Urban Disorder and Cultural Resistance, 1919—1930
Beginning with the general strike of 1917 and the "women's war" of 1918, social strife prevailed over any unity in Barcelona. As the working population and the Catalan nationalist Regional League drew further and further apart after 1917, a new group of Catalan nationalists began to emerge. Although they promised to unite all Catalans, it took the cultural repression of a military dictatorship between 1923 and 1930 to weld the population of Barcelona together.
A long general strike in the late winter and spring of 1919 brought the city to a standstill, pitting anarcho-syndicalists and the popular community against employers and the captain general. Elsewhere in Spain, revolutionary struggles were equally widespread, so much so that the period from 1917 to 1919 would be called the "Bolshevik trienium." The landless day laborers of Andalusia swept the southwest seizing land. In the north, militant mining and textile strikes were waged. Food riots engulfed Madrid, Valladolid, and Málaga as women demanded an end to high prices. Miners in Huelva and workers in Tortosa walked out. Although in Andalusia, as in Catalunya, the CNT led the workers, the Socialist party held sway in Madrid, the Basque country, and among the coal miners of Asturias. The failure of the 1917 general strike may have chastened the always-timid Spanish Socialists about the possibilities of joint action with the anarcho-syndicalists, making it difficult for them to unite in a common effort.
More than ever before, class conflicts in the immediate postwar period followed the layout of the urban landscape. After Tragic Week of
1909, when mummies had been heaped in front of the palaces of the marquis of Güell and of Comillas, the elite had moved out of the area near the harbor into the Extension and up toward Tibidabo, leaving behind the government buildings amid the cafés and brothels. The Gothic Quarter itself had been divided in half when Laietana Way was cut from the Plaza of Urquinaona to the harbor between 1908 and 1911. Whole neighborhoods around Picasso's old haunt, the Four Cats Café, disappeared. Near the cathedral, in what remained of Madeline Street, a new central police station had been built.
More and more, the Parallel and the northeastern edges of the Rambla became the center of everything conservatives feared, from vice to anarcho-syndicalism. Known as Chinatown (Barrio Chino), with all the racist connotations of exoticism and violence that term evoked, the downtown area assumed a symbolic connection to the popular classes. Slumming continued to bring middle-class and rich men to the area to visit brothels like the Moor's Chalet or Madame Petit's near the harbor. But armed struggle between the captain general and the workers increasingly turned downtown Barcelona into a war zone between 1919 and 1923.
The 1919 General Strike
In February 1919, scarcely three months after the armistice ending the First World War, the workers at Barcelona's Canadian-owned Ebro Irrigation and Power Company went on strike to win recognition of their new industrial union and to fight against wage cuts the company was making in the wake of the war. Lasting through April, the strike ultimately affected all the people of Barcelona because it cut off the electrical power in the city. Now that public life had become dependent on electricity—required to run the city's factories and illuminate its streets—Barcelona's citizens were hostage to disruptions in service, which could easily force everyday life to a standstill. By undermining public services, the general strike threatened civic order. There could be no agnostics: everyone in the city had to choose sides, either to resort to any means necessary to restore services or to meet the demands of those withholding them. Thus the strike welded the working population of men and women into a self-conscious community, even despite differences in language and experiences of immigration.
With the firing of eight union organizers at the Ebro Irrigation and Power Company on February 2, 1919, the Industrial Union of Water, Gas, and Electrical Workers decided to strike. Three days later, 144 electrical workers staged a sit-in, calling on the civil governor to adjudicate the dispute—a moderate act for syndicalists. When workers in the city's other two electric companies went out in solidarity with the employees of the Canadian-owned company, all trolleys stopped and public transportation came to a halt.
By 4:00 P.M. on February 5, abandoned trolleys lined the streets throughout the city. Workers had to walk home, as did women stranded in markets. Those women employed by the textile factories joined the other strikers and demanded union recognition, the eight-hour day, the English week (with a half-day on Saturday), total abolition of piece-work, worker's compensation, prohibition of child labor under the age of fourteen, and a full week's wages once employment began, even if the plant had decided to stop or reduce production.
What became the forty-four-day-long "Canadian strike" was only one part of the international revolutionary upsurge in the winter and spring of 1919, though the strike was by far the most dramatic action in Spain. An attempt to carry out a Communist revolution in Germany had been defeated in January, and another revolution had failed in Hungary. Still, it was obvious to both leftists and conservatives in Barcelona that a revolution such as the ones that overthrew the German and Russian autocracies could topple the Spanish monarchy as well.
