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Black Flag BoricuasAnarchism, Antiauthoritarianism, and the Left in Puerto Rico, 1897-1921$

Kirwin R. Shaffer

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780252037641

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: April 2017

DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252037641.001.0001

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El Comunista

El Comunista

Radical Journalism and Transnational Anarchism, 1920–1921

(p.141) 7. El Comunista
Black Flag Boricuas

Kirwin R. Shaffer

University of Illinois Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter investigates these Bayamón anarchists in 1920 and early 1921, through the newspaper El Comunista. The paper became the longest-running, most financially successful anarchist newspaper in the island's history. El Comunista stridently attacked U.S. militarism and interventionism in the Caribbean Basin, offered a qualified opposition to calls for Puerto Rican independence, and found growing distribution throughout and financial backing from Spanish-speaking anarchist groups in the United States. The distribution, support for the Bolsheviks, and fervent attacks on U.S. policies led the Wilson administration in Washington to target the Bayamón anarchists during the Red Scare. The resulting closure of the newspaper spelled the end to the most successful anarchist organization to emerge on the island.

Keywords:   Bayamón bloc, El Comunista, anarchist newspaper, U.S. militarism, U.S. interventionism, Puerto Rican independence, radical journalism, transnational anarchism

The Bolshevik Revolution played havoc with the world’s leftist movements. Anarchists, socialists, and communists from various ideological tendencies looked with wonder at events unfolding in Russia in late 1917 and afterward. As Schmidt and van der Walt note, the Bolsheviks “seemed far to the left of the old Labour and Socialist International, raised slogans that seemed quite libertarian, and sought to draw the syndicalist unions into a special wing of the COMINTERN: the Red International of Labour Unions.” Inspired by the fact that the original soviets were decentralized, democratic, and self-managing, anarchists and syndicalists around the world helped to launch the first non-Russian communist parties, “often on an openly libertarian and anti-statist platform.”1 However, the Bolsheviks turned on the anarchists in Russia, with Lenin viewing them as “‘direct and permanent adversaries’” and as “‘bourgeois movements which are in irreconcilable contradiction to Socialism, Proletarian Dictatorship, and Communism,’” as the Russian anarchist Gregory Petrovich Maximoff remembered Lenin’s description.2 From April 1918 to early 1921, Lenin broke the back of Russian anarchism, culminating in the destruction of the Ukrainian movement where the anarchist cause was strongest.3

In the Caribbean, leftist feelings of joy, support, and optimism frequently gave way to or confronted other leftist feelings of disappointment, derision, and dread as the Soviet State came to repress, exile, or kill leftists who did not go along with the dictates emerging from a centralized, authoritarian government. Generally, though, disappointment and hostility toward the Bolsheviks did not emerge until the early- to mid-1920s. Rather, in Cuba and South Florida, the labor left (especially the anarchists) generally supported (p.142) the revolution in its early years. This was no less true in Puerto Rico, where the Bayamón anarchists had no problem advocating anarchism while calling themselves “communists” and supporting the Russian Revolution into 1921 on the eve of the crackdown against the Ukrainian anarchists. When more mainstream members of the FLT and the PS—Santiago Iglesias in particular—followed the Gompers-AFL line rejecting communism and the Bolsheviks, the Bayamón bloc felt even more justified in their defiance of the official union and party hierarchies.

On May Day 1920, the Bayamón anarchists took their support of the Bolsheviks and radical trajectory for the island beyond public statements and speeches when they launched El Comunista, turning the newspaper into perhaps the most strident voice advocating revolutionary transformation that Puerto Rico had ever seen. The timing for such radicalism seemed to be perfect. In 1920, FLT membership had grown to 28,000, up from 8,000 a decade earlier. Throughout that year, over 160 strikes sprang up across the island. The surge in militancy even prompted the island government again to try and outlaw the flying of the red flag during strikes and demonstrations.4 Meanwhile, through their newspaper, the Bayamón anarchists capitalized on this militancy and urged Puerto Ricans to move even further to the left politically.

