Juan Garcia Oliver was born in Spain in 1901. After the First World War he worked as a waiter. He joined the CNT and became a close associate of Buenaventura Durruti and is believed to have taken part in the assassination of Juan Soldevila Romero, the archbishop of Saragossa.
In the first year of the Spanish Civil War Garcia Oliver and the CNT tried to reorganize the Spanish economy. National and regional conferences of peasants, communication workers, metal workers and railway employees made efforts to introduce collectivization.
In September 1936 José Giral was replaced by Francisco Largo Caballero as prime minister. Largo Caballero brought into his government several left-wing radicals into his government including four anarchists, Garcia Oliver (Justice), Juan López (Commerce), Federica Montseny (Health) and Juan Peiró (Industry). He left the government later in the same month, but remained active in Barcelona until Catalonia fell in 1939.
I spoke with Garcia Oliver. He was also in a frenzied state. Intransigent. At the same time that Lopez, the leader of the Madrid syndicalists, was declaring to me that they had not permitted and would not permit attacks on the Soviet Union in the CNT newspaper, Oliver declared that they had said that they were "criticizing" the Soviet Union because it was not an ally, since it had signed the non-interference pact, and so on. Durruti, who has been at the front, has learned a lot, whereas Oliver, in Barcelona, is still nine-tenths anarchist ravings. For instance, he is against a unified command on the Aragon front; a unified command is necessary only when a general offensive begins. Sandino, who was present during this part of the conversation, spoke out for a unified command. They touched on the question of mobilization and the transformation of the militia into an army. Durruti made much of the mobilization plans (I do not know why - there are volunteers but no guns). Oliver said that he agreed with Durruti, since "Communists and Socialists are hiding themselves in the rear and pushing the FAI-ists out of the cities and villages." At this point he was almost raving. I would not have been surprised if he had shot me.
I spoke with Trueba, the PSUC (Communist) political commissar. He complained about the FAI-ists. They are not giving our men ammunition. We have only thirty-six bullets left per man. The anarchists have reserves of a million and a half. Colonel Villalba's soldiers only have a hundred cartridges each. He cited many instances of the petty tyrannies of FAI. People from the CNT complained to me that Fronsosa, the leader of PSUC, gave a speech at a demonstration in San Boi in which he said that the Catalans should not be given even one gun, since the guns would just fall into the hands of the anarchists. In general, during the ten days that I was in Catalonia, relations between Madrid and the generalitat on the one hand, and that between the Communists and the anarchists on the other, became very much more strained. Companys is wavering; either he gravitates toward the anarchists, who have agreed to recognize the national and even nationalistic demands of the Esquerra, or he depends on the PSUC in the struggle against FAI. His circle is divided between supporters of the former and of the latter solutions. If the situation on the Talavera front worsens, we can expect him to come out on one or the other side. We must improve relations between the PSUC and the CNT and then try to get closer to Companys.
In Valencia our party is working well, and the influence of the UGT is growing. But the CNT has free rein there. The governor takes their side completely. This is what happened when I was there: sixty anarchists with two machine-guns turned up from the front, as their commander had been killed. In Valencia they burned the archives and then wanted to break into the prison to free the criminals. The censor (this is under Lopez, the leader of the CNT) prohibited our newspaper from reporting about any of this outrage, and in the CNT paper there was a note that the "free masses destroyed the law archives as part of the accursed past."
Today I again had a long conversation with Companys. He proposed to form a local government in this way: half Esquerra, half CNT and UGT. He said that he would reserve for himself finance and the police. After my words on the fact that the anarchists' lack of personal responsibility would interfere with manufacturing, he declared that he "agreed" to put a Marxist at the head of industry. He called Oliver a fanatic. He reproached the PSUC for not answering the terror of the anarchists with the same. On the conduct of the Catalan militia in Madrid, he said that that was the FAI-ists and that the national Guardia and the Esquerrists would fight anyone. He said that Madrid itself wanted the CNT militia, while not hiding the fact that the latter left to "establish order in Madrid." He advised sending them back from Madrid.
