Beyond the Pyrenees

Alexei Kochetkov

Beyond the Pyrenees

The second part of the novel I Am Coming Back to You

Translated from Russian by Vladimir Kochetkov

Editor: Janet Wagner

Footnotes by Vladimir Kochetkov

© 2016 T&V Media


The militaristic and reactionary rebellion in Spain was living out its last days. It already had been crushed in the largest industrial and political centers of the country: in Madrid, Barcelona,​​Valencia, and throughout Catalonia; in the south: in Andalusia; and in the north: in the mining region of Asturias. But the rebellion was still smoldering in some trouble spots: in underdeveloped Galicia, in Burgos, that nest of civil servants, in the fanatic Navarre, which was called Spanish Vendée1, and in major cities of the semiarid Aragon.

It was smoldering because someone was stirring the dying embers, namely Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy.

But what could they do? The last battles were being fought! Four-fifths of the territory of the country was controlled by the Republic. It didn’t matter that four-fifths of the Spanish army was with the insurgents, because all the people were with the Republic, with the Popular Front. The enthusiasm was universal. Each day brought new victories. Victory or death!

We rushed to the last fights, to the barricades, into the thick of a crowd of cheering, swarthy tanned, white-toothed, proud, and courageous Republicans, to the country of heroes of the Asturian armed uprising2, which Passionaria3 had told us about. Such was Spain on the pages of our newspapers and magazines.

That was how we expected it to appear any moment now, very soon, as soon as we had passed through the dark, chilly, and seemingly endless border tunnel.

We would exit the tunnel and then it would become a reality: jubilant crowds brandishing weapons captured from the enemy, barricades, battles...

Finally, there was a bright light. Here it was—Spain! On the left, a turquoise sea stretched to the horizon. We were approaching the train shed.

Once the continuous pounding on the rails by the wheels of the Paris - Portbou express train stopped, silence took hold. Silence and disheartening heat. And the undisturbed peaceful life of a small town that felt like a mirage. There was a labyrinth of narrow streets and lowered blinds in the windows. Languishing in the unbearable heat, regulars were on open café terraces, with the gentle sound of waves on the beach and the naked bodies of the bathers in the background. Nothing made one think of the war.

Only a chain of plainclothes men, wearing armbands of different colors, with rifles slung over their shoulders, heading up to the mountains toward the border suggested that something had happened, that something had changed, and that somewhere those last fights were taking place.

The express train from Paris, which had arrived half empty, didn’t disturb the peaceful life of the town.

Nobody came to meet us nor expected us, the first trio4 of the volunteers from the Union of Friends of the Soviet Motherland, the so-called repatriates-to-be5, neither there in Portbou nor in Barcelona. Our experience was unlike that of those who came later, all those who rushed from all around the world to the call of the Republic, the forty thousand voluntarios de la libertad6.

Our arrival even surprised the veteran customs officers, who quickly but expertly examined our unpretentious and more-than-modest belongings. They even asked several times about the purpose of our trip. Upon reflection, they decided to hand us over to a representative of the local political power, the Anti-Fascist Committee.

We found ourselves facing a dark-skinned, puny-looking Catalan, with a wrinkled old man’s face, who was wearing a shaggy black beret that, despite the heat, was pulled down low on his forehead, a black and red7 armband, and a Colt in a wooden holster. He cordially and somewhat pompously welcomed us, calling us “revolutionary proletarians of Paris.” He explained that the front could only be reached through Barcelona (a train would be leaving for there soon), and he invited us to wait for it in the Committee office.

Then he led us there through the maze of streets, along the beach, while we were looking at an unfamiliar town and participating in polite conversation. Walls were covered with inscriptions and flags of all the colors of the rainbow. What was the meaning of FAI, written in large letters in black paint on a yellow wall? It turned out to mean Federación Anarquista Ibérica8. And what is POUM? It was deciphered as something long: Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista9 (Spanish Trotskyists) and somehow Esquerra10 was being blamed. What was it guilty of? But we felt uncomfortable asking too many questions because we were afraid of showing complete ignorance.

We preferred to listen and were surprised with what we heard. It turned out that the uprising was not dead yet, but he barely mentioned it. Instead he talked extensively about the revolution: a social and an emancipatory one. The goal of the anarchists was to create free associations of workers (an idea that I had been familiar with since the time of Toulouse)...without coercion... without state intervention, and this goal was within reach. (Zhuravlev barely controlled his urge to argue.) And no rebellious generals nor those reactionaries of the Esquerra (we learned that they were members of the Republican Left of Catalonia) could prevent it from happening...

In a deserted committee office, while sipping dense and bitter Malaga11, a treat from our first Spanish acquaintance, we felt that our interlocutor had a narrow parochial scope.