But now, as the Bayamón bloc promoted their radical agenda, they encountered new challenges from groups advocating Puerto Rican nationalism and promoting independence. The anarchists largely rejected political independence but could be seen offering tacit support to a form of independence that was “revolutionary” and not “bourgeois” in orientation. In addition, as Washington embarked on a wave of foreign policy initiatives throughout the Caribbean Basin, anarchists attacked U. S. interventionism and escalated their unquestioning support for and praise of the Bolsheviks. But the newspaper served a larger function than just radicalizing Puerto Rican workers against nationalism or U. S. imperialism. During its ten-month life, it turned Bayamón into a new hub in the network that linked the Caribbean, Florida, and New York. As such, El Comunista became the latest anarchist transnational newspaper as it circulated beyond the island to Cuba and coast-to-coast across the United States.

Anarchists Continue Their Attacks on Reformists

The Bayamón bloc wasted no time continuing their attacks against reform-minded counterparts in the labor movement. While anarchists had participated in key roles as well as on the fringes of the FLT since the beginning of the century, the Bayamón anarchists felt no such compulsion. They regularly (p.143) attacked the AFL, FLT, and the CMIU not only in Puerto Rico but also throughout the region. The paper’s first issue drew attention to transnational labor migration and workplace restrictions imposed by the CMIU. As had happened a decade earlier, the Bayamón anarchists rose to defend radical workers in Florida and became the island’s biggest backer of strikers who were defying the CMIU.

In April and May 1920, a strike in the Florida tobacco factories resulted in massive layoffs, and some workers tried to return to or go to Cuba to find jobs. Amelio Morazín reported that the cigar makers unions in Havana and Pinar del Río, Cuba were denying Florida-based workers access to Cuban factories if the Florida workers were not members of the CMIU in Florida. In response to the CMIU’s restrictions, two thousand tobacco workers in Tampa and Key West organized a new resistance society, the Sociedad de Torcedores de Tampa (Cigar Rollers Society of Tampa). They wanted to show the CMIU that they were in fact a legitimate union, but more than that, they argued that workers should be free to gain employment on either side of the Florida Straits. National political boundaries should play no role in dividing the global proletariat. However, the CMIU-affiliated Federation of Cigar Rollers in Havana refused to recognize the new union. So, Morazín asked rhetorically, why not just join the CMIU? Because, he answered himself, it is simply wrong for the International to deny working people the right to make a living in preference for being a dues-paying member of an authoritarian body. Furthermore, the CMIU should not have the right to persecute workers who belong to a different union. “Comrades from Tampa want to organize themselves in order to struggle against the boss, not in order to pay for a membership card as some would have them do.” Speaking on May 1, Morazín urged Puerto Ricans to remember the underlying tenet of May Day—international labor solidarity—and support all Florida workers, not just those belonging to the International. After all, he noted, when Puerto Ricans go on strike, they get money from workers in Florida regardless if they are CMIU members or not.5 The El Comunista group then further defied their AFL-linked colleagues by independently raising funds for striking workers in Florida. Between the end of May and mid-July 1920, the group collected over $200 from Puerto Rican workers and sent the money to Key West and Tampa, continuing a long history of independent Bayamón anarchist support for Florida labor actions.6

The Florida strikes were the Bayamón anarchists’ opening salvos against the AFL and its affiliates in the extended Caribbean Basin. As the months went by, attacks on the dominant union grew more vicious and more personal. Venancio Cruz, an occasional newspaper publisher and longtime anarchist (p.144) agitator within the FLT, used the Florida fund-raising campaign for revenge by attacking the FLT leadership and the International. He accused union leaders of having regularly stained his reputation by portraying him as a strikebreaker and a working-class traitor. The latter rested, he said, on the fact that he was an independent thinker, refusing to march lockstep with Iglesias. When in 1905 he had criticized the International’s cuota de iniciación that required all union members no matter if they worked in New York or the fields of Puerto Rico to pay the same membership fee, union leaders had denounced him. He believed that the fee was an exceptionally hard burden for the island’s poor workers and should be waived for them. But being called a strikebreaker by the union was the lowest of cheap shots and insults. Also, union leaders later charged that he accepted money from factory owners to be a scab during the tumultuous 1911 strikes. Again in 1914 the union labeled him a strikebreaker simply because he led a group of thirty workers down the highway between Ponce and Coamo in an effort to encourage striking workers to join the anarchist cause. The march exemplified the kind of voluntary direct action praised by anarchists but decried by the FLT since it occurred without official sanction from the union. For his individual efforts to improve lives of workers, the authoritarian union labeled him a strikebreaker in cahoots with the Tobacco Trust.7

