Today we recall the Ukrainian revolutionary leader, Nestor Makhno, who died seventy-seven years ago on this day in poverty, illness and oblivion. Fellow exiles who had watched Makhno drink and cough himself to death in the slums of Paris could scarcely believe the tragic fate that had befallen the legendary “Little Father” of Ukraine who, just fifteen years earlier, had been one of the most heroic, glamorous and indefatigable figures of the Russian civil war and the inciter of one of the few historic examples of a living anarchist society. As the leader of the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine, this self-educated peasant-born military genius had waged wildly creative guerrilla war against native tyrants, foreign interlopers and counter-revolutionaries. On behalf of what was always an uneasy alliance with the Red Army, Makhno’s forces had twice immobilised the seemingly unstoppable White advance in South Russia; indeed, so decisive were these against-all-odds victories that the Bolsheviks might never have won the civil war and consolidated power but for Makhno and his insurgent peasants. As the instigator, military protector and namesake of Ukraine’s simultaneous anarchist revolution – the Makhnovshchina – few have come closer than Nestor Makhno to establishing an anarchist nation. For nearly a year between 1919 and 1920, some 400 square miles of Ukraine was reorganised into an autonomous region known as the “Free Territory” in which farms and factories were collectively run and goods traded directly with collectives elsewhere. In his heyday, Nestor Makhno was an unmitigated living legend and folk hero – a real-life Robin Hood and proto-Che. But by the time of his death at the age of forty-six, so comprehensively dragged through the filthiest, shittiest mud was the name of this once unassailable revolutionary that it has yet to fully recover. So what happened? (more…)
Forty-seven years ago today, in 1963, two young Spanish anarchists were executed by General Franco’s obscene regime for a Passport Office bombing of which they had no knowledge, while the real perpetrators slipped quietly away. Despite the absence of any evidence of their involvement, Francisco Granados (27) and Joaquin Data Martinez Delgado (29) – both members of the anti-Franco movement called the Iberian Federation of Libertarian Youth – were interrogated, brutally tortured, tried behind closed doors and executed by garotte at Franco’s notorious Carabanchel Prison, and all of this in just eighteen days after having been arrested.
For many, these unfortunates were but two more victims of an unrestrained and merciless tyrant estimated to have executed almost two million non-combatants between 1939-75, during his arduous near four-decade-long reign of terror. But what separated this grotesque event from the rest of Franco’s merciless pogroms against his own people was that it took place not at the chaotic post-Civil War beginning of his ‘reign’, but twenty-four grueling years into his rule, and during this cynical tyrant’s attempt to pass off his regime as ‘respectable’ to the rest of the Western World. For, as a resurgent wave of underground resistance began –throughout 1963 – to rise up from the ashes of violent repression, General Franco openly recommenced his policy of institutionalised revenge and intent to eradicate from Spain all democrats, liberals, socialists and – above all others – his most-despised enemies from the war, the communists and anarchists. (more…)
Two interesting items:
The appearance of the Egyptian Black Bloc in Cairo’s streets in January 2013 triggered gullible excitement in Western anarchist circles. Little thought was given to the Egyptian Black Bloc’s political vision – or lack thereof – tactics, or social and economic positions. For most Western anarchists, it was enough that they looked and dressed like anarchists to warrant uncritical admiration. Facebook pages of Israeli anarchists were swamped with pictures of Egyptian Black Bloc activists; skimming through the US anarchist blogosphere during that period would have given one the impression that the Black Bloc was Egypt’s first-ever encounter with anarchism and anti-authoritarianism. But as American writerJoshua Stephens notes, the jubilant reaction many Western anarchists have towards the Black Bloc raises unflattering questions concerning their obsession with form and representation, rather than content and actions. And in this regard, these anarchists are not different from the Islamists who were quick to denounce the Black Bloc as blasphemous and infidel merely because they looked like Westerners. Further, many Western anarchist reactions to the Black Bloc unmask an entrenched orientalist tendency. Their disregard of Egypt and the Middle East’s rich history of anarchism is one manifestation of this. As Egyptian anarchist, Yasser Abdullah illustrates, anarchism in Egypt dates back to the 1870’s in response to the inauguration of the Suez Canal; Italian anarchists in Alexandria took part in the First International, published an anarchist journal in 1877, and took part in the Orabi revolution of 1881; Greek and Italian anarchists also organised strikes and protests with Egyptian workers. Yet these struggles are nonchalantly shunned by those who act today as if the Black Bloc is the first truly radical group to grace Egyptian soil….
