Retracing The Historical Roots Of The FAI

The 25 November 2002 edition of La Campana reported: "The Bulletin of the Education Union of the CNT of Castile reports that at the end of this month there is to be a Historical Symposium in Guadalajara on the 75th anniversary of the FAI."

The Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI) was set up in Valencia in 1927 with the primary aim of recording the activities of anarchism in Spain, with its light and shadows, and reflecting upon the causes of its peculiar character and obvious prominence in the nations' history over the past two hundred years. The Guadalajara Social History Group and The Fundación Anselmo Lorenzo decided to convene a further gathering to mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of the FAI.

That gathering was held on 29 and 30 November and on 1 December 2002 the topic would be The Roots of Anarchism in Spain and on the Saturday, Organised Anarchism in Spain: the Sunday would be given over to Anarchism's Achievements in Spain.

The topics cited above have prompted me to retrace the historical roots of the FAI.

In the 1920s Spanish anarchists and CNT personnel were scattered across France and in Lisbon.

The dictator Primo de Rivera's police harried opponents "out of his kingdom" and could rely upon the help of Portuguese authorities in arresting and handing over progressive-minded folk to the Spanish government!

The quickest solution was to get over the border and flee to Portugal and France. Living in the Portuguese capital were Manuel Pérez,1 the doctor and anarchist Pedro Vallina, their families and a number of their co-religionists. With his family, Perez had been given a haven on the premises of the Lisbon cabinet-makers' union.2

Meetings between anarchists and militants of the Spanish CNT and Portuguese CGT in Lisbon were frequent and there was a recurrent theme: How to stand up to the Portuguese and Spanish governments' concerted harassment of libertarians. In the face of this, Manuel Joaquim de Sousa proposed that an all-Iberian resistance and action body be set up, made up of Spanish and Portuguese militants, to defend themselves from the authorities in both countries and to facilitate propaganda and mutual aid.

This was quickly taken up and in 1923 there was a Conference of the Workers' Organisations of Portugal and Spain in the city of Évora. At this gathering of Iberian libertarian workers, Manuel Joaquim de Sousa, a very experienced and highly cultivated Portuguese militant formally moved for the first time that the FAI be established. The physician Pedro Vallina, once he had been discovered by the Lisbon police, fled to France with his family. Manuel Perez had to stay put and with the Spaniards J. Ferrer Alvalada and Sebastián Clará, represented the CNT and Spanish anarchist movement at the Évora Conference and, on behalf of these organisations, backed the plan put forward by Manuel Joaquim de Sousa (from the UAP - Portuguese Anarchist Union) and Jose da Silva Santos Arranha (from the Portuguese CGT).

This was in the Portuguese city of Évora in 1923 and the scheme was proposed by Manuel Joaquim de Sousa of Portugal and backed by THREE Spanish comrades!

So the embryonic FAI was born EIGHTY years ago and had two main aims: to marry the efforts of the militants of Spain and France for the purpose of spreading anarchism in the Iberian Peninsula and replying on an equal basis to the actions of the police and governments of both countries.

Manuel Perez wholeheartedly backed the idea and Manuel Joaquim de Sousa was charged with producing a final draft of the proposal and presenting it to the Marseilles congress in May 1926, at which 30 delegates from the French, Spanish and Italian-American groups were present, alongside Armando Borghi, attending in his capacity as IWA delegate.

At this congress, Manuel Joaquim de Sousa represented the Portuguese CGT and Manuel Perez (by then living in France) the Portuguese Anarchist Union-UAP. The following items were discussed and approved: a) The organisation of anarchist forces in Spain and France b) organisational misunderstandings between comrades c) NON-recognition of the so-called Revolutionary Alliance that called for liaison with politicians d) the strengthening of the Prisoners' Aid Committee and scrutiny of the scheme drawn up by Manuel Joaquim de Sousa and establishing the FAI: "1. Congress agrees to establish the Iberian Anarchist Federation and reports this resolution to the Portuguese Anarchist Union. 2. Given the abnormal conditions in force in Spain, the liaison COMMITTEE will be based in Lisbon. 3. Its establishment will be entrusted to the Portuguese Anarchist Union, the latter being at liberty to invite support and cooperation from the Spanish anarchists residing in that location. 4. Said committee may, whenever it deems appropriate, summon an Iberian Congress to finalise said Federation. 5. That this committee will operate on a provisional basis until such time as the Congress is held. 6. The Spanish anarchists are to be consulted upon implementation of these resolutions." Plus: "A delegate representing the Spanish anarchists will attend the forthcoming Portuguese Anarchist Union."3

