Talk by Gustavo Rodríguez, in the Squatted Social Center “La Casa Naranja”, Tlalnepantla, Mexico State.
Sunday 3rd July 2011.
Before delving into the history of the so-called “illegal Anarchism” we should start by doing something about that incongruous position, both conceptually and practically speaking, that calls for “legalistic Anarchism” and that simultaneously belittles, outlaws and impedes the subsequent actions of the supporters and the participants of Anarchy. To be able to understand why and how such an ambiguous term came about in our ranks and to be able to explain the peculiar interest that exists and persists in using such a label, we have to, once again, ask the inevitable question: what is Anarchism? As Bonanno has pointed out: it is always necessary to return to this question, even when we are among Anarchists. Often, just to be among Anarchists makes this question inevitable.
Alfredo Bonanno explains that the reiteration of this question owes itself to the fact that Anarchism isn‘t a definition that, once reached, can be guarded jealously in a safe and conserved as a heritage from which we take our arguments each time that we need them. And he’s right. Paradoxically, there are those who claim themselves as “Anarchists” yet argue the opposite, that is, they conceive anarchism to be an ideology to be kept it in a safe — like the safe that Bonanno mentioned — to “protect” it as if it were a creed.
These dogmatists of Anarchism understand the ideal like an undisputable Bible that gives them a rich array of arguments for every circumstance that comes their way and thus, avoiding reality by repeating its sacred prayers to infinity. The unprecedented part is that this distorted view of Anarchism, an idealized one to be exact, is shared by both sides of the currents despite their irreconcilable differences.
That is, both for the current “essentialism”, akin to liberalism, to the “historicism” direct descendant of Marxism, Anarchism is treated as an ideology. This, in a certain form, explains to us why each time that Anarchism moves away from the reality of concrete struggles — whether as a result of the withdrawal periods or times of reflux of the real movement of the oppressed — these old ghosts reappear and it degenerates into an ideology. At other times, we have insisted on this and we will not tire of repeating it: Anarchism obtains its own specific theory/practice at any time breaking sharply with his roots, here is where it develops as such, revealing its parricidal character.
Unfortunately, except in rare and honourable exceptions, the vast majority of libertarian historiography has been written by outsiders of Anarchism and for this reason, a product sweetened and wisely “accommodated” by renowned academic figures has been developed, usually attached to these primitive currents that, logically, have continued their march in a parallel manner. Therefore, we find a wide and voluminous list of libertarian historiography, appropriately tailored from the good consciences of liberal humanism or from the historical perspective of a clearly Marxist label. In the particular case of libertarian historiography available in Spanish, we are presented with a repertoire of really quite nauseating “libertarian” stories, made to fit the moralistic conceptions of characters of the likes of Carlos Dias — known pundit at the service of the Vatican, Victor Garcia and up until Fidel Miró, who manhandled and conditioned other previous stories invented by Abad de Santillan and company at their liking. No less ‘well off’ are the texts of Buenacasa and Gomez House, determined to show things at their own convenience. Without speaking of the ‘official’ historiography where rats the size of Angel Herrerin Lopez abound — paid scribe of the government in its duty to the Spanish State — or Juan Aviles. Of course, from this side of the puddle the same thing has happened, as well we have little gems the size of Roger Bartra and Arnaldo Cordova, only to mention a few. And well, another repugnant character comes to mind, to whom the Cuban state commissioned the “noble” task of erasing Anarchism from the history of the island, Abraham Grobart (Fabio Grobart). For this reason, we have to dedicate ourselves to dig… to swim and dive in the midst of all of this libertarian historiography and take the information and confront it with other sources, even though what we find comes from the enemy, from the bourgeois press of the time. Incredibly, nine times out of ten we find a lot more information in these antagonistic sources — the press particularly, above all names and dates forgotten or conveniently silenced and ignored. The same goes for the “official” history, with the texts of Herrerin and co, there we can sometimes find dates extracted from police archives. In these texts, with their academic rigor and regularly sought after label of “Social History”, we can also find valuable information. These analysts have been responsible for recovering some names and presenting certain facts, with the clear intention of disqualifying us and presenting us as bandits and terrorists. But in the absence of objective studies, we have to draw our conclusions from there.
During the first three decades of last century, insurrectionary anarchism’s tactics and methods re-strengthened. In the years before the Russian Revolution we saw an extended and generalized practice, gaining new strength in expropriation and propaganda by deed. At that time, the group of “Workers of the Night”, also known as “Banda Abbeville” would attain notoriety in France for the armed conflict that arose in that city between members of the group and the police, after an action failed, killing the officer Jacob Alexandre Pruvost, better known as Marius Jacob. This would be the linchpin of this small expropriating nucleus which also involved his mother and wife.