I begin by showing that colonial attitudes made the Republicans of the Spanish Revolution neglect Spanish colonialism in North Africa, leading them to focus solely on fighting fascism at home. That the Spanish Revolution continues to serve as an important reference for today’s anarchist movements, it is not surprising that similar colonial attitudes lead today’s movements to write-off centuries of anti-authoritarian struggle in Asia, Africa and the Middle East….
Exceedingly Immersed in their fight against fascism and tyranny in Spain, the [Spanish] revolutionaries ignored Spain’s colonialism, fascism and tyranny across the Mediterranean. The level of dehumanisation toward the “Other” was so high that, according to most pro-revolution narratives, the only role colonised Moroccans were given to play was one of mercenaries brought in by General Franco to crush the Popular Front. Much pro-revolution sentiment would go as far as referring to Moroccans in a racist manner. While it is difficult to argue that mutual solidarity between Spanish revolutionaries and colonised Moroccans could have changed the outcome of the War, it is also difficult to know whether this kind of solidarity was ever feasible in the first place. As the late American historian Howard Zinn puts it: “In the short run (and so far, human history has consisted only of short runs), the victims, themselves desperate and tainted with the culture that oppresses them, turn on other victims.” On the other hand, anarchism, in its essence, means rejecting and fighting against any form of authority and subjugation, including colonialism and occupation. To be truly anti-authoritarian, therefore, any struggle against fascism and dictatorship at home should be internationalist and cannot be separated from the struggle against fascism and tyranny abroad, in its role as a colonial power….
And Palestinian Anarchists in Conversation: Recalibrating anarchism in a colonized country, by Joshua Stephens, originally in the Lebanese magazine The Outpost. Extract:
“I’m honestly still trying to kick the nationalist habit,” jokes activist Ahmad Nimer, as we talk outside a Ramallah cafe. Our topic of conversation seems an unlikely one: living as an anarchist in Palestine. “In a colonized country, it’s quite difficult to convince people of non-authoritarian, non-state solutions. You encounter, pretty much, a strictly anticolonial – often narrowly nationalist – mentality,” laments Nimer. Indeed, anarchists in Palestine currently have a visibility problem. Despite high-profile international and Israeli anarchist activity, there doesn’t seem to be a matching awareness of anarchism among many Palestinians themselves.
See also: anarchist tagged posts on Tahrir-ICN about Egyptian anarchists.
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This article appears in Italian in Corriere della Sera’s La ventisettesima ora
Fifteen fascinating and scandalous women , fifteen women rebels… largely forgotten by history. Educated women, aristocratic or workers, publishers, poets, journalists, writers, activists, who from Italy to Japan, Russia to England, Spain to Argentina choose a rough path of autonomy , siding always on with the weak and exposing the same oppression of fascism, Nazism and Communism. Denounced, arrested, imprisoned, exiled, sometimes victims of violence, in one case killed: their stories are told for the first time by Lorenzo Pezzica, historian and archivist of Milan, who, with her book Anarchists: Rebel women of the twentieth century (Shake editions, 2013) fills a void in the history of anarchism, reserved so far only for men.
Forget therefore Bakunin and Kropotkin, Malatesta and Pisacane. Here are red Emma, the Lithuanian Goldman, the only internationally known, called “the most dangerous woman in America”, pioneering feminist and champion of free love, despite being tormented by jealousy. And Virginia Bolten who only twenty years old, 1 May 1890, is the first woman speaker of the nascent labor movement in the city of Rosario, and wrote “Ni Dios, ni patron ni marido”.