By late summer 1920, anarchist attacks on FLT leaders grew more personal, calling out people by name. Obviously, this would have been unthinkable in the pages of the union’s leading publications Unión Obrera and Justicia. Instead, El Comunista gave anarchists an autonomous venue to express criticisms that they had long muffled (though never completely repressed) without an independent newspaper of their own. They focused on two FLT leaders in particular: Pablo Vega Santos and Santiago Iglesias, both former anarchists. At the beginning of the century, Vega Santos was one of the leading international voices of Puerto Rican anarchism. After Iglesias moved the FLT into alliance with the AFL, Vega Santos remained an anarchist activist within the union. Much of what we know of anarchist actions and the anarchist critique of Puerto Rico in the first decade of U.S. rule came from his regular columns to Havana’s ¡Tierra! However, by 1915 Vega Santos had joined the PS’s reformist wing. In September and October that year, he wrote a seven-part series for Unión Obrera celebrating the PS and justifying its necessity. For Vega Santos, the PS was necessary to destroy capitalist monopolies such as the Tobacco Trust, redistribute wealth, and “put everything that is of public utility in the state’s hands.”8 In addition, following the party line, he argued that the PS was the only way that workers could break the monopoly of the two-party political system that sought working-class votes while ignoring the (p.145) needs of workers.9 By 1920, anarchists had heard enough. El Comunista described Vega Santos as an enemy of anarchism, who as a Socialist spokesman and an FLT officer had grown accustomed to traveling freely and living well on contributions from workers—charges not unlike FLT accusations levied against Juan Vilar earlier in the decade. As one anarchist put it, Pablo Vega Santos had become a “‘Radical Disorganizer’ of Puerto Rican workers.”10

Certainly, though, it was FLT head and Socialist Senator Iglesias who suffered the bulk of anarchist criticism. In early 1920, Juan Ocasio returned to the island after a nine-year absence, during which he had mainly been working and agitating in New York. He was disturbed that, in all of that time, nothing seemed to have improved for the working class in Puerto Rico. One of the few things that had changed, though, was the character and caliber of the union leaders: “The worker who in that earlier time was rebellious, today: it is shameful to say it! Has become submissive; here now the men who have the courage to speak the truth [the anarchists] are scorned by both those at the top and those at the bottom.”11

For Ocasio and other anarchists, the blame could have been laid at the feet of workers for being submissive or with the government and capitalist class for utilizing all manner of tools to keep wages and working conditions below standards elsewhere in the United States. However, one had to consider the role of the FLT and the PS in this equation as well. And if the union and party should share some of the blame, then the face of both—Santiago Iglesias—was the logical target. However, Iglesias did not sit back and ignore such challenges. In August 1920, Iglesias and the anarchists took to the pages of their newspapers to wage a very public political and personal feud. To be sure, such a feud was nothing new in the historical confrontations between socialists and anarchists in the Americas. Certainly, the era of the Russian Revolution witnessed no shortage of leftists trying to compete for who was the truest representative of the working and revolutionary classes. In Puerto Rico specifically, anarchists and Iglesias had done their fair share of personal sparring in the labor movement press over the years. However, now in Puerto Rico, the vitriol rose to new heights.

Iglesias published articles in Justicia and Unión Obrera attacking the Bayamón anarchists as comunistas incipientes (upstart communists). He took the anarchists to task for calling workers backward and slaves to their lowest passions whenever workers did not heed anarchist calls. Iglesias argued that such negative descriptions mirrored capitalist depictions of workers as slovenly. He particularly challenged El Comunista for its stance on the Tampa strike, suggesting that criticizing the International in a published manifesto was tantamount to acting like a strikebreaker. Iglesias took personal umbrage (p.146) when anarchists attacked him and the FLT leadership for living well from the contributions of workers. He acknowledged that the leadership did this and did not work in factories or fields; however, he noted, this was no different than what the Bayamón anarchists’ heroes Lenin and Trotsky were doing. Ultimately, Iglesias’s response to the anarchists raised the level of rancor, but he concluded that never in the history of Puerto Rican labor organizations had the island’s working-class leaders been so assaulted and defamed—an odd sentiment considering the number of times government officials had arrested him twenty years earlier, accusing him of anarchist activities.12

Anarchists and Iglesias extended their war of words to their views on the IWW. In 1919 and early 1920, the IWW had made limited, unsuccessful attempts to organize in Puerto Rico.13 One important Puerto Rico–IWW connection was the Puerto Rican–born Domason Núñez, who in early 1919 operated out of Philadelphia. By early 1919, Núñez had taken over the Philadelphia-based Grupo Pro-Prensa (Pro-Press Group) after the group’s leader J. Armengal left to tour Europe to raise money. Philadelphia-based anarchists from Puerto Rico, Spain, and Cuba used the same offices as the IWW-affiliated Marine Transport Workers Union and were implicated with the New York–based anarchist group El Corsario (the Corsair) in an assassination plot against President Wilson in early 1919.14 The IWW remained a vibrant, though increasingly persecuted, entity in the United States as the Red Scare unfolded after the Great War.

