DIEGO CAMACHO: ”Everyone was trusted.”

By Nancy MacDonald
from ”Homage to the Spanish Exiles: Voices from the Spanish Civil War”, Insight Boos, New York 1987.

It was through Miguel Garcia Garcia that I met Diego Camacho (whose pen name is Abel Paz). During the summer of 1982 I read Paz’s book on the anarchist militant Buenaventura Durruti, and was so impressed that I wanted to translate it from the French into English. I asked Miguel if he knew how I could get in touch with the author. Miguel gave me his address and I wrote to Camacho, who agreed to let me translate the book, which was published by Black Rose Press in Canada in 1977. Earlier, Paz wrote a book called Paradigma de una revolución (36 horas de lucha en Barcelona) and is working on another, Comité Central de Milices de Catalogne.

Diego lives in Barcelona, and in October 1985 I asked friends to look him up there. He came to see them at the Hotel Ritz, where they were staying. He told them that the last time he was there, during the Civil War, he was fourteen, carried a rifle, and came to take over the hotel as a hospital. He also told my friends that in the fifties he had asked SRA [Spanish Refugee Aid] for a sewing machine for his wife, and we had given him one.

Where do you come from in Spain?

Camacho: ”I was born on August 12, 1921 in Almeria in the province of Andalusia. My parents were peasants and I lived with them until I was fourteen. I started to go to school at the age of eleven, and I went to a school subsidized by the CNT unions for 2 years. It was a rationalist school modeled on those started by Francisco Ferrer in 1909. The school was in Barcelona and the Union which supported it was the Textile Workers Union which had 70,000 members. It was called La Escuela Natura and the Director was Puig Elias, who died in exile 2 years ago in Brazil. The school was rather well known and had 400 students.

”As I couldn’t go to school in my province, my mother arranged with her mother to take care of me in Barcelona. I was at this school from 1933 to 1935. Then I went to work as an apprentice mechanic in a small shop and was there until the war started in Spain in 1936.”

When did you become an anarchist?

”I think in that period one became an anarchist quite naturally. The conditions of life led workers to become anarchists. For example, my father was a peasant and he worked 3 months during the year; the other 9 months he was unemployed because there was no work. He had to feed his family of five. So he was forced to go out at night and steal things in the fields to feed us. In reality, almost all the peasant population did that. They stole to eat. So in such a situation and without having any theoretical knowledge about anarchism, I was an anarchist instinctively.

”Then the war came and I was already a member of the Libertarian Youth and I was active with them until the month of November 1936. At that time I was given the opportunity of working in a peasant collective in the Province of Lerida in a village called Cervia. I stayed there until March 1937.”

What was this experience like?

Camacho: ”Life in a collective was something very interesting. Because in Barcelona, although all the industries were collectivized or socialized, one couldn’t see how things had changed since there was no community life in the factories. One works, and then each individual goes home. While in a commune everything was completely different. We all lived together and one could see better how things were changing.”

Were you sent by the CNT?

Camacho: ”We had been sent by the Libertarian Youth because in this village of 3,500 inhabitants a Libertarian Youth group had also been organized. They wanted to have direct contact with city workers because during a revolution there are always differences between the farmers and the industrial workers. And no revolution has succeeded in establishing a bond between the country and the city. But in Spain this bond was established immediately.

”If you go back to the beginnings of the workers’ movement in Spain, in 1870 when the Spanish section of the International was organized, no difference was made between the peasants and the industrial workers. They were all workers. And when people went to the country to work, they didn’t live there, they went back to the towns. The peasants in Spain are very different from those in other countries. They have always been very acttive in their villages and are not just country people, so that liaison was quickly established between the city and the country.

”But there is a question of a certain mentality. The fellows who live in the country are reserved and they think they are always being fooled by those who know more than they do. So there was some distrust of the people from the city. But we were in the process of getting rid of this type of thinking. That is why the libertarians in the village wanted us city dwellers to come and live with the peasants so that they could see that there was no reason to distrust us. And so we lived there for 6 or 7 months.

”At first the old peasants had a certain pride and said of the city people, ‘You don’t know how to work – you are not used to work.’ But we showed them we were capable of working when necessary and that we were also capable of amusing ourselves. We showed them that we were capable of doing everything that they did with the same courage, perhaps not always with the same skill since we weren’t peasants, but we did our very best to do the hardest work. And so we were accepöted right away and we were very much loved by everyone there.”

