Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
The Spanish Civil WarRevolution and Counterrevolution$

Burnett Bolloten

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9781469624464

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469624464.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA PRESS SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.northcarolina.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of North Carolina Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in NCSO for personal use. Subscriber: null; date: 27 June 2022

The Libertarian Movement and the Regular Army

The Libertarian Movement and the Regular Army

(p.322) 32 The Libertarian Movement and the Regular Army
The Spanish Civil War

Burnett Bolloten

University of North Carolina Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter turns to the Anarchosyndicalist opposition to the militarization of the popular militia. Despite the compromises made by the libertarian movement for the disciplining of its militia units, and out-and-out militarization involving the rigorous subordination of these units to government control, the restoration of rank and privilege, the appointment of officers by the war ministry, the introduction of differential pay rates, heavy disciplinary punishments, the compulsory salute, among other things proved too much for the Anarchist stance on individualism. But if the CNT and FAI had ethical motives for opposing militarization and the regular army, they had powerful political motives as well. They considered a standing army as a threat to the Revolution, arguing that the armed people themselves would serve as the greatest defense of the Revolution.

Keywords:   libertarian movement, regular army, militarization, popular militia, antiauthoritarian doctrines, individualism, CNT, FAI

“We do not want a national army,” cried Frente Libertario, the newspaper of the Anarchosyndicalist militia on the central front. “We want the popular militia, which incarnates the will of the masses, and is the only force that can defend the liberty and the free social order of the Spanish people. As before the Civil War, we now cry, ‘Down with chains.’ The army is enslavement, the symbol of tyranny. Away with the army.”1 Juan López, the CNT leader, declared shortly before entering the cabinet of Largo Caballero, “We do not want a uniformed and disciplined militia organized into military units.”2

The Anarchosyndicalists could not accept a regular army without violating their antiauthoritarian principles. True, the exigencies of an implacable struggle had forced them to recognize that their militia units needed some measure of restraint on individualism, but that was entirely different from accepting an out-and-out militarization involving the rigorous subordination of these units to government control, the restoration of rank and privilege, the appointment of officers by the war ministry, the introduction of differential pay rates, heavy disciplinary punishments, and the compulsory salute. “When this word [militarization] is uttered—why not admit the fact?—we feel uneasy, disturbed; we shudder because it calls to mind the constant assaults on dignity and the human personality,” avowed Nosotros, the Anarchist organ in the region of Valencia. “Until yesterday, to militarize implied—and for many people it still implies—regimenting men in such a way as to destroy their wills by breaking their personality in the mechanism of the barracks.”3

But if the CNT and FAI had ethical motives for their hostility to militarization and the regular army, they had powerful political motives as well. At a congress of the CNT two months before the outbreak of the Civil War, a resolution was approved to the effect that a standing army—and by this was meant any standing army organized after the overthrow of the old regime—would constitute the greatest threat to the Revolution, “because under its influence a dictatorship would be forged that would necessarily deal it a mortal blow.” Drafted by a (p.323) commission composed of some of the outstanding leaders of the libertarian movement, the resolution stated that the greatest guarantee for the defense of the Revolution would be the armed people. “There are thousands of workers,” it added, “who have passed through the barracks and have a knowledge of modern military technique. Every commune will have its arms and [other] elements of defense, for they will not be destroyed and transformed into instruments of labor until the Revolution had been finally consolidated. We urged the necessity of holding onto airplanes, tanks, armored cars, machine guns, and antiaircraft guns because it is from the air that the real danger of foreign invasion exists. If that invasion should occur the people will mobilize themselves rapidly in order to oppose the enemy and will return to their work as soon as they have accomplished their defensive mission.”4

It is no wonder, therefore, that the attempt of José Giral’s moderate government in the first weeks of the war to create volunteer battalions and, later, a volunteer army under its control should have been viewed with suspicion by the libertarian movement. Solidaridad Obrera, the leading CNT newspaper in Spain, declared with regard to the first of these two measures that even before the military rebellion had been defeated the middle classes were thinking of the regime to be established on the day of victory. But, it affirmed, the workers would not rest on their laurels and would not allow their triumph to be snatched from them.5 García Pradas, director of the principal Anarchosyndicalist organ in the central zone, CNT, declared that no one should enlist in the volunteer army because such an army would result in the creation of a new caste that would try to settle accounts after the victory over fascism. The people, he added, had shown that they did not need to join an army in order to win the war and should therefore not allow themselves to be deceived.6

Hence, it is not at all surprising that when, a few weeks after entering the war ministry, Largo Caballero promulgated measures providing for the militarization of the militia and the creation of a regular army, anxiety grew in the movement and mounted into alarm when the Communists made manifest progress in penetrating the military apparatus.

