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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 Bacelona, 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, 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 independece, 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 organaising 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 pursuasions.

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, and which at present employs at least one anarchist lawyer. All are well-known as products of the clear-sightedness and experience of the Spanish exiles in Melbourne. Vicente was also involved in the first 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.

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.

Vicente Ruiz Foundation > VR Biography