Spanish Civil War – October 1936

Description of El Paral.lel and Barrio Chino, Barcelona sometime in October 1936 by Dutch-Canadian journalist Pierre van Paassen.

Three months later when I visited Barcelona again, there remained not a trace of disorder. The old regime was making way for a new order of things. Theaters had reopened. The transportation system, including the taxicabs and the underground railway, was functioning normally, and food was plentiful. But the false Montmartre atmosphere in the Paralelo neighbourhood had completely evaporated. You could walk through the quarter known as the Chinese City without an army of pimps and harlots and dope peddlers on to your coattails. The brothels, night clubs, gambling casinos, peep shows, honky-tonks and obscene movies had been closed. That was the work of the working-class committees. On the other hand, the churches and convents which had escaped the fury of the masses in July had been turned into kindergartens, cultural centres, hospitals, lecture halls and popular universities. Scores of small bookshops had made their appearance. People apparently were turning to reading in a country where letters and learning were for ages, if not proscribed, then at least the privilege of a minority of monsignori and bourgeois lawyers. The famous monastery of Montserrat, located on the mountain overlooking the city, had been transformed into a sanatorium for tubercular children, but nobody could tell me where the monks had gone, nor did anyone seem to care a great deal.

October 1

Franco declares himself head of state and Generalísimo in Burgos.

The Republican government grants autonomy to the parts of the Basque Country still in its hands (Viscaya and Guipúzcoa) under the name of Euzkadi. Badly armed and barely trained, the Basque Army, the Euzko Gudarostea, managed to mobilize 100,000 soldiers. One of the most pressing deficiencies, that unbalanced the odds, was the absence of heavy artillery and aviation.

October 3

In order to legitimise the rebellion inside and outside Spain, Franco establishes a civil government for the “National Zone”, known as the Civil Junta. It has practically no say in any matter, as a State of War exists throughout Nationalist Spain, and the military have all say.

October 6

The Soviet Union declares that is no more bound by Non-Intervention as are Portugal, Italy, and Germany. This allows the Spanish Republic  at last to buy armaments. Although, while the National Zone is openly supplied over the Portuguese border, the Republic still suffers from the closed French border and the “Non-Intervention” blockade at sea.

October 7

The first International Brigades are founded in Albacete, which would be headquarters of brigades. They are headed by André Marty who was commander; Luigi Longo (Gallo) who was Inspector-General; and Giuseppe Di Vittorio (Nicoletti) who was chief political commissar. Marty was a notorious disciplinarian, ready to execute his men for any loss of resolve or ideological soundness, earning him the title of the “Butcher of Albacete”.

October 9

Foundation of the “Popular Army” in the Spanish Republic. The plan was to organize the loyal sections of the pre-coup army, and bring in the different militias, under a modern and efficient officers corps with a central command.

October 11

Letter by André Marty (Stalinist leader of the International Brigades – see above) to the General Consul of the Soviet Union in Barcelona (11th October, 1936)

The Madrid government and general staff have shown a startling incapacity for the elementary organization of defense. So far they have not achieved agreement between the parties. So far they have not created an appropriate relationship for the government and War Ministry to take control. Caballero, having arrived at the need to establish the institution of political commissars, so far has not been able to realize this, because of the extraordinary bureaucratic sluggishness of the syndicalists, whom he greatly criticizes and yet without whom he considers it impossible to undertake anything. The general staff is steeped in the traditions of the old army and does not believe in the possibility of building an army without experienced, barracks-trained old cadres. Meanwhile, the capable military leaders who have been fighting at the front for two months in various detachments, and who might have been the basis for the development of significant military units, have been detailed all over the place. Up to four thousand officers, three-fourths of the current corps, are retained in Madrid and are completely idle. In Madrid up to ten thousand officers are in prison under the supervision of several thousand armed men. In Madrid no serious purge of suspect elements is in evidence. No political work and no preparation of the population for the difficulty of a possible siege or assault is noticeable. There are no fewer than fifty thousand armed men in Madrid, but they are not trained, and there are no measures being taken to disarm unreliable units. There are no staffs for fortified areas. They have put together a good plan for the defense of Madrid, but almost nothing has been done to put this plan into practice. Several days ago they began fortification work around the city. Up to fifteen thousand men are now occupied with that, mostly members of unions. There has been no mobilization of the population for that work. Even the basics are extraordinarily poorly taken care of, so the airport near the city is almost without any protection. Intelligence is completely unorganized. There is no communication with the population behind the enemy’s rear lines. Meanwhile, White spies in the city are extraordinarily strong. Not long ago, a small shell factory was blown up by the Whites; an aerodrome with nine planes was destroyed because the aerodrome was lit up the entire night; a train carrying 350 motor-cycles was destroyed by enemy bombs.

