Málaga, a province in southern Spain, was very strongly in favour of the Popular Front government. The city of Málaga, had a population of 100,000 people, was largely under the control of the Anarcho-Syndicalists (CNT) at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. The province was cut off from the rest of Republican Spain in the first few weeks of the war and suffered from aerial attacks from the Condor Legion.
On 17th January 1937, General Gonzalo Queipo de Llano and the Nationalist Army launched an attack on Málaga. It eventually fell to the Nationalists on 8th February. Over the next few weeks an estimated 4,000 Republicans were executed.
One day about the beginning of July I was walking down the principal street in Malaga. As I passed the Club Mercantil an old gentleman whom I know slightly came to me and in a state of great excitement exclaimed: 'Good news, good news. Within a fortnight Calvo Sotelo (the monarchist leader) will be King of Spain.'
Then on July 12 Calvo Sotelo was taken from his house by night and shot. There is some mystery in this assassination. The usual reason given for it is that it was committed by the Storm Troops or republican police as a reprisal for the murder of one of their officers the day before by Fascists. It is also said that it was done on the orders of those who wished to precipitate a rising of the Right, as they considered that was the only way to a Communist revolution. The one thing that seems certain is that the Government, which was extremely anxious to avoid trouble, had nothing to do with it.
It was decided by the rebel generals to utilise the feeling of indignation which the assassination had caused among their own partisans. The rising, which I am told had been arranged for July 25, therefore broke out on the evening of July 18 in Spain. It had begun on the previous day in Morocco.
What happened in Malaga was this. At five o'clock on the evening of July 18 a company of infantry marched out of the barracks and proceeded, with bands playing, towards the centre of the town. There was already great tension, since the news of the rising in Morocco had become known. As they marched the soldiers were asked where they were going. 'To proclaim a state of war.' This is the legal procedure in such cases, and the soldiers thought that it was by order of the Government. The Governor's office was rung up, and it was learned that no such order had been given. This news quickly spread among the bystanders. The company had reached the Custom offices. Suddenly a workman stepped forward, saluted with the clenched fist, and cried 'Viva la Republica!' The officer in command drew his revolver and shot him. This was the signal. The Storm Troops on the steps of the Custom-house opened fire. Workmen from behind trees and Fascists from windows joined in. The troops tried to storm the Customhouse But this they failed to do, and after a great deal of firing they were driven into the Calle Larios, the main shopping street of the city, where they were left alone.
Meanwhile the Governor had released the soldiers from their duty to their officers, and they began to stream out of the barracks into the town. They were the less disposed to fight for having been inoculated two days before against typhoid. Some of them approached the pickets of the rebel company. One by one the men slunk away till only one sentry was left. The officers got back to the barracks, where they were taken prisoners. Apart from isolated Fascists, who continued sniping from the roofs - and this did not altogether cease for two days, - the fighting was over. What seems rather rather odd considering the tens of thousands of rounds let off, less than twenty were killed on that night. On both sides they were bad shots.
At dawn the workmen began to stream out of their quarters of the city. Brandishing revolvers and red flags, singing the 'Internationale,' and making a strange rhythmical sound- 'Uh-uh-uh,' which those who heard it told me was most terrifying, - they marched into the Calle Larios. Selecting particular houses, sometimes those from which snipers fired at them, sometimes those of people particularly hated or known to be concerned in this movement, they began to set fire to them.
It was done methodically. The house was first searched, householders on either side were warned, efforts were made to prevent the fire from spreading. In this way half the houses in the Calle Larios were burnt, about twenty houses in other parts of the town and in the garden suburb to the east of the city some thirty or forty villas. But no churches or convents. These burnings went on all day until about midnight, and then, apart from a small recrudescence, stopped. No one was killed and there was no looting.
A grocer's shop, for example, was broken into: the hams, wines, and liqueurs were piled in the street and set fire to. The workmen, many of whom must have had hungry families at home, watched them burn. I asked one of them why they did not send the food to their union and distribute it. 'No,' he replied, 'Spanish workmen do not steal. They have too much sense of honour.' If one is horrified at the material destruction - and much of it is, of course, perfectly stupid, - one should not forget the provocation.
Life in Malaga goes on calmly enough on the surface. There are, of course, the burned houses and the flags, and one sees fewer well-dressed people than in ordinary times.
Only foreigners wear a tie, for ties are now the sign that one is a "senorito." The letters U.G.T., C.N.T., U.H.P., F.A.I., and a good many more denoting the various parties are painted on walls, on cars and lorries, on trees, on any surface that will take them. One cannot buy a melon in the market-place that has not got some initials scratched on it. There are also a good many militia about, dressed in their new uniforms of blue cotton overalls with red armlets.
The Committee system which come into existence in Spain when popular feeling, impatient of corrupt and incompetent bureaucratic methods, demands some outlet in action. But there is one committee new to Spain - the Committee of Public Health and Safety, - which came into existence on the day on which the Governor left the city, the 12th of this month. It is the Spanish equivalent of the Russian Cheka.
