Who was Francisco Maroto del Ojo?

Francisco Maroto del Ojo. Not such a well known name these days even in Granada, his birthplace, yet he was one of the most celebrated anarchists in his day, not only locally or in Andalusia but in the whole of Spain. His name cropped up in the Granada newspapers virtually every day; he represented the Woodworkers’ Unions of Granada and Alicante – having worked in Alicante for a time – at CNT congresses; and during the civil war he ended up leading a column called after himself. And his arrest by Stalinists during the civil war was one of the root causes of the clashes in Barcelona in May 1937, as minuted in a report from the CNT National Committee.

He was born in Granada on 15 March 1906, in the Albayzín quarter of the city. A cabinet-maker by trade, he was taken on permanently by the city council to work on public works, road-building and highway construction, as well as joinery jobs. He spent a few years in Madrid, Alicante and Guadix , so far as we have been able to establish. Although we do not know exactly when he joined the CNT, his real militant career started in the 1930s in Granada where he effectively organised and mobilised the Construction and Woodworkers’ unions. He himself was on the payroll of the Granada city council staff. As early as 1931 he was popping up as a militant of note, taking part in CNT plenums and congresses. He was an extremist anarchist and held many rallies in Granada city and province, normally in the company of Benito Pabón, Francisco Crespo and Miguel Robles. He took part in the rally in Motril at which some UGT members re-evaluated their trade union options. After listening to Maroto, Pabón and Crespo they switched en bloc to the CNT which had hitherto had only a few hundred members in Motril but would shortly grow to several thousand strong. In the construction sector, he organised the unemployed to carry out patently necessary repair jobs and then to approach the owners for payment for the work done. Over time they did such superb work that they found themselves being hired on building sites and unemployment fell considerably. This great example then spread to other towns and localities like Maracena.

Maroto was arrested time and again, sometimes with elaborate show and served with police charges whose progress was covered by the press. Usually he stood accused of orchestrating sabotage and attacks, intimidating employers, opening up the CNT union local when it had been shut down and sealed off, and of being behind nearly every unlawful act by the Confederation. Behind these multiple actions, however, lay out and out police persecution of Maroto on a scale not seen with others, even though he was not the only person in Granada targeted for such fixated harassment.

In the end, Maroto was accused to torching the premises of Ideal newspaper together with some other activists; Ideal was a newspaper accused by Granada’s workers of cosying up to the far right, which had backed the reactionary coup attempted by General Sanjurjo and others military plotters and of constantly attacking the CNT and workers’ demands. Maroto was to be acquitted on grounds of insufficient proof after being remanded while an investigation was mounted and a trial arranged.. However, after it was shut down for a time, Ideal resumed publication but this time it showed more respect and virtually turned into the official mouthpiece of the Granada CNT, which also had its own local newspapers such as El Libertario (managed by Manuel González).

Maroto, acting a delegate from the Granada Woodworkers’ Union, took part in the Andalusian CNT congress in 1932, successfully arguing the case that libertarian communism had no need of “programmes”. At the important CNT congress held in Zaragoza in May 1936, he was involved as delegate from the Alicante Woodworkers’ Union and, jointly with other delegates, representative of the Granada Local Federation. His most significant contribution to the proceedings was his service on the working party that drafted the resolution on Analysis of activity and establishment of norms.

Maroto was in Alicante when the coup d’etat in July 1936 occurred. In Alicante the government managed to retain the loyalty of the military and retained control of the situation, so that there was not much in the way of conflict. Together with other local social and political forces, the CNT decided to raise columns of militias to liberate the towns that had fallen to the fascists. On 7 August 1936 270 militians (of both sexes) set off from Alicante, with trucks and other vehicles, under Maroto’s leadership. En route they were quickly joined by lots of refugees and fighters itching for action until soon their numbers had swollen to 600. They entered the province of Granada where the main city and plains had fallen to the fascists, even though the province had not, having been held by the populace, militians from the mines in Alquife and other anarchist and socialist activists and militants. However, the outlook was not all rosy and en route to Granada city there was a number of minor clashes, from which the Column emerged the winner. Tocón de Quéntar, Beas de Granada, Quéntar, Guéjar Sierra and other towns were contested and recaptured until eventually the Column was within 3 kilometers of Granada itself. There it halted to await the arrival of sufficient munitions to overrun a large city. They fought off numerous counter-attacks mounted by the fascist military. The Column had grown by then to 1,000 militians and also welcomed recruits from all over, especially Alicante, Granada, Almería and Málaga.