In an effort to still the fears of the FIJL, the libertarian youth organization, as to the Communists’ intentions regarding the army, Santiago Carrillo, the general secretary of the Communist-run Unified Socialist Youth, declared: “I know … there are comrades of the Unified Socialist Youth who desire unity with the young libertarians in order to win the war, but that they believe in their heart of hearts that, when the war is over and the armies return from the front, we are going to use these armies to crush, to destroy, to liquidate our brothers, the young libertarians. … But I tell you, comrades, that such ideas must be discarded because they are mistaken, because when we call for unity with the young libertarians we do so sincerely. We know that our libertarian comrades are a force necessary for victory, and we are also convinced that after victory they will collaborate with us in building up a strong, free, and democratic Spain. That is our belief, and all we ask of them is that on their part they should abandon their sectarian prejudices, (p.324) that they should not regard us as passing friends of today and enemies of tomorrow, but as friends today, tomorrow, and always.”7

Neither the Anarchist youth organizations nor the libertarian movement as a whole, however, was under any illusions as to the nature of the threat presented by the Communists, if only because of the annihilation of the Russian Anarchists by the Bolsheviks. The CNT-FAI leaders had proposed in September 1936 that a “war militia” be created on the basis of compulsory service and under the joint control of the CNT and UGT partly in the hope of parrying the Communist danger.8 But neither of these two proposals had evoked a responsive echo, and with the Communist threat still uppermost in their minds, the Anarchosyndicalist leaders had finally decided to solicit representation in the cabinet and thus secure for the libertarian movement some measure of influence in the military machine. This, to be sure, had meant jettisoning not only their antigovernment creed, but also their antimilitarist principles, which, in the opinion of Manuel Villar, director, from December 1936, of the CNT newspaper in Valencia, Fragua Social, had proved inimical to the libertarian movement. For, he contended, whereas many Anarchosyndicalists had regarded the holding of commanding posts with repugnance, the Communists had embarked on an unbridled drive to occupy all they could.9 “Were we in a position to be squeamish about doctrines?” he asked. “If the CNT had allowed the levers of revolutionary action to escape from its hands, the Revolution itself would have suffered from the lessening of our influence. And as the Revolution was the objective, and the CNT one of its most powerful determining factors, the most revolutionary course was to take those steps that would keep us in the political, military, and economic center of gravity.”10

But the role the CNT-FAI ministers were able to play in the counsels of the cabinet, particularly in regard to military matters, fell far short of their expectations; for they found, to use the words of Juan Peiró, the Anarchosyndicalist minister of industry, that they had no rights or responsibilities regarding the direction of the war.11 Hoping to remedy this situation, they proposed that a kind of inner cabinet be created to handle military affairs, in which the CNT would be given representation.12 This proposal—supported by the Communists no doubt in the belief that the new body would enable them to subject Caballero’s actions to closer scrutiny and control13—materialized in the decree of 9 November, establishing a Higher War Council that was empowered to “harmonize and unify everything related to the war and its direction.”14 The council was composed of Largo Caballero, the war minister; Indalecio Prieto, the moderate Socialist leader and minister of air and navy; Vicente Uribe, the Communist minister of agriculture; Julio Just, the left Republican minister of public works; García Oliver, the CNT-FAI minister of justice; and Alvarez del Vayo, the philo-Communist minister of foreign affairs and general commissar of war.15

In spite of its official aim, this new body was condemned to futility from the outset owing to the dissensions between Largo Caballero and the Communists as well as to the rivalry between the premier and Indalecio Prieto that deprived it of any unanimity and also of the most relevant military information essential to the (p.325) proper discharge of its functions. The Communists soon had grounds for open dissatisfaction since the Higher War Council met only on rare occasions owing to the resolve of the war minister not to relinquish to his opponents what remained of his authority,16 while the Anarchosyndicalists, who had hoped that it would serve to augment their influence in military affairs, found that their voice had scant effect amid the strength of their opponents.

