In Farquhar McHarg’s autobiography, a young boy from Glasgow finds himself in the middle of Barcelona’s revolutionary underworld at the tail end of World War I. Volume One chronicles McHarg’s liaisons between the British Secret Service Bureau and the Spanish anarchists. McHarg tells of a corrupt Spanish regime bent on crushing a rebellious working class and the generous and recklessly idealistic men and women who struggled to transform it after rejecting traditional party politics. When a lifelong friend and fellow anarchist was gunned down, McHarg raced to write this epic history before he too could be silenced. This unique, first-person account of revolutionary activities in 20th-century Europe gives rare perspective and insight into modern revolutionary history.
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About the Author
Farquhar McHarg was an anarchist revolutionary during the Spanish Civil War.
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The Chronicles of Farquhar McHarg I: 1918
By Farquhar McHarg
PM PressCopyright © 2011 PM Press
All rights reserved.
Paris, Belleville, 18 October 1976
It was 11:15 p.m. on a wet October night in the heart of working-class Belleville. The tall, heavily built man with a weathered face and a shock of silver-grey hair that curled under a broad-brimmed black fedora stood alone at the zinc of the Café de l'Europe. For a man in his mid-seventies he was remarkably handsome. Deep in thought, his brow was furrowed and shoulders hunched as though expecting the heavens to fall, he was waiting for his friend Laureano to return from an urgent meeting with his lawyer.
The Café de l'Europe, a café bistro in the Rue des Couronnes, was a friendly place, albeit in a slightly squalid, mind-your-own-business sort of way. It was late but the bar was still busy — and noisy. The clinking and rattling of coffee cups, saucers, and spoons came accompanied by occasional explosions of pressurised steam escaping from the valves of the large brass- and eagle-mounted Gaggia espresso machine parked on the zinc counter like some extraterrestrial steam driven flying machine preparing for takeoff. In the background outbursts of laughter and raucous banter punctuated the murmured conversations. A professeur des parfums might have described the room's blend of 'fragrances' as that of freshly brewed coffee, cognac, beer, pungent tabac noir, and damp wool, with top notes of patchouli and 4711 Eau de Cologne, and a base note of stale sweat. It was Edward Prince's local, a rendezvous for the dispossessed and hard-boiled desperadoes alike. Its clients were mainly immigrants from France's old colonies of the Maghreb and Indochina, émigré lowlifes, intriguers, hustlers, and incorrigible chancers who mingled indistinguishably with idealists, 'Les Justes', and plain ordinary folk — complicated and uncomplicated: the good, the bad, and the banal.
During Belleville's guinguette days of shady bars and dance halls, the Café de l'Europe acquired a certain reputation as a hangout for the neighbourhood gangsters known as 'Apaches'. Not a lot had changed in the interval between then and now.
This man, known to everyone as Edward Prince, was the only Scot in the bar, a Govan man, a fact no one would have guessed so totally did he merge into his cosmopolitan surroundings. He was at home there with the rest of the human flotsam who drifted around the sociometric Sargasso Sea that was Paris's nineteenth arrondissement.
Edward was irritated — and worried. Laureano was very late. His appointment with Maître Dumas had been scheduled for eight o'clock; it had been a last-minute meeting that was unlikely to have gone on for more than an hour.
A wave of melancholy, the unique, poignant melancholy of love known in Spain as duende, unexpectedly engulfed him as another face emerged from the past — his Lara. 'I'm becoming maudlin in my old age,' he thought ruefully and with a barely audible sigh he drained the gritty dregs of his carajillo. Giving Laureano the benefit of the doubt, he pushed the cup across to the bartender for a last refill before heading home to the single end apartment in the nearby Rue des Cascades, his refuge for the past ten years.
As the bartender splashed the brandy into his cup, two gunshots, fired in rapid succession, rang out in the street outside. The babble of voices in the bar stopped as though someone had lifted the stylus from a gramophone record. Despite his age, Edward's reflexes kicked in and made him dive for cover. The sudden movement knocked his right knee cartilage out of place; the pain was excruciating. At first he thought he'd been shot, but the pain slowly eased as he lay on the floor massaging the affected joint. The bar was a disaster zone. Chairs and tables were overturned as customers and bar staff sought cover, falling over each other in their panic to escape. The floor was awash with a broth of vin rouge, pastis, beer, coffee, and shards of broken glass.