Here is a brief description of the workings of the committees in general. At the head is the Comité de Enlace, or Union, which decides the general policy. It is composed of twenty members, one of whom is the Governor, who seems otherwise to have only nominal powers, and it supervises all the other committees, those of Supply, of Labour, or Transport, of War, of Public Health and Safety, and so on. All the various parties of the Left, from Republicans to Anarchists, sit on these committees, and my impression of their work is that they are remarkably efficient. The ordinary machinery of Spanish local government could never have done half as much.
The Committee of Public Health and Safety investigates charges of hostility to the regime, provides safe conducts, organises search parties for wanted people, and shoots them. In five days it shot well over a hundred people in Malaga alone. To begin with it shot some thirty prisoners who were kept on a ship in the harbour. Some of these were senior police officers who refused to join the Government; others were prominent people of the Right; one was a marquesa caught using a private transmitting set. They were taken to a cemetery and shot. Then came the people who were dragged out of their houses at night, put in cars, driven off to some quiet road, and killed there. Their only crime as a rule was affiliation to the Ceda, the Right Catholic party, or their having offended some workman or other. Some of these people have been killed with shocking violence. One I saw had his head bashed in; another who had not died at the first volley had had his throat cut; others had their fingers, ears, or noses sliced off, after death, of course; they are cut off to be taken away as trophies.
The men who do this belong to the F.A.I., the anarchist organisation which is so extended in Barcelona and Saragossa and also provides the shock troops and gunmen for the Fascist party, Falange Espanola. They buy them by giving them work at good wages, with extra payment for assassinations, and as the membership of the Falange is secret they often remain at the same time both Fascists and anarchists.
But there has been a great change in the last few days. The anarchist bands who were dragging harmless people out of their houses after midnight and shooting them have been put down. Some have been shot, and militia patrol the streets and have orders to fire on any cars with armed men in them whom they see about after midnight. No one can be arrested and no house searched without a warrant signed by the Governor. The Committee of Public Safety have advisory powers only.
Another change is that red flags have been forbidden, and, except in some of the poorer quarters, the only colours now to be seen are the Republican. The explanation of this is that there has been a tightening up of the "Popular Front" in Madrid. The Governor of Malaga, who had just returned from a conference there, told me that an agreement had been arrived at between the Republican parties and the Socialist and Communist parties, with all their affiliated bodies, by which any form of Communism or dictatorship of the proletariat was entirely ruled out.
As soon as the war was over a Government would be formed of the Republican and Socialist parties, a Government much of the Left, of course, but not unfavourable to the middle classes, who are to a considerable extent supporting the Government. It is thought that the Syndicalists (especially the more conservative C.N.T.) would not oppose such an arrangement, and the conversations I have had with Syndicalist leaders in Malaga would seem to bear this out. What they would fight would be any increased form of centralisation or any dictatorship.
It seems hardly worth while, in the shambles that Spain is becoming, to deny any stories of atrocities. Yet I would like to say that reports published in the English papers of nuns led about naked in the streets of Malaga are the purest invention; on the contrary, they were taken either to the Town Hall for safety or to their own houses and were treated with perfect respect throughout. Sisters of Charity still go about the streets in their uniforms. Those killed are killed brutally but quickly; the truth by itself, without ornaments, is bad enough.
Yesterday some bombs were dropped in Malaga. A tank of oil and a smaller supply of petrol were set on fire, making a prodigious blaze, but other bombs that fell on a popular quarter killed about forty people and wounded a hundred and fifty, mostly women and children. If Germans had been living all over London during the last war and if the whole of the police and almost every soldier had been at the front I think there might have been some lynchings after air raids. And, in fact, a mob marched that evening to the prison, took out forty-five prisoners, and shot them. Those who point to atrocities of this sort on the Government side often forget the provocation and the circumstances. When soldiers and police have to go to the front because other soldiers and police have rebelled, who is left to keep order among an enraged population?
When the church bells ring in Malaga that means the Italian and German aeroplanes are coming over. While I was there they came twice and three times a day. The horror of the civilian bombing is even worse in Malaga than in Madrid. The place is so small and so terribly exposed.
When the bells begin ringing and you see people who have been working in the harbour or in the market place, or elsewhere in the open, run in crowds, you know that they are literally running a race against death.
But the houses in Malaga are mostly low and rather flimsy, and without cellars. Where the cliffs come down to the edge of the town, the people make for the rocks and caves in which those who can reach them take refuge. Others rush bounding up the hillside above the town.
Those in the town, with an air of infinite weariness, wait behind the piles of sandbags which have been set up in front of the doorways of the apartment blocks. Though they are not safe from bombs falling on the houses, they are relatively protected from an explosion in the street and from the bullets of the machine-guns.
Sometimes you can see the aeroplane machine-gunner working the gun as the plane swoops along above the street.
If you were to imagine, however, that this terribly hammered town is in a state of panic you would be wrong. Nothing I have seen in this war has impressed me more than the power of the Spanish people's resistance to attack than the attitude of the people as seen in Malaga.