José Grunfeld (1907-2005)

José Grunfeld was born on 17 June 1907 in the Moisés Ville district in Argentina’s Santa Fe province: Moisés Ville was a Jewish immigrant settlement and José’s own parents were immigrants from Rumania.

His working life began at the age of 10 and up until the age of 14 he tried his hand at a number of trades locally.

His family them moved to La Plata and in 1923 José found work with the Swift refrigeration works but soon he was on the move again to Rosario where he picked the trade of a sign-writer and studied drawing at the Gaspari Academy and at the People’s University.

In 1925 on a visit to La Plata he was taken by his brother Rafael to a rally calling for the release of Sacco and Vanzetti and that rally piqued his interest in the libertarian movement.

In Rosario he was in touch with the Libre Acuerdo anarchist group and with the Local Workers’ Union.

In 1926 he was arrested over his propaganda activities and in 1927 he refused to do his military service, fleeing to the Tres Arroyo area and adopting his mother’s family name - Jusid - a practice that he kept up for much of his active life: in Tres Arroyos he and other comrades set up the ‘Rafael Barrett’ Library.

The following year saw him return to La Plata where he reorganised the ‘Ideas’ group along with some university students and workers.

Come the Uriburu coup d’état on 6 September 1930, they published an underground newspaper urging the soldiers to mutiny against the dictatorship: José was arrested and spent nearly a year in prison, where he met up with other anarchist prisoners from all over the country and took part in a get-together meant to inject fresh life into the Argentine libertarian movement.

In February 1932 he was freed under an amnesty and helped organise an anarchist congress once all the anarchist prisoners were out.

He returned to Rosario where he helped reorganise the Painters’ Union and took part in a strike for better conditions, was wounded in a gunfight by the police and placed under arrest in hospital. But due to pressure from his comrades, he was freed on bail. Not that this was any impediment to his case falling under the remit of a court martial since he was a draft-dodger, but his injury ruled out his going into the army and he was discharged.

He took part in meetings and rallies and toured the country on a number of propaganda tours. He began to become active inside the USL (Libertarian Socialist Union) and in the JSL (Libertarian Socialist Youth), bringing these closer to the unions. As the USL and JSL representative he attended an underground congress in La Plata in October 1935 which laid the foundations for the FACA (Argentine Anarcho-Communist Federation).

He was appointed the FACA agent in Rosario and moved to Buenos Aires to take up an organisational post on the national secretariat and helped edit the newspaper Acción Libertaria.

In 1936 with the outbreak of civil was in Spain, through the FACA he was involved in organisations funneling aid to the Spanish people, joining the ‘Solidarity with the Spanish People’ organisation launched by anarchists. In November 1936 he and his partner made a trip to Spain bringing medicines donated by Argentine medical students. In Barcelona he was in touch with Gaston Leval and Santillán who invited him along to a meeting of the CNT and FAI regional. That very evening he was appointed to fill the vacant post of acting secretary of the Barcelona FAI committee.

In January 1937 he took up the secretaryship of the War Commission, the task of which was to service the Aragon front and he served as liaison for the CNT-FAI’s National Defence Section. Meanwhile, back in Argentina, the FACA appointed him its attaché to the Spanish Libertarian Movement. In 1938 he stepped down from the post due to problems within the Commission.

The FAI then put his name forward as secretary of the peninsular sub-committee in the Centre-South republican zone, this being one of two territories to which republican Spain was reduced after Franco managed to break through the front. From that post he busied himself liaising between the regionals and after the loss of Catalonia he was very busy ensuring that the membership and the organisation suffered as little as possible. Between then and the final defeat he served on the secretariat of the Libertarian Movement (CNT-FAI-FIJL), as vice-secretary with responsibility for trade union and economic matters.

He was able to escape Spain by sea and reached Marseilles before travelling on to Paris where he made contact with his comrades in Argentina. In Paris he worked on CNT-FAI committees funnelling assistance to the exiles.

Come the outbreak of the Second World War, he made his way home to Argentina and returned to local activity, facing fresh crackdowns from the authorities that resulted in his being jailed again for pretty lengthy stretches at a time.

In 1954 the FACA renamed itself the FLA (Argentine Libertarian Federation) and Grunfeld kept up his links with this organisation and with the labour movement. For a seven year period starting in 1963 he served on the Cultural Commission of the FLA’s National Council. With the military dictatorship at its height he helped organise a national congress of the labour movement; it was held in June 1980 and out of it came the trade union association known as the COPENASILI (National Standing Committee for Free Trade Unionism).

Up until his death in the spring of 2005, he kept up his connections with the FLA, writing for the newspaper El Libertario.

His life represents an example of true anarchist internationalism of the sort that led so many people from so many different places to marry their fates with the fate of the Spanish people and, in the specific case of Argentina, just as lots of Spanish activists threw themselves into social struggles in Argentina, so lots of Argentine comrades - Radowitzky or Badaracco, to name only two of the most famous - travelled to Spain to take part in the social revolution there and to fight against the enemies of progress towards a free society.

From: Tierra y Libertad (Madrid) No 210, January 2006.