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Salvochea and the doctrines of Owen.
24 May 2010 @ 16:07

Firstly, Salvochea was a  “child from a good family”, driven crazy by the epic,  generous and unselfish struggle.  Next he was an internationalist with a first-class passionate support for the militants and later on, a communist.  This was Salvochea when he fuelled the uprising in Cadiz.  His republic represented communism and a universal brotherhood…..  Later on, the Republic itself and its republican counterparts proved him wrong.   Later still, a study showed him that it was anarchism that he dreamed about, or rather fantasized about.  From that moment onwards, he became an anarchist.

Fermín Salvochea was born in Cadiz in March, 1842 and died there in 1907.  He was educated in England where he stayed until the age of 20, dedicating all his free time to the study of radical English literature.  Firstly he studied the work of Thomas Paine which had a powerful influence on the young man.  Later on he got to know personally Charles Bredlow and his friends.  Atheist propaganda in England encountered many problems during this period, but Bredlow and his friends put all their energies into standing up for their convictions, attempting to destroy the medieval idea of theism which permeated all echelons of English society.  

He began his political operations in 1866, committed to the plot to free the military prisoners of Madrid who were incarcerated in the castle of San Sebastian who had taken part in the events at San Gil barracks, awaiting deportation to Manila (Philippines).  

During this time there were anarchists in London, theosophists and Christian anarchists, and throughout the islands there were also various groups of “tolstoyan” communists.  However, in contrary to the spiritual communism on the continent, the English never renounced their church in favour of the common good.  They were deeply religious but not deeply catholic or protestant and they didn’t  pin their passions to any positive cults or to the communist rules that demand a rigid and gloomy lifestyle.  Theirs was a different type of anarchism, a psychological anarchism.  There were anarchist-communists who sacrificed absolutely everything, including themselves, to the common good.  Just like religious legends who converted everything into the love of God, these anarchists turned it all to love of humankind.  Their passion for others and for humankind made them pay so little attention to their own wellbeing that they often fell ill.  The perfect example of this type of anarchist was Luisa Michel.   From this type of sentimentalism and deep sensitivity was born the so-called action anarchists.

The psychology of the Spanish anarchist was, and still is, a lot more complex.  In Spain, even the communists were individuals in both their own lives and their activities.   However, the Spanish anarchist who was most similar to those in central Europe was Fermín Salvochea, whose morals were characterized by Luisa Michel.

If Fermín Salvochea wasn’t the first Spanish anarchist, then he was definitely amongst the first communists.   In this unusual case of a Spaniard who was a communist before becoming an anarchist, we need to remember that Fermín Salvochea was born in Andalucia and was educated in England.   The republican communist phenomenon was nothing new in Spain; many republican activists believed that the Republic represented communism and in Andalucia they not only believed it, but some were even waiting for the success of the Republic to be able to distribute the land amongst the rural folk.  This was Salvochea’s belief.  

Salvochea outlined his Andalucian origins and the development of his ideas  in England:


Salvochea’s teachers were the following: Paine, English but also a French MP and one of the driving forces behind the independence of the USA, Robert Owen y Bradlaugh, an Anglican preacher who ended up questioning the doctrines of the church.  However, the real masters in the true sense of the word were the rural folk of Andalucia.  It was in one of these men, in the details of his everyday life that he saw reflections of nobility and generosity at an almost exaggerated level despite the fact that social injustice made them permanent victims of the environment which surrounded them.

At the outset of the movement in 1868, he was part in the revolutionary junta in Cádiz and when, under orders from the provisional government, General Caballero de Rodas and his vast number of troops entered Cadiz, Salvochea was imprisoned in the Castillo de Santa Catalina until 1869.  Subsequently, he emigrated once again to London and Paris until 1870.  On his return to Spain he was one of the first to enroll with International, not because he stopped being a republican, but because he was a man of progress who supported everything that represented progress.  He was always a enthusiastic follower of Owen’s doctrines.

In 1873, whilst Mayor of Cadiz, he started a cantonal movement and, due to his selflessness and nobility, the Republic rewarded him with a life sentence in the prisons of Africa.  Granted amnesty although not wanting to accept it, he finally returned to mainland Spain only to receive other prison sentence when,  in 1892, an insurrection broke  out amongst the rural folk in Jerez.  Following this he was sentenced to twelve years in prison for being an anarchist.


Written by Jesús Castro

Translated by Rachael Harrison

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