Or Dora Marsden, petite and daring suffragette arrested in London in 1909, believing that it is high time for women to take control of their lives. She joined , the first feminist magazine of the 1900s, but would eventually break from movement, denouncing its hierarchical organization too . And again, Lucía Sánchez Saornil, declared lesbian, forced to go underground in Franco’s Spain, who throughout her life will try to reformulate the identity of “those who do not count.” Then, Nancy Cunard, depicted on the cover of the book, provocative dark lady and convinced anti-racist, who? rejects the English aristocracy from which committed all his energies in the Spanish revolutionary cause, and will pay its unconventional choices with loneliness and cultural existential…
Among the best stories is that of May Picqueray , French and pacifist anarcho-syndicalist, independent woman who lived by the tragedies of the twentieth century, raising her three children alone had three different companions… Not to mention, finally, the Italian: Maria Luisa Berneri, a tireless opponent of all wars in its short existence marked by the tragic death of her father Camillo, who was killed in 1937 in Barcelona by the assassins of the Comintern. And Luce Fabbri, a life spent in exile in Uruguay, recalling that totalitarian nightmare of Orwell, a machinery of power increasingly sophisticated and oppressive that, although experienced as a painful wound, never translates [for these women] into a sense of helplessness…
Beyond their ideas, shared or not, I am struck by the determination and courage of these women perpetually wandering, uncomfortable and insubordinate, here and now they want to accomplish their dream of a better life. Women, as Ida Fare writes in the introduction , linked by a network that truly embodies the words of the song anarchist “Our homeland is the whole world, our law is freedom.”
But who today could represent an ideal continuity with their thinking, with their willingness to transgression is difficult to find examples of disruptive approved in the current world, where it quickly becomes polluted every thrust antagonist.
The article nominates Aliokhina Maria, the youngest member of Pussy Riot, serving two years in prison for the anti-Putin punk prayer in the Orthodox Cathedral in Moscow. Or the fierce Inna Shevchenko, leader of Femen, the movement that was born in Kiev with its clamorous protest topless which spread to, among others, the Tunisian blogger Amina. Or Nawal El Saadawi, Egyptian activist and renowned psychiatrist, or Vandana Shiva , the Indian environmentalist, champion of biodiversity.
I have been been reading lately about Jack Abrams. His basic life story is told by Nick Heath at Libcom, and he is a minor character in The Gentle General: Rose Pesotta Anarchist and Labor Organizer by Elaine Leeder. He was born in Russia in 1883, went to America in 1906, worked (like many key anarchist activists of the period) as a bookbinder, became a trade union militant and anarcho-syndicalist. With about a group which included his partner Mary Abrams and Mollie Steimer, he edited the underground newspaper Frayhayt (Freedom), from an apartment at 5 East 104th Street in East Harlem. The most dramatic and well-known part of his story came in 1918, as told here by Nick Heath:
He was the author of two leaflets calling for a general strike against the US intervention of spring –summer 1918 against the Russian Revolution. These called for a social revolution in the United States. The paper was folded up tightly and posted in mailboxes around New York and the leaflets each had a print run of 5,000. The federal and local authorities began to be on the lookout for the authors of this propaganda. He was arrested on the 24th August 1918 along with Jacob Schwartz. The two were beaten with fists and blackjacks on the way to the police station. There further beatings were dished out. The arrest of the Frayhayt group signaled the start of massive repression of the anarchist movement in the United States. The Abrams case as it became known was a was a landmark in the suppression of civil liberties in the USA. Schwartz died in October due to the severe beatings he had received, although the authorities put it down to Spanish influenza…
On October 25th 1918 Jack , together with Sam Lipman and Hyman Lachowsky, was sentenced to 20 years hard labor and fined $ 1000 on charges of “anti-American activities.”, whilst Mollie Steimer received fifteen years and a $500 fine… In mid-1919 was filed an appeal, and in the meantime Jack and the others were released.
Socialist Party leader Norman Thomas was one of the people active in the campaign that led to this release. The Supreme Court upheld the conviction, but was notable for the dissenting opinion of Oliver Wendell Holmes (joined by Louis Brandeis):
we should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions we loathe and believe to be fraught with death, unless they so imminently threatened immediate interference with the lawful and pressing purposes of the law that an immediate check is required to save the country.
The best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out. “That at any rate is the theory of our Constitution.
Anyway, the group tried to escape to Mexico but got waylaid and some went to Russia, where (ironically, considering the defence of the revolution had got them locked up) they witnessed the deepening repression of the Bolshevik state, and before long were deported from there too. Eventually, in 1926, Mary and Jack Abrams wound up in Mexico, in Cuernavaca, not far from Mexico City, where he joined a group of Spanish anarchist exiles, Tierra y Libertad (Land and Freedom).
