because we do not have enough documentary evidence regarding such poisonings, nor are they the only plausible explanation for Augustus’s succession by Tiberius. Such documentary rigours are the basic difference between a novel and a chronicle.

The magnificent, well-documented fictionalised autobiography of Hadrian penned by Marguerite Yourcenar, who does not allow herself any sort of trespass against history, is an outstanding psychological insight into the character and personality of the Emperor Hadrian. It does not need to be nor does it purport to be anything more than literary fiction, but the writer manages to delve deeply into the ethos, ambitions and resignation of someone who, even though he enjoyed the formidable powers of a Roman emperor, is merely someone prey to the common human fragility in the face of fate, illness, old age or the fear of death. Hadrian looms in front of us with all the grandeur of a Hamlet, Faust, Medea or Don Quixote. Yourcenar does not resort to literary artifice to have us believe that her novel is the authentic memoir penned by Hadrian himself, and, had she done so, that option would still have been a legitimate one. But Marguerite never claimed, nor did she need to pretend, that her fictional Hadrian was the “authentic” Emperor Hadrian. There is a necessary dividing line, an impregnable border between literature and history.

In Max Gallo we have a writer who is both historian and novelist. As a novelist he has enjoyed great success with his fictional autobiographies of Caesar and Napoleon. As an historian, he is the author of (besides other things) an outstanding and rigorous life of Robespierre. Max Gallo makes great play of drawing a clear distinction between his historical writings and his novels, because he wants to avert any possible confusion on the part of his readers.

By contrast, the very opposite is the case with Mir’s novel, since the novel’s title Entre el roig i el negre (Twixt Red and Black) is immediately followed by an unfortunate subtitle “A Chronicle of Anarchist Barcelona”. The reader is subjected to a silly deception or, if one prefers, an insurmountable confusion. Is this a novel or a chronicle? And this conundrum has quite possibly not been resolved, not even by its author.

Mir has trampled over the required diving line that ought to exist between literature and history. That dividing line cannot be breached with impunity without his being doubly discredited as novelist and as historian.

The Source of the Confusion

On Thursday 28 April 2005, the cultural supplement of La Vanguardia, a serious and impartial daily newspaper, carried a piece signed by Josep Massot (not to be confused with the rigorous historian of the same name), the man in charge of the paper’s culture section, alleging, in bold print that Mir’s book is confessions lifted straight out of a genuine set of memoirs belonging to a FAI gunman. So, according to Massot the journalist, Mir’s novel is based, to what extent we cannot determine, upon a real find in the shape of the memoirs of an anarchist criminal regarding the looting and murders carried out in the Barcelona of 1936. According to the La Vanguardia reporter, Mir spent seven years checking the entries in the diary which he then FICTIONALISED as Entre el roig i el negre, as well as making it his business to return to the original owners a vast number of stolen articles still held in the London apartment belonging to the FAI gunman, as well as in a farmhouse in the Penedés.

Josep Massot, with whom we briefly corresponded, was kind enough to confirm for us that the diary and the stolen goods were not some literary artifice but a real find. And since La Vanguardia is a paper that appears to be serious we did not question its truthfulness regarding the actual existence of that diary. Even though it failed to resolve our doubts as to the importance and real weight of the diary and of the confessions in the novel overall. Why would there be any need to fictionalise a set of memoirs, unless it contains serious shortcomings? And why not publish the diary as a diary?

