A Leaflet

May 4, 2012
Nine Trade Unionist Executed in Barcelona leaflet

Nine Trade Unionist Executed leaflet

October 1949 saw a series of arrests and murders by the Spanish security forces that dealt a massive blow to the anarchists action groups that were carrying on the fight against the Francoist regime. Miguel Garcia Garcia—anarchist militant, forger and member of the Tallion action group was arrested on the 21 October 1949. On 7 February 1952 he and eight others were sentenced to death.

Awareness of the brutalities of the Franco regime had begun to percolate into Europe by this time and there were some protest against these particular sentences. Well known writers and intellectuals including Andre Breton, Albert Camus, Rene Char, Jean-Paul Sartre and Ignazio Silone protested the planned executions. There was a large protest meeting in Paris on Saturday 23rd February where Camus, Breton, Sartre and others spoke. For whatever reason, on Thursday 13th March 1952 four of the condemned men, including Miguel Garcia, had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment. The other five were executed at 6:15am the next morning, Friday 14 March 1952 in the Campo de la Bota, Barcelona. A last-minute and futile attempt to prevent the executions was made by the British Parliamentary Party and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.

Some information about the executed men is in order:

Pedro Adrover Font (El Yayo-[grandfather]) aged 44 was a major figure in the Barcelona anarchist resistance. Sometimes a loner, he had worked with Facerias in a raid on a textile factory in 1947 and in December of that year, a bank robbery. That same year he had placed a bomb in Barcelona cathedral in an attempt to assassinate Franco. Spending some time in France he returned to Spain on 15 August 1948. He often acted as a courier leading militants in and out of Spain from France. On 15 May 1949 he took part in a bombing campaign against those countries who had favored rescinding the United Nations policy of 1946 urging members not to appoint ambassadors to Franco’s Spain. With Facerias and another comrade he planted a bomb in the main lobby of the Bolivian consulate. He also took part in several actions with Francisco Sabate (“El Quico”). He was arrested in October 1949. In his memoir “Franco’s Prisoner” Miguel Garcia Garcia writes about El Yayo’s “nobility of character” (p.31).

Nine Trade Unionist Executed in Barecelon leaflet in Spanish

Nine Trade Unionist Executed in Barecelon leaflet in Spanish

Santiago Amir Gruanas (El Sheriff) aged 38 was a guide and member of the anarchist resistance. During the Second World War, working with the French resistance, he had escorted shot-down British airmen, Jews, and French Resistance members  from France into Spain. He worked with Francisco Sabate, and helped the badly wounded Jose Sabate escape into France in April 1949. He was arrested in May 1950.

Gines Urrea Pina, aged 56. He fought throughout the Spanish War with the CNT. Pina  obtained money from the British Secret Service for providing information about German and Italian activities in Spain, which he used to help his guerrilla group and the resuscitation of the  CNT in Barcelona. Pina was an early advocate for the re-launching of armed struggle against the Franco regime.

Jose Perez Pedrero (“Tragapanes”- or bread swallower because he was always hungry!!) was a miner and had been involved in many guerrilla operations with Marcelino Massana in 1949 (hopefully more information on Massana will soon be available in English). Pedrero was born in 1925.

Jorge Pons Argiles (Tarantula) was a farmer and like Tragapanes was involved with the guerrilla activities of Massana. Argiles was a member of the Tallion group, like Miguel Garcia, and had re-entered Spain in 1947. He was born in 1915.

An Appeal to the Public Conscience

An Appeal to the Public Conscience

After the men were executed there was a  large public meeting entitled “An Appeal to the Public Conscience” in London on March 27 1952. Speakers included Herbert Read. The bi-lingual leaflet we reproduced at the beginning of the article, though, is from an earlier rally/protest. We can see that the leaflet talks about “last Sunday” which would place it sometime during the week beginning 17 March 1952, and it appears to have been produced for some event where the Spanish Ambassador to London was present. It presumes that all nine men were executed and it also gets the date of the executions wrong—suggesting it was Sunday 16th March rather than the actual date of Friday 14th March. Such was the constant problem of both retrieving accurate information from Spain and providing support to imprisoned comrades and those acting clandestinely in the interior