The UAP congress was then scheduled for 20 June 1926 in the Portuguese capital, but on 28 May (23 days ahead of its scheduled opening) a military coup in Portugal overthrew the democratic government and "blocked the way" to the Portuguese and Spanish anarchists. This unexpected development led those anarchists from both countries committed to the "venture" (since the holding of a congress in Portugal or in Spain had now been rendered impossible), held a clandestine meeting in Valencia on 25 July 1927. The UAP sent its general secretary Francisco Quintal to represent it. The Portuguese CGT was represented by Germinal de Sousa (the son of the first proposal to found an FAI - Manuel Joaquim de Sousa) who was living in Spain at the time as a refugee.

At the end of the meeting the Portuguese Germinal de Sousa was proposed and approved for the position of general secretary of the FAI, taking over from the committee set up in Marseilles.

On 30 and 31 October 1931, Portuguese and Spanish delegates attended a clandestine "National FAI Plenum" and a plenum of regionals in Madrid. Members of the FARP-FAI also attended the Madrid plenum on 31 January and 1 February 1936.4

In spite of the indelible indications that the FAI was and is historically an all-Iberian organisation - its very name makes this plain - many Spaniards regard this anarchist body as essentially Spanish.

In the memoirs (unpublished and I have a copy of the letter in my possession) that he forwarded from Rio de Janeiro on 23 October 1948 "To the FAI National Liaison Committee", Manuel Perez puts paid to some of the confusion that existed (and still exists) in the minds of Spanish and other militants!

At one point, he states: "I ought to say that back in 1923 when the Seville-based CNT national committee, of which I was a member, held a peninsular conference in the Portuguese city of Évora, I took part together with J. Ferrer Alvarado and Sebastián Clara, representing Spain, and Jose da Silva Santos Arranha and Manuel Joaquim de Sousa representing Portugal."

"At that conference, the appropriateness of unifying the Iberian peninsula's confederal and libertarian movement came under consideration and two bodies were founded to that end: the Iberian Confederation of Labour and the Iberian Anarchist Federation."5

Elsewhere, he states:

"This is why we cannot ignore the fact that the FAI is a peninsula-wide body which of course had its commitments and responsibilities at international level. So thinking of it as an essentially Spanish organism is lamentably wide of the mark."

Speaking of the historical course of the FAI, Tierra y Libertad (Mexico) in May 1974 published under the headline "Portugal, Portugal - Portugal) (page 2) this comment:

"In 1927 at a plenum of Spanish anarchist groups in which Portuguese anarchists participated, it was (finally) agreed that an Iberian Anarchist Federation would be set up as an organisation embracing the entire organised anarchist movement of the Iberian peninsula, which is to say, of Spain and Portugal.

From that point on, anarchism right across the peninsula shared a common fortune, and from 1939 up until today, because of the kinship between the two fascist regimes endured by both victim-nations, Iberian anarchism found itself even more deeply committed, and during the 1936-1939 Spanish revolution the FAI's general secretary was a Portuguese - Germinal de Sousa."

For want of space I shall leave other documentary evidence to one side and close my references with Vila Real's Tierra y Libertad and a piece over the signature of Antonio M. entitled "One FAI member here", quoting his text: "Is there somebody with a grudge against this federation? It stands accused of a number of things - but there were anarchists around before 1927 and the creation of the FAI. Back in 1923 when Manuel Joaquim de Sousa tabled the suggestion that an FAI be set up, he did it, I imagine, with an eye to improving relations between existing anarchist groups and making it an effective vehicle for the propagation of the anarchist ideal."

I have been conducting research for over 65 years and collected documents on the FAI, CNT and other movements carried by libertarian publications in Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Mexico, Algiers, Brazil and elsewhere and it is not hard to find contradictory claims and disagreements about the FAI-CNT, and even attempts to persuade readers that the Iberian Anarchist Federation was NOT Iberian at all, but essentially Spanish.

