De-constructing the Lies and Nonsense on the Monolith on Display in Puigcerdá

De-constructing the Lies and Nonsense on the Monolith on Display in Puigcerdá

Introduction- Constructing and De-constructing 

Construct – a transitive verb meaning to make, to shape something through the combination of its component parts, or indeed organising them in accordance with a definite plan. Other equivalents might be building, erecting a structure, assembling a building or a machine. It might by extension refer to the building of a system, a theory, a sentence, a narrative or an explanatory text from Memorial Democrático [Democratic Memory]. 

De-construct refers to the opposite action although it might well mean explaining and understanding how the construction took place, thereby retracing the construction process step by step. Dismantling the ready-made in order to understand the misshapen, defective or bungled construction of it.

The monolith erected on the banks of the Còrrec del Gavatx is made, not of stone, but of tin-plate. However, the dictionary tells us that a monolith is a single piece of stone. Tin-plate monoliths are a cheapskate invention of Memoria Democrática, are not expected to survive for long and are prone to rapid rusting. 

They are very precarious, as are the tales they support, tales written from a sectarian viewpoint that is unduly skewed and shoddy. They hardly ever serve any purpose but they always display a text pontificating about some real or legendary historical occurrence which happened, or is imagined to have happened where they have been erected. Often, they eulogize and glorify patriotic,  mafia-like or nationalistic events. 

The first section of the plaque

The plaque with which we are dealing here starts out pretty well:

On 9 September 1936, 21 civilians from Puigcerdá were arrested in their homes and placed in the town’s jail. The Puigcerdá Revolutionary Committee, which had taken power locally, ordered their execution. Militians took them by lorry to the Còrrec del Gavatx where they were executed. Only one of them, Jaume Branguli Sirvent, managed to escape and save his life.”

So far, so good. Except that I would make a couple of points:

1. The Revolutionary Committee was made up of the ERC, the PSUC-UGT and the CNT. It was not a CNT body but an antifascist one.
2. The list of the names of those slated for execution was drawn up at the ERC Clubhouse and the execution order was issued by Eliseu Font, the county ERC secretary. All of this is according to information coming from the French gendarmerie as reprinted in Appendix 26 of the book Nacionalistas contra anarquistas en la Cerdaña, published by Ediciones Descontrol in 2018. 

Section two of the plaque

The text entered on the tinplate memorial, presented as a monolith goes on to say this:

Between July 1936 and April 1937, the Cerdanya lived out a libertarian experiment headed by the anarcho-syndicalist Antonio Martín, known as the ‘Málaga Gimp’. With the civil war at its height, 52 people were summarily murdered. These episodes generated great upheaval in the comarca. In the context of a confrontation between the republic’s own forces, the responsibility for those deaths has never been clarified nor acknowledged.”

1. Antonio Martín Escudero was not in Puigcerdá on 9 September 1936 but was in France, taking part in a series of rallies to raise funds for the revolution. 
2. The ‘Málaga Gimp’ nickname had been hung on him in sneering fashion by Catalan nationalists who were comparing his lameness that that of a flamenco singer. Flamenco singing was as strange and alien to Catalan culture as the Extremaduran Antonio Martín was. Nicknames were often the first step in the direction of defamation. Antonio Martín had stymied speculation in beef prices, cereal prices and milk prices, these items being needed by a famished Barcelona. Antonio Martín was an anarchist leader who was a hindrance to stock-breeders and farmers in the smuggling of cattle out to France or smuggling right-wingers over the border. In the eyes of the cattle-farmers and bourgeois who were looking at their chances of lining their pockets through smuggling and speculation evaporating, Antonio Martín was a demon and they turned him into evil incarnate, a bloodthirsty vampire who could easily and conveniently be blamed for every murder, act of thievery or outrage in Cerdanya, especially when these could be used to screen and protect their own criminality.
3. Jaume Palau held the position of mayor in Puigcerdá from 20 July to 8 September 1936, representing the ERC. Politically, he was in charge, as he was the top authority figure at the time.
4. So now there were 52 victims? Does that figure also include the anarchists murdered by the counter-revolution? Or the deserters gunned down on the border by the carabineers? If, as the Memorial’s text states, the responsibility for these deaths has yet to be clarified, how come the finger is pointed at anarchists and at Antonio Martín?