The organization printing the leaflet is presented as a broad front of socialist, anarchist, republican and Basque political and trade union groups. Its address is the same as that of the Syndicalist Workers Federation that during this period produced the newspaper “Direct Action” Its secretary was an interesting person in his own right. Acracio Ruiz was the pseudonym of Jose Molina Ortega (1909-1994). Before the Spanish war he was a scaffolder who then fought with the Espana Libre  Column and the Espartaco (Spartacus) Battalion. He left Spain on the very day the war ended and, eventually, made his way to London. He became CNT secretary there and contributed to “Direct Action” and “Reconstruccion,” the paper of the Spanish Libertarian exiles in Great Britain. Throughout his exile years he was a constant opponent of those in the exiled Spanish Libertarian movement who rejected action and militancy in pursuit of their ideals

Some suggested further readings:

Miguel Garcia,  Franco’s Prisoner Rupert Hart-Davis : London 1972.

—–  Miguel Garcia’s Story, Miguel Garcia Memorial Committee/Cienfuegos Press: Sanday, 1982.

—— Looking Back After Twenty Years of Jail and Answers on the Spanish Anarchist Resistance, Kate Sharpley Library: London, 2002 (This is an expanded version of the Simian edition of 1970)

—— Unknown Heroes: Biographies of Anarchist Resistance Fighters,  Kate Sharpley Library: London, 2005 (many of the pieces in this collection were first printed in the newspaper ‘Black Flag” between 1971 and 1976.)

Antonio Tellez, Sabate: Guerrilla Extraordinary, Elephant Editions: London, 1985.

—– Facerias: Urban Guerrilla Warfare (1939-1957), Christie Books: Hastings, 2011.


Free Commune and Billy MacQueen

April 10, 2012

We are beginning to think about scanning some of the material we hold in the KSL archives. What we want to do though is put what we scan into some kind of context and not just leave it floating around aimlessly on the “world wide web”. Anyhow – here’s a paper that interests us, The Free Commune from Leeds. It appears to have been published during 1898 and it re-invented itself as The Free Commune: A Quarterly Magazine in January 1899. KSL holds No. 3 of The Free Commune and No. 1 of the The Free Commune Magazine. (If you can send us other copies that would be a treat!!!)

Free Commune image

Both of these titles were put together by William “Billy” MacQueen (1875-1908) and Alf Barton (1868-1933). MacQueen was based in Leeds, Barton in Manchester. You can read more about MacQueen here and more about Barton here.

Of the two it’s MacQueen we want to talk about a little more. He had interesting links between the UK and the USA anarchist movements and paid a grim price for his beliefs and actions and his life, I think, like so many others, presents us with some interesting reflections on ideas and action. Although both he and Barton were class struggle anarchist communists The Free Commune suggests that they both saw anarchism as a rich tapestry and were able to easily reconcile what some of us may now see as contradictions or antagonisms. We can see this in the last two paragraphs of Barton’s piece on Nietzsche, for example, where he and Nietzsche differ on the attractiveness of “socialism,” yet Barton is still able to appreciate the immense importance Nietzsche had in freeing the human mind and encouraging individual revolt. The donations column is also interesting in this respect. The two donors “Eagle” and “Serpent” are a misprint, being in reality the individualist paper The Eagle and Serpent: A Journal of Egoistic Philosophy and Sociology published in London between 1898-1900 – a paper that The Free Commune regularly sent exchange  copies to.

On page four there is an advertisement for the paper New Order edited by John Colman Kenworthy. MacQueen had met Free Commune page 2Kenworthy in 1897 when he came to speak in Leeds. Partly as a result of this visit a bicycle and light mechanical co-operative was created “conducted upon Anarchist-Communist lines” and called “The Brotherhood Workshop” (6 Victoria Road, Holbeck, Leeds). Kenworthy was, in fact, a prominent  Tolstoyan Christian anarchist (he visited Tolstoy in Russia in 1895) and helped found the Croydon Brotherhood Church and, in 1896, the Purleigh Brotherhood Church. Both were based on the principles of voluntary co-operation and non-violence.