Whether revolutionary or not, people all over Barcelona joined the ranks of striking electrical workers in staying off the job: after all, there was no electricity to drive the plants. On February 21, troops began to run the trolleys and the electric companies. This action, however, brought on unintended consequences. Even those workers who had not gone on strike were outraged that military force would be used against those who had. Water and gas company workers walked out of their plants. Newspapers refused to publish government threats, imposing what became known as "red censorship." By mid-February, 70 percent of all the factories and shops in the city and its outlying districts had closed.
The captain general of the province, welcoming an opportunity to repress the labor movement before it grew even stronger, drafted all gas, water, and electrical workers between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-one. This move subjected them to military law, which meant they could be court-martialed if they ignored orders to return to work. Three thou-
sand resisted and wound up in Montjuich Prison. From Madrid, the prime minister decided to intervene in the dispute; he sent an aide to Barcelona to negotiate between the union and the employers, thus officially recognizing the union. Representatives of both sides arrived at a proposed settlement: employers reluctantly agreed to grant amnesty to jailed workers and to rehire them with wage increases, strike pay, and the eight-hour day. But the negotiators had yet to win the agreement of their constituents.
Responding to the proposed settlement, some workers met on March 19 and demanded the immediate release of all labor militants who had been arrested since the general strike of 1917. The next day, twenty thousand syndicalists and their supporters gathered in the Arenas bullring, where their leaders urged moderation. Salvador Seguí, at age thirty-two at the height of his powers, made the most difficult speech of his career. An eyewitness described the scene:
It was interesting to listen to the oratory of the worker [Seguí] that night. Free of demagogic vanity, without affectation, his arms moving with natural gestures and a conciliatory air, his head held high, with a strong gaze, and with a spirited voice, he confronted an antagonistic multitude. . . . [They were opposed] to the peaceful solutions the orator was proposing to the huge assembly, the most crucial of which was the immediate return to work instead of fighting to obtain the release of all the strikers held prisoner.
Seguí presented two options to the crowd: they could accept the proposed settlement, or they could march on Montjuich Prison to free the prisoners and begin a revolution to overthrow the state. At the bullring, the audience agreed that since they were not ready to launch a revolution, they would return to their jobs and wait for the remaining prisoners to be freed quickly.
If Seguí and other CNT leaders had wanted to begin a revolution, they would have had to have been better prepared and better armed than they were. Although some revolutionary fliers had circulated among the troops occupying Barcelona, the CNT had failed to carry on any systematic organization among the soldiers. It was unlikely that conscript troops from outside the region would have mutinied and come over to support the masses in Barcelona.
Despite Seguí's skills in negotiating a settlement, the general strike resumed owing to the captain general's intransigence on behalf of the employers. Fearful that a union victory would lead to new demands, the captain general, supported by the employers, rejected the settlement
the prime minister's aide had worked out, refusing to free the three thousand workers still in jail from the 1917 strike and refusing to negotiate further about their release. Thus the general strike resumed on March 24, 1919, and lasted until April 14. One hundred thousand people walked off the job, and everything closed down because the electrical workers went out again. Even banks and shops refused to open.
Repression often works. The strike was defeated when the police and army arrested workers, including the two-hundred-member strike committee. Intimidated by the use of force and faced with the absence of their leaders, the cenetistas returned to work on April 7. The metallurgical and construction workers managed to hold out until April 14, the official end of the strike. Thousands were arrested and given long sentences. The prime minister, who had secured a royal decree on April 2 which mandated that the eight-hour-day was to begin on October 1, was forced to resign. His conservative successor lasted from April to July, during which time Barcelona remained under martial law. Between May and August 1919, more than forty-three thousand members of the CNT in Catalunya wound up in jail. Countless other organized workers were fired from their jobs and blacklisted. Most historians seem to agree that the captain general had led the army, with the support of the industrialists, into "a virtual war of extermination designed to liquidate the unions in their formative stages."
The narrative of the strike does not begin to explain what happened to the people in Barcelona who suffered through it. Women again stood in lines as supplies of flour, meat, vegetables, and chickpeas dwindled. No one ever knew when transports would get through to the markets. Bakers periodically struck to end night work; at other times they simply lacked flour to make the bread that was the staple of working-class diets. As a result of women's scuffles with vendors at the Saint Joseph and Saint Anthony markets in downtown Barcelona, occupation troops were brought in to these sites. Trolleys stopped and started. When they were operating under military control it was dangerous to ride them, since crowds along the way threw stones at them.