He was arrested in possession of explosives after a series of minor expropriations that could have led authorities to him, being sentenced to 6 months in jail. Shortly afterwards he would be arrested again but faking dementia he avoided a sentence of five years in prison and was sent to a mental hospital where he escaped, seeking refuge in the town of Sète. There, he began to organize his group with like-minded people who, though not claiming to be anarchists, they shared their principles in deeds with a minimum agreement — again, let me read these notes, “only use the weapons to protect our life and our freedom from the police, only steal from those considered social parasites; entrepreneurs, bankers, judges, soldiers, nobles and clergy, but never to those who do noble and useful professions; teachers, doctors, artists, artisans, workers and so on. And set aside a percentage of the money recuperated for propaganda of the anarchist cause. “
Accused of over one hundred and fifty expropriations and of the murder of the officer Pruvost, Jacob would be brought to trial in March of 1905 in the city of Amiens, facing a possible death sentence by guillotine. During the process, he made it clear in court the ideals that inspired him — here I have it — “I prefer to keep my freedom, my independence, my dignity as a man, before making myself the architect of the fortunes of a master. In the crudest terms, without euphemisms, I preferred to steal rather than being stolen.”
He was able to escape the guillotine but he was sentenced at 26 years of age to hard labour for life in Cayenne. After 17 attempts to escape from Devil’s Island and just over 20 years of sentence served, he returned to France. In 1936, attracted by the irradiation of the Spanish Revolution, Jacob travels to Barcelona in order to fight alongside the libertarian movement, presenting a weapons collection strategy for the anarchist militias. However, since Ascaso and Durruti weren‘t there at the time, he met face to face with the “legalistic Anarchism” in control. Disappointed with the Spanish reality in a lapidary he would note: “Where are the anarchists? In the mass graves. Betrayed in the rear, they sacrificed themselves in the front”. Of course, neither Gómez Casa nor Victor García would record this.
Another French nucleus known as the “Banda Bonnot” should also be mentioned among the many insurrectionary anarchist groups that would achieve notoriety in Europe in the early twentieth century as it would initiate its activities due to Jules Bonnot’s initiative and a group of insurrectionary anarchists based around the “illegalistic” journal L’Anarchie. In those early years of the twentieth century, theories about revolutionary expropriation and propaganda by the deed were theorised over in heaps of insurrectionary anarchist publications that gave particular validity to these methods within the broad range of insurrectionary tactics.
Well, on this side of the pond much of the historiography is equally wealthy, yet warped and watered down in the best of cases because when we start to trace this type of information we find that obviously many things have been silenced and sentenced to oblivion. But hey, we‘ve got to weave together the story with what there is at hand.
When we start to track down from here, we find the ancestors of insurrectionary Anarchism in Julio Lopez Chavez, who maintained intense expropriatory and confrontational activity between 1867 and 1868, being shot on July 68, by order of the Liberal government of Benito Juárez. López Chávez or Chavez López as some historians invert their last names and no one knows for sure which name was correct, there are even documents of the time, principally newspapers, where he is called Julian Lopez Chavez, instead of Julio -but , well … let’s stay with Julio López Chávez. He was a disciple of the modern school, the Escuela del Rayo y el Socialismo, which was founded in Chalco, Mexico State, by Plotino Rhodakanaty, inspired by the ideas of Fourier and Proudhon, but Lopez Chavez would quickly leave the mutualist ideas and become a Bakuninist.
Reaffirming his thinking he would say — let me read this little quote — “I’m an anarchist because I am an enemy of all governments, and a communist, because my brothers want to work common land” (end quote). Rhodakanaty distanced itself from its disciple because of disagreements over insurrectionary Anarchism, since, from his idyllic and evolutionary vision, did not recognize armed action as being consistent with the libertarian ideal. Julio Lopez would become a nightmare for landowners, relentlessly flogging the whole wealthy class of Chalco and Texcoco areas, extending his actions to Morelos to the south, east to San Martín Texmelucan and west to Tlalpan. He expropriated haciendas in the area but in the broader sense of the term, whereby not only did he loot the houses of money, valuables, weapons and horses but he also divided the expropriated land among farmers in the region. He also conducted numerous raids in the area, earning a reputation as a “communist bandit” as he was called by the newspapers of the time. His group eventually grew to more than fifty members, spreading awareness among farmers and indigenous people of the area. After his death by gunfire, the expropriatory and insurrectionary activity continued until 1870, not only in the original area of operations but also spreading to Yucatan, the southern state of several of his actions, where various compañer@s were deported. Fifteen of them would be shot in the city of Merida, February 24, 1869.
