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.