Ferrua, Pietro

Living Utopia (Vivir la utopia)

A film by Juan Gamero

Communication. FilmsSpanish Civil War (1936-1939)MONTSENY, Federica (Madrid, 1905-Toulouse, 1994). Militante anarchiste espagnoleFORTEA, JoséFERRUA, Pietro (Piero) Michele Stefano (1930 - ....)LOACH, Ken (ou Kean; 17/06/1937 - ....)art : videoARCOS, Federico (1920-2015)

Spain, 1997
color, 96 minutes
Spanish with English subtitles.

Video VHS
This video program consists of 30 interviews with survivors of the 1936-1939 Spanish Revolution, plus the recorded voices of former dictator Miguel Primo de Rivera, of his son José Antonio Primo de Rivera, founder of the "Falange" [the equivalent of the Fascist Party of Italy and the Nazi Party of Germany]and that of a known anarchist militant, Juan García Oliver, who became the Minister of Justice of the Republic.
Miguel ALBA is a mason who narrates how circumstances led him to be elected as Secretary of the Transportation Union in 1936 in Barcelona. This was one of the first services organized by the CNT immediately after July 19, 1936.
Ramón ÁLVAREZ tells us about the hesitations between fighting the war and implanting a federalist socialist society. He was on the Communist side and obeyed Stalin’s orders.
Federico ARCOS confirms that everything that happened was spontaneous. He points out that who defeated the army was the people of Barcelona, under the leadership of the CNT and reveals that Governor Companys, who usually had been credited with offering power to anarchists when they became masters of the situation in Barcelona, actually had ordered the chief of police to disarm the members of CNT*-FAI**. Arcos concludes the film with a
quote from Emma Goldman "To the daring belongs the future".
Marcelino BAILO has only one modest line in the film.
María BATET comments on the "Novela Ideal", a series of booklets devised by the Urales family (Federica Montseny’s parents). It dealt with subjects of general interest, was written in a simplified language and was widely disseminated among working-class people. Its publication continued even when the anarchists were exiled, and hundreds of titles were distributed. Later in the film, she defends Federica Montseny for having become the first female government minister, not only in Spain but in all of Europe. Being an anarchist, she found her own position to be difficult and, at times, incoherent, but she accepted only under the pressure from the events and upon request of comrades. Four anarchists became ministers of the new republic in 1936. Their deeds — or misdeeds — are discussed even today.
Severino CAMPOS mentions the existence of 70 anarchist publications (daily, weekly, monthly, etc.) during the period of 1936 to 1939. He then explains how active and organized the anarchists were at that time ("Los aguiluchos de la FAI", to whom at least three film documentaries are dedicated), and how many people they had lost in battle or as a reprisal. He also reveals that a fraction of those troops wanted to come back from the front to Catalonia in order to punish the Communists for what they were doing against the anarchists in Barcelona.
Francisco CARRASQUER relates how the revolution was spontaneous and how the people eliminated the military for the first time in Spain’s history. He emphasizes the importance of the propaganda that anarchists were spreading relentlessly among the masses. He also points out the importance, in liberating minds,of the work of Francisco Ferrer y Guardia with the Modern School he founded based on logic and reason. He reminds us also that, instead of frequenting bars, the anarchists were meeting in libraries and theaters. However, he underscores the fact that in those reading rooms people were not studying the classics of anarchism, but were reading literary texts, by novelists such as Blasco Ibáñez or Tolstoy. He then evokes Durruti’s funeral, held in Barcelona and attended (in his words) "...by 1,500,000 people". He notices the fact that, besides the anarchist press, no one mentioned favorably the collectives, even though it was thanks to them that the troops at the front were provided food and ammunition, and life in the rear guard continued normally.
Miguel CELMA insists on the importance of the Ateneo Libertario as an institution of free (in both senses of the word) learning for illiterate as well as half-literate — and even highly literate — people. A very interesting sequence is his explanation of how Libertarian Communism functioned in a rural setting and the example of his own parents who, being individualists, did not want to adhere to the system, ended up complying partially (albeit bitterly) and finally recognized the benefits of Libertarian Communism. At age 16, he was placed in charge of the Calanda collective, which lasted until March 15, 1938, despite the attempt by General Lister (under Bolshevik orders) to stop any agrarian libertarian communist experience by jailing the collective’s council members.
Valerio CHINÉ was a member of the so-called Durruti Column, which the government wanted to militarize after November 20, 1936. But the comrades did not want to become soldiers. After the defeat, Chiné reports to us what happened when the militians were told that they could leave from the port of Alicante or Valencia. Instead, some of them were surrounded and killed, while others were arrested and sent to concentration camps (including Chiné) in Albatera.
José ESPAÑA remembers how Generación Consciente (which later became Estudios), founded in Alcoy in 1923 initiated the readers to sexual health and how many avid readers there were of that magazine. Of note is the transfer of power from the government to the unions, and then the application of workers’ control, federalism, and a network of exchanges (within Spain or with France, Belgium and Holland).
José FORTEA comments on the above-mentioned system of exchanges, quoting the example of coal exchanged for goods, footwear and clothing. This happened in Aragón, as well as in Levante, Andalucía and Castilla.
Juan GIMÉNEZ reports as if he was reading in the street under the gas lamp or in front of a lit shop window. As a member of the Durruti Column, he explains to us that in addition to fighting the militians they were simultaneously helping the peasants in their fields.
Antonio LAHUERTA’s contribution is an example of the efficiency of collectivism (as opposed to individual land cultivation) through the use of tractors.
