Protest to the libertarians of the present and the future about the capitulations of 1937

I am one of those who was rescued from San Miguel de las Reyes, the sinister penitentiary that was elevated by the monarchy to bury alive the men who -- because they were not cowards -- never submitted to the infamous laws that the powerful dictate to the oppressed. They took me down below, like so many others, for having committed an offense, for rebelling against the humiliations of which an entire village was the victim: in other words, for killing a "leader."[1]

I was young, and I am young now, since I entered prison at 23 and I left -- because anarchists opened the doors -- when I was 34. Eleven years submitted to the punishment of not being a man, of being a thing, of being a number!

With me left many men, who had endured as much, who were also marked by the bad treatment they had experienced since their births. Some of them scattered the moment that they tread upon the paving stones of the streets; and the others we reunited with our liberators, who treated us like friends and loved us like brothers. With them, little by little, we formed the "Iron Column"; with them, in great strides, we launched an assault on the barracks and distributed the weapons to redoubtable civilian guards; with them, after these attacks, we drove the fascists back as far as the crests of the mountains, where they still are. Accustomed to taking what we needed, hounding the fascists, we took from them provisions and guns. And we nourished ourselves for a time on what we were offered by the peasants, and we armed ourselves without anyone giving us the gift of a weapon, with what we took, with the strength of our arms, from the insurgent soldiers. The rifle that I hold and caress, which has accompanied me since I left that fateful prison, it is mine, it is my own; if I took, like a man, what I have in my hands, almost all that my comrades have in their hands is ours, properly ours.

No one, or almost no one, has ever had respect for us. The stupefaction of the bourgeois, seeing us leaving the prison, has not ended and has even spread to everyone, even at this moment, with the result that, instead of taking us into consideration and helping us, supporting us, one treats us like bandits, one accuses us of being uncontrollable: because we do not submit the rhythm of our lives, which we have wanted and [still] want to be free, to the stupid caprices of people who stupidly and haughtily consider themselves to be the owners of men because they have become part of a ministry or a committee; and because, in the villages through which we have passed -- after having taken away the possessions of the fascists -- , we have changed the system of life, annihilating the ferocious "leaders" who tormented the very existence of the peasants after having robbed them, and putting the riches back into the hands of those who know how to create it, into the hands of the workers.

No one, I can assure you, no one had involved themselves with the dispossessed, the needy, with those who were pillaged and persecuted their whole lives, better than us, the uncontrollables, the bandits, the escapees from prison. No one, no one -- I defy anyone to prove otherwise -- had ever been more affectionate and obliging towards the children, the women and the old people; no one, absolutely no one, could disapprove of this Column that, alone, without help -- and one must even say hindered -- had been in the avant-garde since the beginning; no one could accuse it of a lack of solidarity or of despotism, apathy or cowardice when it was a question of combat, or indifference towards the peasants, or lack of revolutionary spirit; because boldness and valor in combat had been our norm, nobleness with respect to the defeated was our law, cordiality with our brothers was our motto, and kindness and respect were the criteria for the unfolding of our lives.

Why this black legend that one has woven around us? Why this senseless eagerness to discredit us, while our discredit, which is not possible, could only bring prejudice to the revolutionary cause and to the [civil] war itself?

There is -- we, the men from prison, who suffered more than anyone on Earth, we know it well -- there is, I say, an extreme gentrification [embourgeoisement] in the atmosphere. The bourgeois of soul and body, who are completely mediocre and servile, tremble at the idea of losing their tranquility, their cigars and coffee, their bulls, their theater and their prostituted relations; and when they hear something about the Column, about this Iron Column, the support of the Revolution in the lands of the Levant, or when they learn that the Column has announced its descent upon Valencia, they tremble like leaves, thinking that those of the Column come to tear out their lives of miserable pleasures. And the bourgeois -- there are bourgeois of different classes and in many positions -- weave, without respite, with the threads of calumny, the black legend with which they favor us; because it is the bourgeois, and only the bourgeois, who have and can still harm our activities, our revolts and the irrepressible desires that madly carry away our hearts, the desire to be free like the eagles on the highest summits or like the lions in the deepest forests.