Normal life ceased for the better part of two and a half months. Women rushed to get their laundering and shopping done at the fountains and markets and then scurried home. Cafés, music halls, and bars shut their doors. Scarcely anyone came out to stroll on the Rambla. Even employees of the municipal government went home early most days, since the light was insufficient for them to work. Corpses accumulated as the funeral workers refused to drive hearses or bury bodies.
Local newspapers could print only sporadically. Rumors spread. When the Congregation of the Sacred Blood, whose chaplains ministered to prisoners condemned to death, flew its flag at half mast, the population was convinced that three strikers had been executed: in fact, the master of the order had died. Barcelona, with its population of eight hundred thousand, had stopped functioning. Losses were estimated at thirty million pesetas .
Hoping to seal the defeat of the CNT and streamline business, employers locked out two hundred thousand workers in Barcelona between November 25, 1919, and January 26, 1920. The employers' refusal to compromise provoked the most violent elements within the labor movement. Gang wars broke out between the hired guns (pistoleros ) of the factory owners and counterterrorists working for the anarcho-syndicalists. Taking matters into his own hands, the new captain general, Severiano Martínez Anido, who had come to Barcelona after the 1919 general strike, attempted to crush the anarcho-syndicalist movement in Barcelona once and for all. He personally ordered many of the seven hundred political assassinations in Catalunya between 1920 and 1922, in a period that resembled the bloody days of the Argentine junta. Industrialists, too, ordered a succession of assassinations. Between 1920 and 1921, more than 230 people were shot in the streets of Barcelona alone. The CNT, although it commanded the support of up to 80 percent of the city's workers, was driven underground. Despite the chaos, public service workers continued to organize unions and carry out strikes, as, for example, the transport workers did in the summer of 1920. But conservative businessmen offset the CNT's power by creating the Free Unions (Sindicatos libres) filled with gangsters who spoke for whomever paid them the highest price. It is always possible, too, that the city was deliberately destabilized to discredit Spain's already weak parliamentary government and to prepare the way for the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera in September 1923.
The Death of Seguí
Following the 1896 bombing of the Corpus Christi procession and the 1905 explosion at the Rambla of Flowers, the people of Barcelona had vented their outrage against mindless attacks in elaborate civic funerals. In 1920 and 1923, as at the turn of the century and as
today, the poor were the most vulnerable when violence became a way of life. Old ritual practices—such as civic funerals—allowed both sides to dramatize their repugnance at the growing brutality in the city.
During political struggles, participants know the risks, and others try to stay out of the cross fire. Until quite recently, however, attacks on places of recreation violated the codes of urban war. When people of the Parallel learned on Monday morning, September 13, 1920, that just after midnight the local Pompey Music Hall and Movie House, at the corner of the Parallel and New Street of the Rambla, had been bombed, a twenty-four-hour strike was ordered in protest.
Three people had died in the bombing, two were critically wounded, and dozens more were injured. Large numbers of women had gathered at the hospital to identify and keen over the bodies. Just as their mothers had followed the caskets of the Rafa sisters in 1905, these local women stood as witnesses over the dead and injured to demand lives free from violence. The funeral of the three victims who were killed in the blast was set for Thursday, September 16, at 3:30 P.M.  The planned itinerary of the cortege indicated that the locus of sacred secular spaces had shifted since the early part of the century. The route to the cemetery was scheduled to go from the city hospital west of the Plaza of Catalunya down Provence, Muntaner, Council of One Hundred, Villarroel, and Main streets to the western side of Montjuich in front of the old bullring, and then to the cemetery on the western slopes of Montjuich in Sans. When the procession reached Main Street, though, a group asked that they be allowed to detour back toward the old city.
Granted permission, the long funeral cortege passed the Plaza of the University and moved down Pelayo Street to the Rambla (see map 3). Passing slowly through the central corridor of Barcelona, the procession arrived at the flower market. The women flower vendors threw flowers onto the three coffins. Then the officials, family members, and the crowds following the funeral coaches moved toward New Street of the Rambla and the Parallel. There, lights lit up the Pompey Music Hall. A group came out of the vestibule carrying additional wreaths, which they laid on the coffins. The Pompey's orchestra assembled out front to play a funeral dirge. Once the ceremony was finished, a smaller number of people followed the hearses to the cemetery.
