Roma Marquez Santo and John Cornford

Thanks to Ciaran Crossey for an article by Harry Owens about Poum veteran Roma Marquez Santo after his recent talk in Dublin. Highly recommended. [Related: Not Just Orwell.]

Thanks to faceless for the video of George Galloway talking about John Cornford on the BBC’s Great Lives. Recommended with reservations. [See also: The Scots who fought Franco; Brian Pearce on John Cornford.]

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Vicente Ferrer

Martin in the Margins writes:

A saint of social action

Every now and then I read about someone who has managed to combine in their life elements that remain fragmented and conflicted in my own – and to accomplish things that make the achievements of ordinary mortals seem trifling. Yesterday’s Guardian carried an obituary for Vicente Ferrer, who fought for the POUM during the Spanish Civil War and was imprisoned by Franco, then trained to be a Jesuit priest, with the idea of ‘helping others’:

In 1952 he volunteered to go to India. At first he devoted himself to his spiritual development in Pune, but, surrounded by desolation, he soon moved from reflection to action. He started with a school and 12 acres of land at Manmad, north-east of Mumbai. In an arid area, he persuaded farmers to dig wells, offering them oil and wheat while they dug. Then, the digger of one well would help another, in a system Ferrer termed “linked brotherhood”.

He was to spend the rest of his life in India, entering into conflict with landowners and political bosses because of his co-operative methods, emphasis on education and challenges to the caste system and to the subjugation of women. He lived and worked among the poorest, especially the dalits (untouchables), who lacked all rights and were mostly illiterate.

Ferrer’s approach was rather different from that other European missionary in India, Mother Theresa:

“Misery and suffering are not meant to be understood, but to be solved,” and “I’ve declared war on pain and suffering” were two phrases that helped him raise money, not just from leftwing Catholics (he was never friends with the church hierarchy, who were unrepresented at his funeral) but from a wide base of donors.

His achievements seem to have been nothing short of heroic:

By the time of Ferrer’s death, his foundation had opened and supported 1,700 village schools, serving 125,000 children and employing 2,000 teachers, and three general hospitals with 1,300 staff. It had planted 3m trees and opened libraries, an Aids clinic and family-planning clinics. It organised wells and irrigation schemes. Several projects focus on women, especially dalits, whose lives are blighted by constant childbearing, rape and murder.

If you have to have saints, then Ferrer sounds like a pretty good candidate.

From the Michael Eaude obituary:

Ferrer was born in Barcelona. Just before the outbreak of the Spanish civil war in 1936, he joined the revolutionary party POUM (Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista, or the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification). He fought in the Battle of the Ebro in late 1938 and, like many, was forced to retreat all the way into France with the Republic’s defeated army. There he was interned in the Argelès-sur-Mer camp. Returning to Spain, he was sent for the rest of 1939 to Franco’s Betanzos concentration camp before being forced to do three years’ military service. He then began to study law, but gave it up in 1944 to train as a Jesuit priest, with the idea of “helping others”.

Published in: on July 25, 2009 at 10:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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From the archive of struggle, no.26

This week, a bumper edition, and a multi-lingual treat. Includes lots of things stolen from Entdinglichung, and possibly repeating one or two things I’ve already mentioned. Features the POUM, the Spanish civil war, Italian anarchists in WWII, Irish anarchists in the 1970s, German left communism, American Trotskyists in the 1930s (including Dwight MacDonald and Hal Draper), Trotsky himself, ultra-leftists on the Iraq war, and much more. Beneath the fold. Stuff in English at the top, scroll down for other languages.

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Not Just Orwell…

Having already reported on the visit to Ireland of Catalan POUM veteran Roma Marquez Santo [TOMORROW NIGHT IN DUBLIN], here are some more related links. Marquez Santo was also in Salford, at the Working Class Movement Library in Salford , for the launch of Not Just Orwell by Christopher Hall, telling the story of the ILP volunteers who fought in Spain against fascism. Not Just Orwell is published by Warren and Pell. A plaque to the ILP Contingent was also unveiled, and attended by Sidney Robinson, an Independent Labour Party activist in the 1930s who chaired the Newport Spanish Aid Committee. (Excellent report from Matthew Brown at the ILP. Good report at The Olive Press, including a wonderful YouTube of revolutionary Barcelona and George Orwell drinking tea [from George Orwell: A Life in Pictures]. Brief reports at SB News and Histomatist.)

Related material at Bataille Socialiste: a YouTube of the POUM cavalry in Barcelona.