So we are dealing here with a brand new genre of literature. This is not the inspired literary creation of a Cide Hamete Benengeli, the detailed, omniscient narrator of the feats of the ingenious hidalgo Don Quixote. Here, it turns out that the FAI gunman and his memoirs, and even his Ali Baba’s cave, are as real as the air we breathe, the ground we walk upon and the sky above our heads, no matter whether we fear, as Astérix always seems to do, that the sky might some day collapse on our heads. This new literary genre consists of FICTIONALISING actual looting and actual killings to which a real gunman testifies in a real diary. What is mysterious about this new literary genre, as far the reader goes, is that - lacking the original notebooks maintained by that FAI gunman - he cannot tell and never will be able to tell what is fiction and what is fact. Cide Hamete Benengeli is an amusing literary device and it is even funnier to learn that some readers have taken him to be the author of Don Quixote’s adventures and it is even more amusing and impertinent to read in the second part of Don Quixote that Alonso Quijano blathers on about the dishonest, phoney and crude adventures recounted by a certain Avellaneda and watches as a book on his current adventures is being put together in a printworks. These are complex, humorous literary conceits that the reader can share in and enjoy alongside Cervantes. But what do we share with Mir? Confusion, manipulation, obscurity, vagueness, belief in a pure act of belief or disbelieving in it if incredulous, in the veracity of that diary (and of the items he claims to have stumbled across) that he later fictionalised. This is a brand new genre of graceless and unhappy literature well suited to the current age shot through with trash TV and trash fast food. Trash-facts, trash-diaries or trash mini-histories and whatever else and who cares anyway? As long as it sells, anything goes: any trash will serve the purpose of defaming and besmirching. The point here is to write a novel about the anarchist-thief-murder, the typical anarchist. Our gunman is not a criminal and an anarchist but a criminal because an anarchist, since, according to Mir each and every anarchist is a criminal.

We can only guess at why we have been denied access to the genuine diary or memoirs actually penned by the FAI gunman and trusted only with Entre el roig i el negre: Una crónica de la Barcelona anarquista. And we shall assess it on three criteria: as an historical novel, as an historical narrative, or, if we may, as this new literary genre piloted by Mir, as an “actual fictionalised diary”.

But before we do, we need to very plainly dot the i’s and cross the t’s and make it very clear what actually occurred in Barcelona in the few months after 19 July 1936.

The revolutionary violence in Barcelona on 19 July 1936

In capitalist society the State always claims a monopoly on the use of violence, the manifest purpose being to fend off the exploited class. Violence not controlled by the State and exercised outside of its monopoly is referred to as criminality and pursued in the name of capitalist law and order. The main apparatuses of the State WERE the Army, in terms of defence against other countries or imperialist expansion and as the ultimate guarantor of the established order: the Police, to forestall subversion and crack down on the workers’ movement; the Exchequer to fund the various machineries of State and bureaucracy by means of taxation; Parliament, for the peaceable resolution of the interests of the differing factions of bourgeoisie and indeed to institutionalise the workers’ movement into capitalist society. Church, School, Police-army, Trade Unions, Parties, TV-radio-Press, Corruption, Mafias, NGOs and the like, anti-globalisation alternatives, “Another (capitalist) world is possible”, and Prison ARE, these days, the State and para-State institutions designed to control, deform, repress, monitor, persuade, manipulate, direct, tyrannise, side-track, disorient and punish the working class. So the State is the mightiest instrument of the propertied class’s ascendancy over the exploited class. In capitalist societies, class frictions were and are of such dimensions that the proletariat has never and cannot ever exercise state control in concert with a faction of the propertied classes without playing into the hands of the bourgeois counter-revolution. Those factions of the exploited classes that enter into a governing coalition, with some faction of the propertied classes no matter how imperious the circumstances may be, and no matter the rationale, will ALWAYS finish up ac accomplices in the inevitable acts of repression against the working class that the process of counter-revolution will inescapably entail. WITHOUT DESTRUCTION OF THE STATE THERE IS NO PROLETARIAN REVOLUTION.

In 1936 Spain, the Church and the clergy with their important real estate, financial and educational interests were a powerful institution marshalling the military and fascist right wing opposed to the people’s material and social progress and had a tyrannical, omnipresent, immovable and stunning economic, ideological and cultural foothold in the day to day lives of the peasantry, the middle classes and the workers. Throughout the republican era the Church was seen as the number one obstacle to the achievement of progress and social well-being. The alliance of Church and the most reactionary and brutal segment of the Right made that Church the target of all social, forward-looking and republican campaigns.