In honor of the three men killed in the blast, almost all the stores in Barcelona, especially in the downtown area, had closed their doors from 3:30 to 5:00. Many factories and shops had shut down at midday so that workers could attend the funeral. On Wednesday, two more work-
ers died from injuries inflicted by the bombs; another funeral with a slightly different political cast was held the following Sunday. Whereas the first ceremony had gathered the municipal police, clergy, the civil governor, acting mayor, a judge, the head of the provincial government, as well as family, friends, and townspeople, the funerals on Sunday included a union demonstration. The burial of Rafael Isquerdo, a union member who worked for the telephone company, drew masses of his companions. Along with union brothers, however, came the civil governor, the acting mayor, the foreman of the telephone company, and the general director of the telephone system.
Officials might pay their respects to the dead, but the police investigation showed that no matter who had bombed the Pompey, as well as setting another bomb at the Theater of the Woods that luckily was discovered in time, the authorities were in fact after the anarcho-syndicalists. Even though the likely attackers were hired killers from the Free Unions engaged in terrorist acts against Barcelona's leftist militants, the police pursued anarcho-syndicalists. On the day of the first funeral, the police invaded the back rooms of a fruit store on New Street of the Rambla. There they allegedly discovered guns, ammunition, explosives, and a sign saying, "Long live the liberators of humanity," in addition to engravings alluding to Tragic Week and the 1917 general strike. As usual, police went on a hunting expedition. They arrested and held five suspects in the case, among them an anarcho-syndicalist who openly disapproved of music halls and collected libertarian books.
Anyone who supported the CNT became a potential target of terrorist attacks in the period 1919–1923. The Catalanist republican Francesc Layret was a labor lawyer who defended CNT members and other workers in court and was attempting to win amnesty for countless CNT members in prison. Severely disabled by infantile paralysis that forced him to move using two canes, the diminutive Layret, ambling along like a spider on stilts, represented the best in Barcelona's citizens. He tried to convince anarcho-syndicalists to form a republican labor party uniting republicans and Socialists. The CNT could then run Seguí, who had been in jail for several months, as a candidate for the Cortes. Once he was elected, parliamentary immunity would secure his release. But Layret's efforts were of no avail. Being a peacemaker, he was doomed. On November 30, just after the wife of his friend Lluís Companys, another liberal lawyer, had stopped by to consult with him about winning Companys's release from jail, Layret was shot in the face outside his house.
Layret's funeral took place on December 3, 1920. Although one observer had called for "a civic gesture that will lift the collective spirit," that was not to be. With the mayor, Layret's father, his two brothers, and the cream of Barcelona's intellectuals in attendance, Layret's body passed in front of a crowd, backed by the Civil Guard gathered at Main Street and Balmes. Some people wanted to move toward the Rambla, while others continued down Balmes, where Layret had been gunned down. The mounted troops of the Civil Guard attacked the crowd, seriously injuring a man and a woman.
The next major community funeral was to be Salvador Seguí's. Between 1920 and 1922, Seguí was periodically detained. In early 1920 he was deported to a prison island along with other anarcho-syndicalists and his cousin Lluís Companys, and from December 1920 to the spring of 1922 he was again in jail. Finally he was permitted to return home and resume his union work. Because he and Pestaña were able to bring syndicalists and federalist republicans together, they represented a special threat to conservatives. Concern was particularly acute regarding Seguí and his attempts to win supporters away from a policy of armed confrontation and toward the construction of big unions. The potentially broad appeal of the moderate peacemaker was far more threatening than the violence of those who wanted to pursue a politics of revenge. Whether or not there were actual contracts out on the two men's lives, Pestaña narrowly avoided an assassination attempt while on an organizing trip to Manresa in August 1922, whereas the pistoleros finally succeeded in hunting down and murdering Salvador Seguí in March 1923.
Seguí's daily habits kept him in his own neighborhood, the Parallel. Almost every day he stopped by the Saint Simplicimus Street building that housed four unions and served as a hangout for anarcho-syndicalists; he then usually spent some time at the Tostadero Café on his way home. A few weeks before his assassination, Seguí, his pregnant companion, Dolores Rubinat, and their seven-year-old son had been followed home, and Seguí had narrowly escaped with his life. Yet he refused to change his habits or accept a guard. On March 10, 1923, he and his friend Francisco Comas Pagés had gone to a labor meeting and stopped at the Tostadero, where Seguí played billiards with Companys. Comas and Seguí left together and walked down a street in the old industrial hub of Barcelona. This time the gangsters from the Free Unions hit their mark. As Seguí and Comas stopped for a light, the killers shot at them, killing Seguí and fatally wounding Comas. Outrage swept
the community, not only because Seguí was a beloved figure and a voice of reason among anarcho-syndicalists and republicans, but also because his death was yet another example of how unsafe daily life in the old neighborhoods had become.
