2. On Collectivism and War (1936 – 1937)

15. The fascist rebelion is here

In July 1936 Spanish people were petrified participants in a macabre game of dice which decided the inexorable fate of each one. The rebellion on July 17th of a sector of the army with the support of the more conservative classes and the Catholic Church was an earthquake that shook everything. The fate of each one depended on who was the winner in each regional area. According to the chronicles, the first days after the coup were full of uncertainty in most places: in some places the military rebels took power and began the extermination of people linked to leftist ideas (including elected Republican officials), in other places the revolutionary unions and Left parties seized power and started a tough crackdown on those suspected of supporting fascism. In the meanwhile, the republican Government remained virtually powerless and, with regard to Aragon which once resisted the rebels, it still took several months to acquire power and then only for a limited time, so in March 1939 the republican Government went into exile, while all the European powers recognized the fascist government of Franco as legitimate.

General map of the Spanish Civil War (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Civil_War)

Solid blue.png Main rebel centres
Red-square.gif Main Republican centres
Panzer aus Zusatzzeichen 1049-12.svg Land battles
Vattenfall.svg Naval battles
Icon vojn new.png Bombed cities
City locator 4.svg Concentration camps
Gatunek trujący.svg Massacres
Red dot.svg Refugee camps

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16. The reception of the fascist coup in Alcampell

The military coup against the Spanish Republic, as elsewhere, was lived with great excitement in La Llitera county. The chronicles speak of crowds of people listening to the few existent radios and trying to figure out what happened, with all committees anarchists ready to seize power while supporters of the fascists plotting to join the rebellion. On July 18 in Alcampell the anarchists forced the establishment of a Committee with representatives of the Agricultural Union and the Village Council, to tackle the serious events that were expected. During the first nights the local fascists and supporters of the fascist rebels walked the streets armed and left the village without electricity, confident in the success of the uprising.

Soft construction with beans. Dali’s premonition of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. (Source: Philadephia Museum of Art) (http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/51315.html)

Meanwhile the Committee was installed in the building of the Agricultural Union and set up a permanent watch, as they feared an attack by local reactionaries, who were armed and were plotting with their county counterparts. A few days later, on 20 July, the local Civil Guard was evacuated and, together with the whole county, was concentrated in Tamarit de Llitera (the county capital) to the disappointment of local reactionaries, which they saw as the balance of forces largely leaning against them. Then the Committee put controls at entrances and exits of the village taking the effective power in the village.

The Guardia Civil concentrated in Tamarit de Llitera hoped the arrival of fascist rebel reinforcements, but they never arrived. It seems that the main factor that determined the failure of the fascist coup in the county was that the garrison army of Barbastro remained loyal to the Republic. So, the reactionaries of the region, although which began to coordinate among themselves, they could not receive the expected military support.

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17. The “red terror”

The Civil Guards and some supporters concentred in Tamarit blockaded themselves in the barracks and in the bell tower of the church, to the point that the anarchists had to have a plane coming from Lleida to scare them. Once surrendered, they were taken prisoner and then almost all executed by a mob led by local anarchists and others coming from Catalonia. From that moment a harsh crackdown began against any person suspected of having relations with fascist rebels in the region, starting with the members of the Guardia Civil and the priests, and continuing with affiliates and supporters of the reactionary conservative parties.

Portada del volum de la Causa General relatiu a Alcampell

According to the data from the archive of the Causa General the amount of presumed victims of red terror produced during those days in the county was of 200 people killed outside of government control, including thirty priests and church officials and and forty policemen (civil guards). Take note that the Causa General only includes victims considered as being related to the fascist rebels, and says nothing of those hundreds caused a couple of years later when they seized power in the county.

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18. The Anarchists take power

Jose Enjuanes lived these events of July 1936 as a privileged observer. As he explains:

“The war just exploded when Joaquin Blanco, who worked at a chemical factory in Flix, came to the village. He was a union leader in the factory, representing the FAI. He arrived with three cars full of militants, covered with mattresses and … they where going to the front, to join the anarchist columns which wanted to reconquer the city of Zaragoza.”

First moments of the Rebellion – Militias guarding the order in the villages (Author: Albero y Segovia) (Source: http://pares.mcu.es/

A few days later when the situation both in Madrid and Barcelona seemed controlled, local anarchists of the CNT broke the agreement with the village Council and with the Agricultural Union, and were established as a Revolutionary Committee. Then they stopped recognizing the authority of the previous committee and all the republican institutions. The local anarchist Committee arrested some people considered right-wing supporters, most of them involved in the repression of the events of 1933, and imprisoned them in the new barracks of the Guardia Civil, who had just barely opened. Paradoxically, the barracks were opened for those prisoners, those who had just promoted and paid it. Through threats the anarchists could learned that the detainees had a silo full of arms in Fountain street, with a hidden gallery connected to the sacristy of the church, where they had planned to blockade themselves in the bell tower. But they were caught.

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19. Revolution and death

According to the story of Josep Enjuanes, when the local anarchists fail to recognize the authority of Republican democratic institutions, they started the truly revolutionary phase (coordinated with the rest of Aragon not occupied by fascism). One of the first things they did was to call all the neighbors at a meeting in the Square (Plaza Mayor) in order to organize a “Collective”. This was already on 27 July 1936. They wanted to make a radical social revolution, to abolish private property, and to carry out the program of libertarian communism proclaimed that they had been promoting for some time.