As a result, the libertarian movement was unable to use its participation in the government to increase its say in the military field or even curb the progress of the Communists, but rather was obliged in the end to circumscribe its efforts to maintaining control of its own militia units and securing arms from the war ministry. This was no easy task, for the latter had decided that weapons would be withheld from militia forces that were unwilling to transform themselves into regular units with the prescribed cadres. At the regional congress of the Valencia CNT, held in November 1936, the representative of the Alcoy paperworkers declared: “[There] is the case of a [CNT] column organized in Alcoy with more than one thousand militiamen, which the government does not arm because it has no officers; on the other hand, the Socialists, who are less in number, have been able to organize a column and obtain the necessary arms because they conform to the government’s conditions.”17

To circumvent these stipulations, the Anarchosyndicalists decided that their units should simulate acquiescence by adopting military names, an expedient that was employed by most of the CNT-FAI units, including those on the central front, in which, to quote the director of the Anarchist Castilla Libre, “everything save the nomenclature remained unchanged.”18 At the CNT regional congress, the Alcoy delegate declared that rather than be left without arms it would be better to meet the government’s demands by introducing officer rank and insignia. “But,” he added meaningfully, “as far as we are concerned, a century delegate is nothing more than a century delegate.”19 This stratagem did not help the libertarian units to secure the arms they needed, and, in the long run, they were forced to yield to the concept of militarization.

It was not only the need for military supplies that finally induced the libertarian movement to bow to the concept of militarization: it was also—and this was no doubt the most important consideration—the need to overcome the defects of the militia system.

One of the most serious of these defects is adequately illustrated by the following excerpt from an unpublished article written by a regular army corporal, who was posted to a CNT-FAI column on the Madrid front: “In the column we found a professional army captain … who secretly advised Ricardo Sanz [its Anarchosyndicalist leader] on everything he thought should be done. Sanz, who had common sense, always accepted his counsel; but every time a decision had to be taken he had to convene a general assembly of the militiamen and make the captain’s advice appear as if it were his own, cleverly inculcating it into the assembly so that it would look like the fruit of debate.”20

Captain Alberto Bayo, the titular head of the invasion of the Balearic Islands (p.326) by Catalan militia, records the following conversation he had with the members of the Anarchist militia committee when giving them orders for the invasion of Majorca:

“‘Now, just a minute,’ one of the big chiefs replied. … ‘We only take orders from the leaders of the CNT and we cannot carry out your orders without their approval.’

“‘Nevertheless, they will have to be carried out without their knowledge,’ I retorted energetically, ‘because they are in Barcelona and the landing is a military secret that I cannot risk sending by cable, radio, or even by code, and it must be undertaken tomorrow morning without vacillation and without delay.’

“‘We are very sorry,’ they replied, ‘but we cannot participate if it is to be carried out tomorrow. We risk our men only when ordered by our leaders.’ …

“Over and over again I held my patience; I reasoned with them, I ordered them angrily, I beseeched them. … Finally they agreed to discuss among themselves whether they would carry out the landing the next day or wait until they received orders from their central committee.”21 The disadvantages of this democratic, antimilitaristic procedure soon made themselves apparent. “Those in charge would order an operation,” declared Federica Montseny at a public meeting, “and the militiamen would meet to discuss it. Five, six, and seven hours were lost in deliberation, and when the operation was finally launched the enemy had already attained his objective. Such things make one laugh, and they also make one weep.”22

But they did something else as well; they caused the Anarchosyndicalist militia leaders, especially on the central front, where the pressure of the enemy was unremitting, to turn their backs on their traditional attitude toward militarization. “It was [after the capture of Aravaca and Pozuelo outside Madrid] that all my ideas regarding discipline and militarization were shattered,” Cipriano Mera, the CNT militia leader—who eventually became commander of the Fourteenth Division and then of the Fourth Army Corps—confessed some months later. “The blood of my brothers shed in the struggle made me change my views. I understood that if we were not to be definitely defeated, we had to construct our own army, an army as powerful as that of the enemy, a disciplined and capable army, organized for the defense of the workers. Henceforth I did not hesitate to urge upon all combatants the necessity of submitting to new military principles.”23

And, in his memoir, Guerra, exilio y cárcel de un anarcosindicalista, Mera writes: “It was no longer a matter of street fighting or simple skirmishes, in which enthusiasm could compensate for lack of training. … This was a real war. Hence, we needed militarized units with officers capable of planning operations and opposing the enemy with the fewest possible losses in men and material. … I always believed … that there was nothing stronger than self-discipline in free men and that a common commitment to a single ideal was superior to any other factor. I noticed in the midst of battle that convictions and great ideas could inspire great gestures and heroic deeds … , but these were insufficient to give us the cohesion we needed on the battle fronts. … We had paid for our improvisation (p.327) and whims with the lives of too many comrades. To reduce the bloodletting, it was necessary to change our conduct radically, if not our ideas. … When one has defended an ideal all one’s life, it is sad to have to recognize the fact that, if we really wanted to win the war, we had to create an army with the necessary discipline. … I was horrified at the thought of wearing a military uniform, but saw no alternative.”24