The public response to the deaths of Seguí and Comas reflected community fury at the monarchy, which, unable to control the employers and their hired killers, permitted virtual civil war to reign in Barcelona. The anarcho-syndicalists called for a mass protest meeting at the Plaza of Catalunya followed by a march. They also wanted to declare a general strike. The workers proclaimed that the governor had attempted to extinguish "the civic spirit of the citizens of Barcelona, who have not risen up en masse against these brutal attacks on the lives of workers. . . . But our voice, the voice of workers and citizens who repudiate this crime, will be heard."
On the Sunday morning following Seguí's death, a group of women laid flowers on the corner of Saint Rafael and Cadena streets, where he had been shot. Neither they, Seguí's family, nor his union associates knew that the police would the next day secretly carry Seguí's body from the morgue to the storage area of the cemetery without his wife, child, or cousin being present. The CNT protested to Civil Governor Salvador Raventós about both the killing and the removal of the body: the government had stolen Seguí's body as the gangsters had stolen his life.
The demonstration scheduled for 3:00 Monday afternoon at the Plaza of Catalunya had various purposes. It would bring together local citizens of all classes to assert their right to the streets by taking them in a peaceful procession to the offices of the civil governor. There they would protest against the assassination and the body snatching to officials of the state. The demonstrators would then march to the cemetery, the governor's prohibitions notwithstanding.
Militant posturing characterized the behavior of both the anarcho-syndicalists and the infantry as they faced each other at the Plaza of Catalunya. By 4:00 that afternoon, the entire downtown area around the plaza was filled with five to six thousand people who came from all over Barcelona as well as from the surrounding towns to register their opposition to the murder of Seguí. The procession moved to the Angel Gate via the Plaza of Saint Anne and to the civic center at the Plaza of Saint James. From there the crowd proceeded to the governor's office near the harbor. In this march, the people symbolically reclaimed and purified the streets that assassination had profaned.
The issue of whose community had come under attack took on crucial significance now and in the days that followed. As the street demonstration drew to a close at the governor's office, he attempted to present himself as at one with the community, as a fellow victim of the tragedy. He addressed the crowd, saying that he mourned with them for the death of Seguí and the wounding of Comas. Whether out of humanity or fear of social disorder, he permitted Seguí's family and about fifteen other people to hold a secret funeral ceremony late Monday afternoon at the cemetery. Although there was, of course, no Catholic rite, echoes of Catholic hagiography came to surround the event. One commentator claimed that when the casket was opened, the body, like those of saints, showed no signs of decomposition.
When poor Francisco Comas Pagés died as a result of his wounds, he, unlike Seguí, received a public burial. The ceremony was set for Sunday, March 18. By coincidence, this was the date that Barcelona republicans had frequently chosen to commemorate the Paris Commune, although no one recalled this at the time. Thousands flowed downtown from the suburbs inhabited by industrial workers and artisans. The correspondent for the Madrid daily newspaper Sol noted that an unusually large number of women, carrying roses and red carnations, waited outside the morgue for Comas' body. Men prepared the hearse by removing the traditional crosses, and they wrapped the coffin in a red flag. Crepe, cut flowers, and wreaths were placed on the bier. At 9:45 A.M. , the cortege began to move down the street, past the Civil Guards. Some twenty thousand people lined the route. The procession passed through the Plaza of Spain, where photographers waited. A group of neighborhood people placed bouquets of flowers on the hearse. Then the cortege wended its way slowly through the district of Sans to the cemetery, in the suburb of L'Hospitalet. There, Seguí too received recognition as the crowds burying Comas walked solemnly past his grave.