Section three of the tin-plate

The Memorial Democrático text featured on the tin-plate plaque, rather than sculpted into stone, also states this:

The range of professions among the victims suggests that they were persecuted for being conservatives, Catholics or well-to-do people, not discounting personal enmity or arbitrary acts.”

1. Here the author of the Memorial text climbs the heights of hypocrisy because he/she carefully dodges saying what might and should have been made clear, what needs stating without any mealy mouth, keeping nothing back. 7 out of the 20 people shot at the Còrrec del Gavatx were members of Unión Patriótica. Unión Patriótica was the single party of the Primo de Rivera dictatorship. Meaning that they were proven fascists, tried and tested fascists of some vintage, predating the foundation of the Falange and the Juntas de Ofensivas Nacional-Sindicalistas (JONS). Was that a justification for their being shot? Obviously not. Does it help us understand what happened? Plainly it does. And the Memorial text should have spelled this out clearly instead of covering it up.
 2. We might need to recall the historical context – one of civil war, one triggered by an army and fascist uprising against the lawfully constituted democratic republican government. That fascist military coup enjoyed the backing and sympathy of the Catholic Church, as well as its members and followers.
3. The military, fascist, Catholic uprising against the Republic opened the floodgates to the settling of social and political conflicts by means of violence. And that violent approach was ushered in by the military, the fascists and the Catholics. Each with their own degree of responsibility for it.
4. It is equally slick and false to turn a blind eye to this historical civil war context. In war-time it is a case of kill the enemy or be killed by him. In September 1936 ERC personnel took their revenge for the repression, denunciation, imprisonment, fines and political harassment visited upon them by pro-Spanish right-wingers – Unión Patriótica members or not – in the wake of their failed October 1934 insurrection.
5. And this happened in lots of villages around Catalonia and not just in the Cerdanya. 
6. Anarchists played no part in that insurrection, despite the gratuitous allegations coming from Memorial Democrático and the Arxiu Comarxal (County Archives), because they had no hand in the October 1934 revolt and so were scarcely touched by the crackdown by the pro-Spanish right-wingers, whereas the Catalan nationalists from the ERC were. 
7. Only truth is revolutionary and it always defeats lies. It is a case of archival records versus legend, even though some archivists may manipulate or misconstrue the contents of their own archival collections, taking on political positions at odds with their professional calling.

Section four of the tin-plate

After reporting and naming all of those murdered in the savagery of 10-11 September 1936 and restoring their honour, as had already been done on the walls of churches around the Cerdanya throughout the Francoist era, we find this written in white against a red background on the tin-plate plaque:

The upheaval triggered throughout the comarca by the murders under the aegis of the CNT-FAI and the propagandistic use made of this by Francoism, turning them into martyrs in its own cause, ensured that for decades a silence prevailed among the population of the Cerdanya.”

1. Here the lying is windmill-sized: a nonsense. Francoism manipulated nothing, it merely acknowledged its own. Membership of Unión Patriótica meant being a top-flight fascist, of the sort predating the foundation of the Falange and the Juntas de Ofensivas Nacional-Sindicalistas. And in the context of a civil war triggered by an army and fascist revolt with Catholic Church backing, it made any attempt by republicans to distinguish between fascists, right-wingers and Catholics too delicate a requirement. 
2. Moreover, the personnel from the ERC were neither overly delicate nor too crude; all they were out to do was to take revenge on the men who had persecuted them; the pro-Spanish right-wingers who had persecuted them between October 1934 and November 1935.
3. Following the 2018 edition of Nacionalistas contra anarquistas en la Cerdaña, no one ventured any longer to blame Antonio Martín and the anarchists directly any more for the killings on 9 September 1936. Nowadays the ambiguous and poisonous refrain is under the aegis of the CNT-FAI. Meaning that even though the list of those slated for execution was drawn up in the ERC Clubhouse and even though the ERC’s Eliseu Font was the man who ordered the executions and even though Antonio Martín had been away in France for some time, well, like it or not, and flying in the face of all the reasonable and documentary evidence, the killings were, according to the blunt version of the Memorial Democrático, carried out under the aegis of the CNT-FAI.
4. It is shameful that such falsehoods should be repeated when they have been clearly refuted with documentary evidence in the 2018 book Nacionalistas contra anarquistas en la Cerdaña.

