Sanchez Rosa, Jose (1864-1936): The Shoemaker of Grazalema

Jose Sanchez Rosa.

A short biography of Jose Sanchez Rosa, noted Andalucian anarchist shot by the Francoists in 1936

The Andalucian pueblo blanco (white village) of Grazalema lies on the shoulder of the San Cristobal peak overlooking a green and smiling valley through which the Rio Guadelete runs. Nowadays it is a tourist destination but for many decades of the 19th and 20th centuries it was poverty stricken. It was here that Jose Sanchez Rosa was born to a poor shoemaker on October 22nd 1864. He was the youngest of a large family that lived in extreme poverty. He was forced to work as a field labourer from childhood and in the evenings helped his father mend shoes. This was to earn him the nickname of “the shoemaker of Grazalema” in later life.

He only completed two years of primary education, but his acute intelligence led to a thirst for reading and a quick ability to learn. By the age of 13 he was reading out aloud from newspapers to his fellow workers. This included socialist and anarchist newspapers. He very soon joined the Spanish libertarian movement and shortly after was arrested at a rally. He became a leading member of the Workers’ Society of Grazalema.

During 1882, the police used the manufactured scare of a secret society they had dreamed up themselves, the Mano Negra (Black Hand), to arrest many anarchist militants including Sanchez Rosa. They wanted to destroy the precursor of the CNT, the Federation of Workers of the Spanish Region (FTRE). They accused Sanchez Rosa of being a member of the Black Hand, despite his refusal to carry arms. He served a term in jail.

In 1891 he attended the congress of the Pact of Madrid. He was again arrested in January 1892 after the Jerez peasant uprising. The following year he was sentenced to life imprisonment and remained in jail until 1901. He served this time in the prison of El Hacho in Ceuta. He went out of his way to teach other prisoners there to read and write.

It was there that Sanchez Rosa met a great figure of Spanish anarchism, Fermin Salvochea, an avid proselytiser and propagandist of the anarchist Idea. Salvochea was influenced by the ideas of Kropotkin and Reclus and it was probably through him that Sanchez Rosa became an anarchist communist as opposed to the anarchist collectivism of Bakunin that still had strong influences on the Spanish libertarian movement. He learnt a knowledge of French and sociology from Salvochea.

He was released thanks to a national campaign to free the prisoners of 1892. Shortly after his release he moved with his companera Ana Villalobos to Los Barrios in the Campo de Gibraltar (Ana was a fellow grazalamena, a formidable character in her own right). Here he began his long career as a teacher though without any professional qualifications. He set up a school there supported by the local Workers Centre, the School of the Centre for Social Studies. It was closed by the military in 1903. He was again arrested in Tangier where he had again set up a school, Upon his release in January 1905 he moved to the mining town of Aznalcollar, in the province of Seville where he opened another school. Here he taught the children of workers and opened a library. The school here functioned from 1905 until 1911, first out in the open until 1907 when it was closed by ministerial order, and then in particular classes. It had around 70 students and began to use textbooks from the Rationalist School of Francisco Ferrer, after Sanchez Rosa had paid a visit to the great Catalan educationalist in Barcelona.

He may have attended the Congress of the Federation of Workers Societies of the Spanish Region (FSORE) in 1901 and the following year went on an anarchist propaganda tour with Teresa Claramunt and fellow shoemaker Leopoldo Bonafulla. He was to participate in similar tours in future years. He participated in a tour of Murcia in 1904 to prepare for the congress of the FSORE that year, which he attended as the delegate of Algeciras and Los Barrios.

In summer 1911 Sanchez Rosa moved to the city of Seville and settled in the Triana district. With Villalobos and their daughter Paca he opened another school based on the tenets of secularism, rationalism, internationalism and co-education of boys and girls. He was arrested that year during the general strike there.

This was a period of intensive activity for Sanchez Rosa. He undertook propaganda tours through Andalusia, including one in summer 1918 when he visited Bujalance, Montoro, Castro del Rio, Baena and Priego, where he tried to convince reluctant workers to join the revolutionary movement and gave help to organisations that had already been created, giving advice on sit-down strikes and go-slows. He helped to create hundreds of workers and peasant organisations, He took part in a legendary propaganda tour throughout Spain in 1912-1913. He promoted anarchist ideas through his debates with the Socialists, especially in the debate with Elidio Fernandez Egocheaga.

In 1915 he attended the Congress of El Ferrol initiated by anarchists to oppose the First World War on behalf of the Sevillian workers' societies. The following year he was a member of the reorganizing committee of the Centre for Social Studies of Seville, with Vallina, Pinzano and others, and participated in the meeting of July 7, 1916 in Seville; that same year he also organised a rally in Castro. In 1917 he was a member of the Sevillian committee of the National Confederation of Labour (CNT) along with Pedro Vallina and was on the committee of the Federation of Anarchist Groups of Andalucia.The following year he actively participated in the Aguilar mutiny in Cordoba, represented Andalusia along with Vallina at the Anarchist Congress in Barcelona, spoke at rallies in Seville and Paterna del Campo, and inaugurated the Congress of the Andalusian CNT, representing the Sevillian shoemakers. Over the years he published several newspapers, including Il Productor (The Producer), Seville (1919-1920), and Anarquia. In 1918 together with Vallina and Pacheco he was responsible for organising the League of Tenants which fought for reductions in rent and against evictions and as a result was arrested in February 1919 and deported with Vallina to Herrera del Duque, the “Siberia of Extremadura", where he used his forced exile to give many talks in the area.