Even the brothers, those who suffered with us in the fields and the workshops, those who were exploited shamefully by the bourgeoisie, made themselves echo its terrible fears and came to believe them, because certain people -- finding their interests in being leaders -- say that we, the men who struggle in the Iron Column, are bandits and people without souls; with the result that this hatred, which has many times come to cruelty and murderous fanaticism, scatters rocks on our road, so as to hinder our advance against fascism.

Certain nights, the dark nights in which -- weapon in arm and ear on the look-out -- I would strive to penetrate into the depths of the surrounding country, and also into the mystery of things, I would not find any other remedy, as in a nightmare, than standing up straight, unsheltered, and this not so as to relieve the numbness of my limbs, which would be steely because they were passed through the crucible of pain, but to grip my weapon with more bad temper, feeling keenly the desire to fire, not only upon the enemy who hides at least 100 meters from me, but also upon the other enemy, against the one whom I cannot see, against the one who hides at my side, and is still there at the moment, who calls me comrade while he basely fails me, since there is no failure more cowardly than the man who indulges in betrayal. And I experienced desires to cry and to laugh, and to run across the fields crying and wringing necks with my fingers of iron, as when I broke between my hands the neck of the vile "leader," and to blow up -- until only ruins remain -- this miserable world, in which it is so difficult to find loving hands that wipe away your sweat and staunch the flow of blood from your wounds when, tired and injured, you return from battle.

How many nights, the men being together, and only forming a bunch or handful, when I would express to my comrades, the anarchists, my pains and my sorrows, I found, here-below, in the harshness of the mountain-side, faced with the enemy who lay in wait for us, a friendly voice and affectionate arms that made me love life again! And then, I would throw to the wind all the suffering, all of the past, all the horrors and all the torments that have marked my body, as if they belonged to others eras, and I would abandon myself with joy to dreams of adventure, perceiving in the fever of my imagination a world different from the one in which I have lived, but which I desire: a world different from the one in which men have lived, but which many men have dreamed of. And time would pass for me as if it flew and fatigue did not trouble me, and my enthusiasm redoubled and rendered me foolhardy[2] and made me leave the reconnaissance point for that day so as to discover the enemy and . . . all to change life; to stamp another rhythm on this life that is ours; so that men, and me among them, can be brothers; so that, once at least, joy, bursting from our hearts, can seed the land; so that the Revolution, this Revolution that has been the pole and motto of the Iron Column, can soon be an accomplished fact.

My dream would dissipate like the thin, white clouds that, above us, passed over the mountain, and I would return to my disenchantment so as to come back, another time, at night, to my joys. And thus, between sorrows and joys, between anguish and tears, I passed my life, happy at the heart of peril, comparing this dark and miserable life to the dark and miserable prison.

But one day -- it was a grey and sad day -- , on the summits of the mountain, there came news like a wind made of snow: "We must militarize ourselves."[3] And this news was like a dagger that tore me and I suffered in advance the anguish that we now feel so keenly. During the night, while sheltered, I repeated the news to myself: "We must militarize ourselves. . . ."

Beside me, keeping watch while I rested, although I could not sleep, there was the delegate of my group, who would now become a lieutenant, and several steps away, sleeping on the same soil, resting his head on a pile of bombs, was bedded the delegate of my century,[4] who would become a captain or a colonel. Me . . . I would continue to be me, the child of the country, a rebel until death. I did not want, and I still do not want, crosses, stripes or commands. I am as I am, a peasant who learned to read in prison, who has seen sadness and death up close, who was an anarchist without knowing it and who now, knowing it, is more of an anarchist than yesterday, when I killed to be free.

That day, that day on which the baleful news fell from the crests of the mountain like an icy wind that tears the soul, would be unforgettable, like so many other days in my life of sorrows. That day . . . bah!

We must militarize ourselves!

