Date: Thu, 14 Mar 1996 09:43:16 -0600
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>>> Item number 8847, dated 96/03/02 06:53:41—ALL
Date: Sat, 2 Mar 1996 06:53:41 GMT
Sender: Activists Mailing List <ACTIV-L@MIZZOU1.MISSOURI.EDU>
From: Rich Winkel <>
Organization: PACH
Subject: The insumisos of ‘36: Spanish Civil War

/** 211.0 **/
** Topic: The insumisos of ‘36: the anti-mili **
** Written 10:11 AM Mar 1, 1996 by gn:peacenews in **

Civil War

Green Peace News, 1 May 1996

The first major crisis of international pacifism was the Spanish Civil War. A social revolutionary process which gave us concepts such as self-managed collectives and affinity groups was drowned in a bloody repression that continued until 1975. Today the state of Spain has the strongest anti-militarist movement in Europe. Yet until a year ago, even XABI AGIRRE ARANBURU knew little about the anti-militarists of the 1930s or about the debate then raging in the international pacifist movement.

The Spanish anti-militarists of the ‘30s—in their warnings about the dangers of armed struggle, in their constructive and nonviolent engagement for social justice, and in their humanitarian work—developed a programme similar to nonviolent groups in many subsequent struggles. In the first part of a two-part article, marking the 60th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War and the 75th anniversary of War Resisters' International, Xabi reclaims some of the history hidden by the years of repression.

War resisters have no historical memory. Perhaps this is one of the factors contributing to the success of the campaign for total resistance in the state of Spain; not knowing that they have a history and therefore reliving some of this history without being concerned by the contradictions of the present.

The story of the Spanish state's pioneer anti-militarists is a modest one which, like truth itself, was one of the first victims of war, and which was buried for decades when the victors came to write the history of the civil war.

The emergence of the anti-militarist movement during the Second Republic (1931-1939) was largely the result of the meeting of two currents. On the one hand, the native tradition of opposition to the military, which showed itself as much in spontaneous draft evasion as in the activism of the trade union movement (including opposition to the colonial wars in Morocco and the 1909 general strike in Barcelona). On the other hand, the rise in pacifist thought and action after the First World War, which found form and structure with the founding of the War Resisters' International in 1921.

The scant testimonies which survive from the Spanish anti-militarists of the '30s speak of how hopes were raised by the new republican regime and by the constitutional reforms of 1931, such as the separation of church and state, political and religious freedom, and the abolition of the death penalty.

The failure of General Sanjurjo's 1932 coup attempt, and the progressive legislation passed in the first years of the republic, particularly defence minister Manuel Azana's military reforms, were also celebrated by the anti-militarist press.

These initial hopes were tempered by various events which revealed the limitations of reform by the new republican regime.

The Republic, the anti-militarist movement, and revolutionary violence

At the beginning of 1934, there were several hundred activists in various groups affiliated to or coordinated by the Orden del Olivo, dedicated to tasks such as distributing information, a weekly publication, public actions and radio programmes. The WRI's principles found the most support in Catalunya, where a youth manifesto calling for war resistance was issued, seminars on anti-militarist studies were organised, and a workers' committee for anti-militarist action was set up in Barcelona.

While anti-militarists came to take a similar position to the Second Republic as did the mainstream of the Spanish left, they did diverge over the use of violence by the workers' movements. This issue became more critical in October 1934, when armed workers' risings in Asturias and Catalunya were brutally put down by the army. The anti-militarist press set itself apart by referring to the dangers of “fratricidal struggles” and underlining the disastrous consequences of this:

War is war … madness, slaughter, blood, destruction, misery. When the intent was to flatten them, the disorganisation of the workers was complete. The neutral masses—without convictions of their own; influenced by the strongest and most recent impressions; alarmed and motivated by their survival instincts—aligned themselves with the right. The proletarian parties and the left, through the use of violence, lost practically all ground.

The repression which followed the 1934 uprisings was directly to affect the Orden del Olivo and its members. Despite being formally banned, the Orden continued its work, advocating the anti-militarist position, occasionally working with professional and women's groups, and even with fringe social movements such as the spiritualists.

Mail planes and public declarations

Civil disobedience directed at the army was a central theme. Quirados J Gou, a civil pilot for the postal service, refused to participate in the aerial bombardment of positions held by the insurgent workers in Asturias in October 1934, and was subsequently punished; this is one of the experiences which we must reclaim for our history. Another was in 1935, when three young Catalan anarchists publicly refused to be conscripted and decided to present themselves to the authorities. An anti-militarist support campaign led to their release after four days in custody (they were declared unfit on grounds of “dementia”). They went public with their story, inspiring a group of more than 100 young men to declare themselves willing to refuse “all military service”—very much in the style of today's insumisos.