Backed, egged on, yearned for, blessed and sponsored by the Church, the military and fascist uprising proved a failure across almost the whole of Spain and triggered the backlash of a revolutionary situation. The defeat of the army at the hands of the proletariat in the “red zone” had blown a hole in the State’s monopoly on violence and the explosion had shattered myriad local authorities directly involved in the exercise of violence at local level. Violence and power had been closely associated with each other. Besides, the so-called “forces of order” had vanished from the streets, confined to barracks pending the right moment to come in support of the counter-revolution. This widespread revolutionary situation was what conjured up, without the word going out from any organisation or leadership of any sort, wheresoever the fascist uprising had been thwarted, committees, the arming of the proletariat, barricades, militias, watch patrols, the disappearance of hats, suits and ties, replaced by overalls and red-black bandannas, the burning of churches, passes issued by defence committees, looting of bourgeois homes and the establishment of revolutionary juntas at regional or comarcal (district) levels in Málaga, Barcelona, Aragon, Valencia, Gijón, Madrid, Santander, Sama de Langreo, Lérida, Alicante, Almería .. and the pursuit, jailing or ‘on the spot’ murders of fascists, army rebels, bosses and clergy, the seizure of factories, barracks and premises of all sorts, workers’ control committees and an entire litany wherein the exercise of violence WAS OF ITSELF a manifestation of new power of the workers. In the weeks after 19 July there was a novel, unprecedented situation both party-like and unbridled, whereby the execution of some fascist, boss or priest WAS the revolution. Violence and power were one and the same. The revolutionary flood swept everything along in an angry, redemptive, unstoppable ecstasy.

But State institutions were still standing and the CNT-FAI decided to join a coalition government with bourgeois parties so as to crush fascism FIRST wheresoever it had succeeded.

The proliferating committees strove to orchestrate and impose order on the new social and economic reality thrown up by the workers’ insurgent success against fascism in Catalonia. And of course the revolution’s parvenus showed up looking for personal advantage at any price in a situation that was still confused and uncertain … thieves and killers who, with or without a membership card from existing trade union and political organisations ranging from the FAI (though not only the FAI, as Mir would have us believe) to the PSUC and the POUM, not forgetting the Esquerra and Estat Català … brought disgrace to the revolutionary work that was under way. Such criminals were denounced emphatically and passionately by Joan Peiró in Perill a la reraguarda (Danger in the Rearguard). However we should not mistake these parvenus, who existed and not only within the FAI, for the ‘uncontrollables’. There is nothing so arbitrary and dismissive as the way in which everybody tosses around this label “uncontrollable”. In a statement on 28 July 1936 the CNT-FAI used it as a threat against those who might use violence for their own purposes and refused to comply with CNT or CAMC (Central Antifascist Militias Committee) resolutions, guidelines or watchwords. The Generalidad government used it against revolutionaries expropriating the assets of the bourgeoisie and enforcing proletarian justice. The Esquerra used it to describe all anarchist activity. The PSUC used it to refer to anything challenging government authority, the reinforcement of state institutions and military centralisation. In the wake of May 1937, the CNT-FAI referred to The Friends of Durruti as “uncontrollables”. When the Stalinists captured control of the State and the SIM’s (Military Intelligence Service) omnipresent terror was introduced, all 19 July 1936 revolutionaries turned into “uncontrollables”, from the outlawed POUM to critics and malcontents within the CNT-FAI fold.

That is just the way it was.

Mir’s Book as a Novel

A historical narrative must of necessity stick to what actually happened, albeit that this can be variously interpreted, usually as a result of the writer’s ideology. Certain literary licence can be claimed for the historical novel, but in return a degree of believability is demanded of it, and, above all, a definite exploration of its characters, affording us an understanding of their individual and collective thinking, and, through these, a degree of understanding of the time or historical situation experienced by the novel’s characters. However, the novelist’s own ideology should not be mirrored in the characterisation of somebody who subscribed to a different ideology. Thus Mir’s own Catalanist and republican outlook should have no impact on his depiction of the central character in his novel, that FAI gunman, much less on the thoughts and ideas articulated by that gunman, nor on his personal opinion of the historical events he is living through.