We can see, then, that there is a lot going on in this  little four-page newspaper and a wide range of ideas and anarchist practice are represented, including a scornful comment on the horrified reaction of “reformers” to the assassination of  the Empress Elisabeth of Austria by the Italian anarchist  Luigi Lucheni .The editors  would like to see a similar reaction whenever a working woman is killed by “the profit-mongering system.” The attitude of the editors to the killing of the Empress presages that of Emma Goldman in  ‘The Psychology of Political Violence”(1910) seeing assassinations as the natural outcome of a society “based upon robbery and murder”

MacQueen eventually left Leeds for Hull from where he emigrated to the US in 1902. Before then he had helped edit, in 1900, the Anarchist Newsletter and had begun in Leeds, and later in Hull, to produce pamphlets ( and numerous leaflets)under the imprint of The Free Commune Press. We’ve managed to identify some of them:

Charlotte Wilson, Anarchism, Leeds, 1900

Peter Kropotkin, The Development of Trade Unionism, Leeds, 1900

Johann Most, The Deistic Pestilence, Hull, 1902 (KSL has this one)

Sebastian Faure, Die Verbrechen Gottes, Hull, 1904

The last pamphlet reminds us that MacQueen was a fluent German speaker and it was this talent, which would lead to his untimely death.Free Commune page 3

When he arrived in New York he spent time with Johann Most (they had corresponded before) managing to get himself arrested on May 4th 1902 under the terms of the recently legislated Criminal Anarchy Act, put into place after the assassination of President McKinley by Leon Czolgosz. MacQueen is alleged to have shouted “To hell with the laws of America; to hell with the government” at a farewell reception for Johann Most, who was about to serve a prison sentence for printing an article called “Murder against Murder” in his paper “Freheit” just before McKinley’s assassination. MacQueen had also begun to produce a newspaper “Liberty” which he edited from April-December 1902.

Meanwhile in Paterson, New Jersey silk dyers went out on strike on 23 April 1902. Sometime in May MacQueen and Rudolph Grossman (Pierre Ramus) went to Paterson to work with and support the German-speaking strikers. Both spoke with Luigi Galleani at the 18 June strike support meeting in Belmont Park. MacQueen had  already written an article in La Question Sociale calling for a general strike and repeated the demand at the rally. Following the rally rioting broke out in Paterson’s textile district  and the police responded by opening fire. Galleani (after being shot in the face) fled to Canada, returning to Barre Vermont under an assumed name in 1903. Grossman and MacQueen were arrested and charged with incitement to riot. Interestingly MacQueen’s wife, Nellie, spoke at a meeting with Emma Goldman on “The Situation in Paterson, NJ” in New York City on 18 November 1902.

Both MacQueen and Grossman jumped bail after being sentenced to five years, with MacQueen returning to England. For whatever reason he returned to stand serve his sentence on April 10 1904.( He appeared to be concerned for the person who had lost his bail money when the two fled.) Grossman never did. Sent to prison MacQueen was released in 1907 but had contracted tuberculosis while locked up. He died in England in 1908.In prison MacQueen had become somewhat of a cause celebre. H.G. Wells visited him and a very sympathetic portrait of MacQueen appeared in Wells’ The Future in America (London: Chapman and Hall, 1906). A pamphlet (?) The Case of William MacQueen: Reasons Why He Should Be Liberated written by Alfred Wesley Wilshire appeared in Trenton in 1905.Free Commune page 4

MacQueen is one of many anarchists who died young and never saw his full potential realized. If nothing else writing a little about him reflects a determination that at the very least he will not be forgotten. There’s something else, though. Often we raid the anarchist past to justify the anarchist present. We can create a historical precedent or discover lost traces and tendencies that were prescient and illuminating for our present practice- or whatever bee we have in our bonnet. We can’t easily do that with MacQueen. He could stand with the most militant of anarchists and urge a General Strike in a tense and confrontational atmosphere, be supportive of non-coercive , Christian Anarchism and see hope in  small co-operative factories. Some of us may see him as a walking contradiction as we look for purity of theory and practice The truth is, I sense, that for MacQueen the pursuit of anarchy was urgent and necessary. That pursuit, in his case, took the form of passionate and fiery speeches( in the most oppressive situations he chose attack, rather than defense), impulsive, sustained actions and thoughtful and inclusive writing. Action wasn’t careful and rational. It was messy, sometimes self-defeating and sometimes wonderfully exciting. All he had to guide him at each step was a steadfastness of morality and purpose. Any road that might take him towards anarchy was worth walking on and he appears to have had little of the rigidity and theoretical certainty that  was a feature of  the writings and practice of other comrades of this period. His life( no marginal one in the pursuit of the ideal), does suggest that the term” class struggle” was a little more complex and complicated than it’s present day adversaries and adherents have defined it.