The victory of the Popular Front in the February 1936 elections, despite putting an end to a notorious three-year period of right-wing government, led to a period of instability which Spanish anti-militarists were to view with utter dejection. By June, the government and the workers' movement could both be seen to be contributing to a situation which was defined as “complex”. If prime minister Azana was responsible for “excessive concessions to the enemies of the Republic”—the financial and military right-wing—the workers' movement was criticised for “engaging in paramilitary exercises” and “declaring itself in favour of more violent action”. With the country on the brink of war, anti-militarists warned that the worst consequences could follow from a situation where there was “an explosion of hatred and threats in all directions”.

A few short weeks were enough to make these fears real, although the events of this immediate pre-war period did not in themselves prevent the anti-militarist movement taking fresh initiatives. Most notably, the Liga Espanol de Refractorios a la Guerra (Spanish War Resisters' League) was formally set up as the successor to the Orden del Olivo, with Dr Amparo Poch y Gaston as chair, Fernando Oca del Valle as secretary, and Jose Brocca as representative to the WRI Council.

The challenge for pacifism

“What would I do if I were in Spain today?” asked H Runham Brown, honorary secretary of the WRI, in a December 1936 article titled “Spain, a challenge for pacifism”. He reproduces a letter from Jose Brocca which contends that “the people of Spain had no other way open to them but to fight” but which goes on to explain how support for the Republican side could be given without, in his view, renouncing the principles of war resistance.

The propaganda of war resistance is not possible at this moment” wrote the Spanish War Resisters' League; the task for the moment was humanitarian aid … “constructive work of this type in the name of pacifism, is most valuable”.

In practice, this meant taking on auxiliary, civilian roles such as relief work, information, and ensuring that civil institutions continued to work. That is to say, the Spanish antimilitarists opted for a form of “alternative civilian service”, in this case republican and self-organised service. As the Spanish War Resisters' League later explained in a pamphlet aimed at the British public, “the propaganda of war resistance is not possible at this moment”; the corresponding task for them was humanitarian aid, as in such circumstances “constructive work of this type in the name of pacifism, is most valuable”.

Aid from the International

The WRI established a Spanish Aid Fund, dedicated to the sending of aid, gathering information on relatives and friends trapped behind Fascist lines, facilitating prisoner exchanges, and support for a refugee childrens' home in the French Catalan town of Prats de Mollo. League bank accounts in Madrid, Valencia, and Barcelona were augmented by donations from other WRI sections, especially the Peace Pledge Union (PPU) in Britain. Seventy refugee Basque children found shelter in the PPU's “Basque House” near Colchester, while an additional 500 refugees were evacuated to Mexico with help from local war resisters.

>From a WRI-run warehouse in Valencia, tins of milk were distributed throughout Spain; in Madrid, anti-militarists set up a women's committee for the distribution of clothing and food, some of it labelled “War Resisters' International: pacifist aid for the civil population in Spain”.

International aid also came in the form of volunteers, such as Lucie Penru, a French nurse and WRI activist who worked in the Hospital de Sangre de la Barriada in Barcelona from the beginning of the war until her unit was closed due to lack of funding in 1938; she then went to run a refugee children's home in France.

Heinz Kraschutzki, a leading German anti-militarist, had considerably worse luck in Spain. His experiences as a naval lieutenant in the First World War led him to active war resistance and the editorship of the Deutsche Friedensgesellschaft (DFG; now DFG-VK) magagine Das Andere Deutschlander. After he published information about plans for German rearmament, Kraschutzki faced trial for treason and had to leave the country, settling on Mallorca in 1932.

Although Kraschutzki had taken care not to implicate himself in any political activity in Spain, he was interned when fascist forces took control of Mallorca in August 1936. The Francoist authorities were then the target of pressure on one side from a WRI petition campaign (supported by the British Foreign Office) demanding Kraschutzki's release, and on the other side from Nazi officials in Spain, who asked for him to be turned over to them for execution.

Franco's men struck an agreement with the Nazis that Kraschutzki would not be executed, but neither would he be set free; subsequently in 1938 a military tribunal sentenced him to 30 years' prison. Seven years later, at the close of the Second World War, there were fresh WRI petitions for his release, again with Foreign Office support. This time, they were successful, and at the end of 1945 Heinz Kraschutzki was released after a total of 9 years in Francoist prisons; he had been a pioneer in resisting Germany's war preparations, and it was only after that war had finally ended that he was allowed to go free.