At no point is the main protagonist, this FAI gunman, believable. Mir seems incapable of grasping what proletarian violence is and seems to have no grasp at all of what revolutionary justice means. He is incapable of conveying the climate of revolutionary euphoria experienced by Barcelona’s anarchist workers in 1936. Look again at Peiró’s defence of the Barcelona proletariat’s COLLECTIVE revolutionary violence and justice which he plainly differentiates from the self-serving criminality of thieves and murderers. Mir’s gunman is an anarchist activist who views everything through the ideology of a current bigwig from the Catalan Republican Left (Esquerra), because even a 1936 Esquerra sympathiser would reject the schizophrenia of this fictionalised gunman as unfeasible and unbelievable. Mir’s gunman is no idealist, he is only a thief and killer who judges his comrades in those terms: but as that sort of a criminal he would he a cynical monster and would express himself with irony. But no, Mir’s gunman lacks height and depth and does not suffer the lash of any inner mismatch between thought and deed. Mir’s gunman is one-dimensional, devoid of inner conflict and this allows the author of the novel to deploy him as he would a video camera. And this is the only role that Mir’s gunman fulfils, witnessing historical events so that Mir can bring his own Catalanist and republican ideology to bear on them. Mir thereby conjures up an unbelievable creature: a FAI gunman knowingly operating as a thief and killer, bereft of all idealism and thinking and passing the same sort of judgement on himself and his comrades as an Esquerra activist of today would. Not only that, but we have the laughable caricature of a monster who embodies all of the defects and nastiness that the bourgeoisie fears and ascribes to the revolutionary who would strip it of its property. Mir depicts, not so much a figure in a novel, but the bourgeois stereotype of the thieving, murderous anarchist. Had Mir made his gunman a bloodthirsty brute, an ogre bereft of feelings and ideals, who is driven solely by the pleasure of killing and thieving, disguising or justifying his crimes with the mantle of anarchist ideology seized upon as a pretext or shield, he might well have arrived at a powerful, credible extraordinary character. But in Mir’s hands this ogre is only a camera who allows the author to volunteer the opinions and judgements of an Esquerra militant as if these were the gunman’s own thoughts. The reader gets the feeling that the ogre boils down to a fragile, disjointed puppet which, in the hands of Mir the tedious ventriloquist, pulls strange, unfathomable faces whilst mumbling alien, incoherent words, gracelessly and for no other purpose than to clothe the stereotype of the anarchist brute from Tarrasa.

All of Mir’s characters are barely believable and the historical context outlined lacking in vigour, excitement or any sort of likelihood. Nor can he quite convey the irrepressible élan, wild beauty and explosive grandeur of the revolutionary upheaval. It is a bad novel because its purpose is primarily to confirm the age-old defamation of an ideology and a movement, the anarchist ideology and movement that Mir neither can nor wishes to understand, take on board or explain: his aim being simply to denigrate and demonise July 1936.

Mir’s Book as Historical Narrative

Despite what is said in La Vanguardia and despite what Mir has to say in the foreword to the book, he is not offering a truthful, acceptable chronicle of the revolutionary situation created in Barcelona following the proletariat’s armed victory over the military who had mutinied against the republican regime and against the new Popular Front government returned in the February 1936 elections.

Before I begin allow me to make a statement that will rock an author like MIR who has been active within the Esquerra: but for the anarcho-syndicalists taking to the streets, there would have been no civil war, for the simple reason that the fascist military uprising would have been an instant success in Barcelona. Except for an honourable handful of them, most Esquerra members stayed at home on 19 July 1936, waiting to see how things might go. On 19 July virtually every one of the Esquerra’s parliamentarians, with the notable, courageous and bold exception of Tarradellas, left Companys to his fate in the belief that they were staring at a new 6 October [1934].