Life teaches men more than all the theories, more than all the books. Those who want to carry into practice what they have learned from others by drinking from what is written in books, they deceive themselves; those who carry into books what they have learned along the detours of the road of life, they can perhaps create masterpieces. Reality and reverie are distinct things. To dream is good and beautiful, because the dream is almost always the anticipation of what must be; but the sublime is rendering life beautiful, to make life, concretely, a beautiful work.

Me, I have lived my life at great speed. I did not taste the youth that, from what one has read about it, is joy, sweetness, well-being. In prison, I only knew sorrow. Young according to the number of my years, I am an old man by all that I have lived, by all that I have cried, by all that I have suffered. Because, in prison, one hardly ever laughs; in prison, whether one is under a roof or the sky, one always cries.

To read a book in a cell, separated from the contact of men, is to dream; to read the book of life, when the present opens a page to you, whomever the jailer, who insults you or merely spies on you, is to find oneself in contact with reality.

One day I read, I do not know where nor by whom, that the author could not get an exact idea of the roundness of the Earth in so far as he had never wandered it, measured it, felt it: discovered it. Such a pretension seemed ridiculous to me, but this short phrase remained so imprinted upon me that sometimes, during my forced soliloquies in the solitude of my cell, I thought of it. Until one day, as if I myself had discovered something marvelous that previously had been hidden to the rest of mankind, I felt keenly the satisfaction of being, on my own, the discoverer of the roundness of the Earth. And that day, like the author of the phrase, I wandered, I measured and I felt the planet, in my imagination the light making itself a "vision" of the Earth turning in the infinite spaces, a part of the universal harmony of the worlds.

The same thing happened with respect to pain. It is necessary to weigh it, to measure it, to feel it, to taste it, to understand it, to discover it, to be able to have a clear idea of what it is in the spirit. Beside me, pulling a chariot on which others, singing and rejoicing, were perched, I saw the men who, like me, acted as mules. And they did not suffer; and they did not grumble their protests from below; and they found it just and logical that these people, in so far as they were masters, were the ones who held them by reins and grasped the whip, and that it was even logical and just that the master, with a pull on the leash, gashed them in the face. Like animals, they would let a whinny, strike the ground with their hooves and begin to gallop. Afterwards, oh, such sarcasm! When one had unharnessed them, they licked the hand that had whipped them like enslaved dogs.

There is no one who, having been humiliated, vexed, outraged -- who felt himself to be the most unfortunate being on the earth, at the same time the noblest, the best, the most human being, and who, at the same time and all together, experienced his unhappiness and felt himself to be happy and strong, and who felt on his back and on his face, without warming, without motivation, for the pure pleasure of hurting and humiliating, the icy fist of the carceral beast -- no one who, having seen himself dragged into solitary [confinement] for rebellion and, in it, slapped on the face and trampled on the feet, hearing his bones crack and seeing his blood flow until he fell on the ground like a mass -- no one who, after having suffered tortures inflicted by other men, having been obliged to feel his powerlessness and to curse and blaspheme because of this, to also begin to gather together his strength for another time -- no one who, receiving punishment and outrages, became aware of the injustice of punishment and the infamy of outrages and, having this awareness, proposed to finish off the privilege that grants to some people the ability to punish and outrage -- no one, finally, who was held captive in prison or held captive in the world, understanding the tragedy of the men condemned to obey in silence and blindly the orders that they received -- [there is no one] who does not know the depths of sorrow of keeping quiet and obeying. To desire to speak and to keep quiet, to desire to sing and remain mute, to desire to laugh and have to, by force, strangle the laughter in one's mouth, to desire to love and be condemned to swim in the mud of hatred!

I passed through the barracks, and there I learned to hate. I passed through the prison, and there, among the tears and the suffering, strangely, I learned to love, to love intensely.