“We won in Catalonia,” he said. “The rebellion of the reactionaries—the hierarchs of the church, militarists, landowners, capitalists—have been crushed here and our milicianos12 are fighting in Aragon.”

“Yes, but Irun, in the north, is already surrounded.”

We read it in the newspapers while still in Paris.

“This means that Asturias and all the Republican North are cut off from France, from the French people who are sympathetic to their cause, and that makes the situation worse.”

“It’s a temporary success,” he replied. “Of course, General Mola13 has more airplanes and artillery, but the people are not with him. And also he is cut off from the other conspirators, from that drunkard Queipo de Llano14.”

Our host drew the Iberian Peninsula on the table, and so the coffee strategizing began.

“His Requetés15 are monarchists and are not good enough to dust our shoes. And then it is up to the Basques. They are autonomous like us.”

The coffee strategizing! Endless palaver instead of a repulse! Being autonomous, it seemed that they had developed a none-of-my-business mentality towards other regions. But if the war lasts for a long time and the fight becomes more difficult? Franco just gained more ground. What would happen then? The dense and bitter Malaga began to have an effect on us in this heat. What would happen then? Unity and an army were needed.

“We are completely against the army,” he said. “We are anarchists. The military cannot be trusted.”

What is it? Local specifics? The Spanish revolutionary character? Anarchy is the mother of order. I had known that since the time of Toulouse.

But we were running out of time. It was time to go back to the train station. Our rearguard politician (as we named him) found seats for us in a noisy, stifling car, packed with youth. All were headed to the front. The train shed came alive for a short while with good-byes and shouts of adoration. Then the train started moving. We took our seats, acquainted ourselves with the others, and exchanged cigarettes.

“Oh, Gauloises16, not bad. To smoke ours, we have to take tobacco out and roll it into a better paper, like that. Where are you from?”

“From Paris.”

“O-oh! But I am from the other side of those mountains. We will win! We will show them! We will crush them!”

As we got closer to Barcelona, the train became more crowded. In the middle of a stifling black night, we finally arrived.

Exultant Barcelona

What a contrast with undisturbed provincial Portbou! Such exultation, such enthusiasm!

As it was recently with Jacqueline17, I am again in the midst of a nationwide, exciting, noisy, and bright celebration. We celebrated the taking of not one Bastille, but of hundreds of them. We celebrated the monumental victories of the Frente popular18 over the criminal forces of reaction and loungers-militarists who raised their swords against the Republic. We celebrated triumphs of civic virtue and of popular anger that erupted during those stifling July days19, which seethed with passions. “To arms, citizens!20 To the barricades!”

We celebrated bravura attacks and victories—in Madrid, Valencia, Catalonia—achieved by those who wanted modernization, victories of ordinary people, of hunting rifles against cannon, of despair over smugness, of people’s ingenuity, of civic-mindedness...

“To arms, citizens! Join the great jaleo21-commotion! Victory or death!”

This commotion created a flow of events that picked us up and carried us. We found our place in it! But we understood very little, and when we did comprehend something, like there in Portbou, it bewildered us. Our goal was clear. We knew that we had come to defend the Republic, the people. We had received rifles, short cavalry carbines, but for some reason we were left in Barcelona to guard Hotel Colón22. We were ready to fight, though we were more accustomed to chanting slogans at our rallies and in the recent past, we had held a genuine contempt for the military profession. “I did not volunteer. My military service is compulsory,” I declared in the headquarters of my company in the aforementioned23 Dvinsk fortress, putting an end to my military career.

We were ready to fight the enemy immediately, in spite of the fact that quite recently I had wished to dedicate my life to the fight against plant diseases. But it seemed that we got stuck in Barcelona for a long time.

The flow had swept us away somewhere, we were still not in the real action, and I was trying to imagine our prospects.

* * *

“Let’s sit down, right here at this table,” Balkovenko said, wiping sweat from his face. “Whew!”

It was a very hot day. We sat at the edge of a dense flow of people, among people who were animatedly jabbering, eating with gusto, and sipping cold drinks through straws. They were still serving ice there. We sat surrounded by the roar of an excited huge city that grew more calm closer to dinner time. It was the roar of a happy, carefree and still-exultant city.

It was nice to stretch our legs here, on a wicker chair, after not getting enough sleep at night.

We put our carbines between our legs. Where else was there to put them? We hung our gorras24 on the barrels of our carbines. There were few unarmed people. People wore multicolored silk shirts with short sleeves and had green, black, red-black, and blue gorras hanging on the barrels of their rifles. It was convenient and fashionable. The waiter would appear quicker. He would serve the fighters-heroes, the winners, those who had won, and those who would win faster. And girls were more willing to look in your direction.

“Isn’t she pretty? That girl with brown hair.”

“She made eyes at you.”

“No, it was at you. I have Jacqueline in Paris.”