And let me make another startling and emphatic statement which also needs making in order to jog the historical memory of the current nationalist leadership of the Esquerra who were not around in 19 July 1936: from the outset the CNT-FAI disowned the indiscriminate looting and killing carried out by criminals, card-carrying or otherwise. It executed a number of CNT or non-CNT militants “on the spot” who, in the heat of the situation created by the army revolt and the power vacuum, had committed crime or taken justice into their own hands and for their own ends.

But it should be remembered that there were also criminals and gunmen who were card-carrying Esquerra members and that no less a person than the Generalidad’s Public Order commissar, Revertés, an Esquerra member, had botched an attempt to murder his mother-in-law in the belief that, given his position, he could commit any crime with impunity. He was exposed and denounced by the CNT-FAI’s Investigation Services headed by Manuel Escorza and was handed over to the Generalidad president. He confessed and was sacked from his post and was then abandoned by Companys to the keeping of the aforementioned agency which executed him immediately.

Moreover, it should be made clear that, in the revolutionary situation created on 19 July, the CNT-FAI did not condemn ALL executions and expropriations, because, as was started by Peiró himself (who is so deservedly quoted as a critic of indiscriminate violence) what was needed was COLLECTIVE, immediate and spontaneous people’s revolutionary justice.

And on 19 July the killing of a fascist, shooting of a priest or looting and burning of a church was what making the revolution meant. This may not have been the case come November 1936, because the inroads made by the counter-revolution had disfigured the celebratory, glorious, egalitarian, exciting, enjoyable, anonymous, purificatory, lucid, wildcat, enthusiastic, wrong-righting, popular, liberating, erotic, solidary, wonderful character that the use of the gun had had back in July.

Violence and power went hand in glove. Once the State’s monopoly on violence had been broken, once its army had been routed on the streets and the proletariat armed, a revolutionary situation was ushered in that imposed its own violence, power and order. The power of an armed working class.

There was nothing so violent and authoritarian as that defeat of the army and that was the handiwork of the anarcho-syndicalists and people of Barcelona. Nothing more violent or authoritarian than snatching weapons from barracks and arming the proletariat and that was the doing of anarcho-syndicalists. Nothing more violent or authoritarian than wresting factories away from their owners and this was done by the anarcho-syndicalists and the Catalan proletariat. Even though some (such as Victor Alba of the POUM) who argue that collectivisation was the result of the owners’ abandonment of their factories, overlooking the fact that if the owners had fled it was because committees of armed men had earlier gone to their homes looking for them. There is nothing more violent or authoritarian than dissolving the government and demolishing the machinery of the State, but the anarcho-syndicalists did NOT do this, opting instead to collaborate with other political forces (including the bourgeois ones such as the Esquerra and Estat Català), with Companys’s government and with State institutions. This was where the anarchists went wrong: in not destroying the State and in collaborating with the Companys government.

The anarchists’ mistake in July 1936 was not the killing of priests, burning of churches, raising of militias and patrols, seizure of the factories or creating a host of committees. The mistake was to leave the Generalidad government standing and to collaborate with it through the CAMC. The mistake was not delivering the coup de grace to the Generalidad by replacing it with a Revolutionary Junta representative of the committees. A Junta capable of centralising the power of the armed proletariat and co-ordinating the local committees. A Junta capable of tackling and resolving, on foot of that centralisation and committee co-ordination, among many other necessary tasks, the task of CRACKING DOWN ON THIEVES AND MURDERERS, CARD-CARRYING OR OTHERWISE (and that includes Esquerra membership cards) and, above all, replacing the right-wing officials and high dignitaries who, as Peiró complained, were sabotaging production and the war effort from the very heart of the Generalidad government. Joan Peiró even declared that it would have been better to kill fewer priests and more dignitaries and high officials, although the really revolutionary thing to have done may well have been to toss them all on to the scrap heap by doing away with the State.

Mir is incapable of understanding, let alone “accepting” the stark historical fact of such revolutionary violence by the Barcelona proletariat which, as far as he and La Vanguardia are concerned, can only mean chaos, looting, murder, arson, robbery, but above all else, the end of the power of the bourgeoisie and consequently the end of the world FOR THEM.

