Ethel MacDonald – The Anti-Worker Repression in Republican Spain
The Anarchist Library
Title: The Anti-Worker Repression in Republican Spain
Date: 1937, September 17, Kate Sharpley Library
Source: L’Espagne Nouvelle, New Series, No 18-19, 17 September 1937. Accessed July 19, 2022 at https://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/wdbtt6
Comrade Ethel MacDonald, for whose release L’Espagne Nouvelle made repeated appeals, is now back among us. She has asked us to thank our readers for the gestures of solidarity afforded her and requested that the same effort and the same assistance now be afforded, with 100% greater intensity, in supporting and defending the revolutionaries held in the Modelo Prison, Montjuich and Valencia (among them lots of German and Italian comrades utterly bereft of legal guarantees and outside support).
Below, comrades will find an account of the situation inside Catalonia, based on the personal experiences of our valiant contributor.
To work, everyone. Help L’Espagne Nouvelle to mount the campaign required to rescue our brothers.
The May Days debacle in Barcelona led to a formidable wave of repression by the Communist Party targeting the revolutionary personnel who had fought on the streets and barricades to bar the way to the counter-revolution. Since then, the schemes of Moscow’s men have been deployed in the light of day. Between 3 and 8 [May 1937], they showed their true faces to the entire world looking on. Along with the Assault Guards and the Civil Guard, they made their stand against the Barcelona workers in a coup de force designed to wrest control of firms and social life from the labouring masses organized within the CNT and partly also within the UGT. Their efforts proved less successful than might have been hoped because within hours the proletariat rose up as one to defend its rights. Workers from the CNT and members of the FAI and POUM stood side by side to bar their way.
But the workers’ backlash was aborted by the potential ministers from the trade union organizations, after which the Communist Party’s fury was unleashed on the members of revolutionary organizations. In the aim of disguising the part that it had played during the May events, the Communist Party, aided and abetted by the Valencia-controlled Public Order Delegation, strove to shift the blame for the uprising on to the anarchists and the members of the POUM. In authentically Moscow-style fashion, any who had resisted reactionary moves were denounced as “Trotskyists, provocateurs, fascist agents, etc.” Unable to get the better of the CNT-FAI in the short term, the Bolshevists started with the POUM.
The POUM is made up of Marxists from a range of persuasions, in contact with lots of Marxist groups in a range of countries. Hanging the tag “Trotskyist” on these groups is as handy as it is wrong. Only a tiny faction within the POUM has a definite connection with Trotsky and a lot of its members are utterly opposed to him. But all of these strands share with the anarchists a patent lack of sympathy with the bourgeois-stalinist CP and this is why, in the hope of covering up its own treachery, the Comintern has lumped all its opponents together, labelling them “Trotskyists” in defiance of the actual facts.
And the Stalinists added the most cynical brutality to their usual slanders.
Over the space of two days, POUM locals were shut down, their presses seized and Spanish and foreign comrades were sent to prison. Comrades living in houses commandeered by the POUM since the July revolution had their effects searched and their papers and documents impounded.
At that time I had occasion to call daily on a Dutch anarchist comrade who had been jailed without charge. The day after the arrests of the POUM leaders, I called to see him as usual, with another female anarchist in tow. At ‘Police Headquarters’ where visiting permits were issued, I came upon five comrades of my acquaintance, three of them from the POUM and two from the CNT-FAI. They informed me that the Assault Guards had searched their quarters that very morning, arresting them and seizing their personal effects without a word of explanation. Because my female friend and I had spoken to them, we were also locked up. When we took exception to this, we were told that we were not “detainees”, but merely “remanded”. The fact that we were acquainted with the arrested comrades was grounds enough for us to be taken captive.
All that day there was a constant procession of comrades, foreigners most of them, who had been arrested like the ones first mentioned. In fact, so comprehensive was the round-up that a cigarette-seller operating in the doorway of the POUM headquarters was rounded up with the rest and was only freed when he claimed membership of the UGT and produced a membership card from that organization. Some female comrades bringing food to their husbands or partners were arrested and, as a rule, it was dangerous to be anywhere near ‘Police Headquarters’.
In police stations around Barcelona, it was virtually impossible to get news of those arrested. Bereft of any protection whatever, they were entirely at the mercy of the authorities.
Under Spanish law, no one may be held in secret for any more than five days and no longer than thirty days on remand, without being tried or released. In practice, the situation is quite different. Our comrades were placed in cells and denied visitors for however long the authorities chose to deny them. The same goes for the length of their detention without trial. Instances of comrades jailed for months without trial and denied contact with the outside world are too numerous to list. And the conditions in which they live in prison are very dire.