Just as the U.S. government began to repress the Wobblies on the mainland, Iglesias joined the fray and attacked them as well. The Socialist Senator condemned the IWW for its criticisms of the AFL, Gompers, and what the IWW referred to as the AFL’s “business unionism” and lack of radicalism. Meanwhile, El Comunista noted that their group generally agreed with IWW tactics—tactics that the anarchists believed would be more successful than the AFL with “its bourgeois capitalist morals and principles.” Beyond that, though, the anarchists could not understand why Iglesias would take such a virulent line against the IWW. In response to Iglesias’s attack on the Wobblies, El Comunista reprinted a long article by one of the IWW’s greatest spokesmen, “Big Bill” Haywood. He recounted one heroic action after another waged by the FLT in Puerto Rico and the abuses, deaths, and jail sentences that FLT-affiliated members had suffered. In fact, the IWW had immense respect for the FLT, if not necessarily its leadership.15

Venancio Cruz chimed in at this point. He recounted how he had attended a recent labor meeting in Caguas. When his friend Alfonso Torres “expressed his disgust at the Federation’s organizing methods and pleaded that the methods of the IWW were quicker and more economical,” the union (p.147) president rose from his seat and called Torres “inexperienced” and “suffering from hallucinations.” The president then called the Wobblies “traitors and strikebreakers and enemies of the civic good and tranquility.”16 Ultimately, El Comunista writers denigrated Iglesias and others who attacked the IWW and anarchists. For these writers, the FLT had evolved into a union that sustained the capitalist system while the PS leadership helped to sustain the state. Until Puerto Ricans joined the worldwide revolutionary movement, workers on the island would gain nothing while politicians and the trusts retained power and profit.17

Such declarations did not halt the feud. Iglesias claimed that the FLT was more than a bread-and-butter organization but in fact was idealistic in its ultimate goals, arguing that the FLT “‘is idealistic like Jesus and Lenin, like Reclús, Jaurés, Kropotkin, and Gompers.’” This was too much for El Comunista. The editors ridiculed the comparison of Gompers with revolutionaries such as Kropotkin, telling readers that Gompers had even been denied credentials to a European labor congress in 1914. How much of a revolutionary and “old fighter” was Gompers really, they asked.18 If Gompers was viewed this way internationally, then could Iglesias—Gompers’s right-hand man in Puerto Rico—be seen any differently? Of course not. And this point was pushed further by the paper. As one anonymous columnist—probably the older anarchist Emiliano Ramos—noted, he knew Iglesias very well. He recalled how Iglesias used to be a strident defender of anarchist ideas in the pages of Ensayo Obrero and El Porvenir Social at the turn of the century. “Then, he was a disciple of Bakunin, today he is one of Samuel Gompers’s hacks,” using that violent style against anarchists that he used so well against the bourgeoisie in earlier times.19

One final point arose in this confrontation, and it involved the position of the PS, the FLT, and Iglesias around the Great War. After 1918, internal divisions within the PS between reformers and radicals increased. One camp spoke of using the party to work on immediate issues to improve the working class, but to do so by continuing the spirit of Americanization, especially now that the island’s residents were U. S. citizens. This was the Iglesias wing. The other camp saw the party as a tool to radically transform the island.20 In many ways, this latter wing—which included Marcano, Rojas, and Plaza, who still empathized with anarchist positions—was frustrated by certain positions that Iglesias took during the war as well as in the debate with El Comunista.