New Trends in Catalan Nationalism
Seguí's death marked the beginning of the end of the period of internecine strife in Barcelona that had opened with the "women's war" in 1918. As mentioned earlier, the roots of a new kind of Catalanism that would transform Barcelona's political landscape in the period after Seguí's death could be traced to 1918 as well. On Novem-
ber 15 of that year, two days after the end of World War I, Catalan delegate Marcel.lí Domingo had argued in the Cortes that Catalunya needed "integral autonomy." What he meant was that Catalunya should have rights of self-government, to be exercised through regional executive, legislative, and judicial institutions within the Spanish state. Another delegate, Francesc Macià, went even further. He viewed Catalunya as properly a nation with rights of self-determination: "The moment of truth has arrived," he said. "All Catalans are prepared for the struggle and the final victory." A former army officer born to a modest family and married into the Catalan landed elite, Macià was the leading advocate for a new cross-class alliance that would gain the independence of a Catalan state. In believing that independence would lift the dual oppression of workers and Catalans, he stood with other European liberals right after the war who were convinced that national self-determination could solve all social problems.
In late February 1919, as the Canadian strike was spreading, Macià had attempted to promote a popular alliance of Catalans regardless of class. Addressing the Cortes on February 21, he claimed that the problems of both the workers and Catalunya raised fundamental questions about freedom. He chastised the assembly, saying: "You treat Catalunya as a conquered country, and you have imposed a language that is not its own. Catalunya wants liberty from the tyranny of Spain and you have denied it. . . . The working classes are [also] oppressed and persecuted, especially in Barcelona [and they, too, deserve recognition]." A month later, in March 1919, Marcel.lí Domingo wrote: "The reason Barcelona has been driven to the present conditions [of the general strike] is that the government has not been willing to treat Catalunya's two great movements, the autonomists and the syndicalists, with justice."
Moved by communitarian sentiments despite the near civil war that swept Barcelona after 1919, Macià intensified his political activities. He believed it was possible to rescue Catalan nationalism from the conservative Regionalist League and promote a middle-class Catalan nationalist party committed to democracy and republicanism. In 1922, to this end, he launched the Catalan State (Estat Català), a political organization that incorporated a militia of young Catalan nationalist men capable of overthrowing the monarchy through armed struggle.
Catalanism, long led by the conservative Regionalist League, was passing to a new generation. Both the goals and the means that Macià and Domingo espoused were political. They wanted social justice as well as regional autonomy, and they believed that Catalunya's success in
creating and running its own courts, schools, and police force and collecting its own taxes would depend on restructuring the Spanish state into some form of republic. Just what kind of republic Macià envisioned and whether he wanted an entirely separate Catalan country—roughly like Ireland or Czechoslovakia—is not clear.
Resistance to the Dictatorship
Had an outside enemy not brought the people of Barcelona together, the fortunes of Macià's Estat Català might have been quite different from what they proved to be—for the dictatorship of General Miguel Primo de Rivera, which began in 1923 and ended in January 1930, sparked a movement of resistance against cultural repression.
For over a century, the Spanish army and generals like Primo de Rivera had viewed themselves as guardians of national order. Of late, with the king and his ministers apparently incapable of establishing economic stability or social harmony, the army had become increasingly restive. The war in Morocco had flared up again in 1919, and especially bad losses in 1921, believed to be the fault of the king, had led officers to seek a military presence at the head of state. The army wanted victory abroad and order—by which they meant suppression of Socialist and anarcho-syndicalist unions—at home. On September 13, 1923, Miguel Primo de Rivera staged a coup in Barcelona and stepped in to carry out their will.
Primo de Rivera, heir to gigantic sherry vineyards and landed estates in southwestern Spain, was the captain general of Catalunya in 1923. A jovial, cultivated man with aristocratic bearing, he socialized with members of the Regionalist League and led them to believe he understood their ideas about Catalan culture. Conservative Catalan nationalists like the architect and politician Josep Puig i Cadafalch thus regarded Primo as their friend. Moreover, they presumed that he, like the captains general who had preceded him, would support their interests against the workers. Prat de la Riba, the leader of the Regionalist League for more than a generation, had believed that Catalanism would prosper under dictators, who could reduce civil strife and enable Catalan culture to develop peacefully.
Prat de la Riba had died on August 1, 1917, a little more than six
years before his presumptions were proved untrue. A week after Primo de Rivera seized power, he issued a decree making the use of the Catalan language in public and in print a crime, subject to the jurisdiction of military courts. During the Primo dictatorship, the government censored newspapers, prohibited flying the Catalan flag, and even outlawed dancing the sardana , the traditional regional circle dance.
Police roundups of suspected dissidents began as early as January 1924. Leftists and Catalan nationalists (except for certain members of the Socialist party [PSOE], who agreed to serve on mediation boards with employers), fled underground or into exile. By March 1925, those leaders of the small Communist party and the massive anarcho-syndicalist movement who had remained in Barcelona had disappeared behind bars.
