A veteran Spanish anarchist speaks of revolution, war and bad coffee…


During his recent visit to Dublin, Workers Solidarity took the opportunity, over “bad coffee”, to chat to 93 year old Roma Marquez Santo about some of his experiences of the Spanish revolution. In 1936 Roma was a metal worker and a member of both the UGT trade union and the POUM, an anti-Stalinist communist party.What was it like on the first day of the revolution (after the generals’ attempted coup d’etat)?

It was chaotic! For a while no one knew what was happening or what was going to happen. The streets were full of workers with every type of weapon, the factories and barrios were quickly secured but we had to take the main barracks where an anarchist comrade Francisco Ascaso was killed. The army surrendered there and elsewhere, especially where the Guardia Civil came out on the side of the people.

But there were factories to be organised and food to be got from the countryside. This was organised very quickly as committees were already set up and ready to deal with such a situation. After a day or two, there was lots of food. And weapons too.

The revolution is crazy, disorganised. But quickly enough it gets organised… It was a good time to be in Barcelona, we the people were in charge!

What was the journey like to the front?

We’d be going through the villages and people would call to us ‘stop, we want to come too!’ Many did but more had to stay to take over the land and secure the harvest. This was organised by committees in each village and the harvest was organised and sent back to the cities and towns where the factories were now held by workers’ committees who’d always been there in the background, waiting for something like this to happen.

We were finally issued with 81mm mortars and stayed on the front until the government started to arrest the leaders of the POUM in Barcelona, then I became an anarchist and a member of the CNT militia.

What happened to you at the end of the war?

We were all arrested by the fascists. Those who admitted to have volunteered were taken away and it looked as if there’d be mass executions. However, we were put on trial and were lucky: a fascist officer we’d captured had no complaint to make against us. There was nobody to make false allegations about our conduct and they decided to give us 20 years.

This was in 1939?

Yes. But there must have been too many of us and it was reduced to 6 years. I was actually in for 3 years, 9 months and 14 days before they released me…

What then?

I went back to Catalyuna but of course I couldn’t get work. The whole place had changed, before the war workers had been reasonably well off; afterwards… it was a poor time.

As a former political prisoner you weren’t given a ration card?

Yes. We had cousins in the US who sent money back and we lived on that for many years.

Finally Roma, what continues to inspire you?

The economic troubles in the world today show us that capitalism is still here, it has not been defeated. It is hard to defeat capitalism, but we’ve got to try.

Read more about the Spanish Revolution