Steimer’s route to Mexico was even more complex, also via Russia, where she was imprisoned by the GPU (forerunner of the KGB), to Berlin, from which she fled when Hitler came to power, to France, where she was again interned in Camp Gurs as a German. (She must have been there, May-June 1940, at the same time as Hannah Arendt. I wonder if they met?) Then to Vichy – according to Wikipedia “Steimer was aided principally by May Picqueray (1893-1983), the militant anarchist editor of Le Refractaire, who had previously assisted the couple by protesting their imprisonment in Russia by the Bolsheviks in 1923.”
And here’s Fleshin at his trade:
They retired to Cuernavaca in 1963.
My first remembrance of the many visits we made to Mexico City is from 1945, when I was nine. As others were gathering in Times Square to celebrate the end of World War II, we saw the giant parade that wound through downtown Mexico City. Abrams took me to the major sites and to children’s films, willingly spending hours with me while my parents went off to experience Mexico’s revolutionary culture. In a later visit, either 1949 or 1950, Abrams, who had learned from my parents that I had already begun to circulate in the orbit of New York’s young Communist movement, did his best to warn me about the ethics and true nature of Stalin’s regime.
As we all walked through the streets of beautiful Cuernavaca (now a famous tourist resort), my parents spotted the painter David Alfaro Siqueras, one of the founders of the Mexican muralist school. The famed artist approached Abrams to say hello, and much to my shock, Abrams refused to shake his hand and exchange greetings. “I don’t talk to murderers,” he shouted at Siqueras, and turned and walked away. When he had calmed down, Abrams told me about Siqueras’s role in the attempted murder of Leon Trotsky at his estate in the Coyocan suburb of Mexico City, when the painter led a group of machine-gun-toting raiders in a failed effort to kill the exiled Bolshevik.
Abrams often socialized and became friends with other exiles, despite occasionally severe political differences. He was a regular guest at Trotsky’s walled-in compound, where the two played chess and argued about Bolshevism. After his death, Trotsky’s widow presented Abrams a set of Trotsky’s favorite Mexican-made dishware as a remembrance of their solidarity and friendship—a gift which Abrams later passed on to my parents. Often in later years, I would serve cake to my Stalinist friends on these plates, and after they admired the beauty of the design and craftsmanship, I would tell them whose dishes they were eating from, and watch them turn pale.
Abrams also befriended the great painter Diego Rivera, who spent his years moving from Bolshevism to Trotskyism and back to official Soviet Communism. Despite these twists and turns, and probably because at critical moments Rivera had opposed Stalin, Abrams maintained the relationship. Once, he took me to meet the artist and watch him paint the murals—some of the last he was to create—in the Del Prado Hotel in the main part of the city. In later years, the hotel would cover the murals with curtains because of embarrassment about their anti-Catholic and revolutionary themes. Rivera gave Abrams some of his paintings, one of which Abrams gave to my parents. My mother kept it in her New York City apartment.
Further reading: Abrams, Jack. J. Aybrams-bukh dos lebn un shafn fun an eygnartike perzenlikhkayt. [Jack Abrams Book, The Life And Works Of A Peculiar Personality] Mexico City: Centro Cultural Israelita de Mexico, 1956. 329pp [via YAB] If anyone has this, and wants to write a guest post based on it, please get in touch!
EVENT: Annexation, Autonomy, or Independence? The Politics of Cuban Identity in the Émigré Communities of New York and Florida, 1840s-1890
Via 171 bus:
“Annexation, Autonomy, or Independence? The Politics of Cuban Identity in the Émigré Communities of New York and Florida, 1840s-1890s”
Thursday 18th April 2013, 2 pm – 3.30 pm
Seminar Room, Pauling Centre, 58a Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 6QS
Hosted by the ESRC Centre on Migration Policy and Society (COMPAS)
This seminar will explore the changing modalities of diasporic identities among émigré Cuban workers in the nineteenth century, including tensions between Creole and Peninsular orientations, and tensions between different conceptions of nationalism and internationalism in the anarchist and labour movements.
