1. Dancing in the street
In November 1933 our man was a proud 18 year old with blood boiling under his skin and he was involved in a situation that, according to his perception, changed the course of his life in some ways. A general election was held in Spain and the conservative parties won. In order to celebrate that victory the conservative elites of Alcampell decided to organize a popular dance, but instead of hiring the usual local band that played every Sunday, they were looking for another, supposedly better (musically and higher standing), one in the neighboring town of Tamarit (the capital of La Llitera county). A group of youths protested against this decision, including José Enjuanes, our man, and they started a confrontation that finally led to the division of the Dance Society.
From this moment on there were two different Dance Societies in the village, that of the conservative elites and a new one made up by of young and more progressive people, both organizing a dance every Sunday and during the annual festivals. This was the first time that our man realized that the village was divided on political and ideological grounds, and believes some of his subsequent problems began because of his role in the creation of the new Dance Society. But, in fact, the village was already divided long ago. Not in two halves, but into three increasingly antagonistical groups.
2. Social structure of the village
The three social groups existing in Alcampell during these times can be characterized as follows:
On one side, the traditional elites and their circles of influence, those families and people defending the old social order (almost medieval). At this time the distribution of power in rural Aragon followed an oligarchic style, with a few “families” holding the power at local and regional level since the time of the ancient regime, in a context of extreme social inequalities. It was a very stable formula that remained in place during centuries, but which was rapidly changing in the first decades of the XXth century.
On the other side, the rural petty bourgeoisie, without so many traditional ties to keep, with no coat of arms on the facade of their houses, but more and more economically vibrant. They are people of order, but who despair at the lack of structural reforms in the country and seeing how Spain is increasing distant from European modernity. Some sectors of these people feel increasingly influenced by the ideas proposed by some Regenerationist thinkers and politicians of the time. It is these sectors that time and again since the early Nineteenth century are trying to make the “bourgeois revolution” in Spain, and fail again and again against the powerful agricultural and financial oligarchy (which has the support of much of the army and the Catholic Church).
The third social group consisted of people influenced by anarchist thought, which was gradually gaining support in the region, especially among younger generations of the rural petty bourgeoisie, and among certain sectors of rural poor. The influences of these people can be found both in some of the intellectuals and liberal politicians as well as in the labor organizations of the time.
In the first third of the Twentieth century, these three social groups were living in the region and in the village, the friction was constant and growing to the point that they increasingly tended to resolve conflicts with violence. It was, however, a trend repeated across Europe (do not forget that this is the time of the emergence of revolutionary social movements, including the Soviet revolution and all that led to on a continental scale).
3. Be careful with the lovely people
The most obvious division between social groups in the town was between traditional elites and the rural petty bourgeoisie, two groups which had already been in at loggerheads for a long time. For example, during the Eighteenth century numerous conflicts over the distribution of communal lands of Alcampell (and the rest of the region) were observed, a distribution required by a state law and which the elites were reluctant to comply with, but actively demanded by the rural bourgeoisie (as described brilliantly by Josep M. Martínez París in his book Expansió Agrària i Conflicte Social al segle XVIII: El Litigi per les Terres Comunals de Tamarit de Llitera). Also during the nineteenth century there is evidence of conflicts between the two groups in the locality, for example when, after the promulgation of the Spanish Civil Code in 1889 (broadly speaking, still in force) which, among other things, allowed civil funerals, a sector of the population linked to the rural petty bourgeoisie demanded this possibility in front of the strong opposition from the more conservative classes and the local Catholic church. After some years of friction, finally the first group obtained a part of the cemetery for civil burials.
When interpreting these conflicts, we must bear in mind that the conservative elites were simply engaged in defending their ancient privileges, while the rural petty bourgeoisie claimed part of their growing rights linked to the emerging but still undeveloped Spanish liberal state. It was a continual struggle, ultimately, for the distribution of power between two relatively powerful social classes at the local level, but it should be noted that neither one nor the other thought to promote equality of resources among the whole population. Each one looked out for themselves.
4. Do not act individually if you can do it with others
In 1918 some of the most active members of the rural petty bourgeoisie, a group increasingly economically vibrant but with little access to the local institutional power, decide to stop waiting for solutions to their problems from the traditional elites and try to provide them themselves. To do this, aided by a strange and providential provincial deputy, they found an “Agricultural Union”. In fact, it was a kind of consumer cooperative with which the partners (who require a certain heritage to be accepted) established a set of basic services (bakery, doctor, pharmacist, school teacher, mutual support in case of disease, credit bank, oil mill, etc.) as well as some leisure facilities which contribute to enhancing people’s collective life (soccer field, coffee-bar, a venue for theater, dance, etc.).