This tension had bubbled to the surface in the 1919 PS convention. During one debate, Julio Aybar, the longtime editor of Unión Obrera, asked Iglesias what he thought of Socialists who had supported the war or of a Socialist supporting compulsory military service. Contradicting the party’s stance on (p.148) the war, Iglesias said he actually disapproved of Socialist support for the Great War but acknowledged that as a senator he had supported military service.21 During the Iglesias–El Comunista debate, Iglesias had singled out one of the newspaper’s editors, Antonio Palau. He accused Palau of having used his FLT connections to secure an exemption from military service when FLT lawyer Abraham Peña was on his local draft board. In fact, Peña was one of only five members of the Comisión Inscripción Militar (Military Registration Commission) that oversaw the draft boards and functioning of the Selective Service islandwide. Palau denied that he had exploited these connections. But he acknowledged that at least in one instance Iglesias was right: he (Palau) “did not want to be a soldier and left Pto. Rico before the exemptions had been revised.” Then, Palau countercharged Iglesias. He remembered how Iglesias not only had publicly supported military service but also put the union in the service of prowar advocates. During the war, PS and FLT leaders stood on stages and at movie theaters, “in order to speak four minutes in favor of the war and the Red Cross.” The reference was to the wave of four-minute, prowar speeches that war supporters—including the AFL—gave around the United States and Puerto Rico to drum up support for the troops and to sell war bonds. As Palau concluded, “he unconditionally refused to put himself on the side of the government and the interests of Wall Street that were one and the same during the war,” but Iglesias sided with militarism in order to please “his president and daddy Samuel Gompers.”22

By the end of August 1920, moderating voices were rising to quell the animosity. El Comunista stopped its harsh attacks on Iglesias. Meanwhile, Manuel F. Rojas took to the pages of Unión Obrera to offer a conciliatory nod to the anarchists. He said that he, for one, would never stand in the way of the anarchist propaganda initiatives, and refused to say that anarchist statements and actions made the anarchists somehow “allies” of capital. Yet, he urged the anarchists to be a bit more reflective on FLT-PS efforts on the island. Rojas argued that El Comunista critics did not do the party justice. The FLT and the PS were equals in the fight against the capitalist system and the governing regime that supported it. “The Socialist Party in this country is not conservative, nor reactionary; it is revolutionary, because it has brought to the human mind new ideas, new orientations, new methods, new means, and all of this has produced a latent revolutionary state that grows larger, that progresses, that expands, and makes the bourgeoisie and its servants tremble.”23

In essence, Rojas’s analysis was probably the most judicious. Both the FLT leadership and El Comunista were talking past one another, each claiming to be the true representative of the workers, while accusing the other of launching attacks that divided workers and thus helped the dominant class on the (p.149) island. But El Comunista activists clearly laid out that a new, more radical voice had emerged on the island. Workers and readers now had a choice and a new advocate on the Puerto Rican Left. Increasingly, they used this voice not only to attack their perceived ideological enemies within the Puerto Rican labor movement but also to critique a growing nationalist movement in Puerto Rico.

Anarchism and Puerto Rican Independence

By the late 1910s, the debate over the island’s political status continued to divide political parties in Puerto Rico, with the Unionists remaining the principal proponent of autonomy leading to independence for the island. Since its founding and Iglesias’s move toward the AFL at the beginning of the century, the FLT officially had rejected independence for Puerto Rico and instead promoted the island’s special relationship with Washington while facilitating the process of Americanization. Meanwhile, anarchists maintained that simple political independence was delusional, seeing it—as we will see—as a bourgeois scam that would leave the same capitalists in power and have no tangible benefit for the working masses. However, anarchists also were never comfortable with the Americanization approach advocated by Iglesias. In truth, the anarchist position on Puerto Rico’s political status was neither unified nor clear.

Over the years, socialists and some anarchists had joined in the call against Puerto Rican independence. For Ángel Dieppa and his friends in New York and on the island, the core of the argument was that political independence would not solve the social question. Even if they were politically independent, capitalists would still devise a system whereby they ran the government and restricted the working masses. As Dieppa put it in 1915, “If Puerto Rico would have its own government composed of natives of the country, what injustices and crimes would be committed!” Protestors would be jailed and slavery would return “because especially here capitalists have that dominating spirit of inquisitorial and monkish Spain.” Yet, while Dieppa concluded that U.S. colonialism was abhorrent and that political independence would be fruitless for the Puerto Rican masses, he nevertheless applauded the U.S. democratic system, which he thought was the best government people had yet encountered. With its extension to Puerto Rico, there was at least some hope to improve situations for workers. From his point of view, the United States was not tsarist Russia, or the Spain of Alfonso XIII, or Sodom and Gomorrah, for that matter. Rather, the U. S. system actually allowed space for socialist ideas to advance against capitalism.24 That someone like the anarchist (p.150) Dieppa would subscribe to this—especially after so many years working in the New York City area with international anarchists and the IWW who were regular targets of repression—is stunning. While advocating neither continued colonialism nor political independence, he seemed comfortable with certain aspects of Americanization.