He would also extend insurrectionary Anarchism to other states, with the insurrectionary activity of three of Lopez-Chávez’s compañer@s having been recorded in the state of Chiapas, who were involved in the indigenous rebellions of 1869 and the armed assault on the farms of the region. Ignacio Fernandez Galindo, his wife Luisa Quevedo, and Benigno Trejo, former colleagues of Julio Chavez from the school in Chalco, participated actively in the work of organizing the struggle and the dissemination of anarchist ideas and propaganda by the deed, amongst the indigenous Tzotzil people. Fernández Galindo, would be responsible for providing training in the use of weapons and militant tactics for the revolt. State authorities would face the uprising violently, demanding that the “lawbreakers… unconditionally surrender and hand over the weapons and leaders from outside who have deceived and manipulated them.”
At that time, a poster was produced aimed at Indigenous rebels, which appeared on all the walls of the streets of the city of San Cristobal de las Casas, which perfectly illustrates the events. Again I have to read here in my notes. Let’s see, “The president knows what you are doing and for this he is very angry and even though here we have quite a lot of troops and weapons, he says he will send enough people and is sure that you will finish, because those people who come do not know you, and so they don‘t love you like we love you […] apologise to the government and hand over all the weapons that you have so we can believe it’s true what you say. “
During the “Mexican Revolution” the action of insurrectionary Anarchism was also noted, starring radical members of the Partido Liberal Mexicano. The figures of Ricardo Flores Magon and Praxedis Guerrero were most outstanding in that revolutionary period, however, many insurrectionary internationalists anarchists did not match that particular appreciation that gives the rank of “revolution” to the struggles of the time. Specifically, that would be the position of the Italian insurrectionary anarchists who, motivated by the passionate chronicles published in the newspaper Regeneration and the fervent speeches of their colleagues in Los Angeles in 1917, would move to northern Mexico with the intention to join the libertarian insurrection. Included among those Italian insurrectionary anarchists were Sacco and Vanzetti, who travelled to Monterrey where a group of Italian anarchists who had fled the U.S. military recruitment had gathered following the outbreak of the First World War, interested in joining the “anarchist revolution “.
They were soon to be disappointed, identifying the Mexican “Revolution” as nothing more than a power struggle between opposing sides. This particular group of Italian anarchists made history with their expropriations and propaganda of the deed actions far and wide across the United States. It was the core group based around the insurrectionary anarchist newspaper “Cronaca Sovversiva” in which Sacco and Vanzetti also collaborated. This publication, written in Italian, would become the ultimate weapon for the spread of insurrectionary Anarchism among the Italian anarchists living in America.
The insurgent group would expand quickly, being called “The Galleanists” by the bourgeois press of the time, referring to the editor, Luigi Galleani. In this group, which soon became a real network with presence in major U.S. cities, would stand out due to the notoriety of the well-known Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, Mario Buda aka Mike Boda, Nestor Dondoglio alias Jean Crones, Gabriella Segata Antolini , Luigi Bachetti, among others I can’t remember. Here I have some names of other compañer@s in this group listed here: Frank Abarno, Pietro Angelo, Carmine Carbone, Andrea Ciofalo, Ferrucio Coacci, Emilio Coda, Alfredo Conti, Roberto Elia, Luigi Falsini, Frank mandese, Ricardo Orciani, Nicola Recchi, Giuseppe Sberna, Andrea Salsedo, Raffaele Schiavina and Carlo Valdinoci.
The influential actions of these anarchists would take them to become the most persecuted revolutionary group by federal authorities in the United States. However, again the “accommodation” of history and not just the “official” history but the historiography of libertarians as well, would condemn them to be perfect strangers, taking care to silence all their actions and “disappear” their texts, reflections and other theoretical contributions. With the exception of Sacco and Vanzetti; “legalistic Anarchism” would take care of providing a false story that turned them into the “martyrs” of anarchism. As had been done before with the anarchists of Chicago: “The Martyrs of Chicago.” Once again, the familiar tricks to hide the story. In the case of Sacco and Vanzetti the situation was the same. The argument that was inscribed as a logical defence strategy in order for them to be declared “innocent”, has become the “official story” of the facts. With the exception of libertarian historian Paul Alvrich who would further address the anarchist activity at that time and Bonanno’s work on the subject, the rest of the published literature about Sacco and Vanzetti’s case denies their involvement in the expropriation for which they ended up being convicted. Really expropriations were carried out constantly by the group in which Sacco and Vanzetti were active participants and funds raised through these expropriations were used to continue printing anarchist propaganda and to fund attacks, retaliation calls and to assist fellow prisoners and unemployed, or in some cases their families. The attacks were always targeted against the state, capital, and clergy, with bankers, industrialists, politicians, judges, prosecutors, police and priests being the subjects of their attacks.
