Interviewing Salvador Torrents (1950/1975/2012) : Spanish anarchist exiled to Australia

Interviewing Salvador Torrents (PDF) is a re-publication and the first English translation of an interview originally conducted in 1950 with the Spanish anarchist Salvador Torrents (1885?–1951), exiled to Australia in 1915. It was edited, published and produced by Acracia with the co-operation of the Grupo Cultural de Estudios Sociales de Melbourne, based on a text originally published in 1975. Acracia has also published a history of the Spanish anarchist refugees and immigrants in Australia and a libertarian anthology. For more information on the group and its activities write to exiliolibertario[at]gmail[dot]com.

Foreword:

Salvador Torrents was one of numerous Spanish anarchists that found refuge in this distant continent of Australia following numerous chapters of rebellion and struggles for Justice throughout the history of the Iberian Peninsula. Until death, they all remained faithful to their libertarian ideals, constantly contributing and planting the seed of anarchism with the hope that one day it would flourish.

Salvador Torrents, was born so it is believed, in 1885 and began his libertarian militancy at a young age in the township of Mataró. In 1903 along with Abelardo Saavedra, José Sánchez Rosa and Mariano Castellote, he participated in the first anarchist meeting held in the town. He further contributed in establishing the anarchist group “Nueva Semilla” (New Seed) as well as the “Ateneo Obrero” of Mataró.

Following the events of July 1909, he exiled himself in France. He was forced to return to Spain and in approximately December 1915 he elected to migrate to Australia. He settled in Essendon, Melbourne for a brief period finally establishing himself in the coastal township of Innisfail, Queensland. In either late 1919 or early 1920 he was joined by his compañera Teresa and daughter Paz Universal (translated into English the name signifies Universal Peace).

In early 1950, compañero Campio Carpio, a recognized and respected writer in the Hispanic libertarian journals interviewed compañero Torrents via correspondence. This interview was published in a booklet form in 1975 by the Spanish anarchist publishing collectives of Militando from Sydney and Ravachol from Melbourne, it was printed in Melbourne by Ravachol Press.

See also : Judith Keene, ‘The Word Makes the Man’: A Catalan Anarchist Autodidact in the Australian Bush, Australian Journal of Politics and History, Vol.47, No.3 (2001) | Robert Mason, ‘No Arms Other than Paper’: Salvador Torrents and the Formation of Hispanic Migrant Identity in Northern Australia, 1916–50, Australian Historical Studies, Vol.41, No.2 (2010) | Robert Mason, Anarchism, communism and hispanidad: Australian Spanish migrants and the Civil War (PDF), 2009:

Internal divisions within the community became more noticeable after reports reached Australia of Barcelona’s May Day clashes in 1937. Reports made clear that long-running street battles had occurred between anarchists and government-sanctioned forces. The reason for the violence and locus of culpability was obscure however. Mutually incompatible reports suggested either that communists had provoked anarchists in order to consolidate political power or that anarchists were deliberately undermining the war effort and had to be controlled. Unable to understand the complex political reality, Queensland Spaniards instead inserted reports into their pre-existing perceptions of the ACP. For local anarchists, the fratricidal May Days appeared to betray the very communal ideals that were fundamental to their support of the Republican government. Local Spaniards who accepted communists’ arguments were quickly ostracised, but arguments also erupted between anarchist sympathisers.

Anglo-Australians present in Barcelona concurred that anarchists were undermining the effort on the frontline, and had to be restrained by the Republican administration. Judith Keene notes,

“in her analysis of Spanish affairs Aileen [Palmer] entirely supported the Communist Party-Popular Front position. She wholeheartedly defended the rights of the central government to dismantle the militia of different political groups and dissolve the spontaneous organs of popular control that had sprung up in opposition to the generals’ pronunciamiento. She was also distrustful, even derisory, towards the Spanish Anarchists.”

Keene argues that Aileen Palmer’s highly critical views of decentralised popular control ‘probably provided a foundation of [her parents] Nettie and Vance’s own analyses in Australia of the civil war in Spain. It was a basis from which they wrote their articles and speeches for the Spanish Relief Committee’. The Palmers undoubtedly valued their daughter’s opinion, but were also provided with a steady stream of alternative anarchist analyses from Queensland Spaniards. Nettie Palmer’s confusion at divisions in the Popular Front is made clear in her diary: ‘Reading some papers sent from Innisfail by Torrents: Franco-Spanish, I mean French and Spanish, anarchist – Popular Front news’.

Queensland anarchists were infuriated by the comments of the prominent Anglo-Australian communist, Lawrence Sharkey, after the May Days. Sharkey avowed “since the fascist revolt, the Communist Party has tirelessly watched over the unity of the People’s Front, guarding it against the attempts at disruption by the counter-revolutionary Trotskyist P.O.U.M. and the small anarchist section known as the ‘Uncontrollables’”. Sharkey provocatively claimed the war had taught anarchists a much-needed lesson on submission to communist control and “the futility of the anarchist conceptions and the correctness of Marxist-Leninist teachings”. His public comments were pointed and Spaniards’ perceived them in the context of their own refusal to accept communist authority.

Speaking of Sharkeys and Uncontrollables, I’m currently reading Paul Sharkey’s translation of Abel Paz’s The Story of the Iron Column: Militant Anarchism in the Spanish Civil War, a joint publication by AK Press and the Kate Sharpley Library (2011).

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2014 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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