Sanchez Rosa's hard struggle to educate himself impelled him to do the same for others starting with the collective reading he was first involved in and then going on to the setting up of schools with children being taught in the mornings and adults in the evenings. Other ways he sought to spread ideas was through the production of leaflets and pamphlets. He published up to 15 printed works. These brochures, published by his Worker's Library were distributed widely and had great success among workers. They were reprinted many times up until 1939'.These included Arithmetic For The Worker, Grammar For The Worker, and Counsel for The Worker, a manual for workers to file complaints or requests without having to resort to experts who would charge fees above workers’ resources. As well as these he produced simple introductions to anarchist ideas like The Anarchist Idea, The Bourgeois and The Anarchist, The Capitalist and the Worker etc. All of these were written in a simple, accessible and easy to understand language. He wanted his students and readers to become thinking beings, masters of themselves, entering into possession of freedom.

In late 1919 he engaged in fierce polemics inside the Andalusian Regional Committee of the CNT. He defended a pure anarchist position in opposition to the anarcho-syndicalist views of young militants like Antonio Rosado. Some historians are of the opinion that this was a clash of generations, and involved Rosa Sanchez’s views that the anarchist groups should control the CNT, versus Rosado’s position of autonomy for the CNT. Certainly Rosado otherwise had great “respect and admiration” for Sanchez Rosa's efforts over the years, and above all his educational and organisational activities, as Angel Sody de Rivas testifies in his biography of Rosado. As a result ofSanchez Rosa’s positions he was expelled from the CNT by the National Committee which caused dismay among the Andalusian unions and among Catalan anarchists. A purely anarchist congress was set up to found a new CNT in the south between 1919 and 1921.

Sanchez Rosa then associated with the Revista Blanca (White Review) set up by Federico Urales and Federica Montseny. In 1923 he was deported for some months to Murcia, and again was deported there in 1925 for seven months under the Primo de Rivera dictatorship. He undertook further propaganda tours to Cordoba and the Levante.

In 1931 he was re-admitted to the CNT and spoke at a First of May Rally of the CNT in Seville in 1932. That year he was arrested again following the great strike in Seville and imprisoned in the castle of Santa Catalina in Cadiz. Following the Figols uprising he was deported to Africa.

In 1933 he was diagnosed as suffering from diabetes. He now began to withdraw from active anarchist activity, writing his last article, Free Passage To Anarchy in the Madrid newspaper CNT. However he did continue his educational and publishing activity.

A few days after the military uprising of July 18th, 1936 a squad of Carlists arrived at his home, loaded all his books and papers on to a truck, and placed a mattress on top of them where they threw Sanchez Rosa, who had been taken from his sickbed. He was shot at dawn on August 1st, 1936 against the walls of the Seville cemetery, along with sixteen others. Their bodies were thrown into an unmarked mass grave. Thus died this most gentle man, who on seeing caged birds in the animal market of Alfafa in Seville, had bought them and released them later, who had refused to carry arms even during the period of pistolerismo.
Ana Villalobos lived on until 1956, dying in Seville at the age of ninety.

Nowadays Jose Sanchez Rosa is little known in Andalucia. There is a centre of adult education named after him in Seville. If you walk up the sloping streets of Grazalema you will find a monument to him in the Plaza de la Asamblea. And yet Pere Sola, Professor of Barcelona University and the leading expert on rational education, has deemed that he was more important than Francisco Ferrer in that field because of his greater continuity. Certainly he was an important architect of Andalucian anarchism and deserves greater recognition.

Nick Heath


This article is primarily based on the biography of Jose Sanchez Rosa by Jose Luis Gutierrez Molina, La Tiza, La Tinta y La Palabra: Jose Sanchez Rosa, maestra y anarquista andaluz (1864-1936). (2005) I bought my copy in the visitors information centre at Ubrique, the nearest large town to Grazalema and where it was published.
Sody de Rivas, Angel. Antonio Rosado y el Anarcosindicalismo Anduluz (2003)

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Apr 29 2017 05:16


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May 1 2017 07:30

Yet again a great piece in a great series of anecdotes on our once great history.This for me is the bedrock of real Anarchism and the militants who sought to educate the fellow members of their class with liberation pedagogy and enlightenment.
Its this bedrock of Anarcist belief that necessarily implies Communism that we have to remember and fight for today and not the bastard falsifications that disfigure our politics today eg Individualism,AnarchoBolshevism,NationalAnarcism etc