These Agricultural Unions have two main ideological sources: the first one, inspired by the Utopian English socialist Robert Owen and introduced into Spain by Joaquín Abreu and Fernando Garrido, and, secondly, the encyclical Rerum Novarum of Pope Leo XIII, in which to cope with the social problems caused by capitalism, a sector of the Catholic Church seeks to promote social harmony through worker cooperatives. In Spain, the government tries to promote these kind of Unions to reduce the increasing social tension in rural areas and to enhance a possible economic development, and does so with certain specific rules and laws (from the laws of 1906 and 1908). The fact is that, paradoxically, in places with pre-existing social class conflicts, such as Alcampell, the proper functioning of the Union Agricultural led to the division of the population into two increasingly distant and independent groups. For this reason, when our man said that the village was ideologically and politically divided, he was just stating a very old fact.
5. Looking for a strongman
According to the sources (basically our man, José Enjuanes Pena), the moral and economic impetus to found the Agricultural Union of Alcampell was given by a lawyer and liberal politician named Josep Maria Espanya, who was at that time an important influence in the Pyrenees of Lleida and Huesca and surrounding areas.
Born in Vielha, Josep Maria Espanya was elected to the Spanish Parliament in three consecutive general elections (1907, 1911 and 1915) representing different political parties (liberal, republican and regionalist), was president of the Diputación de Lleida (1913-1917) and civil governor of Palencia (1921), minister of the autonomous government of the Generalitat de Catalunya chaired by Lluís Companys (1936). He was exiled in France and in Colombia in 1939 until his death in 1953. While traditional elites had their permanent representatives in the organs of state power (typically people with family ties) engaged in defending their rights and privileges, the rural petty bourgeoisie also sought contacts in the Spanish Parliament and other state institutions. In the case of Alcampell, Mr. Espanya seems to be the strongman of the local petty bourgeoisie in its dealings with institutional power.
6. The rationalist school
At the time our man was a child, local public education was of poor quality, overcrowded and transmitting outdated knowledge or based on biased interpretations of the Holy Bible. The glaring inefficiency of public school experiences led to several secular private schools, of which, one in concrete, is regarded as particularly productive. This was the school of Manuel Núñez, a disciple of the promoter of the “Modern School” in Spain, Manuel Ferrer y Guardia, who, following the repression that followed the Tragic Week in Barcelona, took refuge in Alcampell and, upon the request several families (of the rural petty bourgeoisie), in 1909 opened a private school with a growing and undeniable success. It was a school that promoted the children’s education in a rational and scientific way, compassionate and without exams, and left a deep mark on all students and the general population. In 1919 Manuel Núñez committed suicide (leaving the population startled), allegedly for reasons of love (or better the loss of love). As many of its students belonged to families that had just founded the Agricultural Union of Alcampell, they had the need to give continuity to school. They would come in contact with the “Liceu Escolar de Lleida”, led by the pedagogue Frederic Godàs, and he provided a new teacher named Ramon Serrano, inspired also on the principles of modern pedagogy, rationalist and secular.
He was to be the teacher of José Enjuanes from 5 to 11, a few years that our man would always remember as the best of his life. In 1926 the teacher Ramón Serrano left the village (also for reasons of an unrequited love) and was replaced by another similar master, to be followed by a couple more until the dissolution of the Agricultural Union by force of arms (the Fascists) in 1938.
7. Early ideological influences
In his story, our man talks about some characters that influenced him in his youth, during the 20’s and 30’s of the past Century. One is Roberto Sarrate, a young man of the village who was interested in many social and intellectual issues, who had been a student of the rationalist school, a tireless organizer of popular cultural activities in Alcampell and in the county of La Llitera. José Enjuanes recalls that in his home, Roberto had a picture of Joaquin Costa, of whom he considered himself a disciple and follower, and with who he shared an ideology for social transformation (promoter of the cooperative, defense of economic individualism and of the federal state, of municipal autonomy and of the agrarian collectivism, of the uncompensated expropriation of large landowners, of improving communications between territories and of the expansion of irrigation). Costas’ radical ideas had a great influence among the republican bourgeoisie of the time, and later, were also a source of inspiration for the revolutionary anarchist principles.