Besides being incapable of grasping the revolutionary situation in place on 19 July, on account of his bourgeois ideology, Mir makes serious and countless historical mistakes that one would expect from a high school student with little grounding or interest in the civil war rather than from a learned archivist, which is how he is presented to us in La Vanguardia and in the foreword to his book. And yet they do say that La Vanguardia is a heavyweight, impartial newspaper.

We are going to show that Mir’s book, as a chronicle of events, is beset by inaccuracies and mistakes and - which is worse - is badly focused and structured. For reasons of space and brevity let us point out only the most serious and most amusing mistakes.

On page 134 he fails to recognise the lyrics of a very well known Catalan war anthem.

On page 35 he offers a mistaken explanation for the air raid that struck the Gran Vía-Calle Balmes in Barcelona at 02.05 pm. on 17 March 1938; the tremendous devastation was caused, not by the use of high powered explosive bombs dropped by Italian aircraft, as Mir claims, but from a hit on a lorry loaded with natamita.

On page 105 Mir argues that Francisco Ascaso, who had been killed on 20 July 1936 during the storming of the Atarazanas Barracks, was on the Central Antifascist Militias Committee from 21 July on. And this assertion comes from the lips of the protagonist of the “fictionalised history”, that FAI gunman writing in the diary that Mir has rendered as fiction. It is utterly inconceivable that an old FAI hand would not have known about, or could have forgotten Francisco Ascaso’s death on 20 July 1936 in the taking of the Atarazanas barracks. There are some mistakes serious enough to call into question, not just an alleged chronicle and the alleged diary, but the novel as well. It is unbelievable that the FAI’s Barcelona-based gunman would not have known of Francisco Ascaso’s heroic and mythic demise which was rehearsed to saturation point in the form of pictures, stamps, speeches, articles … and which represented a genuine tragedy sorely felt by all of the 19 July 1936 fighters. This mistake is an out and out blooper which discredits Mir whom La Vanguardia and the foreword would have us accept is a researcher, knowledgeable about and expert in the civil war.

On page 112 the FAI gunman invented by Mir, or, if Mir and the heavyweight, impartial La Vanguardia would prefer, the authentic FAI gunman writing his authentic diary, tells us that he belonged to No 12 branch of the Barcelona Control Patrols. What a pity it is that there were only 11 branches! Liars get caught out by such silly, childish details as these. We fail to understand why La Vanguardia, as the heavyweight impartial newspaper it purports to be, made no reference to details of this calibre in its review.

On page 113 it is alleged that the control patrols were something akin to the armed wing of the FAI. There could scarcely be a bigger boo-boo here, given that the control patrols, answerable to the CAMC and later to the Public Order Department, were made up (as of October 1936) of some 700 men, only half of which belonged to the anarchist movement, the remainder being split between the PSUC, Esquerra, UGT or those of no specific affiliation. In Barcelona the FAI’s armed wing, if we may speak of such a thing, was made up of the district defence committees and by the CNT-FAI Investigation Committee, as well as the far-off forces of the anarchist militias on the Aragon front.

On page 118 we have an utterly erroneous account of the death of Durruti on the Madrid front. One would be hard pressed to pack this many mistakes into a single paragraph. Durruti went to Madrid at the insistence of Federica Montseny and Marianet, not under pressure from Cipriano Mera. Durruti took a gunshot wound on 19 November, not 20 November as Mir claims. And the gunshot that wounded him did not come, as Mir claims, in an attack on the Clinical Hospital. And the bullet did not come, as Mir claims, from a Winchester.

Also on page 148 Mir states that Durruti was buried on the same day as the funeral procession was held in Montjuich cemetery under a pile of flowers. The fact is that Durruti could not be buried that same day because the grave was too small and the piles of flowers and a torrential downpour prevented its being widened until the next day. I would refer Mir to my article “Habla Durruti”, available at

On page 140 Mir states that three anarchist ministers joined Largo Caballero’s cabinet. Even our scantily read and poorly informed high school student could pur Mir straight on that, by telling him that there were four ministers - Juan López, Juan García Oliver, Federica Montseny and Joan Peiró. Three Juans and one Federica. This is some chronicle Mir is offering us: he forgets to carry the one!