That this was not idle rhetoric is attested by Vicente Rojo, General Miaja’s pro-Communist chief of staff. Referring to the night of 6–7 November, when General Franco’s army had reached the outskirts of Madrid, Rojo—who identifies Mera only by the initial M—recalls that at 2 A.M. a leader of one of the militia units that “had fought most vigorously and had suffered the greatest number of casualties” came to his headquarters.

“‘I have come to ask you to give me a rank, any rank,’ said Mera. ‘Make me a sergeant. … I want to command like an officer so that my orders are strictly obeyed. I no longer wish to be M, “the man in charge.” I want to be sergeant M, so that what happened today will not be repeated.’

“‘What happened today was a success for you and a triumph for your unit,’ Rojo replied.

“‘Yes, but at what a cost in casualties.’ …

“The inexorable imperatives of military tactics had removed the scales from the eyes of this fighter, a fighter who was as passionate and stubborn in the defense of his political and syndicalist convictions as he was courageous and tenacious in the field of battle.”

Fifteen days later, Mera’s unit, reorganized and retrained, became, according to Rojo, “one of our most brilliant shock units, and its leader, hewn from the same raw material as the guerrilla leaders of our War of Independence of 1808, became one of the most outstanding commanders in the cadres that emerged from the early militia army.”25

Just as the CNT-FAI units on the Madrid front had, under the spur of necessity, introduced a modicum of discipline, so, under the same impulsion, they began to substitute a military for a militia structure and to urge the creation of cadres. Frente Libertario, the organ of the Madrid Anarchosyndicalist militia, declared that all prejudices should be laid aside and that the CNT should send to the military training academies a large number of comrades, who should begin to see that the military profession was as honorable and as essential as the trades that had calloused their hands. “The Popular Army now in formation,” it added, “requires military technicians, and this need, which is of a national character, is felt especially by our organization, which must watch over the constant development of its power.”26 The Madrid Anarchosyndicalist militia was influenced not only by political considerations and by the rigor of the struggle around Madrid, but also by the example of the International Brigades, whose more efficient military organization soon asserted its superiority over the militia system. Little by little, affirms the director of the Anarchist Castilla Libre, the change that at first had been purely nominal went deeper. “The International Brigades have been (p.328) observed fighting, and it has been proved that, given the same heroism and expenditure of energy, organization results in greater efficiency. In our militia, cadres appear formed in accordance with the regulations of the war ministry. The battalion leaders become majors; the century delegates become captains, the first corporals and sergeants make their appearance.”27

That this was not altogether a titular change was clear from statements made by many of the leading figures in the libertarian movement, who, having done with their antiauthoritarian past, became assiduous promoters of militarization. Cipriano Mera, for example, considered military discipline so important that he decided “to discuss matters only with generals, officers, and sergeants.”28 “One of the things that has done us most harm in the army,” he declared at a later date, “is the excessive familiarity between officers and men who once belonged to the militia.”29 And Juan García Oliver, who before becoming minister of justice had been regarded as a pure Anarchist, now enjoined the students of one of the officers’ training schools, with whose organization and administration he had been entrusted, to bear in mind that enlisted men “should cease to be your comrades and become the cogwheels of our military machine.”30

García Oliver’s assignment as chief organizer and administrator of the officers’ training schools—an assignment sought by the CNT-FAI ministers upon entering the government in the hope of preventing the Communists from gaining control of the schools and impeding the graduation of officers sympathetic to the CNT and FAI31—had been given to the Anarchist leader by the Higher War Council because its members, owing to the enmity between Largo Caballero and his rivals, had been unable to agree upon any other candidate. In a speech in May 1937, when he was no longer a member of the council, García Oliver affirmed that he had received the genuine collaboration of the war minister and that the degree of confidence the latter had placed in him was due to the fact that he had not used his assignment for the benefit of his own organization.32 Undoubtedly, one of the principal reasons for Caballero’s support of the Anarchist leader was his desire to keep the officers’ training schools out of the hands of the Communists. Nevertheless, the assignment did little to help the CNT and FAI, for the Anarchosyndicalists who enrolled in the schools were in a minority owing to the resistance by the rank and file of the libertarian movement to the creation of a regular army.33 “This resulted in my bringing the matter up seriously before the national committee of the CNT,” testifies García Oliver, “and in an agreement being reached and carried into practice whereby all the [CNT] Regional Committees of Defense were to pay special attention to the recruiting of students for the training schools.” Referring to the existing hostility to officer rank, he attests: “When we sent lieutenants to assist the leaders of our CNT militia, who at that time were still opposed to militarization, they were made to dig trenches with pick and shovel in order to humiliate them.” But he adds, “After the fall of Largo Caballero, when the CNT was no longer in the government, and when militarization was carried forward, those very comrades who had previously humiliated the lieutenants showed a very keen interest in attaining the upper ranks of the Republican army.”34