After performing guard duties at Hotel Colón, where the Central Committee of the Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia (abbreviated as PSUC25), all three of us went to wander in the spicy coolness of a summer morning. We strolled through the dressy boulevards, streets, and squares decorated with fluttering flags, through those memorable places where heated battles of July 19–20 had taken place.

“Here, on the corner of this street we sat, exhibiting our rifles,” one of the locals said, as he put his foot casually on an intact barricade made of paving stones. “The Guardia civil26 (gendarmes) appeared, and we shouted to them, ‘Long live the Republic!’” He moved his dark gorra to one side, making it even more askew so that we could see his shining, thickly oiled, jet-black hair and continued, “Then we fired a volley, and they skedaddled!”

We wandered through memorable places of heated battles and through the wide shady Rambla, which runs from the Plaça de Catalunya, where the Hotel Colón is, to the port, to the Chinese quarter (barrio Chino), where people drink day and night in noisy dimly lit taverns. They drank and sang, and sought love.

We wandered through flows of cheerful Barcelonians. Trucks, buses, and coches27, painted with appeals and slogans and carrying noisy send-offs to the front, to victory, dashed past us.

We wandered along the continuous carpet of multicolored flags, murals, and portraits that extended from the pavement to the roofs, under huge banners with slogans that hung across the streets: Long live Catalonia! And We won! We walked amid the shouts and exultation, amid the noise, which kept up until the day became too hot, and it was time for comida (meal). It was a celebration like the one on July 14 in Paris. No, it was brighter, more colorful, and it had been going on there already for a month.

We had joined the unit guarding the Central Committee of PSUC on the second day after our arrival in Barcelona.

On the night of our arrival, while we were in the train station square, we were loaded on trucks, furiously rushed for a long time through the illuminated city, and spun in to a stupor while making turns. Finally, we stopped at a blind wall, at the former barracks of the Guardia civil, currently occupied by the anarchists.

Sentinels were told that a detachment had arrived from Portbou. The barracks’ gates immediately opened despite the late hour, and we tiptoed in single file along the half-lit corridors past inviting snoring and snuffling sounds from dortoirs28. We spotted a room that was not yet occupied, brought cleaner mattresses from a nearby room, and went to sleep, without much ado, all three of us—no, four29 of us—side by side.

We slept soundly. At noon we refueled with an appetizing arroz con aceite30 and coffee. Then we went to the office to register, and then Boris went in search of ours, the communists.

Newcomers were handled in the office like in the Zaporozhian Sich31:

“First name, last name?”

We answered.

“To the front?”

“To the front!” we answered.

“You are assigned to the Durruti32 column,” announced the batʹka33 – registrar, “which is headed toward Zaragoza34.”

Then each man went to his kurin35, either back to the courtyard or to sleep until the first chance to get to the front materialized.

We had come to fight, but we also needed to reach our comrades. This is what we were told to do in Paris. So Zhuravlev, who was always the leader of our trio, said, “Wait here.” And he went to the city’s downtown.

Balkovenko and our new friend Joro from Toulouse decided to get some sleep, but I was avidly absorbing the impressions of my first day.

The view was an eyeful. There were a lot of people in the barracks. Those who had not had enough sleep were dozing off right there on the shady side of the courtyard. The others loitered. Some gathered in groups, making noise, arguing, and laughing. The barracks were abuzz. Windows were wide open and gates too. People were constantly entering and exiting either in groups or alone. Often they were with relatives, and even more often, they were embracing their girlfriends.

What diversity of colors there was in their outfits! Among them were the first monos36 in blue or green colors. But most people were in their ordinary home clothes, which were similar to those that we had seen people in cafés wearing but slightly more modest. All of them wore red and black light silk scarves at their necks over shirts, jackets, and dresses to show that they were anarchists.

It was obvious that nobody had done anything. It’s a disorder! Are they barracks? They could sweep their spacious cobbled courtyard. It did not shine with cleanliness. And what about the tiled dining rooms on the first floor? They were just dirty. They stunk, and they were full of flies. Our re-enlisted NCO Rudzītis from Daugavpils would have been shouting in rage. People were loitering, but most of them certainly did not know how to handle a rifle.

We needed education, organization, and discipline. While we sat there, in the south things were not getting better, far from it. It was necessary to double or triple the strength of these young men, who were itching to get into the action, with military training and organization. But for now one could only dream of it, but not aloud. Suggestions to “militarize” their freedom-loving bands of volunteers met with sharp disapproval from Barcelonian anarchist bat'ki37. We read the other day in their newspaper: “We struggled for so many years with the capital and its first henchman, militarism, so we will not allow them to put the bridle on us again.”

What was the result?