When Málaga fell to the rebel military, thousands were massacred. Those who managed to escape fled, lots of them making for Almería where they were cold-shouldered by the governor, Gabriel Morón, who was afraid of a build-up of too many people in the city. Above all, he did not like to see them wielding short arms and, naturally, they were not inclined to give those weapons up. It was not long before he was labelling them as cowards and wastrels who had caused the loss of Málaga, when they were themselves victims of the war and, in many instances, had done their bit in the fighting. These provocations from the governor, a Stalinist posing as a socialist and already plotting inside the UGT against other socialist militants, outraged the entire population.

Then the CNT called a rally in Almería and called upon a number of militants to address it – Maroto being one. On paper, he was in Almería to obtain munitions and weapons and he had also travelled up to Barcelona to this end, backed by a number of military men loyal to the Second Republic. He seized the opportunity at the rally to talk about who had really been responsible for the fall of Malaga, attacking Almería’s governor for his hostile and provocative stance. The huge rally acclaimed Maroto’s message and Maroto went straight to Gabriel Morón himself to demand that he step down as governor. They entered the city hall and even though Morón refused to see them, he was forced to hear them out and their argument went down so badly with him that a very heated argument erupted between them. One version has it that Maroto withdrew after spelling out his conclusion and following an exchange of insults, whilst others say that Gabriel Morón was slapped around by the anarchist (some even say he was knocked out by him), Maroto being quite a large, hefty figure. In any event, Morón was shamed and humiliated. As a result, Maroto was then arrested on charges of military sedition and taken to the cruiser Jaime I as a prisoner under tight guard, while the War Ministry prepared charges. As a result of overtures made by some of his comrades, he was brought from there, where he was in great danger, to the Machine-Gunner barracks in Baza (Granada).

This was the start of lengthy legal proceedings conducted in the middle of a war that demanded speed and urgency and it led to Maroto’s being sentenced to death, thanks to the Stalinists having control of the republic’s courts and their machination to seize power over the war-time Republic. Not content with charging him with military sedition, they turned a blind eye his years of activism and accused him of being a fascist ‘plant’, arguing that Maroto could duck in and out of Granada without difficulty, which was untrue, for Maroto was never able to set foot there, nor was he able to bring his family out from the city. It was all down to his Column’s dealings with ‘Los Niños de la Noche’ (Children of the Night) a group that had become a legend in Granada in that it had saved many lives thanks to its logistical expertise and arrangements whereby those wanted by the fascists were smuggled out of the occupied city.

After the death sentence was passed, the CNT’s legal services tabled a successful appeal and on 1 May 1937, in a tense situation in which the entire anarchist movement had mobilised to demand Maroto’s freedom – especially in Barcelona, Andalusia and the southeast of Spain – Maroto was eventually released. But it was a further year before he was able to put other outstanding charges behind him and recover his car, his weapon, his personal gear and above all control of the Maroto Column which was led throughout this interval by one of his dearest comrades – José Zarco, a CNT metalworker well known throughout Granada, Zarco being another figure who deserves to be rescued from oblivion.

During the militarization, with Maroto away standing trial, the Maroto Column, in concert with the Iron Column convened a plenum of Anarchist and Confederal Columns to debate the militarization issue and what stance to adopt with regard to it. In the end, the Maroto Column was unable to attend but it accepted the decisions of the plenum which ultimately agreed to militarization, on certain conditions. After which the Maroto Column was redesignated the 147th Mixed Brigade.

After Maroto was finally acquitted in 1938, he rejoined the by then regularised army. He held meetings with García Oliver to thrash out the ‘Camborio’ guerrilla warfare scheme, and took part in the Andalusian CNT’s September 1938 regional plenum. However, Maroto was wounded and hospitalised in Guadix and Almería and was not in a position to make much of a contribution to what remained of the war.

When the war ended, Maroto was in Alicante until he was tracked down and tortured by the fascists who had no hesitation in celebrating his capture. He was held for a year and eventually shot on 12 July 1940. Or so the paper record states, for the belief is that he was actually viciously tortured to death.

From: cnt (Madrid) Nos 372 and 373 (November & December 2010). Translated by: Paul Sharkey.