Did you work in the fields, or as a mechanic?

Camacho: ”No, no, this collective was completely agricultural. It had many olive trees and was rich in oil. There were almond trees too, and vegetables, but the main wealth came from the oil. So there was a mill. But we had to pick the olives in the month of November. It was very cold there and you had to have pluck to pick the olives. You had to get up early.

”But the really interesting thing was how the life had changed. Formerly, people in the country lived rather closed in on themselves. Now they were beginning to live with each other; life became more open. At least twice a week there were general assemblies and all the village attended – including the women, the children, the old people, everybody. Communications were completely different. For example, before the war, young girls didn’t walk alone with boys. ow that was no longer true; life had changed 100 percent.”

And when they met, is that when decisions for the collective were made?

Camacho: ”Work was organized in brigades of 10, 15, or 20, and each brigade had a delegate who was responsible for the work done. In the assemblies all the problems of the community were discussed, such as administration, schools, organizing a theater group, sanitation, all the questions to be resolved. You might think that these assemblies might be boring for the people but not at all – it was more like a festivity. They went to have a family discussion. before, the family was limited to three or four people. Now there were collective problems of 3,500. Of course not everyone spoke. But everyone came, and if they wanted to give their opinion, they did. n the summer the assemblies took place outdoors. In winter, when it was cold, they were in the theater.

”There are a lot of interesting details about the daily life in a collective. For example, the church had been taken over and it had become the collective’s food store. That was where each family obtained their foodstuffs for the week or the day. There were no tickets. Everyone knew each other and there were no problems. For example, if you went to get some meat and you came back a half hour later, the fellow would know you and he couldn’t be fooled. But we didn’t have such problems. Everyone was trusted. Sometimes you couldn’t have a lot of a product because there wasn’t enough produced. But the rest you had in abundance.”

Was it the same for clothes?

Camacho: ”No, we didn’t make them, so they had to be bought. Or we made an exchange with the things we had, like oil. There was some control. For example, there were two pairs of shoes per year, but then there was the type who needed three pairs because he hadn’t taken care of them. He received three, but usually there was a certain control and normally people didn’t behave like that.”

Did you return from the collective before the May Days?

Camacho: ”I returned to Barcelona a few days before. I started to work again as an apprentice in my trade, as I was only fifteen. And I worked there during the tragic events of May and the counterrevolution. But I’m not going into all the question of the Spanish revolution here. We, the young libertarians, began to be persecuted by the Communist Party on the one hand and on the other we were in opposition to the CNT and the FAI for their political position in relation to the government. And this is how we lived during the war, until Barcelona was taken by Franco, and we went into exile in France.

”In France I was put into concentration camps. First I was in St. Cyprien, then Argeles-sur-Mer, and finally Bram. From there I was sent out in a work company and I remained until the Germans cut France in half. After June 1940 I went to Bordeaux. There we made a little propaganda and sabotage until we were forced to flee to the free zone. The situation then became such in France that either we had to fight the Germans or join them. A few friends studied the situation and decided, not out of patriotism, that we would prefer to return to Spain to fight against the Spanish Fascists directly.”

When was this?

Camacho: ”It was in June 1942 in Barcelona that we tried to rebuild a Spanish resistance movement and we managed to carry out quite a few little jobs. We organized several groups of young people, people we knew already. But in December 1942 I was caught by the police. I was imprisoned and condemned to 30 years by a war council for clandestine activities and for having helped rebuild an organization which the Fascists thought they had destroyed.

”In 1947 I escaped by falsifying my identity papers. It’s not worth giving you the details. Many comrades got out this way and it wasn’t the first time. Three months later I was back in another underground organization with young libertarians from Madrid. Three months after that I was back in prison again under another name, because I always used fake names. I had been picked up in Madrid but they made a new dossier for me, not knowing about the first one. This is complicated to explain, but is due in part to the disorientation and confusion in the Fascist administration. I was in prison until July 1953 when I left again by devious means and went back to Barcelona.

”At that time a National Plenum of the CNT was taking place and they were discussing the problems of the Congress that the International, the AIT, was holding in Paris. The CNT wanted to send delegates to the Congress. So I and another comrade were chosen. I came to France to attend a Congress and to stay for 8 days, and now it’s 1974 and I’m still here. Well, that is a little resumé of my life.”



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