Locals told us that empty trucks would dash from time to time into the courtyard of Barcelona barracks and brothers in arms, armed with anything they could lay their hands on, would hastily board them. On the lead truck, they would raise a huge black and red flag that would snap boldly in the wind. Drivers would rush the column for a long time until shells began to explode in front of them or bullets whistled by. Then the brothers in arms would jump from their heat-radiating steel horses38 and run as a crowd while firing bullets to frighten the enemy and encourage themselves. They would climb up to drive the enemy from behind a low stone wall or to take out a machine gunner who was firing from a church bell tower. All this they did by frontal assault and without preparation or plan. Sometimes, while suffering huge losses, they would knock out the enemy. Usually, though, they would fall back to the trucks, cursing everything in the world, and rush away for reinforcement.

That same day, I met the Germans. What a surprise!

I went to where the crowd was thicker and saw a military unit falling into a formation. Yes, this time a real military unit. Platoons were in line formations three rows deep. I squeezed between onlookers who weren’t very enthusiastic. I saw soldiers who carried duffel bags with dark green helmets placed on top of them. Over their shoulders were rolls of Spanish tent-overcoats39 and hooded raincoats. The soldiers were all tall, sturdy, staid, and each took his place with practiced ease. And suddenly there was a command given in German. Wow!

“Where are you from, Genossen40?”

“From the Thälmann Centuria,” replied a tall, slender blond soldier with a broad friendly smile.

We heard another command. The rows of soldiers froze, standing at attention. Then all of them turned 180 degrees at the same time, producing sighs of astonishment and disbelief from onlookers.

“Forward, march!”

That command produced a new fit of astonishment, but this time of admiration.

“Olé41, well done!”

“Where in the world are you heading?” I asked. Following them, I had already run out of the gates.

“To the Carlos Marx42… Barracks,” the blond soldier replied while diligently goose-stepping.

Zhuravlev came back late that day, tired, but pleased, and with a bunch of news. He already knew about the Carlos Marx Barracks. It was ours, administered by PSUC. Not without difficulty, after a couple of hours of walking and often straying off course, he found Plaça de Catalunya and Hotel Colón on it, which housed the Central Committee of PSUC. In total, he managed to get everything done. In the military department, they already knew about us. He learned that Glinoyedsky, our modest, staid choirmaster and the excellent cook of our cheap canteen of repatriates-to-be, was already fighting43. “I want to prove loyalty to the motherland with my deeds,” Glinoyedsky said to Vasya44 Kovalev before leaving Paris. He was fighting on the neighboring Aragon front as an artillery adviser. He had become a member of the Military Council of the Aragon front. Well done! Boris was staying in Barcelona and was tasked with the creation of an artillery battery, but we were assigned for the time being to a unit guarding the Central Committee of PSUC. This was how the paths of our trio of Parisian repatriates-to-be diverged and there was nothing that we could do about it.

We needed to go back soon to Hotel Colón. For the second week we were performing the troublesome duty while waiting to be replaced and itching for real action, the front, and battles. We had no rest, day or night! Late in the evening, when the buzz finally subsided in departments and subdepartments, and the harried staff dispersed in all directions (most were sleeping right there in their departments), Balkovenko and I went on the watch at the parapet. It was made of sandbags that had been bleached by the sun, and we inherited what remained of it from the rebels, who had occupied the hotel during the July events. A lot of lads with whom we now guarded the Central Committee, participated in the storming of this dangerous hornet’s nest.

Generally it was not so bad to stand guard at night, except for the brutal desire for sleep. Sometimes you would give up on waiting to be relieved, go to the guardroom located in the former porter’s lodge, and shake the man who was needed until he woke up.

Plaça de Catalunya was almost deserted in the early morning hours. It was somewhat reminiscent of Place de l'Étoile45 because it was also a meeting point of wide boulevards and streets. But there was no tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe. I wondered what Jacqueline was doing now? The plaça was asleep. Around it the city slept, for the moment without nightmares of nightly bombardments from the air and from the sea, not yet destroyed, not yet hungry. And with a hand gesture I warned the rare passersby to keep a certain distance from the hotel.

But suddenly in the distance a car (coche) appeared. Just in case, we hid behind the parapet. We had already had an experience, almost on our first night, of a madly speeding car from which someone fired a long burst of bullets from a submachine gun at the hotel.

To stand guard during the day was more restless. During the day we stood at the front door of the building, repeating the same instructions to visitors. “No, we do not require permits. No permits! The party or union member card is enough! That’s all, enough. Please come through.”

And also we were required to take weapons from persons who were entering the building for safekeeping. That was when it started.

Sometimes a jefe (commander), who was just back from the front, would rush through, his face red from the frontline wind, and all covered with weapons. You reached out to his submachine gun.

“Nunca (never),” almost shouted the hurrying jefe. “Did you give it to me or what?” One could thank goodness if he didn’t start cursing the rearguard rats (enchufados46).

