The Cultural Practice of Argentinean Anarchism: The Buenos Aires Biblioteca Archivo De Estudios Libertarios (1995-2005) and the CNT-FAI's Instituto De Documentación Social (1938)

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ABSTRACT

This paper establishes a link between the cultural practice of Spanish and Argentinean anarchism during the Spanish Civil War, in particular around the construction of libraries and archives in the past and in the present as projects dedicated to the ongoing acculturation of members of anarchist organizations. It presents a brief overview of the development of anarchism in Argentina, of the concerns which led a number of anarchists from this country to go to Spain during the social revolution, and the efforts by these militants and the CNT-FAI to construct a documented testimony to the cultural, political, economic and social undertakings of anarchists during the period 1936-9. Finally, it traces the connections between the efforts of Argentinean anarchists to record the cultural practices of the Spanish anarchists and the establishment of a working anarchist archive in Buenos Aires as another manifestation of the importance anarchism places on the preservation of memory, documentation and living cultural practices. It is followed by a glossary of specialist terms at the end.

1 ARGENTINEAN ANARCHISM AND HISTORIOGRAPHICAL DISCOURSE: A HYPOTHESIS

The history of the anarchist movement in Argentina is rich in experiences and historical lessons. During the first two decades of the twentieth century it constituted a powerful movement with a huge following, expressed not only in the large street demonstrations and numerical strength of the FORA (Federación Obrera Regional Argentina) - the largest union organization in Argentina until 1915, of anarchist inspiration - but also in a range of publications, such as the newspaper La Protesta (with two editions per day and a circulation close to commercial papers), libertarian schools inspired by Francisco Ferrer, and an extensive network of social centres (ateneos) and popular libraries.

Historical study to date has restricted its enquiries to these first two decades of the workers' movement in Argentina and considers that its heyday peaked around 1910, to be followed by a period of decline. The causes of this decline are adduced to be manifold: changes in the electoral laws in 1916, allowing for universal suffrage; new negotiating frameworks involving the state in labour disputes; changing social relations in accordance with on-going urbanization; the development of a leisure industry, including football and the cinema, and increased state repression unleashed in 1910 under the Social Defence Law, which entailed the closing down of newspapers, and increased incarceration of militants and exile.1

All these factors combined to undermine the impact and freedom of movement of anarchism, which, in spite of these limitations, continued to hold fast to its uncompromised approach. However, such a tactic meant that anarchism steadily lost ground in comparison to other political and union tendencies, which hurried to embrace the new labour arbitration mechanisms and the electoral possibilities offered by the change of law. However, despite the fact that anarchism disappears from studies of the third decade of the twentieth century, the movement had not in reality disappeared. It is true that the revolutionary union FORA2 in 1930 found itself clearly a minority force in comparison with the socialist trade unionism of the CGT3 and the burgeoning communist unions. We cannot talk of total disappearance, however, as the FORA was present in some significant struggles in the 1930s.

More relevant to the subject of this article, nevertheless, is the emergence in 1935 of the first 'specific' anarchist group in Argentina, the Argentine Anarcho-Communist Federation (FACA). The creation of the Federation, in a decade during which historians no longer pay much attention to the anarchist movement, demonstrates that considerable strength was still rooted in the organized anarchist movement. The FACA included a large number of groups across the whole country, even though its anarchism was of a different nature from that present in the FORA. …