GUERILLA EXTRAORDINARY -
When the dream is over, what to do? When the music's over, do you turn off the light? When the rave has ended, must the dancing stop? When the war is lost, do you give up the battle?
Following the victory of Franco in the Spanish Civil War a wave of repression was unleashed against the Republicans; with anarchists, socialists and communists alike being rounded up and thrown into jails or simply handed the death penalty, put up against the wall and shot. Neighbouring countries (not least of all, England) turned a blind eye and continued to declare that it was an internal affair to Spain even as thousands of refugees fled into France to escape the persecution.
Whilst some chose to remain to act clandestinely against the Franco regime, a large number of the anarchist trade union, CNT, went into exile also as Spain buckled beneath the Fascists. For many, the fight had been knocked out of them by the experience of the Civil War and all they wanted was to be left in peace not only by Franco and his Fascist dictatorship but by former Republican comrades. An exception to this, however, was people like Francisco Sabate.
Antonio Tellez's book, Sabate Guerilla Extraordinary, as translated by Stewart Christie tells the tale of Sabate's life and ultimate demise under a hail of bullets. It's the story of an anarchist fighter who refused to capitulate to the forces of oppression; who chose not to run away from his enemies but rather to run at them – always suitably armed it should be said, with a Thompson submachine gun, a pistol and a couple of hand grenades.
In Spain to this day, the exploits of Sabate are the stuff of legend and his name has come to symbolise unrelenting resistance and never giving up. La lotta continua, as they say. And talking of the stuff of legend, as the reporter in John Ford's western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance said: 'When the legend becomes fact, print the legend', and this is exactly for good or bad what Antonio Tellez's book does.
It's a double-edged sword, however. On the one hand, much respect is given to Sabate who was undoubtedly a very brave man but at the same time there's not a shred of criticism offered about anything Sabate ever did and unfortunately some of his exploits deserve very much to be criticised, particularly regarding the bank robberies he committed and the terror inflicted upon innocent bystanders during these heists.
There is also the question of the knock-on effect of some of his actions and the way that all they did was to prompt the further ramping up of oppression by Franco and the harassing and jailing of known anarchist sympathisers within Spain.
Antonio Tellez's book is incredibly well researched though there's obviously a large amount of fiction in with it also, as well as stretches of the imagination accentuated in such lines as 'It would be no exaggeration to say that between 1945 and 1946 Sabate got to know almost every tree in every village and mountain in Catalonia.' No exaggeration? Really?
More pertinent than this, however, the two main points the book raises are interesting ones. Firstly, the question of what to do when the dream is over? In Sabate's case, of course, meaning the dream of freedom. Secondly, the question of truth over legend or legend over truth?
Sabate Guerilla Extraordinary, for all its enthusiasm and cheer-leading, unfortunately fails to really answer either of them...