(p.329) As head organizer and administrator of the officers’ training schools, García Oliver earned the admiration even of his ideological opponents. “[Antonio] Cordón and I,” writes José Martín Blázquez, a professional officer in the war ministry, “made contact with him, but all we were left to do was to carry out his instructions. Quarters, instructors, equipment, and all other requirements were immediately supplied. Oliver was indefatigable. He arranged and supervised everything himself. He went into the smallest details, and saw to it that they were properly provided for. He even took an interest in the students’ timetables and the kitchen arrangements. But above all he insisted that the new officers should be trained in the strictest discipline.

“I, who do not believe in improvisation, was astonished at the organizing capacity shown by this Catalan Anarchist. Observing the ability and assurance of all his actions, I realized that he was an extraordinary man, and could not but deplore that so much talent had been wasted in destructive activity.”35

The startling about-face by some of the most prominent members of the libertarian movement was mirrored in the CNT press. Military bearing was commended,36 and Anarchosyndicalist commissars were urged by the movement to impose “condign punishment, even the heaviest and most drastic,” on men guilty of offenses.37 On 12 February 1937—in the midst of the crucial battle of the Jarama, south of Madrid—an editorial in CNT had declared that militiamen should obey the orders of their commanders on pain of death.38

But it was not easy to secure general acceptance of the new rules by men who had been taught by their leaders to look upon all armies as the symbol of tyranny, who believed themselves emancipated for all time from the will of autocratic officers, and who had not only introduced the elective principle into their units, but had also lived on terms of equality with group and century delegates. Referring to the above-quoted statement by García Oliver urging the cadets to bear in mind that enlisted men “should cease to be your comrades and become the cogwheels of our military machine,” a CNT-FAI member wrote: “When ideas of emancipation, when libertarian conceptions and revolutionary thoughts are seething within us, … we cannot understand how our comrade ministers can express themselves in such terms.”39 And writing about the militarization of the militia in Asturias, Solano Palacio, a prominent Anarchosyndicalist, avers: “What revolted the militiamen more than anything else was the fact that they were compelled to salute their officers, whom they had hitherto regarded as comrades.”40 The misgivings created among the men on the question of differential pay rates were reflected even in an Anarchosyndicalist newspaper that accepted militarization: “Economic differences create classes, and there should not be any in the Popular Army. In this army, everyone, from the militiamen to the generals, has the same needs and the same right to satisfy them. Differences will bring about an estrangement between those who command and those who obey, and the class feelings they engender will have repercussions contrary to the interests of the people. As we are fighting against all privileges, we cannot tolerate the existence of any in the army.”41

“I should be guilty of insincerity if I were to say that resistance did not have to (p.330) be overcome,” writes Miguel González Inestal, a member of the peninsular committee of the FAI. “In the libertarian camp every single militant had his share of scruples to conquer, of convictions to be adapted—and why not admit it?—of illusions to be buried. This was so not only because of our respect for a traditional attitude, consecrated by experience, but also because we feared, quite reasonably, that the resurrection either in part or in whole of the old army would bring about caste privileges, the deformation of youth, the resurgence of the past, the suppression of all social rights, and, above all, that it might end in that army’s becoming the devourer of the Revolution, the instrument of a party.”42

It was because the CNT and FAI feared the latter contingency and because they had no project, as did the Communists, for honeycombing the entire military edifice, that they were determined to maintain the integrity and homogeneous character of their armed units. Thus, although they had decided to convert these units into brigades of uniform military structure and merge them into the regular army under their own commanders, they were opposed to diluting them with nonlibertarian forces by forming mixed brigades under the control of officers appointed by the war ministry, a plan that was mainly of Russian provenance43 and of which one of the important political aims was undoubtedly to nullify or at least dilute Anarchist influence in the armed forces. In fact, Martín Blaźquez, the professional officer in the war ministry already quoted, once remarked to General José Asensio, the undersecretary of war, that “as soon as we have created our mixed brigades [Anarchist] influence will vanish.”44

Although Largo Caballero, for political and technical reasons, had approved the militarization of the militia on the basis of mixed brigades,45 his present desire for easy relations with the CNT, stemming from his growing antipathy to the Communists, inhibited him from attempting seriously to enforce the measure. As a result, the Anarchosyndicalist units, while submitting to the general staff for the purpose of military operations, remained under the exclusive control of the CNT and were composed of men and officers belonging to that organization.