Roberto Sarrate led a small local theatre group, and was the soul of many of the cultural initiatives of the population (music, dance, poetry, songs, theater, cinema, etc.), but it seems that he was always planning activities that confronted the traditional elites. Towards the end of the 20’s he decided to move to Madrid, where he had a brother, because of the pressure exerted by the local traditional elites. He became involved in various leftist social movements, and during a general strike he was arrested and jailed. To escape from the jail he agreed to spend three years in the Legion in North Africa. Upon his return, during the years of the Second Republic, he spent his time between Madrid and Alcampell, participating in the exalted social environment of the time. During the war he was the leader of a militia (a body of civil fighters), a column that later became part of the People’s Army of the Republic, where he became commander of a brigade that excelled in the defense of Madrid against the Fascists.
He was later seriously wounded and decided to convalescence in Alcampell. While he was there, the Aragon Front fell and he had to be evacuated with the XIII International Brigade that was stationed in Tamarit de Llitera, but passing Lleida the truck he was riding overturned and he broke both legs, and was sent to the military hospital in Barcelona (where, by chance, he coincided with José Enjuanes, who was also seriously injured). At that time Roberto Sarrate had a girlfriend who worked for the International Red Aid, both later went to France, like thousands of Republican exiles, and twere working for the French Resistance until they were arrested by the Nazis and sent to the Concentration Camps, where they finished their days.
During our interviews, José Enjuanes spoke with devotion of the times when, as a child and teenager, he was with Roberto Sarrate talking about life, ideas, the oppression of traditional rural elites, the future and so many things that contributed to shape their characters and which in 2010 were still influential for him.
8. More new influences
When, in 1926, the teacher Ramon Serrano left Alcampell (allegedly because of love disagreements), the Union School was temporarily closed. Then the father of our man put José Enjuanes to work as an unpaid assistant town clerk, just to keep learning. This was possible because the town clerk rented his house from Mr. Enjuanes senior. In this way, José Enjuanes went into the stormy world of the city bureaucracy, he discovered the most common administrative procedures and, above all, learned to type. His father felt that this would be good training for him. He was in this position until 1930, when he was 15 and his father decided that he could enter fully into the work on the family land. During his stay at City Hall he coincided with a man who mark him deeply, Mr. José María Abadía Garín. This is a young “foreigner” who married a girl from Alcampell, who was from one of the landowning families belonging to the traditional elites, nicknamed Cas del Secretari.
Shortly after his arrival in A lcampell there were municipal elections and José María Abadía was chosen as mayor. He was mayor between 1926 and 1929, and according to our man, undertook several initiatives to improve the quality of life in the village.
He built the new municipal schools, with more space and architecture adapted for teaching, improved the drinking water supply by digging a new well and constructing a large water tank, bought a big Encyclopedia to make it available to the entire population (the Gran Enciclopedia Espasa, consisting of over 200 volumes), proposed social security payments to employees in the municipality, etc. José Enjuanes, from his position as privileged observer within the municipality, describes how he had to deal harshly with the other members of the town council to carry out many of these initiatives. From his point of view, Mayor Jose Maria Abadía greatly dignified life in the village, producing a long series of advances asked for by the progressive sectors (of the rural bourgeoisie), which was reflected in his circle of friends in the population, mainly composed of members of the Agricultural Union. This earned him numerous problems with his own wife’s family, who looked askance at many of his actions. José Enjuanes reports that the mayor became a member of the Agricultural Union, but later he left because he could not meet an obligation: to attend funerals. Because many of the burials of relatives of the Agricultural Union members were secular, and attendence of them generated problems with the local Church and with members of his own family, he decided not to attend and to be consistent, giving up membership of the Agricultural Union.
9. The advent of the Spanish Second Republic
The triumph of the Republican candidates in the municipal elections of April 12th, 1931 marked the fall of the already discredited monarchy (and resulted in the immediate exile of King Alfonso XIII), and on the 14th, the Second Spanish Republic was proclaimed. A paradox of history, after so many decades of social and political conflicts, the republic had come without warning and with the placidity of a wave on the beach. In Alcampell the crowd celebrated it by playing the “Marseillaise,” and some sources report a popular demonstration that, after going through the main streets of the town, addressed the City Council and the Public School, took down the portraits of the king and burned them in public. The arrival of the Second Republic led to the incorporation of the citizen masses to the Spanish public life as never seen before, which was not well received by the more conservative sectors of society. In June 1931 elections were held to choose the courts that would draft the new Constitution, which was approved on 9th December 1931.