Catalan business interests had already demonstrated in the period 1919–1923 that, like feudal lords, they could exercise their own military force by hiring gangsters to act against provincial insurgents. Had Primo and the army been less obsessed with destroying Catalan identity, local businessmen such as the banker Cambó would have been more than happy to carry out a far-ranging policy of repression in Catalunya while gloving the iron hand inside Catalan culture. But the fear of regionalism in Spain is like the fear of communism in the United States, in that reasoned arguments do not begin to address the problem.
Workers, many of whom spoke Catalan, had had no illusions about a community welded by Catalan culture—after all, the police who beat them and the gangsters who attacked them also frequently spoke Catalan. With the gratuitously petty repression of Catalan culture by Primo's forces, however, Catalanism emerged as a culture of resistance for people from all walks of life, workers and businessmen alike.
A common reaction to twentieth-century authoritarianism has been civil disobedience. Under normal circumstances, civic rituals would have provided opportunities for republican Catalan nationalists and anarcho-syndicalists to struggle for civil rights. But the first Saint George's Day of the dictatorship on April 23, 1924, and May Days thereafter, indicated how much control Primo had already gained over civic traditions.
Ordinarily on Saint George's Day, flower vendors from the Rambla would set up shop on Bishop Street, to the right of the Generalitat, where Catalunya's medieval regional government had met. People would congregate there, on the Patio of Oranges just outside the
Chapel of Saint George. Everyone, especially engaged couples and newlyweds, would buy roses on Bishop Street and carry them to the chapel and patio. Crowds customarily thronged the square in front.
Saint George's Day in 1924 was to be quite a different affair. First of all, rumors circulated that the government had closed the Generalitat to the rites, though no decree appeared. Flower sellers, acting on hearsay, boycotted their usual places in Bishop Street and instead dispersed their stalls throughout the Gothic Quarter. Many people, hoping to avoid trouble, simply stayed away from downtown, and the crowds grew thinner. Those who subscribed to shared civic culture were made uncomfortable.
Repression intensified throughout 1924, and, as was usual in Barcelona, the anarcho-syndicalists bore the brunt of the government attacks. The former captain general of Barcelona Severiano Martínez Anido, who once had gunned down labor activists, became Primo's minister of the interior and thus the chief policeman in Spain. Militants faced stepped-up persecution. In retaliation, anarcho-syndicalists shot the city executioner of Barcelona at the end of May 1924. The government then rounded up hundreds of people they suspected of anarcho-syndicalism, whether or not evidence linked them to the assassination. In November, anarcho-syndicalists marched on the Atarazanas Barracks near the harbor. The effort to seize the barracks failed, and the Spanish authorities executed two anarcho-syndicalists they named as ringleaders.
In May 1925, a month after the peaceful celebration of Saint George's Day, an attack in the Garraf Tunnel south of the city on the train carrying Spain's king and queen toward Barcelona was foiled, thanks to an informer's tip. Authorities traced the plans to four young supporters of Macià, all seventeen to twenty years of age, arrested them, and set their trial for April 30, 1926, a week after Saint George's Day and just before May Day.
Early in 1926, the government provoked local anger by decreeing that the Rosary be performed in Latin, not Catalan. In opposition, Catalan separatists organized massive demonstrations of civil disobedience. It was decided that official Catalan worship of the region's patron saint would take place at the Saint George Chapel of the cathedral, not at the government building. People convened at the cathedral "in the morning and at noon to pray for Catalunya, for prisoners, for exiles, and especially for those the prosecutors had asked to be executed in connection with their attempt on the lives of the king and queen at the Garraf Railroad Station." Secret handbills offered detailed instruction on how
people should proceed. Civic ritual thus gave way to political mobilization as people acted on the half-inch-by-quarter-inch tissue-paper messages that urged them to buy their flowers only in front of the Saint Lucy entrance to the cathedral and to place the bouquets on the Saint George alter inside the cathedral. People also took their candles to the Saint Just Chapel, Barcelona's oldest shrine.