 

****** Since writing this I have been reading some of Alf Barton’s correspondence with Max Nettlau in 1898. The paper “Eagle and Serpent” was actually sent to Barton by Nettlau. Barton’s response, before he had seen it was” If consideration of others of a sympathetic character is weakness individualism is a gospel of brutality”. The first two issues of “Free Commune” were published in Manchester and the edition we have shown (No 3)had a print run of 2,000. A couple of more snippets. In Manchester three comrades put the paper together- Alf Barton, Billy MacQueen and Tom Jones, and MacQueen was married to Barton’s sister. So much to find out…. BP


Remembering Miguel Garcia by Stuart Christie

November 28, 2010

My first meeting with Miguel García García took place in the mid-1960s in la primera galleria of Madrid’s Carabanchel Prison.

Image of the pamphlet Miguel Garcia's Story

Miguel Garcia's Story, edited by Albert Meltzer and published by the Miguel Garcia Memorial Committee in association with Cienfuegos Press, 1982.

He was in transit to another penitentiary and was in what was known as ‘periodo’ – a fortnight of sanitary isolation, ostensibly to prevent or limit the spread of disease. I was the practice nurse (practicante) for the 7th Gallery, a position that gave me the run of most of the prison and allowed me to liaise with comrades in different wings, especially with isolated transit prisoners or prisoners in solitary confinement. Miguel passed through Carabanchel on a number of occasions over the years, going backwards and forwards between penitentiaries and Yeserias, Spain’s main prison hospital in Madrid.

Miguel and I struck up a close relationship, one that was to endure for a decade and a half until his death in 1981. What particularly impressed me about him on our first meeting was his undoubted strength of character — forged by his experiences in the Resistance as an urban guerrilla and ‘falsificador’, and in Franco’s prisons — and the extraordinary quality of his spoken English, a language he had acquired entirely from English-speaking prisoners. No other political prisoners I came across during my three years imprisonment in Franco’s jails had Miguel’s mastery of language, or his skills as a communicator. Our conversations centred on how to expose the repressive nature of the Francoist regime and raise the profile of Franco’s political prisoners in the international media, something I was in a position to do given my relatively privileged position as a foreign political prisoner and the access I

Spanish Political Prisoners pamphlet

Early 1975 edition of this pamplet published by and with stamp of Comite Pro-Presos, CNT FIJL

had to the outside world through my by then extensive network of friendly functionaries in Carabanchel itself.

In 1967, following receipt of a personal pardon from Franco, I was released from prison and, on my return to Great Britain, I became involved with the resuscitated Anarchist Black Cross, an anarchist prisoners’ aid organisation. The focus of our activities was international, but Franco’s prisoners were, naturally, because of my history and the continuing and intensifying repression in Spain, top of our agenda. The case of Miguel Garcia Garcia, one of the Anarchist Black Cross’s most prominent correspondents, was one that we regularly pursued with the international press and through diplomatic channels.

Looking Back After 20 Years in Jail pamphlet

First editon by Simian, 1970

Released in 1969, after serving twenty years of a thirty-year sentence (commuted from death), Miguel came to live with me in London. It took him a little time to acclimatise to the profound social and technological changes that had taken place in the world since his arrest as a young man in the Barcelona of 1949, changes that were even more profound in the ‘tolerant’ and ‘permissive’ London society of 1969. In fact, so great was the trauma that he literally was unable to speak for some months. The shock of his release had triggered a paralysis in some of the muscles in his throat, and, through Octavio Alberola then living under effective house arrest in Liege, we arranged for him to see a consultant in Belgium about his condition.

Looking Back pamphlet

reprint by Simian, 1975 note the title has been changed to "20 Years of Jail," rather than the first editions "20 Years inJail."

The time with Octavio was well-spent and brought him up-to-date with what was happening within the European movement and the role of the International Revolutionary Solidarity Movement, which operated under the banner of the Grupo Primero de Mayo, a continuation of the clandestine anarchist Defensa Interior (DI), which had been tasked with the assassination of Franco.

The First of May Group had recently emerged from the sabotaged (by Germinal Esgleas and Vicente Llansola) ruins of Defensa Interior (DI) as an international, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist revolutionary organisation, structured to carry out spectacular direct actions. It took its name from the first operation carried out on 1 May 1966 when members of the group kidnapped the ecclesiastic adviser to the Spanish Embassy to the Vatican, Monsignor Marcos Ussia. Soon the group began taking in a much broader area of attack targeting, in particular, the US and European governments for their complicity in the imperialist war in Vietnam.