In a report dated 8 May 1937, Helmut Ruediger, representative in Spain of the International Workingmen’s Association (AIT), with which the CNT was affiliated, stated: “There is now in the central zone a CNT army of thirty-three thousand men perfectly armed, well-organized, and with membership cards of the CNT from the first to the last man, under the control of officers also belonging to the CNT. Furthermore, there are many comrades in mixed units, but the CNT aims at concentrating them all in CNT units.”46 On a later occasion, he wrote: “The CNT understood that it should undertake its own militarization. This was an excellent means of organizing a strong CNT army that would not only prosecute the war against Fascism, but would safeguard the Revolution later on.”47

The homogeneous character of the Anarchosyndicalist units at this stage of the war has been amply confirmed to me by some of the leading figures in the libertarian movement, including Mariano Cardona Rosell, a member of the national committee of the CNT, and José García Pradas, director of the Anarchosyndicalist daily, CNT, and member of the Anarchosyndicalist Defense (p.331) Committee of Madrid that controlled the CNT-FAI armed forces on the central front.48 García Pradas testifies:

When the militarization of the militia was decreed, our forces in the central zone agreed to it only on the condition that they maintained a certain independence, a condition that included the retention of their own commanders. The government of Largo Caballero and succeeding ones, as well as the Defense Council of Madrid, were not willing to assent to this condition, but they were obliged to “swallow” it, because we would have preferred rebellion to submission. As time went on, we had to admit ordinary recruits into our units. These were never compelled to become members of the CNT, but we always refused to concede to the government the absolute right to appoint commanders on its own account. In general, what happened was that the [CNT] defense committee proposed to the ministry of war the names of persons it considered suitable, giving the requisite information, and the ministry, with this information in its possession, approved the recommendations and published the appointments. It was advisable to act in this way for various reasons, one of which was to obtain the high pay allowed to commanders. Our commanders in the central zone, after collecting their pay, turned over the greater part of it to the defense committee, which consequently had millions of pesetas at its disposal for aiding agricultural collectives. There were times when, with the acquiescence of our national committee in Valencia or Barcelona, the government wanted to impose certain commanders on us, but neither Eduardo Val, nor Manuel Salgado, nor myself—for a long time in charge of the defense committee—agreed to such a thing, and thanks to our attitude it was possible for us to maintain until the very end those forces with which we were able to crush the Communist party [in Madrid] in March 1939.

That Largo Caballero had assented to and had not simply connived at the evasion of the rigorous form of militarization agreed upon with the Russians is proved by the fact that General Toribio Martínez Cabrera, the chief of the war ministry general staff, who enjoyed his entire confidence, authorized the committee of war of the Anarchist Maroto Column in February 1937 to organize a brigade composed entirely of that column’s members. That this was done either without the knowledge or in defiance of K. A. Meretzkov, Martínez Cabrera’s Soviet adviser, a future marshal of the Soviet Union and Red Army chief of staff, can be open to little doubt. In a report to the general commissariat of war dated 12 March 1937, Alberto Fernández Ballesteros, inspector-commissar of the southern front and a left-wing Socialist Cortes deputy, stated that the committee of war of the Maroto Column alleged that it possessed written instructions from Martínez Cabrera to form a brigade out of members of the column and that both “the commander of the Granada sector, Colonel [Eutiquiano] Arellano, and Lieutenant Colonel Salazar certify having read said orders.”49

The same dispensation to organize a brigade consisting entirely of CNT-FAI members was granted to the Anarchist Iron Column, as will be seen in the next chapter. Significant, too, is the fact that the following interview on the question of (p.332) militarization and the mixed brigades, given by Mariano Vázquez, the secretary of the national committee of the CNT, to Nosotros, the unofficial mouthpiece of the Iron Column,50 was published without a dissenting comment from the war ministry:


  • Will our columns disappear?
  • Vázquez:

  • Yes, they will disappear. It is necessary that they disappear. [The national committee has already decided] that our columns, like all the others, should be transformed into brigades. … Now this transformation does not imply—although it might appear otherwise—any fundamental change because those who were previously in command of the columns will now command the brigades. This means that our comrades, who feel affection for the men in charge of operations, can be sure that they will not be compelled through capricious appointments to accept men whose ideology and, consequently, whose personal treatment they dislike. Furthermore, the political commissars, who are the real chiefs—don’t let the word frighten you—of the brigades, will be appointed by the CNT to whom they will be answerable at all times. …
  • Nosotros:

  • It has been said—and this is another point that worries our men—that these brigades will be mixed, that is to say that they will be composed of regular Marxist and CNT battalions. Is it true?
  • Vázquez:

  • There is some truth in it, for that is one of the proposals in connection with the formation of the brigades. However, we have our own proposal: the future brigades, which logically it is for us to form, must be composed of comrades belonging to the CNT and FAI and also be under the control of these two organizations, although subject to orders—another word unpleasant to our ears—from the unified command, which all the forces accept voluntarily.51
  • Although the attenuated form of militarization accepted by the CNT-FAI leadership enabled the Anarchosyndicalist units to maintain a large measure of independence, it was nevertheless stubbornly resisted by the more extreme spirits of the libertarian movement, who clung passionately to their Anarchist beliefs. No account of this dramatic struggle between principle and practice, between the rank and file and the leadership, is complete unless it includes the story of the famed Columna de Hierro or Iron Column.


    (1.) 27 Oct. 1936.

    (2.) Speech, reported by Fragua Social, 18 Oct. 1936.

    (3.) 11 Feb. 1937.

    (4.) As given in Solidaridad Obrera, 12 May 1936.

    (5.) 5 Aug. 1936.

    (6.) Speech reported in CNT, 12 Sept. 1936.

    (7.) Speech in January 1937 reprinted in En marcha hacia la victoria, 51.

    (p.843) (8.) Resolution approved at a plenary meeting of representatives of the regional committees of the CNT, as given in CNT, 17 Sept. 1936.

    (9.) “We failed to transform as rapidly as we should have done the spontaneous columns of the first days into regularly organized units. Positions were lost by us and taken by the Communists” (Mariano Vázquez, secretary of the national committee of the CNT, speaking at an AIT congress, reported in supplement of Espagne Nouvelle, 15 Mar. 1939).

    (10.) Internacional, June 1938.

    (11.) Speech at Valencia CNT congress, November 1936, reported by Fragua Social, 17 Nov. 1936.

    (12.) Ibid.

    (13.) Indeed, this was the opinion given to me by Gabriel García Maroto, a friend of Alvarez del Vayo, who became a member of the new body (interview in Mexico in 1939).

    (14.) Gaceta de la República, 10 Nov. 1936.

    (15.) Ibid.

    (16.) In a demonstration held on 14 February 1937, the Communists in a ten-point petition presented to Largo Caballero demanded inter alia that the Higher War Council should be allowed to fulfill “the mission for which it was created,” and two weeks later their organ, Frente Rojo, urged that it “should meet methodically and as often as necessary for discussing and reaching agreement upon all questions of war,” among which it included “the appointment and control of officers and the cleansing of the army of all hostile and incapable elements” (quoted in Mundo Obrero, 2 Mar. 1937).

    (17.) Fragua Social, 19 Nov. 1936.

    (18.) Eduardo de Guzmán, Madrid, rojo y negro, 200.

    (19.) Fragua Social, 14 Nov. 1936.

    (20.) “Unpublished Article by a Regular Army Corporal” (Hoover Institution, Bolloten Collection).

    (21.) Mi desembarco en Mallorca, 113–14. After the Civil War, Bayo, a Cuban, emigrated to Mexico, where he became an instructor at the School of Military Aviation. In 1956, at the request of Fidel Castro, who was then in Mexico organizing his forces, Bayo began to train the men who would invade Cuba in guerrilla warfare (see Fidel Castro, Revolutionary Struggle, 1947–1958, I, 78–79, and Mario Llerena, The Unsuspected Revolution, 206).

    (22.) Solidaridad Obrera, 1 Dec. 1936.

    (23.) CNT (Madrid), 20 Sept. 1937. See also his proclamation to the Anarchosyndicalist militia on the Madrid front, published in Castilla Libre, 17 Feb. 1937.

    (24.) Pp. 107–9. See also 109–11, 113, 116.