On page 159 Mir states that the May Events (3-7 May 1937) led to the immediate replacement of Largo Caballero by Negrín and that it was Negrín who, from Valencia, ordered the dispatching of the eight hundred trucks that reached Barcelona on 7 May.

This error of chronology suggests utter failure to grasp what happened. It was Largo Caballero who sent in the trucks as well as a several ships that Mir fails to mention. Because Largo Caballero was not replaced by Negrín until 17 May. Our high school student is giving some serious thought to giving Mir a big fat zero. Plus one for the La Vanguardia review which in a heavyweight and impartial way praised Mir’s book as an impartial heavyweight book spewed out at the end of several years of research.

On page 106, Mir states that at the start of May 1937 the Friends of Durruti drafted a manifesto in solidarity with the POUM after the murder of Andrés Nin by the Soviets whilst at the same time demanding a revolutionary government, the shooting of those guilty of the raid on the Telephone Exchange and denouncing the Stalinists as responsible for the May Events. It can sometimes be hard and a bit of a chore explaining the mass of mistakes, booboos, bloopers and inexactitudes that the fraudulent mind of an ignoramus can pack into just five lines! But here goes: From the barricades on 5 May, the Friends of Durruti launched a handbill calling for the formation of a revolutionary Junta to replace the Generalidad and for the shooting of those culpable in the attack on the Telephone Exchange, whilst hailing the POUM comrades who were also fighting on the barricades. On 16 June the POUM was outlawed and the party executive arrested. Within days Nin was abducted from a republican jail by Soviet agents. Tortured on a farm in Alcalà de Henares belonging to some Stalinist aristocrats, he was murdered by Orlov, Gerö and others, at a bend in the road between Alcalà and Perales de Tajna, most likely on 23 June 1937. So there was no way that on 5 May the Friends of Durruti could possibly have expressed solidarity with the POUM over the abduction and murder of Nin which occurred sometime between 20 and 24 June. Mir is muddling up his dates and deeds, anticipating murders reported before they have been carried out and, in short, is quite simply disgracing himself in the eyes of our high school student, not so much as a bad novelist as in his capacity or a worse historian, but as the most dismal reader and student of history. Not only is Mir no expert on the civil war but he had read little and misread it. Here I would refer the reader to my article “los Amigos de Durruti en mayo de 1937” at

From which we may conclude that Mir’s book, as a history, is plagued with mistakes, some of them unconscionable such as Francisco Ascaso’s having served on the CAMC, Largo Caballero’s having been replaced by Negrín during the May Events, the Friends of Durruti’s having in their 5 May 1937 handbill denounced the abduction and murder of Andrés Nin in the latter half of June 1937, plus a long litany from which we have selected only the most glaring errors, although we will admit that what most irritates us in reading Mir’s claptrap are the constant inexactitudes and the petty mistakes that punctuate the entire book.

Towards Trash History A brand new genre?

Why bother to read and review Mir’s book when it is a bad novel and a worse history?

Because apparently Mir’s book is part of a brand new genre which has drawn down the fury of some publishers already as “Trash History”. What is depicted as a history book is a mess, merely a paper brick made up of five clippings and two badly interpreted documents, There would be a long and telling list of those who, beginning with Pío Moa, put pen to paper without proper, quality work done in the archives, content to reinterpret history on the basis of the CURRENT outlook, demands and needs of the Francoist far right, through to the likes of César Vidal, a hack in the service of the publishing market’s latest craze, writing on a wide range of topics and capable in his book on Durruti of brazenly and scathingly plagiarising the research that Abel Paz carried out over an entire lifetime. Rigour and reliability have been banished entirely as has the courtesy of “measured” quotation from other historians.