From 1919 to 1920, the issue of independence and the island’s political status continued to reflect division within the Left. At the PS’s 1919 convention, Alfonso Torres pushed the issue. A longtime anarchist now making a play for a leadership role within the PS, Torres started to move away from a long-standing anarchist objection to political independence. In some ways Torres reflected the rationale that had led anarchists in Spain, Cuba, and the United States to side with independence fighters in Cuba in the 1890s: the fight for freedom has to oppose oppression not only against individuals but also against collective peoples. In other words, how could you fight for freedom and not fight against colonial rule? Wasn’t collective (even “national”) liberty as important as individual liberty? In resolution 14 before the convention, Torres argued that the struggle should be done not for bourgeois political independence but as part of a larger struggle, “agitating for the idea of utilizing it [the independence struggle] to advance the cause of the working classes.” In this sense, independence propaganda would be used to “create an environment of civic valor, power, and domination of the working class over the capitalist class.” Ultimately, Torres claimed, “the final aspiration of the Political Status of Puerto Rico will be resolved by the Industrial Socialist Republic in the same country.”25

The committee charged with putting the issue before the convention largely refused to go along with Torres’s resolution, seeking to avoid any discussion of the status question in the party proceedings. However, Torres had his backers. Manuel Rojas urged the committee to consider the issue. “It is quite extraordinary that we declare ourselves in opposition to making the clearest and most radical definition on the Political Status at a time when all peoples are demonstrating in support of independence.” Buttressed by Rojas’s support, Torres kept trying to call for a formal vote on the issue, but Iglesias refused to let the matter come to the floor, claiming that “we [the PS] do not need to define the Political Status in order to implement our ideal system.”26

While the PS leadership thwarted Torres, his anarchist comrades at El Comunista were no more helpful as they largely rejected independence. However, another up-and-coming Socialist leader soon engaged in a spirited debate with El Comunista. Luis Muñoz Marín—a twenty-two-year-old aspiring political figure on the Left, and the man who would become the first popularly elected governor of Puerto Rico in 1948—challenged El Comunista (p.151) ’s editor Ventura Mijón to reconsider the paper’s fervent editorial opposition to independence. Muñoz Marín agreed with the anarchists that it would be impossible to completely destroy the bourgeoisie from within their own house, that is, electing workers to political office would not destroy capitalism. But while he agreed with the purity of that thought, “we must be realistic; we have to abandon for the moment the camp of pure ideas and come to the camp of local reality, excessively colonial reality, wretched reality. We vegetate, Compañero Mijón, in a colonial country subjugated to another.”

Muñoz Marín offered a critique of the island’s subjugation that few in the PS leadership—especially those loyal to Iglesias—dared to raise. The FLT and the PS opposed Puerto Rican independence, preferring their associations with the United States in terms of labor law protections, free movement back and forth between the island and the mainland, and more. For many on the PS’s left wing, this increasingly became problematic. For Muñoz Marín, the colonial situation had not made Puerto Rico more prosperous; rather, colonialism was largely responsible for the island’s underdevelopment, including the state of the “ignorant proletariat, superstitious proletariat, proletariat open to all of the enchantments and swindles that flourish in capitalist lands…. Our jíbaros are children, completely children.” Because of this backward state of the island, Muñoz Marín argued that for a communist society to come about in Puerto Rico, it would first have to emerge in Europe, then spread to the United States. It would be virtually impossible to jump-start a revolution in a country as poor and backward as Puerto Rico.

Yet, he agreed with the anarchists on a key point: purely political independence as expressed by moderates, including the Unionists, would not improve the island or aid in its march toward communism. Rather, if the United States granted independence, it would hand over power to a creole bourgeois party that would govern the island from the political right, likely limiting the speech and assembly of the workers while promoting continued capitalist development and protections for business. In such a scenario, Muñoz Marín continued, even someone like a politically moderate Santiago Iglesias probably would be deported for his socialist politics.