Rolling over onto his good knee and putting all his weight against the floor with the palms of his hand, Edward succeeded in levering himself up and, keeping low, he made his way to the window. Across the road, he saw a shadowy group of half a dozen men silhouetted under the sulphurous yellow light of the street lamp. They were looking at a figure slumped on the pavement at their feet. A man in a dark topcoat was bent over the body, his features obscured by a broad-brimmed fedora. He had a gun in his hand. As he leaned closer, the figure on the ground lashed upwards with his fist, punching his would-be executioner in the face with a blow that was sufficiently forceful to knock off the man's spectacles. Unperturbed, the gunman retrieved them from the pavement, stood up and pulled a handkerchief from his coat pocket, studiously cleaning the lenses before adjusting them on his face. He dabbed gingerly at the blood trickling from his nose. Bending over his victim again, he spoke to the wounded man then raised his gun and fired another four shots at point-blank range. It was the coup de la colère. The killer straightened himself, slipped the gun into his pocket and turned up the collar of his coat. Speaking briefly to the others he stepped over his victim and walked off calmly into the dark night. Street theatre, Belleville style. The remaining men exchanged a few words, then they too disappeared into the wings of the night. Down the street a car door slammed, an engine revved, and tyres screeched as the vehicle carrying the killer drove off into the inky blackness beyond the street lights.
Back in the Café de l'Europe, the gunmen gone and their courage partially restored, customers and staff milled around the doorway, cautiously peering out to see what was happening without exposing themselves to any further dangers that might still be lurking outside. Pushing his way through the crowd, Edward limped across the road to the figure sprawled on the pavement. Drawing closer to the body his heart beat faster; he recognised the victim. The body lying in a congealing pool of its own blood was that of his oldest friend and comrade, Laureano Cerrada Santos, his thinning grey hair now matted with blood from a bullet hole on his left temple. Dark stains spread across what had been an immaculate white shirt, like spilt ink over a blotter. Edward tried to swallow, but his saliva had turned to ash. His heart pounded in his chest, as if ready to burst. Then he retched. Glinting in the yellow light was Laureano's lapel pin, a red and black enamelled oblong, bearing the letters CNT-AIT, the acronym of the Anarchist International and the Spanish anarcho-syndicalist National Confederation of Labour, his beloved labour union from which his sworn enemies in the national leadership had engineered his expulsion more than twenty years earlier.
Laureano's briar pipe lay next to his body. Smouldering embers still glowed faintly through the grey ash in the heavily reamed bowl with its worn-down rim. Wailing sirens and flashing blue and red lights signalled the approach of an ambulance. Numb and in shock, Edward levered himself to his feet as an ambulance technician and her partner pushed through the onlookers. Easing backwards into the crowd he watched as she and her colleagues examined the body, then manoeuvred it onto a stretcher, covering Laureano's staring, lifeless eyes with a coarse red woollen blanket. As the ambulance drove off, silently now, Edward Prince hobbled away shivering uncontrollably, his mouth still unable to produce spit. He had no desire to be there when the police came asking for witness statements. They might have uncovered his true identity — Farquhar McHarg.
Over the years McHarg had successfully camouflaged his colourful past with many different identities, but in his current role as journalist and writer he had readopted his first nom de guerre. Like all his other identities, it was Laureano who had provided the necessary documentation. He had worked as an occasional columnist and freelance sub-editor for Libération under the name Edward Prince, ever since that newspaper's launch, three years ago, by his old friends Jean-Paul Sartre and Serge July. Laureano had provided most of the capital.
Farquhar McHarg's apartment was small, though not by Parisian standards. Every square metre was precious in that crowded City of Light. He had a bright, airy room on the third floor, a former atelier, with tall windows and a couch that served as his bed at night, a tiny galley kitchen in one corner, a door that led into a simple bathroom the size of a large cupboard. Against a wall stood the large mahogany American roll-top desk which held his sky-blue 1956 Smith Corona portable typewriter, squeezed between stacks of papers, files, and brown, varnished card index boxes, all containing research in progress.
Taking comfort in the familiar surroundings, he pulled back the chair from the desk, switched on the green-shaded desk lamp and drew the typewriter towards him. When not freelancing at Libération, he was writing a history of the Spanish anarchist action groups, a subject ignored by academia, but one that was dear to his heart. It was also his story. He was of that generation consigned to history, condemned by it in fact, and he — as had Laureano — wanted their voices to be heard and their motives understood. For Farquhar McHarg writing wasn't self- expression; it was action — action continued by other means. It was the only way left to him to cast light on the dark psychological and ethical undercurrents in the never-ending struggle against injustice and indifference.
That night Laureano had come to meet him to help him write that very story, by arranging to turn over his journals and the newly acquired police files held on him since 1944. His lawyer had purchased these on his behalf earlier that day. It could not have been coincidence that Laureano's enemies had found him only a few steps, a few minutes away.
Feeding a crisp new sheet of paper into the roller, Farquhar carefully aligned it with the type guide, adjusted the carriage return and lightly ran his fingers over the typewriter keys.
Without warning, he felt the shock of adrenaline in the pit of his stomach as the awful memory flashed back. His heart rate soared while his stomach squirmed and twisted into a tight knot. The portal of Hell — over which each and every one of us is suspended by the slenderest of threads — opened beneath him. It had been a long time since he had experienced that sense of imminent dread — the feeling that a vexatious God was about to cut that slender thread. Pouring a large Glenmorangie, his one concession to the place of his birth, he adjusted the platen knob on his typewriter and tried to rewind his mind into the past.