Take the unprecedented case of the mediocre rightwing (Carlist?) historian César Alcalà who has published a book on the chekas in Barcelona, quoting word for word sometimes and on other occasions without crediting it or mentioning it, an entire effort by Agustin Guillamón on the same topic, until the latter makes up fully one third of the César Alcalà book. The other two thirds are awash with lesser borrowings, statistics, lists and maybe the odd sour and minimal product of his own researches. Plagiarising and quoting so extensively from another author’s output , WITHOUT A BY YOUR LEAVE, is offensive enough; but if it is then all used maliciously and in a warped way to arrive at hare-brained, wayward conclusions that are not shared by the writer thus hijacked, it deserves to be denounced publicly.

Given the seriousness of the aforementioned offences, the so-called journalistic methods of a José María Zavala who in his book on Nin drops all quotations and makes no mention of which book or researcher his assertions depend upon, not merely leaving the reader deprived of any chance of verifying or chasing up the facts, but also hijacking the fresh discoveries made by the unnamed researchers and robbing historical science of anything remotely resembling scientific rigour and of course omitting to show us the slightest courtesy due to the historians thus robbed, amount to “small beer”. We should be talking here not so much about journalistic technique as about a trash technique. And there are many who describe such multi-victimed thievery as an update on the state of play as far as the topic is concerned. We shall refrain from cataloguing the many mistakes, serious shortcomings and murky interpretations Zavala has to offer because it strikes us as an onerous, thankless and above all pointless undertaking.

Mir’s book, being neither novel nor narrative, but rather quite the opposite, quite the reverse, also has the cheek to portray as “fictionalised history” something that is nothing but a crude “fictionalised slander” of the Barcelona revolutionary movement of 1936.

Mir has not dreamt up some new genre, the fictionalised history, because the slander and calumny genre, especially when rooted in class hatred for the proletarian revolution and the terror that the proletariat’s revolutionary violence strikes into the bourgeoisie, needs no excuse, is nothing new, nor does it need to pass itself off as some new literary genre.

At first (1936-1939), air raids, massacres, terror, imprisonment and firing squads were enough for the proletariat. Then (up until 1976) a forty year fascist dictatorship to which the owners of a newspaper - even one that purports to be serious and impartial - handed over a hemp factory free of charge for use as a concentration camp for those under sentence of death, with a convenient Civil Guard barracks in the annexe, and all of its efficiently close to the beach at Campo de la Bota where mass shootings were carried out with impunity from 1939 up until 1952. And finally, now, to cap it all, after the amnesia of the Transition we have the trash histories of the nationalist, Francoist, far rightist Pío Moas; or the new nationalist, republican, leftwing Pío Mirs! Because, what with one thing or another, this is where the nationalist extremes meet these days: against the anarchists and the revolutionaries it is a case of all for one and all for the fatherland.

There is nothing new under the sun, much less the usual trash which they would sometimes push upon us as history and at others times as fiction and now here comes Mir with his fictionalised history. The old, old chestnut - for which no vanguards nor pious souls are required, but only the usual hacks of the enlightened bourgeoisie - has it that all anarchists are, by definition, thieves and murderers. Or so we have been told from time immemorial by novelists, historians or the most bourgeois and most heavily subsidised newspapers which actually believe themselves to be heavyweight and impartial. We have a chestnut here and the only things that chestnuts can be turned into is not novels and not chronicles but mush. And there seems to be no shortage of garbage men who cannot differentiate between what is serious and what is sad and who pass off complicity as impartiality.


Entre el Roig i el negre is a book that brings nothing new to the classical, class-driven, softly-softly Francoist and Catalanist defamation of the workers’ movement in Catalonia. It is the product of hatred and of a class fear inspired by proletarian revolution. It swings continually to and fro, between bourgeois CANARDS and bourgeois INFAMY targeting the revolutionary activity of the Barcelona and wider Catalan working class during the civil war.

From: Balance. Cuadernos de historia contemporanea (September 2005). Translated by: Paul Sharkey.