For information, please contact Ben Gidley, COMPAS email@example.com
Directions and map at: http://www.compas.ox.ac.uk/about/how-to-find-us/
January 7, 1919 – This date marked the beginning of Argentina’s “Bloody Week” (AKA Tragic Week) in Buenos Aires. Workers (led by Italian anarchists) were demonstrating for the 8-hour work day and were fired upon by the authorities, leaving four dead and nearly 30 wounded. Clashes with the authorities on the day of the funerals left another 50 dead. A General Strike was called and strikers were attacked by trade union reformists and paramilitary groups collaborating with the police. By January 16 the strike was crushed, with as many as 700 dead and 2000 wounded, many of whom were Jewish-Russian immigrants targeted by racists and anti-Bolshevik hysteria.(From the Daily Bleed and Wikipedia)January 7, 1939 – Tom Mooney, a labor activist wrongly convicted of murder in the San Francisco Preparedness Day bombing in July 1916, was freed after 22 ½ years in jail, granted an unconditional pardon by Governor Culbert Olson.(From the Daily Bleed)
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It’s that time of year again. It will be on Saturday 27th October From 10am to 7pm at Queen Mary’s, University of London on the Mile End Road. Here are two Poumista recommendations.
The Path Not Taken – welfare history and the libertarian perspective 11am – 12 noon Room 3.22
To know where you’re going, you need to know where you came from. One piece of hidden history is the way working class people, in face of the most ruthless capitalism ever, erected a system of welfare services, based on mutual aid “friendly societies”. Health, education, housing, benefits, etc, were all included as the new book tells. We can’t resurrect the friendly societies but we can work for modern collective libertarian welfare services, as well as defending the compromise welfare state. Books available. Organised by: Socialist Libertarian Group [Whoy are they?]
1839: The Chartist Insurrection 12 noon – 1pm Room 3.18
The Chartists were the original political movement of the working class, and 1839 was the year a National Convention assembled in London, and revolution seemed a real possibility. The year ended with an armed uprising in London, followed by the trial of its leaders for treason. Our speaker, David Black, is co-author (with Chris Ford) of a new book on the events of 1839. Organised by: Hobgoblin
A wonderful gallery at Libcom. Here’s just a taste – go enjoy the real thing.
As I already reported (thanks to Kate Sharpley Library), there has been a terrible theft at one of the most important cultural spaces in Barcelona, l’Ateneu Enciclopèdic Popular, which will be celebrating its centenary this year. Here is a statement from the Ateneu, badly translated into English – please circulate.
Today, 1 February 2012 entered in force to steal important documents from the Library of the Athenaeum.
Among the items stolen were:
- Original posters of the Civil War era as well as various objects also the period of the Spanish Civil War.
- Postcards from the civil war, pamphlets of many organizations and groups of the 20s and 30s and of the Franco-era underground.
- A collection of currency notes of the collectivized villages
- A postcard collection of civil war and of personalities such as Bakunin and Kropotkin
- A collection of film programs for the period of civil war
- A collection of old tram tickets for ten cents a pts.
- A collection of medals, pins, badges and insignia of the Civil War
- A folder with pictures of the free women’s and libertarian cultural associations, as well as documentation of collectivised enterprises based on the road from Ribes de Barcelona and visit of experts from Mexico.
The website contains some images, as well as a zip folder, and people are urged to look out for these. Here are just a couple of items:
The notion that you can create a rival community, a new world “within the shell of the old”, a counter-culture, is intrinsic to anarchism. That this must be consensus-driven is much more recent. It is not evident among the various groups that considered themselves anarchist–anarcho-mutualists/collectivists/syndicalists/communists—from the mid-nineteenth century until the Spanish Revolution. All of them felt that voting within their own organizations and groups was just fine.By the 1960s, elements within the New Left including Students for a Democratic Society and others were experimenting with styles of decision-making that were viewed as more inclusive, participatory and democratic. These themes were also taken up by the Radical Feminist Movement in the 1970s. Certainly by the 1990s consensus organizing was gaining steam primarily though the work of Food Not Bombs (FNB), Earth First! and a few other groups. FNB in particular was effective at distributing inexpensively reproduced literature, including their Handbook, promoting consensus as the only way to order a local chapter:We make decisions by consensus rather than voting. Voting is a win or lose model in which people are more concerned about the numbers it takes to win a majority than they are in the issue itself. Consensus, on the other hand, is a process of synthesis, bringing together diverse elements and blending them into a decision which is acceptable to the entire group. In essence, it is a qualitative rather than quantitative method of decision-making.From my experience on the radical left, the influence of consensus decision-making was incredibly negative. The long, drawn-out meetings with no discernable outcome eventually take their toll. People start to drop out.While Michael Kazin, Paul Berman and others note the attempt by the OWS movement to create a counter society (some have termed the encampments “micro societies”) an important difference between OWS and the classical anarchists is an emphasis on what form the future society would take. All of the utopian socialists going back to St. Simon and Fourier had a model in mind. Never mind how wacky the model was, at least they had something to refer to. This is completely missing from OWS. They say this is “all part of the process”but it is not enough for most of us. We want to know what you want, especially if you claim to represent us (as part of the 99%).