Section five of the tin-plate plaque

The Memorial text sets out, very well painted on brand-new, gleaming tin-plate, which the passage of time may or may not rust, this soap-opera version of events:

The Córrec del Gavatx executions, the ones that occurred on the Collada de Toses, or the pick-and-shovel demolition of the church of Santa María de Puigcerdá, as well as the death of Antonio Martín in Bellver de Cerdanya, a town that stood up to anarchist power, or the smuggling of thousands of republican refugees into exile, are regarded as some of the most salient events of the civil war in the county.”

1. In Nacionalistas contra anarquistas en la Cerdaña it is demonstrated beyond any doubt that those who perished on the Collada de Toses were – or the vast majority of them – victims of a clash between the carabineers and young right-wing deserters hell bent on escaping to France. And the carabineers were simply carrying out their duty to guard the border. 
2. The church of Santa María was demolished on urban planning grounds on the decision of the ERC mayor Jaume Palau. Religious persecution was not a factor.
3. Throughout the text, the talk is of murders, but when it comes to Antonio Martín’s turn, the Memorial editor speaks of his “death”, not his murder. Details like this speak to the Memorial editor‘s or editors’ hatred of anarchism. For folk who believe in law and order, capitalist order, revolutionaries are never murdered but simply die like noxious cockroaches which deserve extermination and oblivion and to be crushed without a second thought. Liquidation of them being a matter of hygiene.
4. The names of those murdered in the Segre bridge massacre on 27 April 1937 are as follows: Antonio Martín Escudero, Julio Fortuny Villa and Antonio Carchaco, driver.  Their names are never going to be remembered by Memorial Democrático so better that they should be listed here rather than on one its plaques.
5. The names of those murdered in La Serradora on 10 June 1937 are as follows: Juan Anglada Costa, José Basagañas Costas, Joan Marangues Brocs, José Costa Fábregas, Esteban Font Marginat, Jaime Font Marginat and an uncle of Basagañas’s.  Their names too will never be remembered by Memorial Democrático: better they should be listed here than on one of its tin-plate plaques. 

Let them keep their tin-plate plaques: we will stick to honest investigation of the past. 

Would it be unduly bold to ask here for some passing commemoration of the seven unarmed anarchists murdered with explosives and machine-gunfire at their places of work, with the few left merely injured finished off, in the slaughter carried out at La Serradora on 10 June 1937? Plainly, in the mind-set of Memorial Democratico, they cannot have a plaque, because anarchists are never murdered and are always executioners or cockroaches, but never murder victims. There is every chance that Memorial Democrático has its doubts as to whether anarchists are people.

And what if we were to suggest that the tin-plates erected on the bridge over the Segre and on the walls in Bellver stopped defaming Antonio Martín and – as the archives show – recognize that he was murdered in an ambush laid by the ERC and Estat Català on the bridge in Bellver whilst on his way to parley with the authorities in the town about the deliberate closure of the highway between La Seo and Puigcerdà a few days earlier? 

However, whilst we speak of Antonio Martín admiringly as the Durruti of the Cerdanya, the folks from Memorial Democrático talk sneeringly of the ‘Málaga Gimp’, who was, in their imaginations, a bloodthirsty vampire. We share the Catalan language and class struggle with Memorial and with the County Archives, but from opposing sides. And there we come to the nub of the issue, which explains so much. 

Finally, let THEM stick to every church all over the Cerdanya and to all the tin-plate plaques they can afford: WE shall confine ourselves to honest investigation of the past, abjuring myths and legends.

Essentially, we are where we always have been: the bourgeoisie’s visceral hatred of anarchists and their nightmare regarding a libertarian revolution. 

Their cheap tin-plate stands exposed. Only truth is revolutionary. They look at us as if we were cockroaches. 

Agustín Guillamón
Barcelona, 20 September 2023

Antonio Gascón with Agustín Guillamón Nacionalistas contra anarquistas en la Cerdaña, Barcelona 2018, 691 pages


Translated by: Paul Sharkey.