Companys & Co.
The Spanish spotlight, focused for the past month on the Basque capital at Bilbao, swung last week to Barcelona, greatest industrial city in Spain and chief port remaining in Leftist hands. Catalan Barcelona, like Basque Bilbao, is the capital of a group of Spain’s 50 provinces, which since the Revolution have tended to become more & more autonomous. Unlike Bilbao, Barcelona has not been seriously threatened by Rightists since the first weeks of the civil war.
Rugged individualists like most Spaniards, the Barcelonians have decked their buildings with many a discordant banner: the five-barred red-&-yellow flag of Catalonia, the red-yellow-&-purple of the Valencia Republic, the red flag of Communism, the black-&-red banner of Anarcho-Syndicalists. There are a number of other parties of varying opinions, all demanding a share in the Government. Nowhere else in the world are Communists so decisively ranked among the conservatives. That is because in Catalonia, Communists believe in discipline, as opposed to the free-for-all philosophy of the pure Anarchists, largest and most troublesome group in the state. The main reason that government is possible at all in Catalonia is due to the extraordinary talent for compromise of Catalonia’s president, excitable Luis Companys. President Companys has been in & out of jails much of his political career, has long fought for Catalan independence, speaks of Spain as “the Iberian Peninsula.” His technique with his spluttering allies is to promise them everything with the greatest goodwill. This worked moderately well for many months in keeping peace in Barcelona, but did nothing at all to help the hard-pressed Leftist armies fight the war. President Companys was too busy keeping peace at home to send many men to the front.
Suddenly last week the Companys technique did not work at all. Late at night telephone communications with France were mysteriously cut. Hours later the story began to filter out of Barcelona that Anarchists had revolted against the Companys Government. Almost instantly jumbled barricades sprang up along the tree-lined Ramblas. The streets echoed with the Carong! Carong! of machine guns, the Hahp! of light artillery. Immediate objective of the Anarchist Black-&-Reds was the Barcelona telephone exchange, a building almost as imposing as the telephone skyscraper of Madrid. This they seized and held for seven hours. Hero of the revolt then became Barcelona’s Police Chief Rodriguez Sola, who personally led a frontal attack on the building, captured the first floor, methodically started mopping up from stair to stair.
Loudly President Companys called for peace and unity to face the common foe, warned that the Catalans were leaving the way open for a raid from General Franco’s Rightists. No such raid came, but before peace was restored over 300 people had been killed and according to reports the Valencia Government, to police Barcelona, had had to withdraw 12.000 badly needed troops from the Aragon front. Heretofore careful to avoid mixing in local Catalan squabbles, Valencia also moved in General Sebastian Pozas to be military commander of Catalonia.