Militians celebrating the victory (Author: Albero y Segovia) (Sorce: http://pare.mcu.es/)

Unfortunately, one of the things they also did was to shoot all the arrested local fascists. On the morning of 29 July, a platoon of the Revolutionary Committee of Alguaire came into Alcampell, put the fascists into a truck and led them to a field near Coll de Foix, in lands belonging to the neighbouring village of Albelda. There all 9 were killed. A huge blunder that later led to many difficulties in local coexistence. Most of the members of the Agricultural Union, although they had nothing to do with these facts, later were to suffer serious negative consequences.

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20. The collectivization of lands

Between 1936 and 1938 in La Llitera county, as elsewhere in the part of Aragon where the fascist rebellion failed, something very unusual happened: libertarian collectivism. In the case of Alcampell, the anarchist revolutionary committee decided to manage together all the lands of the people that joined them, and also the lands seized belonging to the local fascist supporters, and organized its work collectively. In theory, everyone should have their needs covered, and everybody should work according to his abilities. If someone did not want to join the Collective nothing happened to them, nobody forced them, but, as Enjuanes said, they did not receive anything and also risked the expropriation of part of what they had.

Collectivist peasants of Aragon (Author: Robert Capa)

Interestingly, the people of the Agricultural Union decided not to collectivise their lands, which led to numerous conflicts between them and the anarchist commitee. As Jose Enjuanes said:

“the members of Agricultural Union were pressured a lot to enter the Collective, we had many clashes with them, but wanted to continue as we were. We told them that our Union was a truly cooperative movement, which had worked for twenty years with an undeniable success, bringing progress to the village and so on… But they wanted a social revolution to end all that was in the past. They wanted to start from scratch, not to create inequalities”.

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21. A Collectivization little peaceful

Theoretically, the collectivization of lands and services was voluntary, but the collectivist committee reserved for itself the right to decide in which cases it would be mandatory, which, according to the testimony of Josep Enjuanes, led to some arbitrary acts or driven by external motivations (such as old feuds between families, prior political positions, etc.). The lands of the families considered to be related to the fascist rebels were seized by the Collective, as well as certain services considered essential for there proper functioning (i.e. a truck). Our man shared many of the ideas of the collectivists, but shows his rejection of certain arrogant attitudes of the committee. As he says:

“They could come at any time and seize a calf or two, or three or those needed. And then they gave you nothing.”

Substitute money distributed by the anarchist of the Collective of Binefar (source: http://www.spa.anarchopedia.org/Archivo:Mon1.gif)

José Enjuanes tended to attribute to the local anarchists and the process of collectivization began by them a series of negative consequences that later a lot of people had to pay very bitterly, even many people who did not participate in it. What he probably did not realize was that the Collective existed in a context of war (it probably would have been impossible in another context), and that much of food and products generated (or seized) were used to supply the war front. The army columns and militias of the Republican Army ate thanks to the efforts of these groups of collectivists, which inevitably affected their operations. Sources describe it in detail: Victor Blanco, the anarchist teacher of Alcampell, explains how they were sending goods to the Binéfar Luggage in order to be distributed to the front, while Augustín Souchy Bauer said that every day two trucks of food and supplies were sent to the front and to the cities in the rear (for example, they sent 32 wagons of food to Madrid).

Anarchist militia in Alcampell (1936). Photo provided by María Pilar Meler: her father is the serious man in the center of the photo, and was the owner of the truck (which at that time was collectivized). It is very interesting to observe the militia members’ attitudes.

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22. How the Agricultural Union members became Socialists

From the perspective of our man, despite the promises of liberation of the libertarian project, its practical application was not easy and seemed to generate much social disruption and contributed to exacerbate the climate of tension at local level. Interestingly, our man felt himself belonging to a social movement alternative enough in his time, a movement that promoted the Agricultural Union and the construction of a more progressive, fair and equitable parallel society. In this sense, he may have shared many of the ideas that feed the libertarian project, but as we have seen, does not agree with the way it was carried out.

According to his account, the members of the Agricultural Union suffered a lot of harassment to force them to join the Collective, which led to growing friction between both sides. In this situation, members of the Agricultural Union sought refuge outside the village, and for this reason they tried to contact with the republican (legal) authorities located in Barbastro (since the provincial capital, Huesca, was occupied by the fascist rebels). They realised that to obtain protection they should be affiliated to some group or political party, so they decided to join the UGT (socialist Trade Union) and the Socialist Youth (youth wing of socialist party). In this way, they obtained assurances that they would be defended against possible abuses by the anarchist committee that managed the community.

Unified Socialist Youth – JSU de España. Secretariado de Propaganda. Gráficas Valencia (Author: José Bardasano, 1937)

Then our man became a member of the Young Socialists, which at that time in Spain had already merged with the Young Communists, giving rise to the Unified Socialist Youth (Juventudes Socialistas Unificadas).

From then on, the Collective and the Agricultural Union coexisted, not without tensions, but giving a remarkable vitality to the local life in every way. Not only were organizational innovations in agricultural production made, but they also promoted a remarkable cultural life in the village (as reflected in plays, reading groups, nudist and naturism groups, etc.). For example, both the Union and the Collective had respective group of amateur actors who staged plays, often with social content, and competed with each other to attract the publics attention.

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