More on the POUM from BS here, including just a couple of English texts:

Great men

The Cedar Lounge Revolution: A conversation with Roma Marquez Santo… veteran of the Spanish Civil War

Santo final copy

Roma Marquez is a 93-year old Catalan who joined the POUM militia on the outbreak of the generals’ revolt in July ‘36 and who later joined the anarchist militia after the POUM were suppressed.

He spent several years in prison after the war and returned to live in BCN where he has remained politically active.

Be sure to read the fascinating comment thread, including this from one of the organisers:

Roma [Marquez Santo] was born in 1916, the same year as Bob Doyle[1] and one of his earliest memories is being told by his mother of the death of Terence MacSweeny. This was at a time when anarchists were striking in BCN in support of the Irish Republic and Roma has continued to keep in touch with what passes here for political development.
Roma joined a mortar unit with the POUM militia on the Aragón front. His unit was in the line with anarchists, who encouraged them to sign over politically to avoid arrest by Soviet agents. Roma and his comrades joined the CNT militia and after it was subsumed into the Communist-controlled Republican Army, Roma was sent to an officer training camp. He was promoted to lieutenant and sent to the quiet front at Estramadura, where he says he ‘avoided the bloody slaughter of the Ebro’.
The POUM were affiliated with the ILP in the UK and George Orwell was perhaps their best known British volunteer. To a certain extent the SP occupy this political ground today. Roma also knew Durutti and attended his funeral after his death in Madrid.

And some interesting items from Jim Moneghan, such as:

Paddy Trench who was in the ILP in Britain worked with the POUM.
Brian Verschoyle Gould who was a comintern courier expressed doubts about the supression of the POUM, was kidnapped in Barcelona and died in the Gulag.
Nora Connolly O’Brien wrote a letter on behalf of the POUM when it was supressed.
I think the ILP affiliate in NI had a relationship with the POUM.[…]

On a footnote most of the Russians who were sent to Spain died in the gulag. The last major purge in the Eastern European states took many of the Spanish veterans. Read Arthur London’s “[The Confession]”, filmed with Yves Montand. Having fought in Spain was effectively evidence of Zionist/trotskyist deviations of at least that you were a spy. I think this purge turned many away from the Socialist/Communist ideal and to zionism. From the God that failed to the zionist God so to speak.
The awful La Pasionaria was still telling lies up to the end. She slandered the anarchist head of the Valencian collectives as a millionaire when he was a waiter in an hotel in South America. See Beevors book on the Civil War.
The best website on the Irish and the Spanish civil war is run by Ciaran Crossey who was if not still is a member of the Socialist party.
The safest place to be for a IB veteran was probably the USA and the West.
The defence of the purges and the mentality about it helped create the atmosphere in the Officials that aggravated the internecine fight with the IRSP. I remember the stuff about how Joe Stalin knew how to deal with these people.

Best film Gregory Peck as an anarchist fighter who refuses to give up. “Behold a pale horse”. With Anthony Quinn as the Franco police chief.
Best book “Hermanos” by Heerick. On a CPUSA member who is disillusioned.

Subversive Historian – 07/09/09

Oliver Law and the Lincoln Brigade

Back in the day on July 9th, 1937, Oliver Law, Commander of the Lincoln Brigade, died leading his troops during a campaign of the Spanish Civil War. Noted by history as the first African-American to command an integrated military force of U.S. citizens, Law suffered a fatal wound in the attack on Mosquito Ridge during the Battle of Brunete. Of internationalist concerns prior to the outbreak of Civil War in Spain, Law was born in West Texas and served in the segregated U.S. army. Following his career in the military he went to Chicago and became an organizer who was arrested for speaking at a rally against Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia. Firmly anti-Fascist, Law joined many other African-Americans and other U.S. citizens in forming the volunteer Lincoln Brigade to assist in the struggle against General Franco.

Wishing to enshrine the life of Law and others like him, Paul Robeson once said, “I would like to make a film on the life of a Black commander of the Lincoln Battalion who died there; but this would be refused by the big Yankee movie companies.”

More great men: Sam Wild, Bernard McKenna, the Welshmen of the XV.

May 1

Read Terry (1,2)

Poumish

Some recent blog posts on the topics close to my heart:

From the archive of struggle, no.7

More updates from Entdinglichung:

Here are some highlights:

Projet de scannerisation de la revue Socialisme ou Barbarie:

* Socialisme ou Barbarie, No. 1, März-April 1949

Marxists Internet Archive (MIA):

* Victor Serge: The Bandits (1912)
* C.L.R. James: The Task Of Building The American Bolshevik Party (1946)
* Irwing Howe: On Comrade Johnson’s American Resolution – Or Soviets In The Sky (1946)
* Paul Mattick: Arbeitslosigkeit, Arbeitslosenfürsorge und Arbeitslosenbewegung in den Vereinigten Staaten (1936)

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Benjamin Péret: songs of the eternal rebels

From History is Made at Night:

Benjamin Péret (1899-1959) was active in the Surrealist movement from its formation until his death. Among other things he edited at one stage the journal ‘La Révolution surréaliste’.