In the barracks, I almost lost my personality, so rigorous was the treatment that I experienced, because one wanted to inculcate in me a stupid discipline. In prison, through many struggles, I re-found my personality, each time being more rebellious to all that was imposed on me. Previously, I had learned to hate, from the lowest to the highest levels, all of the hierarchies; but, in prison, in the most sorrowful pain, I learned to love the misfortunate, my brothers, while I conserved, pure and clear, my hatred of hierarchies that the barracks had nourished. Prisons and barracks are the same thing: despotism and the free exercise of the bad nature by some, for the suffering of all. The barracks do not teach anything that does not damage physical and mental health; and the prison does not correct.

With this judgment, with this experience -- experience acquired because my life had bathed in sorrow --, when I heard, at the foot of the mountain, the order for militarization that came prowling around, I felt in an instant that my being had collapsed, because I saw clearly that the audacious guerrillero[5] of the Revolution would die, so as to continue by leading the existence that, in the barracks and in prison, stripped me of all personal attributes; so as to fall once more into the abyss of obedience, into the bestial somnambulism in which is conducted the discipline of the barracks and the prison, which both value. And, grasping with rage my gun, which was then my shelter, and looking at enemy and "friend," looking before and behind the lines, I cast a malediction similar to those I cast when, as a rebel, one led me to the dungeon, and I drove back a tear, similar to those that escaped from me, when no one could see them, to the extent of my powerlessness. And I saw well that the hypocrites who desired to make of the world a barracks and a prison are the same ones, the same ones, the same ones who, yesterday, in the dungeons, cracked our bones, us, men -- men.

Barracks . . . prisons . . . shameful and miserable life.

One did not understand us, and because one did not understand us, one did not love us. We fought -- today false modesty is not appropriate, it leads to nothing -- we fought, I repeat, as few did. Our place had always been at the first line of fire, for the good reason that, in our sector, from the very first day, we were the only ones there.

For us, there was never any relief nor. . . . What was even worse, [not even] a gentle word. The ones and the others, the fascists and the antifascists, and even our own[6] -- what shame we felt! -- everyone treated us with antipathy.

One did not understand us. Or, what is the most tragic thing within the tragedy that we live, perhaps we did not make ourselves understood; since we, having carried on our shoulders the weight of all the scorn and all the cruelty of those who were on the side of hierarchy in life, we wanted to live, even during war, a libertarian life, whereas the others followed the chariot of the State by harnessing themselves to it, which was their misfortune and ours.

This incomprehension, which has caused us immense difficulties, has hemmed in our road of misfortunes; and not only the fascists, whom we treat as they deserve, have seen a danger in us, but also those who call themselves antifascists and cry their antifascism until they become hoarse. This hatred that was constructed around us has given way to painful confrontations, the most ignominious of which -- it brings disgust to the mouth and one's hand to one's gun -- took place in the midst of Valencia, when "authentic, Red antifascists" opened fire on us. Then . . . bah! . . . Then it was necessary for us to conclude that, today, the counter-revolution is being made.

History, which welcomes all the good and all the bad that men accomplish, will speak one day.

And then History will say that the Iron Column were perhaps the only ones in Spain who had a clear vision of what our Revolution must be. History will also say that it was this Column that offered the greatest resistance to militarization. And, what's more, it will say that, because the Column resisted militarization, there were moments when it was totally abandoned to its fate, in the midst of battle, as if a unit of six thousand men, seasoned and resolved to vanquish or be killed, had to be abandoned to the enemy so that it could annihilate them.

How many things History will say, and how many figures who believe themselves to be glorious will be execrated and cursed!

Our resistance to militarization is founded on what we know of soldiers. Our current resistance is founded on what we currently know of soldiers.

The professional military has constituted, now as always, here as in Russia,[7] a caste. It is the caste that commands; to the others, there must remain nothing more than the obligation to obey. The professional military leader hates all of his forces, and so much more if it is a question of a compatriot, one whom he believes to be his inferior.

I myself have seen -- I always look at men's eyes -- an officer tremble with rage or disgust when, addressing himself to me, I have addressed him familiarly, and I know examples from today, even from today, of battalions that call themselves proletarian, in which the officer corps, which has already forgotten its humble origins, cannot permit a militiaman to speak to him familiarly -- there are severe punishments for doing so.

