Tajos is a small mountain village near Málaga; in 1936 it was one of the few socialist strongholds in a predominantly anarchist province. When, on 18 July 1936, the military rose to overthrow the Republic, a revolutionary committee was formed in Tajos as in every village and town not immediately captured by the Franquista forces. Under a variety of names—revolutionary, anti-fascist, workers’ defence—these committees were faced with the triple task of organizing militias to carry on the war, organizing the repression to destroy or intimidate the counter-revolutionary forces in their midst and organizing war production and food supplies. Their revolutionary élan was enormous, diverse and—ultimately—fragmented. The central government’s power was virtually nonexistent outside Madrid; but no working-class organization made a bid to seize power centrally.

Instead, throughout the Republican zone, delegates to the committees were generally elected or nominated by all the Popular Front parties which included the petty bourgeois republican parties; it was rare for these delegates to be ratified by popular vote. The committees thus never became popularly elected and revocable soviets, for no party or organization supported such a transformation. This entailed a failure to build into the committees the forms of popular armed forces which would become the cutting edge of a new revolutionary power.

As a result of these failures, the committees’ power—almost always local—diminished after two to three months as the central government, now headed by the veteran socialist trade union leader Largo Caballero, regained ‘control’ and damped down the revolutionary upsurge.

During the seven months until Málaga was captured by the Nationalists, the Tajos committee was formally in control of the village. Old socialist militants today recall the experience.footnote They were and remain moderates; had they not been it is unlikely that they would be alive today. The Nationalist repression in Málaga was even more ferocious than in Seville or Badajoz. In Tajos alone, where six landlords were shot during the revolution, it is certain that more than 50 working-class militants were executed. Many claim that at least a hundred were executed in the repression which continued until 1941—two years after the end of the civil war.

My father lost his shop, his livelihood and in the end his life due to a cacique. He voted for a candidate opposed to the ruling cacique and when the latter won he avenged himself. He got my father’s licence taken away and had the shop made over to one of his supporters. My father was the victim of a parliamentary system which in the end led us all to tragedy.

That was in 1917 when I was about ten. My father had to do what he had never done before—work the land. My mother had inherited two or three plots and he tried to provide for us by working them. But he couldn’t manage. One day he went to the sierra and returned ill. A cerebral congestion from which he died, leaving my mother to look after us.

Politics at that time was the exclusive privilege of those of property. At elections the caciques put on a great show. They laid on paellas and wine and cigars for the country people who were hardly ever able to eat a good meal. Those who could afford to wear boots could afford to buy votes. That was what caciquismo meant.