Barcelona May Days

While the Nationalists were busy dealing with the Republic's Army of the North, the Republic turned inward as the Communist Party of Spain began to step up its infiltration of the Republic state.

Serious developments in Catalonia had caused the anarchists and the POUM to feel threatened in their stronghold. In the winter the PCE had set out to exclude the POUM from the Catalan government. The anarchists, who until then had regarded the PCE-POUM rivalry simply as communist rivalry, now realised that its outcome would affect them.

Tension began to mount rapidly in Catalonia at the end of April. On the 25th Juan Negrin, in charge of the border guards, send his carabineros to seize the frontier controls at Puigcerda, which the CNT had run since the rising. Eight anarchists who resisted were shot dead. The next day a prominent communist was found murdered - the CNT promptly condemned this murder, and, althought it may well have been carried out by an anarchist, there were apparently grounds to suspect fellow communists for the death.

Two days later Catalonia's commissioner for public order, Artemio Ayguade, who, though a member of the liberal Esquerra party was under strong communist influence, gave the CNT and the POUM 48 hours to surrender all their weapons. This announcement caused great alarm. The POUM was particularly worried, for it had received several warnings from its spies about communist plans for its elimination on the orders of Moscow.

On 3rd May 1937, at three o'clock in the afternoon the communist police chief, Rodriguez Salas, arrived at the telephone exchange which had been occupied by the CNT since the rising with three truckloads of armed guards. They grabbed the sentries and disarmed them, but then were halted by a machine gun which was trained upon them from the second floor. News of the incident spread across the city in minutes, and before long the whole of Barcelona had gone onto a war footing. Anarchist units at the front line heard about the unrest and their commanders had great difficulty preventing men from marching on Barcelona. The news of the communist move on the telephone exchange provoked a reaction almost as strong at the front as in Barcelona - although the anarchists and POUMistas in the end did remain at their posts on the front line, despite what the PCE later claimed.

The two anarchist ministers, Garcia Oliver and Federica Montseny went to Barcelona hoping to find a solution even as barricades sprang up all around the town and fighting broke out between anarchists and the communist controlled elements of the central Republican government.

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