Instead of fighting, one of us silently followed the stubborn man to the department where he was headed. There we argued again. And the argument was not always settled in our favor. Because a weapon was a decoration, the pride of a warrior, and one got it, if not always in a battle, then with a fight. And so people parted with their weapons reluctantly.

That was how we lived. After guard duty, we would go wandering around Barcelona or read the newspapers: everything from Mundo Obrero47 to Hoja del Lunes48, which was the only newspaper published on Mondays in Barcelona. We either waited until Zhuravlev came, or we went to his small hotel near La Rambla, hoping to find Glinoyedsky there also. But it was not often that we found Boris there. Our former party secretary of repatriates-to-be was completely tied up with his affairs and had lost some weight while trying to get funds and equipment for his artillery battery. It was not so easy in this maelstrom for Parisian friends of the Soviet Motherland49 to meet.

But Balkovenko and I were not lost, and we were not alone. Comrade Manolo from a department of the Central Committee of PSUC was a frequent visitor to the guardroom. Lively, sociable, intelligent, subtle, and thoughtful, he was fluent in French, and we besieged him with questions about everything in the world: the suppression of the rebellion, and our successes (“They are grandiose”), about Companys50, the president of Catalonia (“so-so”), and recent adverse decisions of the League of Nations. And about the position of Frente popular toward the Church and the reasons for the prevalence of anarchism in Catalonia. (I had thought in Toulouse that anarchism was a small sect, but here, in Catalonia, it had gained traction and blossomed, while the influence of the socialists and communists, who had just recently united as PSUC remained very modest. I wondered whether anarchism was the southern version of socialism, passionately vibrant and childish in the southern manner. The real socialism was represented by the Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia.) And why had this national celebration continued for so long? And why was there so much strife between parties? And what do the followers of Bakunin51 think about the war imposed on the Spanish people by the criminal forces of reaction?

“Oh, on this last issue,” explained Manolo, “everything was very clear. Rank-and-file anarchists were determined to prevent the victory of fascism. And in the leadership of the FAI and CNT52 there are people like Durruti. They are able to give up everything, except the victory over fascism. But the most dangerous are social experiments of followers of your great revolutionary.”

And he told us of Barcelona and how shortly after the suppression of the rebellion, there were days of free communism. About how, elated by the victory, anarchists decided that the hour of social emancipation had struck and issued a decree about the enactment of communism.

And how, on the basis of this decree, for two or three days it was possible to get a free lunch, dinner, and breakfast. Money, that hateful money, was abolished, at least in cafes and restaurants. It wasn’t possible to get clothes for free because those shop owners somehow sensed the decree-reform and had closed their shops. We learned that the decree had caused disruption in the supply of food to the city because the peasants had refused to supply food.

Manolo told us about other initiatives of the fast-acting followers of Bakunin like the agricultural communes with compulsory participation created in remote villages near their columns, about reprisals against dissidents, and many other things.

* * *

Whew, finally our guard duties were over. A platoon came to relieve us, and they were all in brand new khaki uniforms, with chic red tassels on the front of their gorras. After saying good-bye to the staff, we left Hotel Colón and went to the Carlos Marx Barracks.

There, as in the barracks of the anarchists, it was noisy and merry, with a lot of confusion, but it was cleaner and the barracks could not be compared in size. The leadership, which included a bunch of military professionals who had remained loyal to the Republic and new political appointees spent the whole day trying to solve hundreds of problems. How to accommodate new arrivals in relatively small and already overcrowded barracks? How to prepare tasty meals to feed everyone? How to control these careless, noisy, multilingual, disparate youth? How to teach them to fall into a formation and to remain in it? How to isolate overly familiar females and organize courses for more modest ones? How to explain to everyone what we were fighting for? Passionate speeches were pouring down from loggias in the mornings and evenings.

Our group of former Central Committee guards, along with other foreigners such as the French and the Portuguese, was added to the ranks of the 40th Centuria. And, despite the fact that there were no more than two dozen foreign volunteers in it, it was called internacional53. We were very proud of it. Through our newspaper, El Miliciano Rojo (the Red Militiaman), which was published by the department of propaganda for milicianos of the Carlos Marx Barracks, I passed greetings from the young communists of the Fifth arrondissement of Paris, from all who had seen me off and who had wished me to succeed, from those whose hearts were here with them, and wished to see the people’s militia, the people’s army, organized, disciplined, and steeped in victory.

It was getting dark. The heat had subsided. We were standing in formation, filling the entire square inner courtyard of the barracks, facing the loggias that encircled the barracks courtyard. In front of us stood the German 31st Centuria, named after Ernst Thälmann, which I had encountered at the barracks of the anarchists. It consisted of local German anti-fascists who found refuge in republican Spain, in Barcelona, after being defeated in 1933 and deprived of their homeland, while democratic Europe was in a torpor. They rose to the challenge and fought shoulder to shoulder with the Barcelona anti-fascists, who were waiting on tenterhooks for the jaleo-commotion following the murder of Sotelo54.