BACK IN London, mainly with the moral and financial support of comrade Albert Meltzer, my co-editor of Black Flag and the driving force behind the revived Anarchist Black Cross (ABC), Miguel entered into a dynamic new phase of his life as the International Secretary of the ABC and a pivotal figure in the libertarian resistance to the Franco regime. With Albert he embarked on lengthy speaking tours of England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, West and East Germany, France, Belgium, Denmark and Italy, talking to a new generation of radicalised young Europeans about anarchism, international solidarity and, of course, the need to confront tyranny with practical cooperation and direct action.

It could be said that the result of one of Miguel’s early talks — in a crowded meeting room at the offices of Freedom Press in London’s Whitechapel High Street in February 1970, shortly after his arrival in Britain — was to give rise to the so-called Angry Brigade, Britain’s first urban guerrilla group. Miguel’s voice was still weak so I had to do much of the talking for him, but as the evening wore on and the story of his adventures and deprivations at the hands of the Francoist authorities unfolded, that and the fact that his revolutionary spirit and determination remained clearly undiminished, it was clear he had made a deep emotional impression on the fifty or so young people in the audience. Here, in front of them, in person, was someone who had been in direct confrontation with a fascist state, who had been totally involved in resistance struggles, and who had paid a heavy penalty. Nor was it a purely historical struggle. Franco remained in power and a new internationally coordinated anarchist action group, the First of May Group, was carrying on that struggle.

At Freedom Press that February night in 1970, the significance, the importance of the First of May Group, and the tradition it — and Miguel — sprang from, was not lost on the people crammed into the small room to hear Miguel Garcia’s story. Among those present were some of the core activists later convicted in the historic ‘Angry Brigade’ trial: John Barker, Hilary Creek, Jim Greenfield and Anna Mendelson.

Miguel’s flat in Upper Tollington Park, near North London’s Finsbury Park, soon drew visiting anarchists from all over the world. It also began to attract police attention once Miguel launched (with Albert’s help) the Centro Ibérico and International Libertarian Centre in London, a cosmopolitan venue that became a magnet for anarchists everywhere; it had been many years since there was such a thing as an international anarchist club in London, and its success was entirely due to Miguel’s powerful personality.

Miguel Garicia in the kitchen of Centro Iberico, 1975

Miguel Garicia in the kitchen of Centro Iberico, 1975 from Phil Ruff's photo album, http://www.katesharpleylibrary.net

In 1971 the Centro Ibérico moved to a large basement in Haverstock Hill to which came many extraordinary people, including survivors from innumerable political upheavals. Visitors included the Spanish militant and historian José Peirats and Emilienne Durruti, partner of Buenaventura Durruti. Another regular at the Centro Ibérico was ETA leader Pedro Ignacio Pérez Beotegui, also known as ‘Wilson’, who was involved in the planning of the December 1973 assassination of Franco’s protégé and deputy, prime Minister Carrero Blanco.

The new Centro was entirely Miguel’s creation and he spent his whole time nurturing it, cutting himself off from any paid employment, even though he was well past what should have been retiring age anyway. Through Albert, however, he did extract a small pension from the British government.

Phil Ruff, the Black Flag cartoonist who shared Miguel’s Upper Tollington Park flat after Albert moved to Lewisham, remembers accompanying Miguel on endless trips from Finsbury Park to Haverstock Hill, almost every night throughout the 1970s, to open up the Centro so that someone would be there if anyone dropped in. Often it was just Phil and Miguel looking at the paint peel off the walls and having a drink, but if someone did drop by Miguel would immediately make them welcome, cook up a paella, and start weaving his magic. He was without doubt a great communicator and would have

Miguel Garcia in his Upper Tollington Park flat. Photo from Phil Ruff's photo album, http://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/76hfpf

Miguel Garcia in his Upper Tollington Park flat. Photo from Phil Ruff's photo album, http://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/76hfpf

made a wonderful hostage negotiator. Everybody left the Centro feeling they were Miguel’s best friend, and ready to slay dragons. He had a way of making you think that. He turned the basement into an internationally known place to go if you needed help in London; somewhere to find a welcome, food, a bed for the night, or a place to squat. He also brought people together from all over the world, becoming the birthplace for many affinity groups that were active in Central and South America, and Europe.