There is an interesting interview with Kazin at The Browser.
As the Occupy Wall Street movement writes a new chapter in the history of American leftism, you’ve published a history of radical movements in the United States titled American Dreamers. Tell me about it.
It chronicles almost 200 years of the American left’s history, interpreting what the left did right and what it did wrong. What it did wrong is better known. The subtitle of the book is “How the Left Changed a Nation”. I emphasise the positive difference it made, focusing on a couple of themes.
One is that the left expanded the meaning of individual freedom. It made sure that people of all races, religions and sexual preferences are, at least in theory, able to enjoy the same opportunities and freedoms as everybody else. The book begins with the abolitionists and goes up until the gay and lesbian movement of the 1970s. The other theme is that the left succeeded in presenting a vision of a more egalitarian and socially responsible society. The left may have had less success in this respect but its success has been considerable nonetheless.
I highlight figures like Henry George and Edward Bellamy, both journalists. Henry George wrote a bestselling economics tract called Progress and Poverty in 1879. He was very popular among the labour unionists. Edward Bellamy was a Christian Socialist who wrote Looking Backward. Published in 1888, it ranks with Uncle Tom’s Cabin as one of the most influential political novels of the 19th century. Bellamy’s followers were important figures in the populist movement of the 1890s and the Socialist Party in the early 20th century. These figures articulated an anti-corporate platform which continues to be influential even in the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations.
Do you see the DNA of the abolitionists, suffragettes and other leftist forebears in today’s protest?
Yes, in many ways I do. There are different strands. Of course you have civil disobedience, which abolitionists were known for. You have nonviolence and a “beloved community”, which civil rights protesters were known for. And you have a very strong emphasis on the 99% being injured by the 1%, and a critique of American democracy as being corrupted by big money, that began in the late 19th century with people like George and Bellamy.
He goes on to talk about Marx and Engels, about Howard Zinn’s historical vision, and then Students for a Democratic Society, and finally Gene Sharp, who has also been cited as an important influence on the Arab Spring.
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From IISG: Antecedents of Ester Borras
Membership card FEDIP, 1945
Arch José Ester Borrás 5
As an anarchist, José Ester Borras (1913-1980) fled from Spain to France. There he was active in the underground during the Second World War. Arrested by the Gestapo on 30 October 1943, he was deported to Mauthausen. He survived and established the Federación Española de Deportados e Internados Políticos (FEDIP) in Toulouse shortly after liberation. The FEDIP offered relief to Spaniards like Ester Borras, who were politicial refugees and had been interned in concentration camps. Borras was one of the first members of his own organization. The IISH has the archives of both Ester Borras and the FEDIP.
He’d turned 40 just days previously. Here’s his Daily Bleed page:
[October 26:] 1913 — José Ester Borrás (1913-1980) lives, Berga (province of Barcelona). Spanish anarchist, active in the resistance in France & in the Mauthausen concentration camp, & co-founder of the founder of the Federación Española de Deportados e Internados Políticos (Spanish Federation of Former Political prisoners & camp inmates [FEDIP]).
Ester fought in the famed Colonna Tierra y Libertad during the Spanish Revolution of 1936. He was arrested by the communists, fled to France, arrested & tortured by the Gestapo…
I only just noticed that one of my favourite blogs has been back for a few weeks from an enviably long summer break. Thanks to him for this fascinating obituary.
A short biography of Léandre Valero an anarchist who “critically supported” the Algerian independence movement
The recent death of Léandre Valero on 21st August shines a light on the activities of the Fédération Communiste Libertaire in France in the 1950s and its attitudes towards the independence movement in Algeria.
The son of an anarchist from Andalucia,who had fought with the FAI during the Revolution and Civil War, Valero was born in Oran in Algeria on the 12th October 1923. This meant that he became fluent in Spanish, French and Arabic.