During the 1931-1933 biennium a republican and socialist coalition ruled, difficult to fit and poorly balanced, which faced strong opposition from the main labor union, the CNT (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo – National Labour Confederation), dissatisfied with the slow and shallow depth of the reforms, and from the boycott of conservative and para-fascist groups which from within the state apparatus hindered any kind of structural reform. In addition, this first republican government evolved in the midst of an enormous international economic and financial crisis, resulting from the crash of 1929 and subsequent Great Depression, which hit all Western countries hard.
After two years of continuous conflicts and increasingly difficult to meet expectations, the government resigned and called elections for November 19th, 1933. These elections were a severe defeat of the leftist parties that were in the previous government, and resulted in the victory of conservative parties, especially the CEDA (Spanish Confederation of Autonomous Rights) and the Radical Party. As a result of these elections, Alejandro Lerroux was elected as president of the Government, with Niceto Alcala Zamora as president of the Republic. This election is what caused the change of the band in the Sunday dance in Alcampell (cited in a previous post) which, for José Enjuanes, was his first clear perception of the social division existing in the village.
10. The anarchist Union CNT in Alcampell
The National Confederation of Labour (CNT) was created from the First National Congress of Workers’ Organisations, held in Barcelona in 1910. At first it was a federation of labor organizations dedicated to fighting for improved working conditions and a better life, but after the National Congress in 1919 in Madrid, it moved its towards anarchist ideas as the best way to achieve a society organized according to the principles of so-called “libertarian communism”.
The sources (Victor Blanco) indicate that in Alcampell a labor organization attached to the CNT was created in 1918, with the help of a village worker, Ramón Brualla, who was part of the strike committee of the La Canadiense electric-power company during construction of the Camarassa dam (in the nearby county of Noguera). In 1923, the CNT was outlawed and its activity in the area was very low until new legalization in 1931, when it was reorganized again and promoted an intense political and cultural activity (lectures, plays, book clubs, political activity, etc. ), with increasing conflicts with the local powers.
During the same year of 1931, the County Federation of Trade Unions of the CNT was established in Alcampell, and following the events of December 1933 moved to Monzón, where it remained until its dissolution with the arrival of the fascist army in March 1938.
11. “In front the political election, the social revolution”
During the election campaign of 1933 the CNT in the area was very active spreading its anti-politicism, while, paradoxically, the parties that were standing remained almost silent. In the region of La Llitera there were only a couple of meetings of candidates of Izquierda Republicana (a party representing the progressive petty bourgeoisie), which were boycotted by members of the CNT.
The CNT had held a congress in Madrid on 30 and 31 October 1933, which produced the slogan that would guide its actions in the upcoming elections “In front of the political election, the social revolution”. In that Congress they decided that if the Conservative victory lead to a “state of passion of the people”, the CNT would be responsible for giving an impulse and direct it toward the social revolution, with the ultimate goal of implementing “libertarian communism.” During November in Zaragoza a “Revolutionary Committee” was created to prepare the insurrection and coordinate it among all the Spanish regions (although representatives of various regions disagreed because they had not yet recovered from previous insurgencies, especially for the ones of January 1933). It was decided that the day of the social revolution would coincide with the open-day of the new Parliament, scheduled for December 8. So, the revolution would begin promptly at 12 midnight on that day. Thousands of workers in Spain were waiting for the call of the CNT to leave their work and take the streets. The authorities were aware of everything that was being prepared, and began to take precautionary measures (closing ironworks, confiscating weapons, closing Union newspapers, arresting labor leaders, etc.).
12. The events of December 1933 in Alcampell
José Enjuanes, like other witnesses (such as Víctor Blanco), notes that in Alcampell the insurrection began at the time and date agreed: 12 pm on December 8, 1933. CNT members put controls on the entry and exit roads, and began night patrols. On one such patrol clashed with a former policeman from Barcelona who lived in the village, who was in the service of the conservative elements of the village. In the middle of shooting one of the anarchist militants was killed, presumably because of an accidental shot by his own comrades. On the morning of the 9th they occupied the Town Hall, dismissed the Mayor (who was a socialist), hung the red and black flag of the CNT on the facade, and proclaimed libertarian communism. Then in the main square they burned all the files and documents from the Town Hall and proclaimed the abolition of money and private property (they try to found a society from scratch). When the bus line coming from Benavarre and Graus passed through Alcampell, they seized it and demanded that the owner of the local inn take charge of the passengers. Later the former policeman, whom they accused of the death of the anarchist shot the previous night, was chased until he was cornered in a pig sty, where he was trapped for hours, until finally the crowd concentrated decided to add fuel and set fire to the sty, burning him to death.