In 1970-71 Albert was working in Fleet Street as a telephone reporter/copy-taker for The Daily Sketch, a right-wing British national tabloid newspaper, and after much discussion and argument — and believe me Miguel could be extremely argumentative and pugnacious — Albert finally convinced Miguel to write his memoirs. And so it was that the typescript of what was to become Franco’s Prisoner was hammered out between Miguel and Albert and typed up in a disused back room of one of Britain’s foremost Conservative populist newspapers — and paid for on the time of Associated Newspapers.

Inscription in Kate Sharpley Library copy of Franco's Prisoner

Inscription by Miguel Garcia in Kate Sharpley Library's copy of Franco's Prisoner

The book, Franco’s Prisoner, was published in 1972 by the Rupert Hart-Davis publishing house, which had originally commissioned my book The Christie File, but reneged on the contract at the last moment because of the allegedly contentious nature of the material.

As well as providing wide-ranging advice from abortion to legal aid to squatting, Miguel played a key role in many of the international defence campaigns run by the International Anarchist Black Cross at the time, including those of Julian Millan Hernandez and Salvador Puig Antich in Spain, and Noel and Marie Murray, two members of the Dublin Anarchist Group sentenced to death in Ireland for their alleged part in killing an off-duty Garda officer during a bank robbery in Dublin, in 1975.

Salvador Puig Antich had been a regular visitor who accompanied Albert and Miguel on some of their speaking tours around Britain. Returning to France in August 1973 to take part in a conference of young activists to set up the anarchist defence group known as the MIL (Movimiento Ibérico de Liberación), Salvador Puig Antich was involved a series of spectacular bank expropriations across Catalonia and Southern France. In September 1973, however, Puig Antich walked into a police ambush in Barcelona’s Calle Gerona in which he was wounded and a Francoist policeman was shot dead. Puig Antich, 25, was garrotted in Barcelona’s Modelo prison on 2 March 1974.

After the military coup in Argentina on 24 March 1976, Miguel persuaded a lot of people to ‘lose’ their passports so that comrades fleeing to escape the Junta could adopt a temporary identity change. In June 1976 he installed a printing press in the basement at Upper Tollington Park, on which he printed a number of anarchist books in Spanish, including Anarquismo y Lucha de Clases (the Spanish translation of Floodgates of Anarchy, written by Albert Meltzer and myself) that he distributed in Spain. As well as printing identity documents, he also got together a group of young Spanish comrades in London to produce their own anarchist paper Colectivo Anarquista.

Miguel Garcia speaking at a "teach-in" at the London School of Economics (LSE), 8 May 1976

Miguel Garcia speaking at a "teach-in" at the London School of Economics (LSE), 8 May 1976. From Phil Ruff's photo album, http://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/76hfpf

In the late 1970s Miguel returned to his native Barcelona where, funded by the Spanish writer and former diplomat Jose MartinArtajo, anarchist son of Franco’s foreign minister Alberto MartinArtajo, he fulfilled one of his life’s ambitions – to open his own bar. La Fragua, a former forge at No 15 Carrer de la Cadena in Barcelona’s Raval District — not far from where pistoleros working for the Catalan employers’ organisation gunned down the noted CNT leader Salvador Segui and his friend Frances Comes in 1923 — opened for business in 1979. As with the Centro Ibérico, La Fragua became a Mecca for anarchists and libertarians from all over the world, and an important meeting place for the anarchist activist groups of the so-called ‘Apache sector’ centred around Luis Andres Edo in Barcelona.

Miguel’s humanity was the most characteristic thing about him, that and his tenacity and ability to persevere and survive despite all odds. He was, without doubt, a pretty significant figure to the generation radicalised in the late 1960s and 1970s. Miguel had gone to prison fighting – and that was how he came out. He was untouched by the years of squabbling and in-fighting that characterised the life of the Spanish Libertarian Movement in exile. Miguel’s answer for any dire situation was always the same – ‘we must DO something!” His work with the Black Cross — providing practical aid to libertarian prisoners all over the world and making solidarity an effective springboard to militant action — influenced a new generation of anarchists not just in Spain but in many other parts of the world including Britain, France, Belgium, Italy and West Germany.