He joined the Forces Françaises Libres, the groups initiated by De Gaulle which refused to accept the capitulation of France, during the Second World War. He took part in several campaigns and was involved in the liberation of several concentration camps. Following this, and apparently against his will, he was then sent to fight in Indo-China in January 1946. Here he established contact with the Vietminh and supplied them with petrol from French bases. Reported as a “demoralising element”, he was sent back to France in August of the same year.
Here he went to Paris. He made the decision to join the Fédération Anarchiste. The first person he met from the FA was the full-timer at their offices, who was none other than Georges Brassens, later to become known as one of France’s greatest singer-songwriters. He then moved to Auxerre working as a toolmaker-fitter. At the Gardy factory – where he set up a large section of the CNT – Valero allied himself with Georges Fontenis within the FA, and stayed with the organisation when it was transformed into the Fédération Communiste Libertaire.
He accepted the decision of the FCL to send him to Algeria in 1954 to aid the Mouvement Libertaire Nord-Africain (MLNA) in close relation with the FCL. Its main activists were the docker Duteuil, Idir Amazit, Derbal Salah and the teachers Fernand Doukhan, Jean Decharriene and Guy Martin. He obtained employment in a factory at Alger.
The MNLA gave assistance to the independence movement of Messali Hadj (distinct from the FLN). The FCL gave critical support to the independentist groups and Valero was to say : “You suffer from double oppressions. We are going to help you to get rid of colonial oppression. After that, it’s up to you to get rid of the oppression of your own capitalists!”. After the 1954 insurrection the main activity of the MNLA was support for Hadj’s organisation. Valero served as a “letter box” and sometimes a driver for the independentist leaders. At the same time Valero carried out propaganda selling the FCL paper Le Libertaire in the streets. He always carried a revolver in his pocket on these occasions and had to fire off several shots during a street sale.
In August 1955 he got a job as a foreman on a farm in Constantine province. Here he made contact with the guerrilla groups of the FLN ( Front de Libération Nationale) and supplied them with arms. In summer 1956, to avoid a military call-up in Algeria, he decided to return to France and live underground. The MNLA , now more and more under threat, decided to dissolve itself and all its archives and arms were thrown in the Mediterranean.
Part of the FCL had decided to go underground in summer 1956. These included Fontenis, Pierre Morain, Paul Philippe and Valero himself. With the amnesty offered by de Gaulle in 1958 Valero returned to Auxerre where he again got work in a factory. He was active in the CGT and in 1960 served on the departmental union of the CGT in the Yonne department. The factory where he worked was the first to go out on strike in the Yonne in May 1968 and Valero was one of the chief activists in the movement in the department.
Valero retired in 1983. In 1991 he joined the libertarian organisation Alternative Libertaire at its foundation, remaining with it until 2000. He remained active in free thought agitation and a neighbourhood association until the end of his life.
Sources: obituary in Alternative Libertaire no. 210, October 2011
- From the archive of struggle: the Spanish Civil War at Warwick, the Marxist Internet Archive, and more (poumista.wordpress.com)
- Histories of the present: The riots etc (poumista.wordpress.com)
Organise! magazine Issue 77 Winter 2011:
- Editorial – What’s in the latest Organise! – The Anniversary Issue
- 25 years of the AFED – reviewing the last 5 years of the Anarchist Federation.
- The Paris Commune of 1871 and its impact – 140th anniversary
- The Paris Commune: A contested legacy
- “Vive la Commune!”
- Revolutionary Portrait: Eugene Varlin, Martyr of the Paris Commune
- The Anti-Cuts Movement and the Left: A local activist’s perspective
- The Great Unrest: prelude to the storm – industrial disorder and school strikes 1910-14
- The day will come: Chicago 1886 – 124th Anniversary of the Haymarket Massacre
- The Mexican Revolution of 1911 – Centenary year
- The land belongs to those who work it – The Magon brothers & Zapata
- Uprising in Baja – battles of the California border towns [related reading here]
- A Grave Error – the Mexican Syndicalists
- The anarchist sculptor: Henri Gaudier Brzeska
- Review: Ghost Dancers: The Miners’ Last Generation, by David John Douglass
- Obituary: Bob Miller (1953-2011)
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New at Libcom: