Letter to the Editor

February 27, 2018

Editors’ Note: Due to a technical glitch, only a small part of Mr. Murtha’s letter was printed in the December 2017 issue. We apologize for the oversight and print the letter in full below.

To the Editor:

Carl Marzani

Carl Marzani

Reading “Forgotten Fighters: American Anarchist Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War” (The Volunteer, Sept. 2017), I noted that at least one prominent American who volunteered for service in the Anarchist Durruti Column remains forgotten. I mean, of course, Carl Marzani. Herein, I borrow freely from Carl’s memoir, “The Education of a Reluctant Radical”, Vol. 3, pp. 11-36. Carl had been awarded a fellowship to study at Oxford. By the time he arrived, early in October 1936, Germany and Italy had both invaded Spain and savage fighting was underway. He knew he couldn’t stay away so he persuaded the Daily Herald to take him on as its foreign correspondent in Spain. Early in December, he went to Spain by way of Paris where he boarded a train carrying nearly a thousand, mostly French, volunteers for the international Brigades. Carl was the only American. The mood on the train was somber. These men were going to fight because they felt they had to. There were no illusions of glory.

The train arrived in Barcelona at 3 a.m.. Right from the start, Carl felt pressure to volunteer and step by step, he skidded down the slippery slope until he ended up at the Aragon Front. On his way to join the Spanish Army at Sariñena, he met an Anarchist, Captain Amilar, who persuaded him to come to Bujaraloz and join the Durruti Column, an Anarchist militia. Carl had heard of Buenaventura Durruti, a ferocious Anarchist leader who had helped clean Catalonia of fascist forces, brought a brigade to defend Madrid and then led a column of 9,000 men towards Zaragoza. In Madrid, he had put his troops under Army Command. Shortly thereafter, he was shot dead while addressing his men, ostensibly by a stray bullet. Many believed that he had been murdered by one of his own for a violation of Anarchist dogma in submitting to Army Command. After Durruti’s death, the column was taken over by Lucio Ruano.

The Durruti Column held the center of the Aragon Front. On its left was a large P.O.U.M. (Workers United Marxist Party) column. George Orwell was serving with the P.O.U.M. Column at the time but he and Carl never met.

The front was mostly quiet with the odd rifle shot now and again and occasional savage skirmishes. Carl once accompanied Amilcar to the field hospital at Peña Alba where he was appalled, not so much by the dead, who were laid in neat rows covered by sacking, but by the wounded, some of them horribly so, who were operated on without anesthetics. Ruano put Carl to work translating a French Army Manual. Later, he was put in charge of training truck drivers and organizing transport. Lucio Ruano was poorly educated but was well read, articulate, and well-grounded philosophically. He believed that the best government was the least government. So did Carl, but he was getting suspicious “Too much government” was the catchword used by reactionary opponents of the New Deal. Ruano was deeply opposed to government regulation which, he explained, “Undermines the self-reliance of a person and impairs his sense of responsibility”…

Ruano refused to consider disciplining the troops or turning them into a modern army. To him, this represented regulation so extensive that men were enslaved and their uniform a badge of slavery. Anarchist theory held discipline came from within the person, “The Discipline of Indiscipline”. In practice, this often added up to paralysis. The troops could sit around for hours discussing whether or not to show up at the battle. Carl thought that “The Discipline of Indiscipline” was a meaningless abstraction, a delusion—something like Democratic Centralism, which has no democracy in it or the “free” market where huge corporations are propped up by the government because they are “too big to fail”.

Carl thought that Ruano had surrendered his reason. He participated in discussion and gave his opinions freely. He argued that Ruano’s arguments applied to a bourgeois army trained to dominate and control but not to a people’s army raised to defend the people’s liberty whose uniform was a badge of honor. Ruano, infuriated, grabbed Carl by the lapels, shook him and declared, “You are all head and no heart. You don’t understand the Spanish Soul.” Then he flung Carl back into his seat with such force that he sprawled out on the floor. Ruano, immediately sorry, gave Carl his hand, pulled him to his feet and asked if Carl was hurt. Carl replied, “Only in my Dignity as a man”. Ruano laughed and the tension dissipated.

The leadership of the Anarchist militias was under heavy pressure to embrace reality. The greatest pressure came from the success of the Fifth Regiment (Quinto Regimiento) which had been created by the Spanish Communist Party to show, by its example, the value of discipline and training. It was renowned for its ferocity and valor and had laid to rest forever any implication that Spaniards were not willing to fight. The International Brigades enjoyed similar renown. Carl subsequently made it his business to avoid serious political discussion in Ruano’s presence. Nevertheless, not long thereafter, Ruano came to him and told him it was time for him to leave the column. Carl agreed and Ruano revealed that the Anarchist Council had taken from the tone Carl’s remarks that he was an agent of the Comintern (Communist Third International), sent to spread confusion in the Column and sentenced Carl to death. Ruano had told them that he would give Carl the benefit of doubt and get him out of there. Carl left for Barcelona immediately and from there returned to Oxford, where, despite his good repute in anti-Stalinist circles, he was soon recruited to the British Communist Party by Abe Lazarus. Carl had not been impressed by Anarchism in action but had liked what the Communist Party was doing in Spain. Carl later said that he had not contributed much to the Spanish Civil War but that it had contributed massively to his understanding of politics, international affairs and the complexity of human beings.

Robert A. Murtha, Jr.

Counsellor at Law