During the morning of 9 of December, the insurgents had no news from outside the village, and began to worry because they did not know if the revolution had triumphed everywhere or not. They therefore decided to send observers to the hills of the Sierra de la Gessa, from where they could overlook the plain of La Llitera. From there they saw the train passing through the station of Tamarit-Altorricó, and concluded that the planned rail strike had not been carried out, so they realized that the revolution had not been widespread. However, they decided not to tell to the others in order to not demoralize the movement. Throughtout the day of the 9th, they were lecturing people about how to live in libertarian communism, which was not as easy as they had imagined, and which they attributed to the lack of habit. At this point, they still did not understand why if the widespread insurrection had failed that the police had not already been sent to stop them.
On the morning of the 10th they buried the two victims of the previous day. Later someone spread the rumor that a column of the Civil Guard coming from Graus was moving toward the village, so a group of anarchist rebels took the seized bus and went to the nearby Seganta bridge to dynamite it. Finally, during the afternoon of December 10th, a section of the Army and another of the Civil Guard coming from Tamarite surrounded the town, occupied it and re-established institutional order. It seems that only the president of the local committee of the CNT put up resistence by shooting with a shotgun, and managed to escape cross-country and later fled to Barcelona. Military patrols patrolled the streets of the town overnight.
13. The consequences of the revolt
The revolt of December 1933, despite having been agreed by the Revolutionary Committee of the CNT at national level, was only taken up in some rural areas of Galicia, Catalonia, Aragon and La Rioja. In Aragon it was followed in some municipalities of the province of Huesca (Alcampell, Albalate de Cinca, Alcalá de Gurrea, Calasanz, Lanaja and Villanueva de Sigena) and of the province of Teruel (Alcañiz, Alcorisa, Arenys de Lledó, Beceite, Calanda, Fórnols, La Freixneda, La Torre del Compte, Mas de las Matas, Mazaleón and Valderrobles). In the city of Zaragoza, even though the revolt did not occur, the workers called a general strike that lasted until December the 14th in solidarity with detainees of all those villages.
With regard to Alcampell, the testimony of Josep Enjuanes correlates well with other available sources (Victor Blanco, Angeles Blanco & Sixto Agudo, Hanneke Willemse) on the consequences of the rebellion. On December 11 the arrests began, not just of anarchists who led the revolt but also of many other people not involved at all, but considered ideologically left-wing or progressive, many of them members of the Agricultural Union. There were hundreds of detainees, some very high figures which indicate that a sector of the village decided to settle outstanding vendettas. On December 15th the detainees began to be moved towards Huesca prison, but as it was full of many prisoners from across the province, those of Alcampell were taken to the jail of Jaca. According to José Enjuanes, Jaca was covered with snow and they had to fight through by themselves. Later, some thirty of Alcampell detainees were sent to the prison of Chinchilla (Albacete), one of the toughest in Spain, with sentences ranging from 10 to 24 years in prison.
However, these were agitated times and things changed quickly. A few months later, in May 1934, the government proclaimed an amnesty and the majority of the Alcampell detainees were released and returned home, with the exception of those sentenced to 24 years of prison, who had to wait until April 1936 when a new amnesty by the new government of the Popular Front was proclaimed. The sources indicate that the local anarchist Committee prepared a great reception for the released, waiting for them at the Tamarit de Llitera train station and accompanying them all the way with a band playing the Marseillaise, the Riego anthem and other popular and revolutionary tunes.
14. The Civil Guard barracks
Following the events of December 1933 (see point 12 before), a detachment of the Guardia Civil was installed in Alcampell, initially housed in the homes of some conservative families unti later they built a permanent headquarters. José Enjuanes explains that the conservative sector demanded that the City Council must pay for the building of the headquarters, at first without much success, but later the pressure of local right got to the City Council to carry out a referendum to see if the people accepted it. It seems that the day before the date of the consultation, several of the Civil Guards who were already in the village had a dispute with one of the local anarchists, and two grandparents walking through the street were seeing how he was beaten and decided to intervene to prevent further damage, and consequently they were beaten too. Apparently, this fact led many people to vote against the construction of the Civil Guard barracks, so the result was negative. In these circumstances, those who asked for the headquarters decided to pay for it themselves, collecting money from the more conservative families and friends. Thus, in 1934 the construction of barracks began, which was completed around 1935. Later this headquarters would be the scene of repeated violent episodes.