This group has countless anecdotes, we could be here all day recounting them, but there are several actions that deserve at least a brief mention such as the attack executed on November 24, 1917 against the Police Headquarters of the City of Milwaukee where an extremely powerful delay bomb containing several kilos of black powder exploded. The device had been built by Mario Buda who was the group’s explosives expert. Also making use of his skills, Luiggi Galleani helped to prepare an explosives manual successfully circulated among the insurrectionary anarchists and apparently translated into English by Emma Goldman. Well, it was learnt that the plan was ingenious because due to the great anarchist activity at the time, police stations were heavily guarded and there were strict controls when accessing these venues, so for the group to be able to get the bomb into the barracks they first placed the bomb in the foundations of a church in the city and later passed the information to a person they suspected was a police informant. An explosives squad quickly mobilized and removed the bomb from the church to the police station, thinking that the trigger mechanism had failed.
Minutes after checking that the device was in the facility it detonated, killing nine policemen and one civilian. Well, with this attack they managed to kill two birds with one stone because it not only met their goal, but also enabled them to uncover the informer. Nestor Dondoglio, in the city of Chicago in 1916, made another attack that deserves mention. Dondoglio was an Italian chef who called himself Jean Crones. On hearing that a great banquet was being planned in honour of the archbishop of that city, Archbishop Mundelein, with the attendance of a large group of the Catholic hierarchy, he presented himself saying he wanted to volunteer donating his skills and serving his exquisite dishes to diners, and in doing so poisoned some two hundred guests by adding arsenic to the soup. None of the victims died because in his haste to eliminate them, Dondoglio used too much poison which caused vomiting in victims immediately that only succeeded in expelling the poison. Only one priest would die two days after poisoning, Father O’Hara, pastor of St. Matthew’s Church in Brooklyn New York, who had been chaplain at the prison gallows on Raymond St. Dondoglio, immediately after the attack, moved to the East Coast where he was hidden by a fellow group member until his death in 1932.
There are plenty examples of insurrectionary anarchist actions around that time, with many expropriations and actions of propaganda by deed. The death sentences of Sacco and Vanzetti, served as a trigger for increased action. As well in Havana, Montevideo and Buenos Aires, countless bombs exploded in protest at the state crime. In Argentina and Uruguay, insurrectionary anarchists also left their mark practicing expropriation and propaganda by deed. Di Giovanni and his band-mates stand out for their notoriety. Also the nucleus of Roscigno, Uriondo, Malvicini Paredes and Vazquez. Both in Argentina and Uruguay compañer@s have continued actions of expropriations and propaganda of the deed to this day. In the recent past, the expropriators of el negro fiorito, Amanecer Fiorito and Nuestro Urubú, who died at the hands of a police during a failed expropriation. Chile also has a long history of insurrectionary anarchists, of expropriations and actions of propaganda of the deed, which has also reached our days with painful losses like that of Mauricio Morales, who died in May 2009 after a bomb he was transporting on his bicycle blew up prematurely in Santiago de Chile. The bomb was meant for a training college for prison guards. And the compañero who recently had his bomb blow up in is hands — Luciano? Yeah, exactly Luciano “Tortuga” Pitronelli who had a bomb blow up prematurely in his hands when placing it at an ATM in Santiago de Chile..
Here in Mexico, expropriation has been and is a recurring practice, although generally responsibility is not claimed. Well, with the exception of Anonymous Anarchist Action from Tijuana who have claimed expropriations in their communiqués. Nor can we forget, as a tribute and claim of responsibility, the compañero Mariano Sánchez Anon, of Aragonese origin, first exiled in France, when he had to flee from Mas de las Matas, his hometown, following the anarchist uprising of December 1933 and after taking refuge over here in Mexico, after the triumph of fascism under Franco. He would arrive to this country aboard the Ipanema, with his partner Armonia de Vivir Pensando, entering the port of Veracruz. Immediately they were relocated to a farm in Santa Sabina, Chihuahua, where he would be sent to work as a labourer due to his peasant origins and agricultural experience. But Sanchez Anon, wouldn‘t give up the anarchist ideal and went on to continue with his revolutionary activity in Mexico.