They stood solemnly with their belts tightened. Their bags, rolls of overcoats, rifles, and helmets were a few steps away from us. They were always a little bit reticent, but were a good example to all of us. The tall blond that I had talked to the other day was called Leo. He was from Hamburg.

The speeches, which were mostly in German, were addressed to them. They were called avant-garde. They were departing for the front. Many of them would remain there forever, near Ermita de Santa Quiteria (in front of the Aragonese village of Tardienta) to the right of the position of our artillery battery. The remains of their centuria would later form the basis of the 11th International Brigade, which was named after Ernst Thälmann, who was languishing in Nazi captivity.

We stood nearby, our multilingual and somewhat undisciplined 40th Centuria. Except for the Thälmannists, hardly anybody else understood German. But all listened quietly and solemnly.

Today55 was their turn. “Die Heimat ist weit, doch wir sind bereit,56” they sang while goose-stepping. “Wir kämpfen und siegen für dich: Freiheit!57

It was their turn to go to the front, to the Aragon front, to Tardienta.

We would wake up to the sound of a bugle and do physical exercises in the courtyard. We studied rifle and had target practice at the nearby city shooting range. Our girls attended accelerated nursing courses. Our daily schedule gradually became more regulated. Centurias started to look like military units. But there was no time to lose. One after another, they left.

We were also ready—wir sind bereit—and outfitted. Oh, damn, how wonderfully these khaki monos fit, and my feet were so comfortable in the alpargatas (canvas slippers with rope soles), which were ideal for dry and hot weather. My bandolier was still empty. My black shoulder strap had a neat hook for my aluminum cantimplora58, which was covered with green cloth. On my head I wore a gorra with a five-pointed red star (the Red Army type!) and a red tassel on a red silk cord hung from its front edge. My duffel bag, with an arc of a roll of a hooded greatcoat-raincoat, contained a mess tin in which jingled a foldable aluminum spoon-fork.

One cannot stay in such an outfit in the barracks! One needed to be among people in the downtown, on a shaded Rambla (it was like our Boul’Mich59, only wider).

And there, already saying good-bye to the city, we proudly walked with an exultant, celebratory Barcelona, crowding the entire Rambla, hands on each other’s shoulders, boys and girls mixed together, and all in military rather than civil clothes.

We caught appraising glances and heard “Alla riscossa60…” Someone added “A Zaragoza61” and everyone smiled. “Bandiera rossa, bandiera rossa…”

Everyone received ten cartridges, and we were told, “We will disembark at Mallorca, on the Balearic Islands.” One night we even woke up to the sound of an alarm. We lined up in the courtyard, waiting for departure. But by that time the resistance of the Republicans on this island had died out62. The fleet was idle. Indignant, we said, “So much time wasted sitting in the barracks!”

Finally, we were departing to the Aragon front. During the day63 we still had time to run to the hotel where Zhuravlev was staying. We said our good-byes and promised to write. Boris was blackened by the sun. He was still in civilian clothes, but wore a gorra. He carefully examined us. Was he jealous? He grumbled at officials of the Generalitat64. They were dragging their feet with his artillery battery.

At night, in an already darkened railroad station, centurias boarded the train.

Toward Huesca!

The war was heating up. But it was being fought far away from us. Few people knew about the fall of Irún65, and those who knew did not attach much importance to it.

We went to extinguish the last sparks of a fire. Huesca just had been surrounded66. The Popular Front was triumphant. We went to expand the Republic to the territory still occupied by the enemy. We went to put out the fire, not to kill; we were not taught to do that.

We naively thought that victory would come by itself, and that our spirit, faith, and ideals would prevail. As we walked toward the front we recited “Soldiers (regulares67), our class brothers, UHP68 (proletarian brothers, unite)! You were fooled by the bourgeois. Do not shoot. We have not come to kill you. UHP! Come over to our side!”

That was how our daily routine started, the ordinary everyday work of revolutionaries. The cheerful, bright, national celebrations in Paris and Barcelona were in the past. But we knew that they would be back. After our victorious march-campaign there would follow a happy, serene time. The time of rapid development and flourishing of the Republic.

The only problem was that our march-campaign was very slow: it was on foot and at an easy pace.

Our column lacked means of transportation. We were the poor relations in this rich Catalonia, where anarchists dominated.

We were brought to Lérida by train. There the railroad bridge over the Segre turned out to be damaged. Everybody was happy to stretch their legs after a sleepless night spent on the train. So we briskly marched through the whole city to the other station, where a train was supposedly waiting for us. We marched in a not particularly long column, in wide rows, three in a row, diligently swinging our left hands and singing.