The "proletarian" army does not demand a discipline that would, in short, be the execution of the orders of war; it demands submission, blind obedience, the annihilation of the personalities of its men.

The same thing, the same thing when, yesterday, I was in the barracks. The same thing, the same thing when, a little later, I was in prison.

We, in the trenches, live happily. We certainly see fall next to us the comrades who began this Civil War with us; we know, moreover, that at any instant a bullet can leave us stretched out on the field of battle -- this is the compensation the revolutionary can expect -- but we live happily. We eat when there is something; when the living are few, we eat sparingly. And everyone is content. Why? Because no one is superior to another. All are friends, all are comrades, all are guerrilleros[8] of the Revolution.

The group or century delegate was not imposed upon us, but he was elected by us, and he does not feel himself to be a lieutenant or captain, but a comrade. The delegates to the Committees of the Column were never colonels or generals, but comrades. We eat together, we fight together, we laugh and curse together. We have not had pay for a long time and they have not had any. And when we got our hands on ten pesetas, they get ten pesetas.

The only thing that we consider is their proven ability and it is for this that we chose them; to the extent their merit has been confirmed. They are our delegates. There are no hierarchies, there are no superiorities, there are no severe orders: there is sympathy, affection, camaraderie; a happy life in the midst of the disasters of war. And thus, among comrades, we say that one fights because of something and for something, that war pleases us and we accept death with pleasure. But when you find yourself among soldiers, where everything is only orders and hierarchies; when you see in your hands the sad pay with which you can, with difficulty, support the family that you have left behind, and when you see that the lieutenant, the captain, the commander and the colonel pocket three, four, even ten times more than you, while they do not have more enthusiasm, more knowledge, nor more bravery than you, life becomes bitter to you, because you see well that this, this is not the Revolution, but a manner in which a small number draws profit from an unfortunate situation, which only works to the detriment of the people.

I do not know how we will live henceforth. I do not know if we can accustom ourselves to hearing the injurious words of a corporal, a sergeant or a lieutenant. I do not know if, after we have fully felt our selves to be men, we can accept being [treated like] domesticated animals, because that is what discipline leads to and that is what militarization represents.

It is definite that we cannot do so, to us it will be totally impossible to accept despotism and ill treatment, because it would be necessary to hardly be a man to peacefully endure insults while having a weapon in hand; nevertheless, we have worrisome examples of comrades who, having been militarized, submit, like a lead slab, to the weight of the orders that emanate from people who are most often inept and always hostile.

We believe that we are in motion to emancipate ourselves, to save ourselves and we risk falling into this even as we fight: into despotism, into the power of castes, into the most brutal and the most alienating authoritarianism.

Meanwhile, the moment is serious. Having been taken -- we do not know why, and if we know, we keep quiet about it at this moment -- , having been taken, I repeat, into a trap, we must leave it, we must escape from it the best that we can, because, after all, the whole field is filled with them.

The militarists, all of the militarists -- there is a furious one in our camp -- have encircled us. Yesterday, we were the masters of everything, today they are. The popular army, whose "popularity" is nothing other than the fact that it is recruited from among the people, it always happens that it does not belong to the people; it belongs to the Government, and the Government leads and the Government orders. The people are simply permitted to obey, and one demands that it always obeys.

Being swept up in the militarist net, we only have a choice between two roads: the first leads us to separate ourselves, we who are -- until today -- comrades in the struggle, by proclaiming the dissolution of the Iron Column; the second leads us to militarization.

The Column, our Column, must not dissolve. The homogeneity that it has always presented has been admirable -- I only speak for us, comrades -- ; the camaraderie among us will remain an example in the history of the Spanish Revolution; the bravery that has appeared in a hundred combats can be equaled in this battle of heroes, but not surpassed. Since the first day, we have had friends; more than friends, [we have had] comrades, brothers. To separate us, to leave each other, to no longer see each other again, to no longer experience, as we have until now, our desires to vanquish and combat -- it is all impossible.