Quickly, he began to organize labourers in his workplace against the exploitation that they were submitted to and shot the manager of the farm, killing him. Wanted by the police, he moved to Mexico City alongside his compañero Diego Francisco Salas. Over here, they founded a task force consisting of five Spanish compañer@s who refused to renounce their anarchist ideas and revolutionary action, as the Mexican government had demanded as a condition for granting them asylum. They participated in various expropriations until the failed operation of the Modelo Brewery.
Mariano Sanchez Añón would be cowardly vilified by the Anarchist Federation of the Centre and alleged “Libertarian Youth” in San Luis Potosi, who published a statement condemning the expropriation of the Modelo Brewery, and accused the Spanish exiles who participated in that action of being “gangsters”. Here I have the statement but, if you like you can read it online, this statement is hosted in the Virtual Library site Biblioteca Virtual Antorcha — the expropriation of the Modelo Brewery, and Mariano Sanchez Añón himself and his compañeros also received the condemnation of some of the Spanish libertarian refugees here, the so-called bomberos “fire-fighters” — logically it extinguished the fire whenever necessary — the notorious “holy men” of stagnant exile, among them another had a “cincopuntista” like Fidel Miró.
Interestingly, when the compañer@s asked us to present this issue, in preparing this talk, we found a valuable archive that is unordered but has a lot of information that would be worth bringing to light so as to see the conflicting attitudes of these “two Anarchisms”. I speak of the file of the Technical Committee to Aid Spaniards in Mexico (CTAE). This “committee” has the distinction of having been created by Juan Negrin, head of the republican government, as a continuation of the Evacuation of Spanish Refugees Service, founded in France, with funding from the Government of the Republic.
Chaired by José Puche, the group remained in contact with several ministries and with Lazaro Cardenas, to coordinate the arrival of refugees, the arrival of the steamers Sinaia and Ipanema. Then continuing with their particular job, say … “liaison” with the Mexican government, was also responsible for providing individual grants, accommodation and food, loans to start businesses. The Committee was founded with capital from the Government of the Republic, the Agricultural Industrial Finance, with this funding, the company would open Vulcano, Editorial Seneca, the Instituto Luis Vives, the Spanish-Mexican Academy, the Spanish College and other schools in other states. You can find some of this on the Internet from the published memoirs of the Spanish Exile, but the file exists and has a wealth of information. Most surprising is the participation of several anarchists in this committee, held responsible for “reporting” frequent anarchist activity in these parts. There you will find several reports of Ricardo Mestre, Fidel Miro and Adolfo Hernandez, precisely about Mariano and other compañer@s, who were branded as “violent,” “morons of the war,” “robbers” and “bandits.”
Anyway… Well finally today, revolutionary expropriations remain an essential vehicle of funding anarchist activities, both to carry out actions as well as for editing anarchist propaganda, books, publications, etc.. In regions such as Greece and Italy, where insurrectionary anarchism is very active, many compañer@s have gone to prison for failed expropriations. Alfredo Bonanno, Pipo Staicy, Christos Stratigopoulos and Yiannis Dimitrakis, the last two are still in prison, also victims of the silence and condemnation of “legalistic anarchism.” Compañeros Claudio Lavazza, Giovanni Barcia and Gilbert Ghislain, insurrectionary Italian anarchist prisoners in the Spanish State who also remain behind bars for expropriations. Giorgio Rodríguez and Juan José Garfia are also in prison for expropriation, the latter has been in jail since 1987. And heaps of other compañer@s that I don‘t remember their names right now. Not to mention in Chile and Argentina.
We believe that recognising the tactics and methods that correspond to each period of struggle is essential to developing a unitary critique. We are convinced that whilst we are not spreading the rebellious conscience, we will fail to achieve the reconstruction of the real movement of the oppressed and while this doesn‘t materialize we can not extend the struggle and reach a generalised insurrection. Those with the essential ingredients needed to smash this old world that we inhabit to pieces and materialize the total destruction of the current system of domination. But we will not stay waiting for the maturation of the revolutionary process, we won‘t wait for the revolution nor are we very worried whether it ever happens or not, because known revolutions — from the French revolution to nowadays — have degenerated, all of them, into reformist, authoritarian and dictatorial processes that have only helped to strengthen the state. Our fight is and always will be for Total liberation, for Anarchy. We won‘t accept anything less. Thank you.
this is an excellent recounting of some of the history of insurrectionary anarchism. available in it’s entirety from the anarchist library archives. you may have to torrent it…