|I came out to Barcelona as administrator of
the second British Red Cross Unit. Two nurses and myself came on in advance to find a site
for the hospital of the Unit somewhere on the Teruel front.
Unfortunately the Unit had been cancelled all except four ambulances
which are now en route somewhere between Paris and Barcelona. Some of these ambulances are
to go, I believe to the first Unit at Granen. Till they arrive in any case, I am left with
no one to administrate and nothing to do, so a friend in the CNT-FAI has asked me to write
my impressions for broadcast or the press.
My first and deepest impression is that of the natural
nobility of the Catalan people. I got that impression as early as Port Bou, where we had
to spend six hours waiting for the Barcelona train. A bright sun was shining which tempted
me to bathe in the bay. After undressing I left my coat, with some 80 English pounds in
the pocket, on the rocks close to a frequented path with a sense of its perfect safety.
Half an hour in Cataluna and a few conversations in my faulty Spanish had made me feel I
was among friends, who appreciated the effort of the British workers and intelligentsia to
help their cause. I would not have dared to risk such a large sum of money unguarded at
any English watering place. Here I felt it was guarded by the revolutionary solidarity of
Cataluna and even of the international solidarity of the working class of which Cataluna
is now the bulwark.
This impression of revolutionary honour and revolutionary
order has been maintained by all I have seen and experienced during the week I have been
in Barcelona. On one occasion after a trying morning rushing round after the necessary
passes to go on to Valencia - that was before the cancellation of the unit and I wanted to
go on to the front to find a place for our hospital as soon as possible - I inadvertently
paid my taxi-driver four pesetas more than his fare. He brought it back to me remarking
"eso sobra". This happened as I was entering the door of the Regional Committee
of the CNT-FAI, the headquarters of those terrible Anarchists of whose misdeeds we read so
much in the Capitalist Press now. I am not going to enter into controversy, philosophic or
political. I simply record my experiences, without fear or favour. It is a fact that the
Barcelona churches were burnt, and many of them, where roof and walls are still standing
are used to house medical or commissariat stores instead of, as previously, being used by
the fascists as fortresses. I suspect their present function is nearer the purpose of a
religion based by its founder on the love of God and the Neighbour. However that may be,
the destruction of the churches has not destroyed love and honesty in Spain If they are
not based on the love of God, they are based on brotherliness, selflessness and
self-respect, which have to he experienced to be believed. Never, till I came to
revolutionary Barcelona, had I seen waiters and even shoeblacks refuse a tip. Here the
refusal of anything in excess of the exact bill or fee is as invariable as the courtesy
with which it is done- This very courtesy makes one feel mean for having offered it, a
benighted bourgeois, automatically continuing bourgeois habits and unable to grasp the
self-respect of the workers now they are so largely in control. My first day taught me my
lesson- I never offend now.
You will have heard no doubt about the Dublin Rising of 1916.
That rising is now thought of as purely a national one, of which the aims went no further
than the national independence of Ireland. It is conveniently forgotten that not only was
the manifesto published by the 'bourgeois" leaders conceived in a spirit of extreme
liberal democracy, but, associated with the bourgeois leaders, was James Connollv, the
international socialist, who some regarded as the greatest revolutionary fighter and
organiser of his day. In command of the Irish Citizen Army, which I had drilled, he made
common cause with the Republican separatists against the common Imperial enemy. It is said
that he threatened to come out with the Citizen Army alone, if the bourgeois Republicans
shirked the issue.
It was then the middle of the great war, the rising was
ruthlessly suppressed by England and sixteen of the leaders were executed. Connolly
himself, badly wounded in the Dublin Post Office which was shelled to ruins by a British
gunboat, was strapped in a chair and shot by a firing squad before he recovered.
Here in Cataluna, the union of the working class and nation
starts off under better auspices than were possible in Ireland. In Cataluna the internal
socialist reconstruction goes hand in hand with the armed fight against Spanish and
international fascism. You are in advance of us in Syndico-Anarchist and Socialist
construction. You are advance of us in dealing with the clerico-fascist menace Again and
again in Ireland the revolutionary Republican movement comes a bit of the way towards
Socialism and scurries back in terror when the Roman catholic Church losses its artificial
thunder of condemnation and excommunication.
I come of an Ulster Protestant family. There is a saying in
Ulster (the north-east province of Ireland). "Rome is a 1amb in adversity, a snake in
equality and a lion in prosperity". I am glad that in Cataluna you have made Rome
into a lamb. In Ireland Rome is still a lion, or rather a wolf in sheep's clothing. The
priests inflame the mob and then pretend to deplore the mob-violence, which they have
instigated. Last Easter Sunday, I had myself to fight for three kilometres against the
Catholic actionists, who attacked us on the streets as we were marching to honour the
memory of the Republican dead who fell in Easter week 1916. The pious hooligans actually
came inside the cemetery and tore up the grave rails to attack us.
In Ireland, as in Spain, it was the priests who started
methods of fire and sword against the people. Yet they complain bitterly when their own
weapons are turned against themselves.
Comrades of Cataluna! In your hour of trial when you hold the
barricades not only for yourselves but for us all, I greet you with the voice of
revolutionary Ireland, smothered awhile but destined to regain its strength. I hold myself
honoured to be among you, to serve if I can in whatever capacity I can be most useful.
J. R. White
CNT-AIT Boletin de Informacion. No. 15, November 11th