Edgar Rodrigues (1921-2009)

Edgar was born 1921 in Lavra, outside Oporto, in northern Portugal. His father, Manuel Correia, an anarcho-syndicalist, worked for the Port and Docks agency and was one of the many who defied the fascistisation of the labour unions after the establishment of the fascist Estado Novo (New State) in 1926. Edgar was raised in a home where the table-talk was of opposition and anti-Salazarist propaganda. As a boy he learned to copy anti-fascist pamphlets, messages etc., by hand.

He saw his own father arrested by the PVDE (later renamed the PIDE, the Portuguese secret police) and jailed in Oporto and he helped smuggle stuff to him in the jail in the Rua do Heroismo in Oporto. Edgar spent that period gathering the information that would be the basis for Na Inquisicâo do Salazar (In Salazar’s Inquisition) published in Brazil in 1957. Some of that book consisted of the prison letters of Luis Portela, another anarcho-syndicalist opponent of Salazarism. Edgar’s father was later freed “on licence” and sacked from his job. Edgar joined a Political Prisoners’ Aid Committee and helped distribute antifascist newspapers. During the Second World War he had to do his military service. Within months he and other antifascist soldiers (“above suspicion”) were handing out anti-dictatorship pamphlets, with help from Casimiro Ferreira from Braga (a veteran of the Spanish Revolution). But for the transfer abroad of many of the troops from No 1 Sappers’ Barracks in Oporto it would have become a hotbed of the antifascist resistance. During his time in the service Edgar often had to accompany the local military defence counsel, Major Valdes, to trials of antifascists and saw and heard for himself the travesty of justice and the trumped-up charges and accounts of torture employed against the defendants. He left the army at the end of the war, joining amateur drama groups as cover for his oppositionist activities, as well as setting up a library and learning Esperanto. He bombarded foreign publications with letters protesting the terror in Portugal. He was one of those who harboured the fugitive oppositionist Luis Portela after Portela escaped from jail in Peniche. In this Edgar had help from Antonio Cruz, Joaquim de Freitas and Rossadas (a republican) in procuring false ID for Portela. When Portela was eventually run to ground Edgar then fled to Brazil, arriving there in August 1951. One of the people he met there was the Spanish anarchist Manuel Perez Fernández (1887-1964) in Rio de Janeiro, sometimes referred to as “the anarchist consul” (who had been sentenced to death by Franco but saved by pressure from the Brazilian government) and through him Edgar gained an entrée to the Brazilian anarchist community. He met Professor José Oiticica (1882-1957), director of Acçâo Directa newspaper which Edgar then used as a platform for denouncing the Salazar regime, serialising “Salazar’s Paradise” there over 5 years. He also wrote for other papers, conventional and anarchist, in Brazil and around the world. Na Inquisicâo do Salazar helped revive and inform vocal opposition to the Salazar regime. In 1957 PIDE agents sent to Brazil ahead of a planned visit by the Portuguese president Craveiro Lopes came looking for Edgar, determined to “neutralise” opponents ahead of the visit. In 1959 he published A Fome en Portugal (Hunger in Portugal). In El Sol (Costa Rica) – run by a Cuban libertarian in exile, Nelson Mourelo – he denounced Salazar’s torturers and the doctors abetting them. In 1957, following the death of José Oiticica, Edgar helped set up the Professor José Oiticica Study Centre (CEPJO) and was a director of it until 1969 when it was shut down by the Brazilian dictatorship. Up until the 1950s, the focus of Edgar’s activities was internal opposition in Portugal, in the 1950s, 60s and 70s he divided his attention between Portugal and his adopted homeland of Brazil and after the 1974 revolution concentrated more on Brazil (before him a largely unknown movement), visiting his native land but integrating himself more and more into the Brazilian movement as researcher, activist, publisher and lecturer. He criss-crossed Brazil in search of primary sources (living and printed) on the movement there, anticipating by some 30-40 years a revival in academic interest in its history. Edgar’s books were for many students and activists their first glimpse of a world excluded from the official record by authoritarian governments, authoritarian parties and a largely blinkered academia. On foot of the resources he was able to track down and sift through (93 year old, bare-footed Manuel Francisco dos Passos was tracked down to a dirt-floored hut in Bangu and was able to hand Edgar a number of elderly, yellowing anarchist papers) and memoir material entrusted to him by former activists as he proved himself worthy of that trust, he did not hesitate to challenge the errors and deliberate misrepresentations of the academic historians and was particularly resentful of plagiarism of the books and articles he had himself so painstakingly researched. He never lost sight of the fact that “all history is biography” and so many of the people he wrote about were acquaintances and friends, so when, in the 1990s he published his 5-volume biographical dictionary of the Brazilian movement, Os Companheiros (The Comrades), those listed are listed by forename, not family name. Immigrant and native-born sit side by side, the academic, author and physician alongside the docker and construction worker. Another bug-bear of his was the intrusion of the universities and their bank-rolls into an area of research that he had pioneered. From the owner’s family, the State University of Campinas was able to buy up the library and archives of Edgard Leuenroth who had refused Edgar access to those resources, Leuenroth having intended to exploit these resources in books of his own. (In 1921 Leuenroth the anarchist was approached by a delegate of the Comintern who invited him to launch a Communist Party of Brazil but Leuenroth declined).

Edgar Rodrigues’s scores of books and thousands of articles have been praised by historians of the stature of Renée Lamberet, Paul Avrich and John Foster Dulles.

Rodrigues characterised the changes within the Brazilian movement between 1900 and 2000 like this: [In 1900] “the anarchists were immigrants, some of them even having been expelled from their countries of origin and labelled ‘outside agitators’ and many of them were jailed and deported. The libertarian movement started from SCRATCH!” By the 1980s, “virtually all of the anarchists are Brazilians, none of them is illiterate, many are intellectuals and academics but at no risk of being deported. […] It is up to them now – where possible – to capitalise upon the experiences of the past and plot fresh courses for the 21st century.”

Without the life’s work of Edgar Rodrigues, they would be singularly ill-equipped to tackle that mission.

His books, too numerous to list, cover a range of topics: Portuguese social history, Brazilian social history, globalisation, hunger, violence and authority, women and anarchism and anarchism around the world.