    (26.) 14 Jan. 1937.

    (27.) Guzmán, Madrid, rojo y negro, 200. See also the Anarchist Ricardo Sanz, Los que fuimos a Madrid, 108–9, for the example set by the International Brigades. Despite this tribute to the brigades, there was considerable resentment and hostility in the libertarian movement as well as fear that they would strengthen the hand of the Communists. Diego Abad de Santillán claims that the CNT and FAI turned back more than a thousand volunteers at the Catalan-French border, who had to be shipped to Spanish ports controlled by the central government (Por qué perdimos la guerra, 175). See also Abad de Santillán, La revolución y la guerra en España, 133. In a letter to me in 1940, Ralph Bates, assistant commissar of the Fifteenth International Brigade, stated that frequently the volunteers who crossed the border into Catalonia had to travel in trains with drawn blinds (Hoover Institution). “We considered it an injustice and a crime,” wrote Abad de Santillán, “to leave our militiamen—whose bravery and fighting spirit are unparalleled—without arms and, simultaneously, to form large foreign combat units equipped with everything and treated with special consideration” (Por qué, 175).

    (28.) CNT, 23 Feb. 1937.

    (29.) Mundo Obrero, as given in Fragua Social, 26 Sept. 1937.

    (30.) Bulletin de la Généralité de la Catalogne (issued by the Propaganda Department of the Catalan government), 30 Mar. 1937, as quoted in Le Libertaire, 8 Apr. 1937. See also Máximo Llorca in Ideas, 29 Apr. 1937.

    (31.) See speech by Mariano Vázquez, secretary of the national committee of the CNT, published in Confederación Regional del Trabajo de Cataluña, Memoria del congreso extraordinario de la confederación regional del trabajo de Cataluña celebrado en Barcelona los dias 25 de febrero al 3 de marzo de 1937, 178–85.

    (p.844) (32.) Fragua Social, 1 June 1937.

    (33.) That the Anarchosyndicalists were in a minority was emphasized by Mariano Vázquez in a speech published in Confederación Regional del Trabajo de Cataluña, Memoria del congreso extraordinario, 178–85.

    (34.) Reply to a questionnaire sent to García Oliver at my request by the German Anarchist Agustín Souchy. The reply, dated 23 August 1949, is in my file of correspondence with Souchy (Hoover Institution).

    (35.) I Helped to Build an Army, 299. In his book, Cordón, a Communist, also speaks highly of García Oliver’s work in the officers’ training schools (Trayectoria, 282).

    (36.) See, for example, CNT, 28 Apr. 1937.

    (37.) Ibid., 10 Apr. 1937.

    (39.) Máximo Llorca, in Ideas, 29 Apr. 1937.

    (40.) La tragedia del norte, 135.

    (41.) CNT, 1 Mar. 1937.

    (42.) Cipriano Mera, revolucionario, 60.

    (43.) Two Republican officers confirm this: Martín Blázquez, 295, and Segismundo Casado (article in National Review, July 1939), who, while criticizing the mixed brigades on technical grounds, says: “[The government] committed the very serious initial mistake of accepting the opinion of the ‘friendly Russian advisers.’” In his book, Casado, who was appointed to organize the first brigades, writes: “One Russian general and two Russian colonels were chosen to help me in this mission by order of the minister [Largo Caballero]” (The Last Days of Madrid, 52).

    (45.) A short account of the military reasons for the creation of mixed brigades is given by Martín Blázquez, 293–95. For a criticism on technical grounds, see Colonel Segismundo Casado in National Review, July 1939.

    (46.) A typewritten copy of this report, the original of which was loaned to me by Ruediger, is in the Hoover Institution.

    (47.) Elementos distinados al pleno de la AIT del 11 de junio de 1937 en vista de la discusión sobre la situación española, as given in Guerra y revolución en España, 1936–1939, III, 63, n. 1.

    (48.) In letters to me (see file, Hoover Institution).

    (49.) Hoover Institution, Bolloten Collection.

    (50.) Although officially the organ of the Valencia FAI and unofficially the organ of the Valencia Libertarian Youth, Nosotros was also the mouthpiece of the Iron Column by virtue of the help these two organizations received in money and men from the column (see César M. Lorenzo, Les anarchistes espagnols et le pouvoir, 1868–1969, 187). Abraham Guillén, the director of Nosotros, became the theoretician of the Tupamaros, the urban guerrilla organization in Uruguay, in the 1960s.

    (51.) 11 Feb. 1937.