To Get to the Other Side

A journey through Europe and its anarchist movements

A Walk in the Graveyard

Diumenge, 26 Agost

L was back in Barcelona, this time to stay. Love, like all things in life, is harder with a prison sentence hanging over your head, but my days were so much richer when I could share them with her. Finally, we had more than just a week at a time to get to know each other. One Sunday we decided to further our tradition of geeky anarchist history tourism, and try to find Durruti’s grave up on Montjuic. It’s a long, hot walk up the mountain.  There’s hundreds of tourists, most of them packed two high in buses, or riding the cable car. Seems we’re the only ones walking.  Past the fortress of Montjuic, the traffic dies down and the tourists disappear.  There’s only a few old men, along one bend of the road, who have parked their lawn chairs in the shade, to lounge the day away.  The hideous Olympic stadium sprawls out below us.  I wonder what used to be there, what got torn down so humanity could express its progressing perfection in the one-tenth of a second some singleminded athlete shaved off the record for jumping a line of hurdles as the whole world leaned towards their television sets, bound together in vicarious unity as the next commercial break began.

The cemetery appears like some abandoned city rising above the palm trees.  The dead are sealed into little cubicles, row upon row of tombs set into tall grim buildings of piled stone.  So much like apartment buildings, it leads me to joke that the squatters should announce that for every new eviction inflicted upon them, they would evict some famous dead rich person.  There are no Sunday mourners; the City of the Dead is abandoned.  Winding roads go between the apartments and bus stops wait for a phantom bus.  We enter through some forbidden opening around back, and set off down the winding rows, searching for Durruti’s grave.

Buenaventura Durruti was an oldtime Spanish anarchist.  A militant in the CNT labor union, he pushed the organization to organize workers’ insurrections, or support them when they broke out spontaneously.  For these activities he served time in prison.  He was also instrumental in defeating an attempt by the reformist syndicalists who had gravitated to positions of power to take over the CNT.  When the fascists launched their coup, he and his comrades seized the Barcelona military barracks, and he lost a close friend in the fighting, Francisco Ascaso.  Durruti was one of the leading anarchists who was seduced by the idea of cooperating with the political parties in an antifascist united front.  As the CNT began to play politics—a role in which it was inept next to the communists and the Catalan republicans—Durruti left to form the “Iron Column,” a volunteer anarchist militia that pushed back the fascists on the Aragon front and supported peasant collectivization.  The same year they went to Madrid and plunged into the heaviest areas of fighting.  Durruti was killed in battle, tragically early in the Civil War.  His funeral procession in Barcelona, that ultimately interred him at Montjuic, brought out tens of thousands of people.  There’s a photo of the funeral hanging in the CNT bookstore on Joaquin Costa street.

That bookstore was one of the places that often hosted memorial events.  Veterans of the Civil War and the antifascist guerrilla struggle, that lasted from the 40s all the way until the end of the dictatorship, would hobble in and sit at the front, doubled with age.  One of their number would give a presentation about the resistance group they had fought in—crossing the Pyrenees with weapons from France, living in caves, fed by villagers, or in a safehouse in the city, robbing banks, clashing with police, plotting to kill Franco.  Younger folks would pose probing questions, trying to understand what it was like, and other old-timers would ask, did you fight alongside so-and-so and perhaps they would begin talking about some of the maquis whom they had known as friends.  In the US the Spanish Civil War can hardly be mentioned without romanticism or apathy.  The most fascinating thing for me in Catalunya was seeing that it’s just history, directly connected with the present, and that its veterans are still in the struggle.  And they talk about the old times like our fathers or grandfathers might trade stories about their minor parts in World War II.

At a book  presentation at Espai Obert, I learned about one resistance fighter who almost survived to bridge the gap between the dictatorship and the democracy: Salvador Puig Antich, a Catalan anarchist. Born in Barcelona in 1948, well after the fascists had taken over, he threw himself into the struggle after the May 1968 uprisings in France.  He joined an urban guerrilla group, el Movimiento de Liberación Ibérico, MIL, that continued the fight against the Francoist regime up until the very end.  Mostly, he acted as a driver during the bank robberies the group carried out to raise money for the group’s publications and for supporting striking workers and prisoners. In 1973, not long before Franco’s death, a MIL member was arrested and tortured into confessing the group’s secret meeting locations. Police caught Salvador and Xavier Garriga.  During the arrest, Puig Antich was involved in a shootout that killed a member of the Guardia Civil—the military police.  On 2 March, 1974, he was sentenced by a military tribunal and executed by garrote in a cell in Modelo.  His execution caused worldwide protests, and was commemorated in “Assassins,” a set of lithographies by Catalan painter Antoni Tapies.

The torturing still goes on today.  Immigrants and other poor people are regularly abused by the cops, guards, and judges.  Anarchists in prison still face death for their activities—on the 30th of June we held a protest outside of Modelo to commemorate the third anniversary of the “suicide” of Jose Antonio Cano Verdejo, a friend of some of those organizing the protest.  The difference is that now these things happen in a sea of amnesia.  Each time, people don’t believe something like that could actually happen.  We have to fight to bring the story to light, to convince people we’re not making it up, and a few people finally believe and shake their heads at the tragedy.  But in a week they forget, and the next time it happens they have to be convinced all over again that such things are a part of their world.  Earlier, people had other sets of illusions, but knew their world was one of torture and executions.  On both sides many were aware that if those being tortured and executed had half a chance, they would destroy the world of their jailers.  It was a social war.  Today, it is a perpetual humiliation.  The tortured and abused, and all of us alienated and exploited, wonder who is doing this to us, and why, time after time.  We seek justice, redress, the hollow promise of a thorough investigation, anything to get back to the normality that exists only within our heads.