I was living on the northern island of Sanday, in Orkney, for much of the time Miguel was in Barcelona, but we met whenever we could. In 1980, Brenda, my partner, went to work with him at La Fragua for six months, at his invitation, to help improve the bar’s menu. Miguel’s culinary skills, acquired in Franco’s prisons during times of great austerity, left much to be desired! It was on Sanday, one December evening in 1981, that I received an unexpected telephone call from Miguel who was back in London, in a nursing home, being treated for advanced TB. It was nice to hear from him and we chatted about this and that, but nothing in particular, and for that reason alone it was strange. Usually, when Miguel rang it was to arrange to do something or get something done. But on this occasion it was simply to talk, nothing else. He also spoke with Brenda, again about nothing in particular, and she promised to write him one of her long chatty letters the following day, which she did. Unfortunately, Miguel never received it. He died in the early hours of the following morning.

Miguel Garcia Garcia’s life is a good pointer to what anarchism is in practice. Not a theory handed down by ‘men of ideas’, nor an ideological strategy, but the self-activity of ordinary people taking action in any way they can, in equality with others, to free up the social relationships that constitute our lives. Miguel García García may have lived a hard life, but it was a worthwhile life, and he was an inspiration to us all.


In Memoriam, November 11, 1887

November 11, 2010

“Now these are my ideas. They constitute a part of myself. I cannot divest myself them, nor would I, if I could.”

August Spies

In Memoriam

George Engle, 1836-1877

Adolf Fischer, 1858-1877

Louis Lingg, 1864-1887

Albert Parsons, 1848-1887

August Spies, 1855-1887


Who was Peter the Painter

September 16, 2010

Presented without comment:


Mat Kavanagh and the History of Anarchism

September 6, 2010

The historian G. M. Young reflected that no historian should begin writing until they heard the voices of the people they were researching. No problem with that rule here. Sometimes you can’t hear yourself with all the nattering going on in the boxes and on the shelves. It’s time then, I guess, to begin writing.

Idly browsing in the archive the other day (an activity much to be encouraged) I picked up a two-volume edition of Kavanaugh's writing inside The History of Freethought. I guess he was thinking about a thing or two.John M. Robertson’s A Short History of Free Thought Ancient and Modern (London: Swan Sonnenschein and Co. Ltd., 1899).On the FFEP was the signature of Mat Kavanagh and on each fly-leaf were meticulous notes on Robertson’s text in Kavanagh’s copperplate handwriting. Kavanagh is a subject of one of Nick Heath’s excellent biographical sketches on libcom and I would urge you to read it, but I want to talk about Mat Kavanagh in terms of what we mean when we write, or talk, about the history of anarchism.

John Hewetson wrote a warm and appreciative obituary of Mat in the “Freedom” of March 20, 1954 (Mat died on Friday, March 12th, 1954). In it Hewetson said “very few comrades have been so widely known in the anarchist Matt Kavanaugh tribute/obituary in Freedommovement in this country for he addressed audiences in many towns.” In his The Anarchists in London, 1935 – 1955 , Sanday: Cienfuegos Press,1976), Albert Meltzer writes of Kavanagh that “It was mainly due to his efforts that the Anarchist movement was kept alive during the difficult period between 1914 and 1934 when he still had much to give the  movement.” Kavanagh then played an important role in British anarchism. Interestingly, though, you don’t find him in either George Woodcock’s Anarchism (London: Penguin) or Peter Marshall’s Demanding the Impossible (Oakland: PM Press,2010) – not even a footnote.

So, apart from some aficionados Mat Kavanagh, it would be fair to say, is not well known now. Never mind that he tried to a hold a movement together by passing on its traditions and histories.Never mind he was a prolific and popular speaker – to some the public persona of anarchism and anarchy – and, I think, a clarifier of anarchist ideas. The problem we have is that he did not write all that much and what he did write, that wasn’t about figures from the anarchist past, was often in the moment, and not written with an eye to posterity which appears to count in some peoples eyes more than anything.

Throughout the nineteen thirties and beyond Mat wrote clear, lucid and straightforward sketches of anarchists who often had played a similar role to himself in the development of British anarchist organization and practice. Now, these were,as I said, written with at least a glance towards posterity. He was shrewd enough to realize that something was being lost and needed to be given whatever permanence he could provide. These biographical sketches became, in retrospect, pathways illustrating his own journeys in anarchism. His other writings though were different. They, too, were straightforward and lucid, but very much concerned with now .How to organize, the chances for anarchy after the war’s end etc etc In some of them we can certainly see progressions in his thinking. In the May 1935 issue of Freedom he appeals to Communist Party members over the heads of their leaders to join anarchists in common struggle. By the September 1944 of War Commentary he blanket criticizes the Independent Labor Party and its members for opportunistically adopting anarchist positions. All sense and possibility of collaboration between anarchists and other groups on the left does appear to have disappeared, in his mind, anyway.