The last major Catalan city saw us off to the front with enthusiastic shouts.

However, there were no railroad cars available at that station. We waited for a long time, and then, after passionate speeches and heated debates, with less enthusiasm and enduring terrible heat we started to walk along the highway toward Barbastro.

As we walked, Paco sang “Ay...carretera69, carretera,” incessantly, as he tried to find words for a song.

The bright multicolored Catalunya along the road gradually gave way to dull monotonous plateaus with brown parched hillsides and the ruins of medieval castles. Once there had been rustling oak groves. They had been cut down a long time ago, and now the Upper Aragon looked like a semiarid land.

There were occasional villages along the road. There, near the water, in deep flowering valleys or in olive orchards we were warmly greeted by sturdy, thickset Aragonese peasants, darkened by the sun and dressed in black.

“Salud y victoria70,” they shouted, with their fists held up in a clumsy Rot Front71-like manner.

“UHP! Toward Huesca and Zaragoza!” we responded.

The villages were an ashen, earthy color. In the middle of each one, a church stuck out like a huge gray scorpion.

“Have you noticed,” our comrades explained to us, “the richer the church, the poorer the village?”

* * *

Today’s daytime march was the last, but it seemed to be the most difficult. We climbed to the foothills of the Pyrenees and into the scorching heat.

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1 Because of the monarchical and religious sentiments of the population of Navarre.

2 The Asturian armed uprising started on the evening of October 4, 1934, with the miners attacking and seizing Civil Guard and Assault Guard barracks in several towns. During the following three days they took power in most of the Asturias province. The government sent Civil Guards, Spanish Legion, and colonial troops from Spanish Morocco to quell the miner’s revolt. On October 10 the government troops took Gijón. Three days later they took Oviedo. Fighting in La Felguera continued until October 18.

3 La Pasionaria (the Passionflower)—Isidora Dolores Ibárruri Gómez (December 9, 1895 – November 12, 1989)—was a Republican heroine of the Spanish Civil War and communist politician of Basque origin.

4 It included the author, Boris Larionovich Zhuravlev (Борис Ларионович Журавлев), and Platon Dionisievich Balkovenko (Платон Дионисиевич Балковенко).

5 Members of the Union for Repatriation, renamed in 1936 as the Union of Friends of the Soviet Motherland.

6 Voluntarios de la libertad – volunteers of freedom.

7 Black and red were the anarchists’ colors.

8 Federación Anarquista Ibérica – Iberian Anarchist Federation.

9 Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista – Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification.

10 Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya – Republican Left of Catalonia.

11 Malaga is a sweet fortified wine, originating in the Spanish province of Málaga.

12 Milicianos – militiamen.

13 Emilio Mola y Vidal (June 9, 1887 – June 3, 1937) was a Spanish Nationalist commander during the Spanish Civil War.

14 Gonzalo Queipo de Llano y Sierra (February 5, 1875 – March 9, 1951) was a Spanish military leader who rose to prominence during the Spanish Civil War.

15 The Requetés were the Carlist militia during the Spanish Civil War. Wearing red berets, they mostly came from Navarre and were highly religious with many regarding the war as a Crusade.

16 Gauloises were strong unfiltered cigarettes of French manufacture.

17 Author’s girlfriend, who remained in Paris. See In Our Latin Quarter by Alexei Kochetkov.

18Frente popular – Popular Front.

19The author means the three days following the rebellion. The first news of the revolt reached Barcelona on July 18, 1936. Immediately after that the CNT (National Confederation of Labor) and UGT (General Union of Workers) asked the Catalonian government to provide arms to the people. After the government refused, UGT started to prepare homemade bombs from the dynamite it found at the port. The CNT assaulted several weapons depots in the city and called for the general strike. The next morning the army units left their barracks and some of them reached Plaça de Catalunya. Barcelonians, armed with pistols and rifles, fought bloody street battles against regular army, which didn’t hesitate to use cannon against its own people. The rebellion in Barcelona was crushed in two days at the cost of a huge loss of life.

20 From the refrain of “La Marseillaise,” the national anthem of France.

21 Jaleo – chaos, commotion; noise, encouragement of the dancers with clapping or voice; Andalusian song and dance.

22 Cristóbal Colón – Christopher Columbus.

23 See In Our Latin Quarter by Alexei Kochetkov.

24 Gorra (or gorro del cuartel – forage cap or side cap with a tassel.

25 Partit Socialista Unificat de Catalunya (PSUC) – Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia.

26 Guardia civil – Civil Guard, а law enforcement agency organized as a military force that patrolled rural areas. During the Spanish Civil War, one-half of the Guardia civil forces supported the rebels.