[…]

Péret was one of the first of the Surrealists to break with Stalinism. In the early 1930s, living in Brazil (with his wife, the singer Elsie Houston) he joined the trotskyist Communist League. In the Spanish Civil War, he worked first with the independent socialist POUM and then an anarchist militia fighting on the Aragon front. Later he was part of a group called the Union Ouvriere Internationale which broke with the trotskyist movement over the latter’s defence of the Soviet Union as a degenerate workers state (see this biography of Ngo Van Xuhat for more about this)

In a 1949 poem, A Lifetime, Péret looked back on his long association with Andre Breton and wrote of:

‘the songs in raised fists of the eternal rebels thirsting for ever new wind
for whom freedom lives as an avalanche ravaging the vipers’ nests of heaven and earth
the ones who shout their lungs out as they bury Pompeiis
Drop everything’.

Main source: Benjamin Péret, Death to the Pigs and Other Writings, translated by Rachel Stella and others (London: Atlas Press, 1988). The best source online is L’Association des amis de Benjamin Péret (in French)

Published in: on January 21, 2009 at 5:28 pm  Comments (2)  
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Miscellany

א New at Libcom: Joe Jacobs (Solidarity UK) on the organisational question. (More Joe Jacobs here.)

א At the Morningstar Ranch (Jim Parks, The Legendary). Extract:

[Lou] Gottlieb had a concert grand he put in a hen house at the Morningstar Ranch. There, he played Brahms and other classical works. He meditated, did yoga and clowned while his sidekick, another musician named Ramón Sender Barayón, the son of Ramón J. Sender, the exiled Spanish novelist, played it straight. Sender was literally born amid the sound of machine guns during “Red October,” within close proximity of the opening battles of the Spanish Civil War, in 1934. His father, a native of Aragon, was a co-founder of Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista, or P.O.U.M., the Trotskyist militia whose ranks were filled with international volunteers, including such literary luminaries as George Orwell, author of 1984.

א liber.rhetoricae: on slogans, taglines, enthymemes, and figures of brevity in general. Extract:

Trotsky as agitator allows his contact with the lived experience of the Spanish people to challenge Trotsky as theorist or propagandist. He allows what he learns to challenge his assumptions about historical laws and revolutionary processes. This is important. “Are we not confronted with an historical paradox?” Trotsky asks, and in asking opens the possibility that any doctrine of continuity between world revolution and the Russian revolution requires urgent review and perhaps revision in light of facts discovered on the ground in Spain. Set aside your views on Trotsky or his analysis or the success of Trotsky’s enterprise. This is rhetoric as method, it is the very definition of a rational process, and it is dialectical in character in the classical sense of dialectics. This is a community engaged in review, interpretation, and argument, in the form of communicators testing their arguments in live conditions.

א Jim  Sleeper: Gaza needs a George Orwell now. Extract:

If a new Orwell informs us that Israel, although it’s hideously cruel and wrong, isn’t the only evil enemy of freedom in Gaza, will anyone want to know?

א Tom Reimann: 7 Historical Figures Who Were Absurdly Hard To Kill. Extract:

#4: Leon Trotsky

Why He Had to Go

In 1917, Trotsky was Lenin’s right hand man when the Bolsheviks came to power in Russia. He created and commanded the Red Army and was a member of the Politburo, which oversaw all other branches of Soviet government and made all policy decisions. He also wore glasses and had a wicked goatee, so you know he read books and shit.


Quiet, I’m reading this shit.

After Lenin died, Trotsky was expelled from the Communist party and kicked out of Russia. In return, Trotsky attempted to enter the United States to testify before Congress that Stalin was a major douchebag. Upon hearing this, Stalin decided his next move would be to expel Trotsky from life.

How He Went Down

Trotsky was denied entry into the U.S. and eventually found his way to a home in Mexico City. It was there that he was attacked by Ramon Mercader, an assassin working for Stalin.

While Trotsky was home reading some shit, Mercader buried an ice axe into the back of his skull.

This just pissed Trotsky off.

He stood up from his desk, axe in head, and spit on Mercader. Then he went after the assassin, wrestling with him. Trotsky’s bodyguards heard the commotion (where the fuck were they a few minutes ago?) and came running in to subdue the assassin and get Trotsky to the hospital.