Those of us interested in anarchist history are faced with something of a challenge here. We can certainly, if sketchily, find some traces of Kavanagh’s anarchism, but we need to put in some real work to be able to place his non-biographical writings in the social context they were written in. They are not candidates for subjects in a Ph.D. in political theory. Other writers will have to suffice for that. What interests me about his writings is Kavanagh’s sense of  audience. Who did Mat write for? Now we know Mat worked for long periods of his life on building sites and, later, as a barber (there is a rumor that he cut George Orwell’s hair) and it struck me that we can see Mat’s articles as the written evidence of lots of conversations and discussions he must have had every day; if we go back to Robertson’s book and look again at Mat’s notes on the fly leafs, two things strike me. One, here is a working class scholar at work, making sense of a huge amount of information and following his own autonomous, intellectual  trails. The second point is here is Kavanagh actually working out what knowledge he can take from this book that will be useful in his discussion on anarchism and anarchy with his work mates. It’s evidence, if you like, of a search for that really useful knowledge that will help inform his chats with people over lunch breaks, in the pub, and at various types of meetings.

Now, I wouldn’t dream of suggesting that working class people are incapable of understanding complex intellectual ideas, although I would suggest that complex intellectual ideas are very rarely capable of understanding working class people, but I’ll leave that for another time. I would argue, though, that some conversation (or discourse) may well be different from accepted “intellectual” discourse and, at least, just as important. In Kavanagh’s world you choose your words carefully, listen a lot, try and create a logic in the face of illogic, take the piss, have it taken out of you, argue, swear, and use examples and similes that reflect the common culture of work and social experience. Always you are prepared for unexpected challenges, agreements, and plain mockeries. This is not a place where you are  talking to the converted  and you can vent your spleen against all sorts of impure and hopeless paths to anarchy every other anarchist has taken apart from you and your mates- and you are not sure about one or two of them either. This is a different world that needs different writing. Put simply it is where the language of anarchism meets the language of everyday life. All this I think helps us understand Mat’s articles a little better. They are written appeals to people’s common sense, often taking them on apparently uncomplicated journeys from beginning to end, yet dealing beneath the surface with rather complex ideas and feelings. Now no one is saying that one method of writing is better than another. What I would say is that we need to be aware that writing like Kavanagh’s was an integral part of anarchist history and we should respect and perhaps look at it more closely than we have done.

Two final thoughts. I am, of course, struck by Mat Kavanagh’s desire to inform his contemporaries about their movement’s past. As I have grown older I can appreciate the critical role he played. For a movement that is often predicated on youth and excited and intrigued  by the new Kavanagh played a critical role in maintaining continuity, memory, and culture. It’s easy to disparage the past, and the old ways as circumstantialism runs rampant (you know “circumstances have changed, things are not the same”). Of course adapting to circumstances can be good and, sometimes, not so good!.Whatever the results of that discussion I am still struck by how many unwritten and unsung anarchists must have played a similar role to Kavanagh in other countries.

The second thought that struck me was prompted by a line or two in John Hewetson’s obituary. He wrote that Kavanagh’s “experience taught him to adhere to the traditional ideas of the movement.” Mm… I’m not quite sure what that means. I’d guess it’s a coded reference to the centrality of class struggle. It’s an interesting point though. When you are talking on the job, at lunch breaks or in the pub you chat about a common culture – the foreman is useless, we don’t need him. Look at how crap these tools are. No warning about overtime again. Those   carpenters did a crap job( Of course sometimes you just get drunk and have a laugh and forget all about it!!) Whatever the  topic you probably don’t begin to talk about any overarching new theories of social change. You start from where you are and  what you see and feel. It’s hard enough to deal with the “old” never mind the “new” That said – when Kavanagh spoke at all those meetings, or when Chaim Weinberg did the same in the USA, we do probably need to ask that, if they were recognized by their contemporaries as important to the spread and proliferation of anarchists ideas, what, then, was the anarchism they spoke about and what was it’s relation to the books, pamphlets and newspapers produced by the more well-known anarchists?.Above all we might ask where are they in the histories of anarchism and anarchist thought and practice, and what anarchism have we all been building on and reacting to?