Manuel Pérez Fernández – Spanish cabinet-maker and anarchist

At the beginning of September 1951 Manuel Pérez Fernández was mentioned to me and I was given his address. He was living in an elderly block in Rio de Janeiro’s Rua dos Inválidos with his third wife and the two daughters he had had by his second wife, the latter having died in France.

The next day I climbed the wooden stairs to the first floor (seven metres above street level) and on reaching it felt as if I had stepped into one of those old “republics” (collective apartments), there were so many people there chattering away in a mixture of Portuguese, Spanish and French.

They were all busy dispatching the anarchist newspaper Ação Direta: some making up parcels, others affixing labels and addresses and some commenting on publications received from abroad.

Young, shy and a newcomer, I hesitated in the face of all this activity and then one of the people there, stepping forward with a smile as if we were long-time acquaintances, asked me: Who are you looking for?

Manuel Pérez Fernández – I said.

I’m Manuel Pérez – he answered amiably.

I then discovered that the people all around him were Portuguese, Brazilian, Spanish, French and Bulgarian and every one of them an anarchist.

From then on I dropped by that old block on a weekly basis, helping out with cultural, ideological and solidarity activities. I never visited Comrade Pérez’s House (as it was called) without finding some anarchist delivering or collecting publications, bringing news or picking up information about the movement in Brazil, in Spain or the wider world! Others dropped by looking for help in finding work, a place to stay and/or for some cash for food until they could get settled in Brazil.

Manuel Pérez lively poorly and lost one of his daughters to TB there and his third wife died years later after she had had a breast removed.

But for as long as he was able to keep the old place in the Rua dos Inválidos going, Pérez was forever receiving anarchists and affording them whatever assistance he could.

I did hear somebody once refer to his place as the Anarchist Consulate, and with some reason, I must admit!

Over our years together, I learned that Manuel Pérez Fernández was born in Spain on 10 August 1887 and came to Brazil as a child.

He was schooled in Rio de Janeiro, took Brazilian citizenship and a Brazilian voter’s card, did his compulsory military service and became a public official. He trained as a cabinet-maker and joined the class struggle, becoming an anarchist.

Together with Nicanor Rodrigues, José María Pereira and others, he set up the Cabinet-makers’ Centre, becoming its president. In 1918 he managed to launch the Cabinet-makers’ Centre and the Cabinet-makers’ Union, going on to form the Rio de Janeiro Cabinet-makers’ And Locksmith Workers’ Alliance and was elected its general secretary.

In Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo the social question was top of the agenda. The workers declared strikes with considerable impact across the country.

1917 saw the outbreak in Sao Paulo of an insurrectionary general strike with the people erecting street barricades, Anarchists were in the forefront of these protests.

In 1918 Rio de Janeiro was on a war footing during the insurrectionary general strike when workers tried to raid the São Cristovão army depot.

Manuel Pérez – and his fellow tradesmen – made up the army tackling the exploiters and the State.

Epitácio Pessoa’s government panicked and hundreds upon hundreds of workers, most of them anarchists, were rounded up. Some were deported and the foreign-born ones were expelled from Brazil without the benefit of trial.

Way back then, a law passed by the Brazilian congress forbade the expulsion of workers married to Brazilian wives or with Brazilian-born offspring.

Manuel Pérez Fernández was married and he also had a child. Even so, he was arrested and expelled in 1919 together with Manuel Perdigão, Manuel Gonçalves, Everardo Dias, José Carlos, Albano dos Santos, Antonio da Silva Massarelos, Alexandre Azevedo, Manoel Ferreira, Antonio Costa, Anibal Paulo Monteiro, Joaquim Alvarez, Antonio Pérez, João Jose Rodrigues, Manoel Pérez, Antonio Prieto, Manuel Gama, Abilio Cabral, Alberto de Castro, Adolfo Alonso, José Cid, Rafael Lopez and Francisco Pereira. Like Pérez, Manuel Perdigão had arrived in Santos as a boy; the others had been born in Spain or Portugal or Italy. They all left family behind in Brazil.

Manuel Pérez and his comrades “stowed away” in the holds of the cargo vessel ‘Benevente’. He reached Vigo on the night of 29 November 1919. Handed over to the Spanish police, he spent 15 days in the provincial prison in the city. He was then relocated to the Modelo prison in Madrid, Cell No 136. Finally he was taken to ‘El Populo’, a former monastery converted for use as Andalusia’s provincial prison. And then on 6 January 1920, he was released.

In prison he lived alongside and befriended a number of anarchists. One of them gave him the address of the rationalist school at 49, Calle Enladrillada which was run by José Sánchez Rosa (murdered in Seville in early August 1936). He found lodgings in the home of Manuel Carrera and the very next day sought out the cabinet-makers’ union in Seville. In September 1920 he was rearrested while taking part in a meeting and with seven comrades was bound in pairs and banished from the area on foot. Freed in 1922 by order of the mayor of Cabezas Rubias, he made his way back to Seville and addressed a meeting in the Duque Theatre alongside Salvador Seguí and other anarchists.

With Felipe Alaiz and others he helped reorganise the CNT, made speeches and was arrested again, this time in the home of Dr Pedro Vallina, the founder of the ‘Vida’ Sanatorium.