At the trial the next week, the court decreed a death sentence, which outraged many sections of the population. An attempted coup was scheduled for Saint John's Day, June 24, 1926—a joint scheme of anarcho-syndicalists, clergy, monarchists, army officers, separatists, and even a former prime minister. By choosing another holiday as the date for the uprising, Macià's supporters assured that most people in the city would be off from work and available to observe the opposition to Primo; perhaps they might even be persuaded to take part. Saint John's Day, of course, honored the saint; it also traditionally celebrated the summer solstice with huge bonfires, firecrackers, and all-night celebrations the night before, making it a cross between New Year's Eve and the Fourth of July in the United States—a perfect occasion for an insurrection. Police, however, uncovered the plot before the leaders could try to seize power, arrested suspected dissidents, and held them without trial. Still, demonstrations did take place on Saint John's Day, and those angry about the persecution of Catalans continued to look for ways to show their opposition to the regime.
The success of the civic rite of disobedience on Saint George's Day followed by the demonstrations on Saint John's Day aroused the dictator's fears. No sooner did the anarchists Buenaventura Durruti and Francisco Ascaso arrive in Paris in July 1926 from exile in Argentina than they were accused of plotting to assassinate the Spanish king during his visit to France. Possibly under pressure from Primo, the French tried them and handed down three-month sentences. Then in August, an anarchist named Domingo Massach tried to assassinate Primo at the government center at the Plaza of the Palace in Barcelona. The attempt cost him eight years in jail. Even the celebration of the Virgin of Mercy Day on September 23, 1926, only exacerbated the sense that Barcelona was living in chains. Although the associated religious rites took place, the carnivalesque parades and costume balls were suppressed.
In November 1926, Macià was arrested with fifty followers of his Estat Català on the French side of the Pyrenees, just as the group was about to invade Spain. Twenty alleged supporters in Barcelona were de-
tained and held as well, despite the absence of any evidence that they had conspired to organize an insurrection. Upon his release from jail, Macià left France to raise money from Catalan émigrés to South America. When he returned to France, he gathered together a hundred or so young Catalans for another invasion. Informers denounced them, and they all were tried in France, where they received light sentences.
Although another military plot, known as the Valencia Conspiracy, failed to materialize in 1928, not even the gala opening on May 18, 1929, by Primo de Rivera and the king of the Barcelona International Exposition could win Catalan support for the regime. Unlike previous exhibitions in 1888 and 1902, the 1929 fair was designed to promote Spain rather than Catalunya. Among the most notable of the projects the exposition launched was the Spanish Village, with arts and crafts and replicas of architecture from all over the country. Although building the village and the National Palace (which later became the Museum of Catalan Art) provided employment for forty thousand workers, and the dictatorship paid about one-third of the enormous costs, the financial burden was too great for the city and it went bankrupt, leaving large numbers of workers unemployed once the exposition opened.
By the end of 1929, Primo's chiefs of staff warned him that they could no longer keep him in power. He resigned on January 28, 1930, thirteen days after the exposition closed, and he died within the year. He was succeeded by a caretaker general who ruled for a little over a year.
After 1923, the cultural content, including the civic rituals, that characterized Catalan nationalism enabled it to draw on people from all classes to infuse new political meanings into old ceremonial practices. The government could never be certain about the loyalties of Barcelona's mayors, councillors, and dignitaries. To be sure, labor struggle in the city remained intense. Catalan rulers were willing to use police and hired guns to attack the labor movement, and they did so brutally. From Madrid's perspective, even conservative Catholic businessmen and industrialists were not dependable, especially when it came to cultural matters. The Catalan leaders clearly wanted to rule, at least in
the cities and the province; the army, however, simply would not permit any government to preside over "the dismemberment" of Spain.
Although Catalan nationalism always remained somewhat factionalized and never represented a single political ideology, it was to become a potent force against twentieth-century dictators in Spain. As a 1924 clandestine flier in the form of an anagram asked, "While the Director [the dictator's title] continues to prohibit our flag and language in schools and public centers, while he suppresses publications, can a thousand patriots and community groups not join together and provide an example for the masses of Catalans?" Such nationalistic feelings were frequently expressed in communal rituals that transformed old practices into rites of resistance which acted in new ways.
For more than forty years, rituals had developed, played on one another, and changed their meanings in the civic life of Barcelona. By the time of Primo de Rivera's regime, Catholic holidays celebrating Saint George and Saint John and May Day had all become civic holidays for people of every class. As civic consciousness in Barcelona was formed and reformed, folk elements became political. By 1930, the Madrid government would have had to ban every holiday celebration in Barcelona to remove the risk of public mobilizations. Any collective act for any goal could potentially be turned into a symbol of the city of Barcelona in resistance.