The Column, this Iron Column, which from Valencia to Teruel has made the bourgeois and the fascists tremble, must not dissolve, but must continue to the end.

Who can say that others, having been militarized, have been stronger, bolder, more generous with their blood on the field of battle? Like brothers who defend a noble cause, we have fought; like brothers who have the same ideals, we have dreamed in the trenches; like brothers who aspire to a better world, we have gone forward with courage. Dissolve our homogeneous totality? Never, comrades. As long as we remain a century, combat. As long as there remains one of us, victory.

This would be a lesser evil, although the evil would be great if we accepted that someone, without being elected by us, gave us orders. Nevertheless. . . .

To be a column or to be a battalion is nearly the same. What is not the same thing, for us, is that [in the latter] one does not respect us.

If we remain, united, the same individuals whom we are now, whether we form a column or a battalion, this will make no difference to us. In the struggle, we have no need of people who encourage us to rest, nor do we have people who prohibit us from resting, because we will not consent to it.

The corporal, the sergeant, the lieutenant and the captain will be ours, in which case we will all be comrades, or they will be our enemies, in which case we will only treat them like enemies.

For us, column or battalion, if we want, it would be the same thing. We, yesterday, today and tomorrow, we will always be the guerrilleros[9] of the Revolution.

What happens to us after this depends on us, on the cohesion that exists between us. No one will stamp his rhythm on us, it is we who will stamp it, so as to keep an attitude adapted to those who will find themselves on our side.

Keep this in mind, comrades. The fight requires that we do withdraw from this war neither our arms nor our enthusiasm. In a column, [we are] ours, or in a battalion, [we are] ours; in a division or a battalion that would not be ours, it will be necessary to fight us.

If the Column is dissolved, if we disperse, then -- being required to militarize -- we would have to go where they order us to go, and not with those whom we have chosen. And, as we do not want to be domesticated animals, it is quite possible that we will clash with people with whom we must not clash: with those who, whether bad or good, are our allies.

The Revolution, our Revolution, this proletarian and anarchist Revolution, to which we offered pages of glory from the first days, requires is to not abandon our weapons and to not abandon the compact kernel that we have constituted until now, whatever name we are called: column, division or battalion.

[1] The word employed in the original Spanish is cacique, which can mean either a local political boss or a tyrant.

[2] "Even foolhardiness, that is, boldness without an object, is not to be despised; in point of fact it is the same energy of feeling, only exercised as a kind of passion without the cooperation of the intelligent faculties." Carl von Clausewitz, On War, as translated by Colonel J.J. Graham (Barnes & Noble, 2004), p. 152.

[3] That is to say, "we must become part of the regular military forces."

[4] A military unit consisting of 100 men.

[5] The French translation retains the Spanish word for "guerrilla."

[6] The CNT-FAI.

[7] An interesting choice, and expressed in an interesting way: the so-called Soviet Union of Socialist Republics was, of course, one of the countries that was involved in the suppression of the Spanish Revolution.

[8] The French translation retains the Spanish word for "guerrillas."

[9] The French translation retains the Spanish word for "guerrillas."

(Originally written in Spanish by an "Uncontrollable" in the Iron Column, this text was published anonymously by Nosotros, an anarchist daily newspaper in Valencia, in installments on 12, 13, 15, 16 and 17 March 1937. It was translated into French by "two aficionados without qualities," that is to say, by Alice Becker-Ho and Guy Debord, who wrote a brief preface to it. The French translation was published by Editions Gerard Lebovici in December 1979 and reprinted by Editions Ivrea in November 1995. There was an English translation published by News From Everywhere in 1987 and then reprinted by the London Anarchist Black Cross in 1993. It was not consulted during the creation of this version, which was translated from the French, with recourse to the Spanish original when necessary, by NOT BORED! 18 June 2007. All footnotes by NOT BORED!)

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