The whole time he cursed the FAI. He knew that I was going from him to the CNT and was very interested in how the FAI-ists would converse with me. He requested that I communicate the results of the conversation with him. He complained that the FAI-ists were against Russia were carrying out anti-Soviet propaganda, or more accurately, carried out but that he was our friend, and so on. A steamship, even if it held only sugar would soften his heart.
A large share of the abuses on the Loyalist side has been credited to the common criminals liberated with the political prisoners in the general amnesty which followed the February, 1936, elections. Extremist leaders demanded and secured the freedom of these criminals on the grounds that the courts which sentenced them, having been set up under the old capitalistic regimes, were incapable of administering "proletarian justice." Given arms and authority, many of these ex-convicts lost no time in reverting to lawlessness. The Generalitat Ministry of Interior, answering charges that it had failed to curtail crime in Catalonia, declared:
"Before order can be re-established in Catalonia, we must round up the irresponsible criminals now loose in our territory. Where are the thousands of murderers, robbers and other evil-doers who gained their freedom when the gates of the prisons were opened? They were armed along with the rest, but they are not at the front. We must find them and put them back where they belong before we can hope to have order here."
A few of these ex-prisoners have, however, distinguished themselves on the side of law and order since they were released. The most notable instance of this has been the career of Jose Garcia Oliver, anarchist Minister of Justice in the Popular Front cabinet. Garcia Oliver was serving an indeterminate term for robbery when the amnesty was declared. He has proved a popular and efficient minister. Impartial legal minds termed his decree giving equal rights to women "one of the finest bits of legal terminology in the Spanish civil code."
My conversations with Garcia Oliver and with several other CNT members, and their latest speeches, attest to the fact that the leaders of the CNT have an honest and serious wish to concentrate all forces in a strengthened united front and on the development of military action against the fascists. I must note that the PSUC is not free from certain instances that hamper the "consolidation of a united front": in particular, although the Liaison Commission has just been set up, the party organ Treball suddenly published an invitation to the CNT and the FAI that, since the experience with the Liaison Commission had gone so well, the UGT and the PSUC had suggested that the CNT and the FAI create even more unity in the form of an action commission. This kind of suggestion was taken by leaders of the FAI as simply a tactical maneuver. Comrade Valdes and Comrade Sese did not hide from me that the just-mentioned suggestion was meant to "talk to the masses of the CNT over the heads of their leaders." The same sort of note was sounded at the appearance of Comrade Comorera at the PSUC and UGT demonstration on 18 October - on the one hand, a call for protecting and developing the united front and, on the other, boasting about the UGT's having a majority among the working class in Catalonia, accusing the CNT and the FAI of carrying out a forced collectivization of the peasants, of hiding weapons, and even of murdering "our comrades."
The PSUC leaders-designate agreed with me that such tactics were completely wrong and expressed their intention to change them. I propose that we get together in the near future with a limited number of representatives of the CNT and the FAI to work out a concrete program for our next action.
In the near future, the PSUC intends to bring forward the question on reorganizing the management of military industry. At this point the Committee on Military Industry works under the chairmanship of Tarradellas, but the main role in the committee is played by Vallejos (from the FAI). The PSUC proposes to put together leadership from representatives from all of the organizations, to group the factories by specialty, and to place at the head of each group a commissar, who would answer to the government.
The evaluation by Garcia Oliver and other CNT members of the Madrid government seems well founded to me. Caballero's attitude toward the question of attracting the CNT into that or any other form of government betrays his obstinate incomprehension of that question's importance. Without the participation of the CNT, it will not, of course, be possible to create the appropriate enthusiasm and discipline in the people's militia/Republican militia.
The information concerning the intentions of the Madrid government for a timely evacuation from Madrid was confirmed. This widely disseminated information undermines confidence in the central government to an extraordinary degree and paralyzes the defense of Madrid.