Choosing to forget the ground-breaking efforts of Portuguese such as the author of the plan for an FAI (Manuel Joaquim de Sousa) or the secretary of the Portuguese Anarchist Union, Francisco Quintal (who was at the Valencia meeting in 1927, or the FAI's first general secretary Germinal de Sousa (who held that post for several years), of the Spanish-Brazilian Manuel Perez working from 1923 onwards on the formation of an FAI, or the Spaniards J. Ferrer Alvarado and Sebastian Clara (in Évora in 1923) among other pioneers is not by any means a denial that history is written with scientifically proven facts! Forgetting the efforts made by Spanish and Portuguese anarchists in 1923-1926 in facing up to the savagery of Primo de Rivera and the "Portuguese democratic" police amounts to erasing part of a history that was written with the blood of the workers and anarchists of the Iberian peninsula!

On the threshold of the 80th anniversary of the gestation of the FAI, the decision to commemorate its 75th (!) anniversary amounts to mopping up and absorbing the blood, sweat and tears shed by its earliest idealists. And it means forgetting about the dramatic and painful reasons that drove Portuguese and Spanish anarchists to band together into one organisation capable (they reckoned) of countering the repression from the Spanish and Portuguese authorities, regardless of conventional borders and ignoring the roll-call of the workers who strove bravely to form the FAI.

The only equivalent to the nativist flavour of this approach would be a REFUSAL on my part TO ACKNOWLEDGE that Spanish militants expended more effort and lives than the Portuguese in order to ensure that the FAI has survived to this day!

Edgar Rodrigues.


1 Manuel Perez was born in Spain but moved to Rio de Janeiro as a boy. He studied at the Crafts and Trades School. In the first decade of the 20th century he served as general secretary of the cabinet-makers' union, directed its newspaper and embraced anarchism. He was deported to Spain by the Epitácio Pessoa government because of his outstanding activity in 1919.

2 In 1922-23, with his partner Mercedes and daughter Carmen, Perez fled to Lisbon to escape Primo de Rivera's police and wound up living on the premises of the cabinet-makers' union. His wife was pregnant and when she went into labour, Perez sent for his fellow-exile Dr Pedro Vallina and just as his daughter Aurora was being delivered the Portuguese democratic police burst on to the union premises (he had been reported through the connivance of the Spanish and Portuguese police) to arrest Perez, his family and the physician Vallina. But in view of the screams of the new-born and the sight of the physician with his blood-stained hands, the police withdrew, letting the Spaniards go. Pedro Vallina and his family were to quit Lisbon the following day and Perez stayed on for a few days to allow his partner to recover. (Unpublished memoirs of Manuel Perez).

3 Taken from O Anarquista of 16-5-1926. This was the organ of the Portuguese Anarchist Union (UAP). Francisco Quintal was general secretary and director of the paper. For further details see O Sindicalismo em Portugal by Manuel Joaquim de Sousa and Edgar Rodrigues Resistencia Anarco-sindicalista em Portugal 1922-1939.

4 FARP (Portuguese Regional Anarchist Federation), the Portuguese section of the FAI was responsible for publication of the newspaper Rebelião, published from Spain and then Argentina, France and Spain in 1936-1939. Its officers were Vivaldo Fagundes, Jose Rodrigues Reboredo, Manuel Firmo, Marques da Costa (for a time), Manuel Francisco, Reboredo's daughter, J. Bastos, the Angola-born but Lisbon-educated physician Câmara Pires and other Portuguese anarchists.

5 A copy of a two page type-written letter from Manuel Perez-Fernández in the author's collection. Perez was captured during the Spanish Revolution and sentenced to death. He was saved by the Brazilian commercial attache who was living in Spain and who had known Perez as a journalist back in Rio de Janeiro, the pair becoming friends. Lobbied by Perez's wife and daughters he interceded and vouched that Perez had lived in Brazil from boyhood: this rescued him and he secured passage for the Perez family back to Brazil. After the end of the Vargas dictatorship, Manuel Perez, José Oiticica, Roberto das Neves and others launched the newspaper Ação Direta. Perez died in Rio de Janeiro, an anarchist to the end!

Translated by: Paul Sharkey.