At the beginning of 1924, with his second wife, his daughter Aurora and Ignacio Cobeña, he quit Seville under a banishment order. And arrived in Lisbon in April. He sought out Manuel da Silva, the then general secretary of the Portuguese CGT, whose acquaintance he had made in ‘El Populo’ in Seville.

In the Portuguese capital, Manuel Pérez Fernández received a warm welcome and moved into the headquarters of the Lisbon Cabinet-makers’ Union where his daughter Carmen was born. Carmen was delivered on the night of 25 June 1925 by Dr Pedro Vallina who was also in Lisbon, having likewise been banished with his family. At the point of delivery the Portuguese police raided the union hall, hoping to capture anarchists. Startled by the scene before them, the police scuttled away, leaving Carmen to be born in peace.

In Lisbon he found José Romero Ortega working on the anarcho-syndicalist newspaper A Batalha as a type-setter; he, like Pérez, had been expelled from Brazil, having been, like Pérez, born in Spain. José Romero went back when the Portuguese dictatorship was established in 1926, dying in Rio de Janeiro at the age of nearly 90. He was part of the team that was dispatching Ação Directa from Pérez’s home, the first time I dropped in.

In the Portuguese capital, Pérez joined the ‘O Semeador’ anarchist group alongside Adriano Botelho, José Carlos de Souza, Manuel Joaquim de Souza and other Portuguese militants.

In October 1925 he travelled to France with Pedro Vallina and there met with Nestor Makhno, Peter Arshinov, Jean Grave, Sébastien Faure, Charles Malato, Pierre Besnard, Ranko, Armando Borghi, Virgilia D’Andrea and Christiaan Cornelissen. In 1926 he took part in the Marseilles congress, joining with the Portuguese militant Manuel Joaquim de Sousa to table a motion calling for the establishment of a body to unify the anarchist movement in Spain and Portugal – to be more specific, the Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI).

Following a change of government, Pérez returned to Spain with his three daughters, one born in Spain, one in Portugal and the youngest in France. His partner had died in exile.

In 1929 while working on the construction of the Cuban pavilion for the Exposition in Seville, chance brought Manuel Pérez Fernández into contact with Dr Paulo Vidal, Brazil’s commissar-general at the exposition. They had met before in the editorial offices of the Jornal do Brasil newspaper shortly before Manuel had been expelled by the Rio de Janeiro police.

At the invitation of this Brazilian journalist, Manuel found work as a carpenter on the Brazilian stand and when that finished – given that Manuel’s knowledge of the languages of both countries and of Brazilian ways and customs – he took charge of the News, Press and Propaganda Agency, whereupon he was recommended by Dr Paulo Vidal to register his daughters at the Brazilian consulate in Seville as Brazilian nationals.

The Exposition moved on from Spain to Antwerp and Pérez was invited to travel with the Brazilians. He agreed, but the Spanish police tried to thwart his plans and Brazil’s ambassador in Madrid asserted his rights as a Brazilian national. Pérez took his family along. Come the end of the exposition in Belgium, the Brazilian government offered him free passage and an entry visa, but Pérez declined the offer, opting instead to use the free passage to return to Spain, arriving in San Sebastián in February 1931, after a two month stopover in Paris.

In June 1932 he left for the Canaries. Passing through Vitoria, he met up with Isaac Puente, José Alvarez and others of like mind.

His activities in the Canaries were intense and he was made director of the weekly paper En Marcha in Santa Cruz de Tenerife.

He was part of the board of Cultura Obrera in Palma, Majorca and when the fascist revolt came he escaped via Barcelona. In that city he was the director Of Ruta, the mouthpiece of the Catalonian regional youth organisation.

He took part in a number of plenums and congresses before and during the revolution. Having missed a sailing in the immediate wake of Franco’s victory, he finished up a prisoner and was taken to the Los Almendros concentration camp in early April 1939.

Pérez recalled that at that point how, at the urging of Dr Paulo Vidal, he had registered his whole family as Brazilian nationals in 1929, in Seville. To save his own and his family’s lives, he had no hesitation in producing those identity papers and tipped off the Brazilian consulate in Cadiz about their plight. Within days the representative of the country that had expelled him back in 1919 demanded of Franco that Manuel Pérez be allowed to return to Brazil. He was monitored throughout a deportation hearing by the Brazilian consulate and finally, in July 1941, Manuel Pérez Fernández and family arrived in Rio de Janeiro. It could be argued that the Spanish anarchist had been “born again” …

Once he had recovered from his ordeal, Pérez started afresh, with José Oiticica, José Romero, P. Ferreira da Silva and other anarchist militants. He died on 16 June 1964 after asking the veteran anarchist Diamantino Augusto who was visiting him in the nursing home where he was living: “How are the comrades?”

He left written memoirs behind. The present writer received a copy from his very own hands and regards this unpublished work as being of enormous historical value.

Source: Edgar Rodrigues Os Companheiros, 4 (Editora Insular, Florianopolis 1997) pp. 54-59

Another text, Manuel Pérez Fernández, FAI founder and CNT organiser by Agustín Guillamón from: Balance. Cuadernos de historia No 36 (November 2011) is on our website.

From: Edgar Rodrigues "Os Companheiros", 4 (Editora Insular, Florianopolis 1997) pp. 54-59. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.