Caballero attentively listens to our advice, after a while agrees to all our suggestions, but when putting them into action meets an exceptional amount of difficulty. I think that the main difficulty is Caballero’s basic demand, now in place, to carry out all measures on a broad democratic basis through syndicalist organizations. Sufficient weapons, in particular machine guns, are now flowing to the city to raise the morale of the populace somewhat. Masses of peasants and workers are thronging to the city – volunteers. They end up for the most part in the Fifth Regiment, where they go through a very short training course, as they receive their weapons only about two days before going to the front.

October 12

World famous philosopher Miguel de Unamuno, until now a timid supporter of the coup, famously opposes Foreign Legion commander Millán Astray during  a celebration at the University of Salamanca, with guests including Franco’s wife.

He says that listening to the official speech of Millán Astray he has come to realize the inhuman and ignoble nature of the uprising. Meanwhile, supporters of the General are shouting “Long Live Death”. Unamuno says in a loud voice to the general that they have not only to win (vencer), but to convince (convencer), that he doesn’t think they were fit for the latter task, and that the general himself, a cripple who lost an eye and an arm in a former war, is also a cripple in his mind, and therefore his hatred wants to cripple all others. The choleric General becomes so furious that he wants to strike Unamuno, shouting “Death to Intelligence”. Only the intervention of Franco’s wife prevents this. Unamuno is removed as rector of the university. Because of his international fame and the trouble after the assassination of poet García Lorca, Franco refuses his own and Millán Astray’s wish to execute Unamuno. Instead, he is confined to his house and is not allowed to express himself in public. He will die of chagrin in December. The day he dies, his two sons enlist themselves in the Republican Militias.

Part of Astray’s earlier speech:

Catalonia and the Basque Country are two cancers in the body of the nation! Fascism, Spain’s remedy, comes to exterminate them, slicing healthy, living flesh like a scalpel.

October 14 

A nationalist force from the Canary Islands take control of the continental part of Spanish Guinea.

A group of 500 volunteers (mainly French, with a few exiled Poles and Germans) arrived in Albacete. They were met by international volunteers who had already been fighting in Spain: Germans from the Thälmann Battalion, Italians from Centuria Gastone Sozzi and French from Commune de Paris Battalion.  Among them was British poet John Cornford.

October 24

The first secret shipment of the Spanish Gold Reserves leaves for the USSR, which insists on having a security for selling armament and ammunition. Spain ends up dispatching more than half its gold reserves to the Soviet Union, which charged its aid at a premium rate.

 

October 27

The first Soviet tanks (T-26) arrive in Madrid by train. They are driven straight from the station straight into battle. They represent a massive boost for the defence of Madrid, which until now had to make do with Molotov cocktails against German and Italian tanks.
16 people are killed and 60 wounded in a fascist air raid on Madrid. The air raid was carried out by German Junker Ju-52s. Madrid has no air defences to speak of. 

October-November Siege of Madrid begins

In Barcelona. Meeting with Durruti and the taking of Sietamo – Pierre van Paassen 

Dutch-Canadian journalist Pierre van Paassen recounts his visit of liberated Barcelona, his meeting with libertarian fighter Buenaventura Durruti, and the taking of the town of Sietamo by anarchist forces. This is an extract from van Paassen’s book Days of our Years, which documents his experiences in Europe, Africa and the Middle East before the outbreak of World War II.

Three months later when I visited Barcelona again, there remained not a trace of disorder. The old regime was making way for a new order of things. Theaters had reopened. The transportation system, including the taxicabs and the underground railway, was functioning normally, and food was plentiful. But the false Montmartre atmosphere in the Paralelo neighbourhood had completely evaporated. You could walk through the quarter known as the Chinese City without an army of pimps and harlots and dope peddlers on to your coattails. The brothels, night clubs, gambling casinos, peep shows, honky-tonks and obscene movies had been closed. That was the work of the working-class committees. On the other hand, the churches and convents which had escaped the fury of the masses in July had been turned into kindergartens, cultural centres, hospitals, lecture halls and popular universities. Scores of small bookshops had made their appearance. People apparently were turning to reading in a country where letters and learning were for ages, if not proscribed, then at least the privilege of a minority of monsignori and bourgeois lawyers. The famous monastery of Montserrat, located on the mountain overlooking the city, had been transformed into a sanatorium for tubercular children, but nobody could tell me where the monks had gone, nor did anyone seem to care a great deal.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>