'Tonight', he typed, 'my old friend and comrade Laureano Cerrada Santos was murdered. I may be next. I must write my story while I still have time.! He paused. He thought back to the fortuitous, pivotal event that brought about that cosmic shift from engineering apprentice in Scotland to international revolutionary. He searched for the letter 't' and pressed the key shift: 'Time is a precious commodity, especially when it's running out. Only the other day I was just eighteen ..!
GLASGOW, MARCH 1918
It was in the spring of 1918 that I first met Laureano Cerrada Santos. I was as old as the century; he was two years younger. I was an apprentice engineer and had just joined the crew of the freighter Covenant, an old tub that Lloyds, the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Shipping had all passed as seaworthy; it floated, had a steel hull, newly overhauled engines, and could carry freight. Such are the compromises of war.
It was my first time at sea, my first time out of Scotland, in fact. Howdens of Scotland Street, Govan, the marine engineering firm where I was serving my time as a fitter, offered me the opportunity to go to Spain with the Covenant as a Junior Engineer to oversee its new 'forced draught' fan system. This was a revolutionary new system developed by old man Howden himself to recycle waste heat by driving hot air into the boilers, drastically increasing the engine's efficiency — and profitability — by reducing the amount of coal needed. Howden died the year before I joined the firm, but still I had helped build and install his system in the Covenant.
For a young lad like myself it was a wonderful opportunity. With the Kaiser's war at its height, the likely alternative was that I would end up as canon fodder in the sodden trenches of Northern France. As the time drew nearer I grew more and more excited at the prospect of going to Spain. I suspected that the real reason I had been offered the trip was because the managers wanted me out of the way. As an indentured apprentice I wasn't allowed to join a union or involve myself in union affairs, but even so I had acquired a reputation as a radical. Nesbitt, the foreman, was forever warning me about my vocal support for the anticonscription movement, the Clyde Workers' Committee, and the critical comments I had been making on the shop floor about the dangerous practice of throwing red-hot rivets from the braziers up to the riveters and 'hodders on' bonding the boiler plates.
'Yer a bbbloody troublemaker, McHarg. And a bbbloody unpatriotic tttroublemaker at that! Mark my words, lad, yer heading for tttrouble with all this bbloody political nonsense. It's time ye grew up and bbbloody well started to live in the bbbloody rreal world.'
Nesbitt savoured the word 'bloody', and when he wasn't around the lads all called him 'Bbbloody Nesbitt'. He spat a lot. Every time he told me, or anyone else, off he'd punctuate the admonition by spitting on the ground, as if he was trying to get the taste of me out of his mouth. It didn't help that I had enough of that arrogance of youth to wind him up whenever I could.
'If ye dinnae wipe that smirk aff yer face ye'll be hanged as a murderer wan day. And I'll tell you this fur nothin', son, if I hud ma way ye'd be oot on yer bbloody ear.'
But he couldn't sack me. And neither could Howdens. As an articled apprentice it was practically impossible for them to get rid of me. The next best thing, therefore, was to ship me off somewhere out of the way. No doubt they would have preferred to send me east of Suez, or even to the battlefields in Northern France, but the best they could manage was Barcelona with a cargo of Welsh anthracite from Cardiff. At least I'd be out of their hair for a month instead of stirring things up on the plate shop floor.
The crew of the Covenant was entirely Protestant and Scottish, with the exception of Paddy Mullins, an old sea hand who, despite his name, was English. George Foulser, a later acquaintance who was active in the National Union of Seamen, told me that his uncle had sailed with him pre-1914 and that he was named Patrick after his Irish grandfather on his mother's side. Apparently Paddy had been a highly promising footballer and had played a whole season for Millwall juniors, with hopes of even an England or Ireland cap, but disappointment in love had driven him to sea at an early age.
In those days in Glasgow a person's religion mattered much more than it does now, and that's saying something. It was anti-Catholic prejudice that had helped me get my apprenticeship. From the day he launched the company in 1854, old man Howden only employed Protestants. Catholics knew better than to apply. It helped that my father was the deputy grand master of the Govan and Renfrew Apprentice Boys of Derry Lodge.
Although I didn't share my father's austere Protestantism, I certainly benefited from it. He and my mother believed in education for its own sake and, despite my youth, I was fairly well read. I was reared in an atmosphere that stressed the importance of liberty and freedom of conscience, and encouraged the idea of personal achievement by facing up to life's difficulties, learning through a critical and scientific examination of the world — all that Roman Catholicism was not. My Presbyterian upbringing also imbued in me not only a deep sense of justice, but a faith in the idea of punishment for wrongdoing and reward for good, the final triumph of truth and liberty — and a stubborn belief in the perfectibility of man, or at least our ability to progress towards perfection. It provided the spirit that roused and animated me, and the star I was destined to follow.
Excerpted from ¡Pistoleros! by Farquhar McHarg. Copyright © 2011 PM Press. Excerpted by permission of PM Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
The Chronicles of Farquhar McHarg,
Clippings and Photos, 1918,
Recommended Reading List,