27 Coche – car, automobile.

28 Dortoir – dormitory.

29 The fourth person was Joro, who was from Toulouse.

30 Arroz con aceite – rice with vegetable oil.

31 Zaporozhian Sich (Запорожская Сечь) was a semiautonomous Cossacks' polity in the sixteenth–eighteenth centuries.

32 José Buenaventura Durruti Dumange (July 14, 1896 – November 20, 1936) was an influential anarcho-syndicalist militant involved with the CNT, FAI, and other anarchist organizations during the period leading up to and including the Spanish Civil War.

33 Batʹka (батька) – crass or familiar way to call one’s father or an older fatherly figure. The author used this word to express irony.

34 Zaragoza is the capital city of the autonomous community of Aragon, Spain.

35 Kurin (курень) – a unit of Zaporozhian Cossacks, which was similar in size to a platoon.

36 Mono militar – military overalls.

37 Batʹki (батьки) is plural of batʹka (батька).

38 Trucks that were armored with steel plates.

39 These were overcoats that could be used to form a tent-like shelter over a soldier.

40 Genossen – comrades.

41 Olé – an interjection of Arab origin, which was colloquially used to cheer, to show approval or praise, and for encouragement.

42 Carlos Marx – Karl Marx.

43 Glinoyedsky reached the Aragon front for the first time on 13 August 1936, together with Mikhail Koltsov, a correspondent for the newspaper Pravda. There they met with José del Barrio and Manuel Trueba, commanders of one of the columns. The following evening, they returned to Barcelona. A day later Glinoyedsky accepted Trueba’s offer to become a military adviser and the chief of artillery in his column, and soon after that, he returned to the Aragon front.

44 Vasya (Вася) – affectionate and familiar shortening of given name Vasiliy (Василий).

45 Place de l'Étoile is a large road junction in Paris, France, the meeting point of twelve straight avenues, which was renamed Place Charles de Gaulle in 1970. At its center stands the Arc de Triomphe, with the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I lying beneath its vault.

46 Enchufados – persons who have gotten a job or benefit through patronage and not on merit.

47 Mundo Obrero (Workers World) was a daily newspaper of the Communist Party of Spain.

48 Hoja del Lunes was the generic term for a group of newspapers published by provincial associations of press in Spain.

49 Members of the Union of Friends of the Soviet Motherland.

50 Lluís Companys i Jover (June 21, 1882 – October 15, 1940) was the president of Catalonia from 1934 and during the Spanish Civil War. He was a lawyer and leader of the Republican Left of Catalonia. After the war he found refuge in France, where he was arrested on August 13, 1940. In early September 1940, he was extradited to Spain. He was tortured there and executed by firing squad on October 15, 1940.

51 The author refers to anarchists in general. Mikhail Alexandrovich Bakunin (Михаил Александрович Бакунин, May 30 (old style: 18), 1814 – July 1, 1876) was a Russian revolutionary anarchist and founder of collectivist anarchism. He was one of the most influential figures of anarchism.

52 Confederación Nacional del Trabajo – National Confederation of Labor.

53 Internacional – international.

54 José Calvo Sotelo (May 6, 1893 – July 13, 1936) was a Spanish politician, economist, jurist, finance minister (December 3, 1925 – January 21, 1930), and monarchist.

55 The 31st (Thälmann) Centuria departed for the front on August 30, 1936.

56 The homeland is far, but we are prepared.

57 We fight and win for you: Freedom!

58 Cantimplora – canteen.

59 Boulevard Saint-Michel in Paris.

60 Words from the Italian song “Bandiera Rossa” (“Red Flag”):

Avanti o popolo, alla riscossa

Bandiera rossa, bandiera rossa

Avanti o popolo, alla riscossa

Bandiera rossa trionferà...

(Forward people, towards redemption

Red flag, red flag

Forward people, towards redemption

Red flag will triumph...)

61 Toward Zaragoza.

62 Republican forces began withdrawal from Mallorca during the night of September 4, 1936.

63 On September 8, 1936.

64 Generalitat de Catalunya – the Government of Catalonia.

65 The rebels took Irún on September 5, 1936.

66 On September 1, 1936, Republican newspapers announced that encirclement of Huesca had been completed. But it didn’t happen then or later.

67 Regulares is a short form of Fuerzas Regulares Indígenas (Indigenous Regular Forces), who were the volunteer infantry and cavalry units of the Spanish army recruited in Spanish Morocco. During the Spanish Civil War they fought on the rebel side.

68 UHP – Spanish acronym for Uníos Hermanos Proletarios (proletarian brothers, unite).

69 Carretera – road.

70 Salud y victoria – health and victory.

71 Rot Front is a short form of Roter Frontkämpferbund (Alliance of Red Front-Fighters), a paramilitary organization under the leadership of the Communist Party of Germany during the Weimar Republic.