Concha LIANO praises the Ateneo Libertario as an eye-opening institution. She explains the concept of free love, equating it to liking another person and forming a couple with him or her without the intervention of the State or the Church. She entered the movement through an excursion group called "Sun and Life", whose activities alternated between hiking and reading. Next, she was in Plaza de la Generalidad on July 19, 1936, waiting for Companys to distribute arms to the people. In retrospect, she asked herself if all the struggles, the sacrifices, the deaths and the exile were all worth it and answers affirmatively: "We taught the world a lesson. Insofar as we were able, we set an example of the possibility of living without government, because there was no government, yet the collectives were working and everything was functioning. Everything was operating by mutual agreement".
Fidel MIRÓ stresses the habit of Spanish anarchists to project themselves as role models by leading a dignified life. But more needed to be done in favor of women’s liberation; the events of 1936 led automatically to women’s emancipation.
Aurora MOLINA saw in the Spanish events of 1936 the establishment of an example for the whole world. The sirens of July 1936 were all she needed to run into the streets because she was the daughter of two eminent anarchists and knew what inspired them to act and what needed to be done. Molina witnessed an unforgettable spectacle: trucks painted with the acronyms "CNT-FAI" filled with people carrying weapons and with soldiers at the anarchists’ sides.
Heleno MOLINA explains that there were no written stipulations for becoming a member of the FAI, but candidates needed to agree with some moral engagements. Then he relates how, after the proclamation of the Republic, there was an increase in anarchist publications. Many new titles were printed, but there were never enough copies available. A very disturbing aspect was his affirmation that Communists would murder anarchists. Molina cites the case of a small place like San Andrés where 50 members of the libertarian youth were shot in the back.
Conxa PÉREZ describes the euphoria that reigned after the proclamation of the republic every night when some kind of cultural or political event ocurred, such as theater, study of Esperanto, meetings of Libertarian Youth or members of the Iberian Anarchist Federation, etc. She then explains how abortions (when they were absolutely necessary) were performed under normal conditions in hospitals and no longer by non-professionals and under scarce hygienic conditions as it happened before.
Suceso PORTALES was a driving force in the field of feminism. She was the main organizer of Mujeres Libres in Guadalajara, which founded hundreds of schools for women and printed thousands of booklets on women’s problems.
Dolores PRAT reconstitutes the early history of the CNT, the increase in membership, the strikes, and the improvised kitchens to help starving strikers. In the same spirit, on July 1936, the union decided that no one was to be out of a job and found work for all unemployed. Workers knew that they were no longer exploited, and were much more productive.
Ximo QUEIROL first explains how an individual could become a member of the CNT, then describes how the Iron Column was organized on the basis of small federated groups of 10 people, as was happening also in the federation of collectives.
Maravilla RODRÍGUEZ merely introduces herself as a former volunteer in the Ascaso battalion (founded as a memorial to Francisco Ascaso, who died on the very first day of the revolution while trying to conquer the military headquarters of Atarazanas in Barcelona).
Juan ROMERO explains how things worked from the point of view of money (or the lack of it) in the collectives. Some places issued rationing cards, others distributed vouchers, and in some instances local currency was used: the system varied from region to region or from village to village, depending on the union members’ wishes. Even non-anarchists or non-trade unionists accepted the system willingly. Complaints were written on a blackboard and discussed in groups. Romero admits that, despite some squabbles and mistakes, they were able to demonstrate there was no need for police, bosses or priests to live in harmony.
Manuel SANZ’s contribution to the video is his clarification of meaning of the date of July 19, 1936, celebrated annually by anarchists to recall their for roots. Sanz then talks about the humanistic vision of anarchism.
Liberto SARRAU evokes the injustice that led to the condemnation of Francisco Ferrer who was innocent of the crimes that were attributed to him. He praises the schools and the quality of teaching inspired by Ferrer. Sarrau then provides a logical explanation of the reasons for burning down some churches, which occurred only with priests who joined the police and soldiers shooting — from bell towers (as one can see in Ken Loach’s film, Tierra y Libertad) — anyone they could aim at, including women and children, instead of shooting armed enemies.
José SAUCES alludes to the Casas Viejas revolt, where libertarian communism was proclaimed in 1934 and failed, and then at the CNT in Saragoza (1936) when it was reconfirmed. Sauces shows that this is why people were ready in July.
José SERRA ESTRUCH focuses on the rationality of the CNT in organizing work in the factory. Apparently, when the owners returned after the defeat of the revolutionists, they found everything working properly and well maintained. They observed a great improvement on what they had left behind three years earlier, and they discovered that productivity had doubled.
Antonio TURÓN became a militant while working in a steel factory. He waa attracted to the anarchists because they did not drink alcohol, they did not smoke, but they read and talked instead. He cites the example of the Can Girona factory that was destroyed by Franco’s troops because, after being collectivized, had become a model facility due to its "machinery, tools and electrically operated kilns imported for making special alloys".
José URZÁIZ explains how the Bolsheviks, a minority party in July 1936 (and before), had acted to gain influence. They "surreptitiously started to infiltrate the army, into the corps of commissars, into the military intelligence services (which they captured completely)".
Antonio ZAPATA describes the function of the Urban Holding Administration and Control Commission of Barcelona. This organization was comprised of nine members, of which three were from the Generalitat, three were from the UGT, and three were from the CNT.
In this video, the interviews are combined with visual materials such as manifestos, photographs, excerpts from film documentaries, portraits and other relevant graphical elements. The testimonials contribute to form a sufficiently clear perspective on the situation such as it was in Spain in 1936-39 from the point of view of the defenders of the Republic.
Pietro Ferrua

[1CNT= CONFEDERACIÓN NACIONAL DEL TRABAJO ( Workers National Confederation) the most important Worker’s Union in Spain during the Republic. It identified with anarcho-syndicalism and made an alliance with UGT (UNIÓN GENERAL DE TRABADORES= Workers General Union, linked to the Socialist Party.