Written & Produced by Leigh Kendall. Recorded @ Richmond Recorders, 1987. Re-Released as the ‘Red & Black Reggae’ CD by the Vicente Ruiz Foundation, 2001 (VRF001).
Vicente Ruiz, Snr.
Vicente Ruiz was born in 1912 in a small town not far from Cordoba, Spain. When he was three months old Vicente’s family moved to Malaga, a town at the very bottom of the Iberian Peninsula, not far from Gibraltar. In his youth Vicente was a member of the Juventudes Libertarias (Libertarian Youth), and joined the anarcho-syndicalist Confederacion Nacional del Trabajo (National Confederation of Labour) when he went to work in the Malaga railways in early adulthood. Vicente eventually became secretary of the section.
At the outbreak of the Spanish Revolution and Civil War in July, 1936, Vicente and his brother formed a brigade which became part of the railway workers’ militia, and became part of the thousands of ordinary people who put down the Francoist revolt in numerous parts of Spain. The brigade the Ruiz brothers formed came to be known, perhaps self-evidently, as the Ruiz Brothers’ Brigade. Vicente was involved in the collectivisation of the railway workshops in Malaga where the trains were repaired, the bosses having been kicked out, and the the workers taking control of production and organising decision-making collectively and democratically. Vicente fought with the CNT militia against the fascist onslaught around Malaga until its fall early in 1937, at which time he travelled between Barcelona, Alicante, Saragossa and Madrid aiding the revolution, the last two major flash points in the history of the Civil War.
At the end of the Civil War in 1939, Vicente managed to escape Spain via Alicante in the west for Iran on one of the last boats to leave the country. On the boat were Congost, a former secretary of the anarcho-syndicalist International Workers’ Association, and numerous refugees from the CNT and the wider libertarian and anti-fascists movement who later emigrated to Australia, some names including Robert, Quiñones, Beneito, Collado and Dominguez.
Having escaped with his life, and like many of his compatriots fleeing the deadly vengeance being wrought by the victorious Francoists on anyone who dared to question their authority, Vicente was put in detention upon his arrival in
Iran Oran, and otherwise treated like a criminal for having actively opposed an insurgent fascist army. He was shortly afterwards transferred to Algiers. Algeria was still under the colonial domination of France at that time, and in particular by the fascist Vichy puppet regime, which answered to the Nazis. Vicente was put into a concentration camp at Algiers, and was later moved to a number of hard labour camps, where he was put to work mining coal and building roads for the Germans virtually in the centre of the Sahara desert. He managed to escape but was recaptured by the colonial authority and tortured by having the soles of his feet burnt. This sadistic act caused severe damage to his feet and for the rest of his life Vicente was unable to walk properly.
When Liberation came at the end of the war Vicente stayed in Algeria until the war of independence, joining the Algerian liberation movement with many other Spanish anarchists and aiding their rebellion against the French colonisers, who were thus expelled from the country. Having already been involved in establishing a CNT-in-exile movement in North Africa, publishing a local version of the CNT journal Solidaridad Obrera (Workers’ Solidarity), Vicente moved to Casablanca in Morocco and set up the Centro Cultural de Harmonia (Harmony Cultural Centre), which was an organising point for Solidaridad Internacional Antifascista (International Anti-Fascist Solidarity), the CNT-in-exile movement.
The Centro in Casablanca became a focal point for Vicente’s activities over the next decade or so. After the end of the Civil War Casablanca was a filtering point for anti-fascist refugees, and Vicente like many others was involved in aiding their movement out of Spain. In addition to aiding refugees the Centro also hosted lectures by prominent anarchists such as Federica Monseny, Ramon Liarte, Miguel Selma and others. By the time Vicente and his family left Casablanca in order to emigrate to Australia in September 1965 Vicente was Press Secretary for the Centro.
In Australia Vicente made contact with CNT-in-exile groups in Sydney and Melbourne, and began publishing the anarchist journals Ravachol and then Acracia. He made contact with exiles from Italy and Greece and at one point was involved in producing a joint Spanish/Greek leaflet about the authoritarian injustices perpetrated in both countries. Vicente was also involved in the publication of el Democrata (Democracy), a publication of the Melbourne and Sydney sections of the Centro Democratia Español (Spanish Democratic Centre). The Centro Democratia Español was a broad anti-fascist coalition of Spanish republicans, socialists and anarchists, and the work of this organisation was often marred by conflicts between the very different viewpoints of those involved, anti-fascism being a very wide brush which painted many Spanish exiles of widely-varying ideological and social persuasions.
The more well-known of Vicente’s long legacy of activity in Melbourne include the Free Store at 42 Smith Street, Collingwood, where people could bring and take things as they needed them, the Tenants’ Union in Johnston Street, Fitzroy, and the Fitzroy Legal Service, which provides free legal advice to workers and people on low incomes. All are well-known as products of the clear-sightedness and experience of the Spanish exiles in Melbourne. Vicente was also involved in the Australian anarchist conference, held in Melbourne in 1986, along with other Spanish, Italian, Greek and Bulgarian anarchists, including Bruno Vanini and Jack Grancharoff, and others including Andrew Giles-Peters. He participated in the conference, giving several talks. This conference was also attended by Abel Paz, biographer of Buenaventura Durruti, the famous anarchist militant from the Spanish Revolution. [See : Durruti in the Spanish Revolution, Chuck Morse (Translator) and Abel Paz, AK Press, 2006.]
