Facerías : Urban Guerrilla Warfare (1939-1957) ; The Libertarian Movement's Struggle Against Francoism in Spain and in Exile by Antonio Téllez Solà [Book Review]

Facerías “was a steadfast champion of an essentially anarchist-inspired labour movement like the CNT of Spain; an organisation that might offer the proletariat guidance rather than content itself with being a tiny minority in opposition to or critical of reformist and authoritarian activity. He wanted an anarchism that might be at once the head and the arm of the proletariat rather than some sort of laboratory for doctrine or the monopoly of philosophers. … As far as he was concerned, moral solidarity, whilst undoubtedly necessary, had to be matched by material action; and if help was not forthcoming through lawful means, they should resort to unlawful means, to expropriation.” (p303, p305).

This is an important book, but not an easy one to read. It’s tragic on many different levels. It is not a complete history of the anarchist resistance to Francoism, but it is much more than a biography of Facerías alone. The context of defeat and exile is laid out, as are the fates of other Barcelona anarchist militants. Death is everywhere.

October 1949 proved to be a tragic month for the urban action groups in Catalonia. Within a few days many of the comrades, and some of the most battle-hardened comrades at that, lost their lives. The list included Luciano Alpuente (Enrique Madurga Herrero), José Sabaté Llopart (El Quico‘s older brother), Julio Rodríguez Fernández (El Cubano), Juan Serrano (aka Antonio García García), Arquímedes Serrano Ovejas, Víctor Espallargas, José Luis Barrao and Francisco Martínez Márquez. Many others were captured and subsequently executed, like José Pérez Pedrero (Tragapanes), Pedro Adrover Font (El Yayo), José Pons Argilés, Santiago Amir Gruañas and Ginés Urrea Piña.” (p221)

It is also a very angry book. Téllez is some impartial chronicler. He had played a part in the resistance himself. These are not merely names, but dead comrades he is commemorating.

It’s not only the murderous Francoist repression that angers Téllez. The failings of the Spanish libertarian movement in exile are laid bare. The difference between the needs of clandestine action in Spain and legalised existence in France was never addressed: “the incompatibility between lashing out at and attacking the state and its institutions and the holding of regulation meetings with the Interior Ministry” (p73); “an organisational structure that delivered nothing but catastrophe after catastrophe.” (p176). Defeats and killings did not lead to any improvements: “Losses in Spain were at that point still propaganda fodder, a good excuse for letting loose a lyricism that was, most often, out of place and in poor taste.” (p158). Practical help was not what it could have been. In 1951 Facerías was in touch with comrades who raised a huge subscription to support the underground CNT press. “However, it all went awry due to meddling by the Inter-Continental Secretariat which came up with the inspired notion of insisting that the sum raised be handed over to it without further ado. The Paris comrades who had publicly committed themselves – without going into details – to handing over all the money to the ‘Support the Underground CNT Press’ project refused to back down despite pressures brought to bear by the organisation at the instigation of the top committee. But given the impossibility of implementing the plan or of going into the detail of it (in that that would render its implementation impossible) they spent most of the funds on printing equipment that was then handed over to the Inter-Continental Secretariat which, needless to say, had no notion of what to do with the equipment delivered, since its sole concern had been to take delivery of the cash instead. Once again, the virus of centralism stupidly destroyed one of the best ideas ever generated in the exile community.” (p263).

The continued indifference of the exiled bureaucrats eventually looks more than carelessness. The ultimate problem, in Facerías’ own words, is that “Victim is heaped upon victim, due to people some of whom are worthless while others prioritise their craving for prominence or the conveniences of the payroll [a reference to paid positions with the Organisation] over the interests of the organisation. There has not even been any attempt made to neutralise the impact of the police apparatus deployed by Francoism at our headquarters, quite apart from the vice tightening upon us more and more each day thanks to the support of its counterpart agencies in the host countries.” (p289, Report of 9 December 1951).

Finally, Facerías is not just cut off from the organisation, but also from natural allies like Francisco Sabaté. “He tried to contact Sabaté and failed because Sabaté systematically refused to talk to him. The ripples from their fall-out in Barcelona in 1956 were still being felt. Yet had these two men talked and come to some agreement perhaps both their tragic fates might have been avoided. But then, if ifs were ands, this might have been a very different book.” (p340).

Facerías was ambushed and shot down by the police in Barcelona in August 1957. While the Francoist press celebrated, the libertarian journal Atalaya protested the silence of the exiles, and in effect provided his epitaph:

Having been murdered in circumstances in which there is every evidence to suggest that he had been denounced from France, [Facerías] has been defamed in the crudest way by the Francoist police and press. And there was a moral obligation to clear a man, and what a man he was, from whose curriculum vitae our newspapers have highlighted, say, his attacks upon the consular offices in Barcelona of countries sponsoring Franco’s candidacy for membership of the UNO, the attack on the regime’s bigwigs at a victory parade and various attack on local police and Falangist premises, of such defamation.

Let it be noted that we take exception, if only so that the future historian may have – if he wishes to reconstruct the truth – a reference which, added to his having been arrested in 1946 for subversive activity and for holding organisational office, confirms that José Lluís Facerías was not the vulgar brigand portrayed by Franco’s hacks, but, like Buenaventura Durruti, and authentic anarcho-syndicalist fighter.” (p353-4).

Comrades who want to learn about the anarchist resistance to Francoism, should read and re-read this book.

Facerías : Urban Guerrilla Warfare (1939-1957) ; The Libertarian Movement’s Struggle Against Francoism in Spain and in Exile by Antonio Téllez Solà, translated by Paul Sharkey.

Christiebooks, 2011. 9781873976494 £18