Trotsky made it to the hospital and underwent surgery before finally dying a day later from complications related to being brained with a goddamn ice axe. We’re hoping he lived long enough to fire those bodyguards.

א Also: Barcelona Photoblog, Political Chess – Alekhine vrs Trotsky – Apocryphal Account, Typically Spanish: The man who killed Leon Trotsky.

Stephen Suleyman Schwartz on POUM historiography

A couple of items at Jewcy:

In furtherance of an ongoing interest in the historiography of the Spanish civil war, I note with delight that the Catalan novelist Joan Marsé, born in Barcelona in 1933, has been awarded Spain’s highest literary honor, the Cervantes Prize. While I am normally no fan of such distinctions, which are typically empty and serve to corrupt literary life (see my numerous polemics on the Nobel sweepstakes), the 2008 Cervantes for Marsé is a welcome event.

Marsé remains best known for his novel Si te dicen que caí, written while Spanish dictator Francisco Franco still lived, and translated poorly into English in 1979 as The Fallen. It deals with the fate of anarchists and militants of the Partit Obrer d’Unificacio Marxista or POUM, in which Orwell served, after the triumph of the Nationalist forces in 1939. It was made into a splendid movie by Vicente Aranda Ezquerra, a leading Catalan director – self-taught in film art – who was born in 1926 and lived through the civil war. Aranda is an unabashed sympathizer of the Spanish anarchosyndicalist movement, the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) and its active cadre formation, the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI). Paradoxically, however, the first offering in a trilogy of his films about the Spanish war, originally titled, like the novel, Si te dicen que caí, but also released under the title Aventis, was more sympathetic to the POUM. [Read the rest]

The Cheapest Transaction

In a newsstand at Barajas Airport in Madrid, the day before I headed back to Kosovo and its echoes of the Spanish civil war, I saw a title on a table of books. It read Las víctimas de Negrín: Reinvindicación del POUM (The Victims of Negrín: Vindication of the POUM). The author was Antonio Cruz González, a Spanish labor activist and historian. [Read the rest]

Mika Etchebéhère, POUM Militia Captain

From Larry Gambone:


Abridged and roughly translated…
It has been 16 years since the death Micaela Feldman de Etchebéhère , an Argentinian woman who commanded a column of POUM militia in the Spanish Civil War. A friend of Julio Cortazar, Alfonsina Storni, Andre Breton and Copi, her extraordinary history is little known. She not only fought in this war but also lived through all the ideological adventures of the 20th Century.

A child of Russian Jewish immigrants, she grew on the stories of those revolutionaries who had escaped the pogroms and jails of Tsarist Russia. Born in 1902 in Moises Ville, she became an anarchist at age 15 in Rosario. Later in 1920 while at university she encountered Hipólito Etchebéhère, who became her compañero. Together, their lives were committed to militant action. They were first involved in the group “Insurrexit” influenced by both Marxism and anarchism. Then they joined the Communist Party, but were expelled two years later for their disagreement with the party leadership and their support for Trotsky, although they did not join or form a Trotskyist group. Mika then traveled through Patagonia collecting first-hand reports of the massacre of peasants and gauchos by the army. (see Patagonia Rebelde LG)

1931 saw them in Europe, first to Spain,, 1932 in Germany where they witnessed the rise of Nazism, then in 1933 to Paris where they were involved with the revolutionary group, Que Faire. Three years later they were back in Spain where they joined a POUM motorized column. Hipólito was given command. One month later he was killed at Atienza. Because of the machismo, at first Mika had difficulties being taken seriously. The militia men protested that In other companies the women wash and mend the men’s socks. Mika replied The women who are with us are militia members. We fight together, men and women, equal, and nobody better forget it! And we are all volunteers!

Little by little, she overcame her lack of knowledge of military strategy and assumed the commanding role in the column. She crawled through the trenches on her hands and knees through the mud, gathering arms, keeping the revolutionary spirit alive among the militia as she fought beside them. She was then made Capitan and fought on the fronts of Sigüenza, Moncloa, Pineda de Húmera. With the defeat by the fascists she fled to France, but returned to Argentina before she could be arrested by Vichy.

Mika returned to France in 1946. In Paris in 1968, Mika was seen getting students to wear gloves as they dug up paving stones to throw at the cops, since their hands would be clean and there would be no evidence if they were arrested. The policeman who later escorted her to her house had no idea that the handbag of this 66 year old, elegantly dressed lady was stuffed full of dirty gloves.

Taken from the Venezuelan anarchist blog Initiativa Communista