Vicente Ruiz carried on his organisational and educational work until his death in Melbourne at the age of eighty-six in 1998. The Vicente Ruiz Foundation aims to keep his memory alive and to continue his legacy of firm commitment to social responsibility and libertarian principles of organisation and action.
Thanks to Vicente Ruiz, Jnr. for the information.
Anarchists start Australia’s first free legal aid service
The first group in Australia to set up a free legal aid service were a group of Melbourne anarchists. In 1972 a group of Melbourne anarchists, including veteran Spanish anarchist, Vicente Ruiz, set up a store front free legal aid service at the Free Store at 42 Smith Street, Collingwood. They set up this part time free legal service with the help of two sympathetic part-time lawyers.
Both lawyers provided a free service to anyone who required legal assistance. In 1972 legal assistance was only available to those who could afford it. The great majority of people were not able to obtain representation and took their chances within the legal system without legal representation. Melbourne Anarchists set up the forerunner of the modern Australian legal aid system.
Their practical example encouraged other people to set up similar centres. Eventually the example of direct community service they set up was taken up by the Whitlam Labor government. Their example lay the ground for the introduction of free legal aid to the rest of Australia. This is just one example of the influence anarchists have had on Australian society.
APPENDIX : GET OUT OF FITZROY
“While some celebrated the rejuvenation of south Fitzroy, others were ambivalent. Most who had lived in Fitzroy prior to the 1970s appeared to accept the suburb’s make over with resignation or indifference (or an initial sense of helplessness in the case of slum clearance). Others, however, did ponder the effects of the middle class ‘moving in, doing up cottages, (and) pushing up the values that squeezed out the oldies’, with one resident asking: ‘where else could the drunks sleep it off… Kew? Balwyn?’
Yet the rapid demographic and social change occurring in Fitzroy in the 1970s did not pass without more rigorous public challenge. Opposition to what was labelled ‘Trendy Kulture’ was voiced loudly by a particular activist group, the ‘fitzroy anarchists’, comprising of both old and new Fitzroy residents. The group produced a series of newsletters and pamphlets from mid-1974 to 1975 entitled get out of fitzroy!
The campaign launched by the fitzroy anarchists focused on the social and economic baggage that accompanied the changes in the suburb. In an uncompromising and many ways prescient fashion, they tackled head on many of the groups who felt that they were acting in the best interests of Fitzroy’s poor and marginalised. get out of fitzroy! attacked ‘the student population with their trendy bourgeois tastes and friends’. It called for ‘a boycott on all the pizza places the kentaky fried chicken houses and trendy pubs and shops’.
The fitzroy anarchists were critical of the Fitzroy City Council for abandoning its working-class and migrant constituency, for pandering to ‘trendy tastes’ expressed in the council’s period-detail restoration of the City Library. The anarchists claimed that through this restoration the council was attempting to identify with the renovated terrace owners in the surrounding area, rather than its working-class ‘heartland’, subsequently launching a catchcry ‘multi-lingual papers not chandeliers!’
In another campaign, this time in response to the council’s predilection for the construction of traffic barriers and roundabouts (a definite middle-class fetish), the anarchists offered the ultimate solution to Fitzroy’s traffic problems: ‘if necessary, create a bubble over Fitzroy—let them go round’.
The group also waged a graffiti campaign that saw the slogan ‘piss off trendies, piss off’ daubed on factory walls and inside some properties under renovation.
Some of its more serious criticism, however, was reserved not for ‘trendy’ renovators but for those perceived by the fitzroy anarchists as nothing more than ‘trendy’ political activists:
The trendy [Marxists] are the very people who are making the area one of the ‘best’ middle-class areas of Melbourne… as well as making the needy suffer and with an apparent complete lack of conscience… [They] are to blame for the suffering, in spite of the fact that fitzroy is needed for the poor, the migrants, the single mothers, the alcoholics, the pensioners and the lower working-class whites.
In a poster that was pasted throughout the suburb, ‘get out! …of fitzroy’, the fitzroy anarchists lampooned the baggage of the ‘trendies’ and provided an eclectic list of all that it wanted banished from the suburb: ‘charity organisations, antique joints, The Flying Trapeze (café) and The Melbourne Crime’ (a variant on the name of a local newspaper that carried extensive real estate advertising). Perhaps the most effective expression of the fitzroy anarchists’ cause came in the form of a poem by long-time south Fitzroy resident and poet ∏O. A founding member of the group, ∏O wrote his ‘get out of fitzroy’ to remind the middle class of what they had previously feared or despised and how they had transformed the suburb:
get out of fitzroy
…you’ve sidestepped the bloodpools
the pusholes &
raised the rents
classed the restaurants
closed down the hamburgers
gouged out the stomachs of houses
& photoed the bedrooms of drunks
you’ve made this place hell.
we’ll burn down the street signs
we know our way around
get out of fitzroy
Although the ‘get out of fitzroy’ campaign received wide publicity and some media support, over the next twenty years Trendy Kulture proliferated across the suburb. In many other parts of inner-city Melbourne also, an increasing number of properties were transformed from ‘slums’ into places where the middle class could imagine the ‘respectable self’; where they could ensconce themselves in such fashionably renovated accommodation as a ‘balcony terrace in Gore Street, Fitzroy’ that ‘brought the idea of the Victorian bourgeois family into the present’.
Throughout the inner suburbs, but perhaps in south Fitzroy most dramatically, the arrival of the new bourgeois family began to displace those who found it increasingly difficult to afford to live in a previously maligned suburb that had been their home…”