But then Muñoz Marín asked the anarchists to consider a slightly different scenario: what if under such an independent government, radicals were not deported and instead allowed to proceed as they were currently doing? In that case, those like the anarchists who sought radical change would face a choice: either stop agitating or violate the law through extralegal actions. What then would be the consequences if they broke the law? Muñoz Marín offered this suggestion, based on U.S. actions in Cuba and the Dominican Republic over the previous two decades: one could imagine that if the (p.152) United States granted Puerto Rico independence, such independence would come with conditions similar to those of the Platt Amendment to the Cuban Constitution, which allowed the United States to intervene militarily in Cuba whenever Washington believed instability threatened the country. If in an “independent” Puerto Rico Washington saw radicals violating the laws, threatening social order, or creating economic chaos via strikes and direct action, the United States would intervene as it had done in Cuba in 1906, 1912, and 1917. Puerto Ricans could then find themselves living under “a military dictatorship of the style under which Santo Domingo suffers today,” a reference to the ongoing U.S. occupation of the neighboring Dominican Republic that had begun in 1916.

In such a no-win scenario, in which workers were not ready for a communist revolution, nor would workers benefit from a quasi-independent government, the island’s Left had really one option: continue to oppose the colonial situation while working to improve the lives of people in the here and now, even doing this through electoral politics. The Left needed

to work persistently to better the economic, physical, and mental condition of our agricultural proletariat, (1) building schools (although they may be bourgeois), (2) organizing agricultural villages where one has access to hygienic sanitation for the home, a salon for meetings (that we ought to occupy ourselves) and, above all, an association and opinions from their brothers, and (3) whenever possible, increasing wages through strikes that at the same time will serve them [workers] as “military exercises” for the future revolution.27

After all was said and done, Muñoz Marín complemented the island’s anarchists. He appreciated their work over the decades, claiming that “I would like to think that PS compañeros understand it as well.” After all, he argued, “while the Official Party is working for reform … the radical groups can be preparing the proletariat in the factories and workshops, and if possible, in the countryside for the great enterprise…. (I) believe that the communist groups can lend a great service to the cause in Puerto Rico.” In short, the future revolution could only come about with the short-term actions of the reformists in the PS and the long-term consciousness-raising and direct actions of the anarchists. To show his lasting respect for the anarchist tradition in Puerto Rico, Muñoz Marín concluded that “[f]or twenty years, being a federationist (member of the FLT) in Puerto Rico was the same as being a militant anarchist in other countries.”28

Such a conciliatory response from the PS’s left wing illustrated both how much influence they feared the anarchists could have as well as how much respect that wing of the party maintained for longtime friends and fellow activists. However, the newspaper’s editor Ventura Mijón was less conciliatory (p.153) in his response to Muñoz Marín. True to form, he firmly rejected the idea that leftist causes could be advanced if some worked within the system while others worked outside it. Running for office, serving in the government, and cooperating with the bourgeoisie were “counterproductive” and bordered on “abandoning one’s principles.” Too often around the world, when leftists were elected to office, “their energies are wasted by applying them to machinery created by the bourgeoisie and for the bourgeoisie,” Mijón argued.29

Then Mijón approached the real issue at hand: how anarchists would address the emergence of a proindependence movement on the island. Muñoz Marín had suggested that an independent Puerto Rico led by the creole capitalist class would still deport someone like Iglesias. Mijón was incredulous: “Santiago Iglesias did not constitute a danger and a threat to the great American governmental and capitalistic interests. Santiago Iglesias has been useful to the Americanization of Puerto Rico.” Thus, if the island were independent—even with a Platt Amendment–like addition to the constitution—Iglesias would likely be a comfort to a creole government who would want to maintain peace, harmony, and Americanized attributes. In other words, Santiago Iglesias would be a bourgeois tool to control workers. Meanwhile, when Muñoz Marín called Puerto Rico a subjugated colony, Mijón agreed. But that was nothing exceptional. What the Left had to do was not so much look to independence or to become political lackeys within the U.S. colonial system. Mijón wrote that creating schools, hygienic homes, and even strikes in order to gain better wages was too slow and gradualist. The island’s dispossessed had to take advantage of the global moment and radicalize, join in alliance with Russia, and “make common cause with the American Communist Party” while siding with the Third International in Moscow.30 The time was ripe for revolution, and only through revolution could “true” independence emerge.

Across Puerto Rico, debate on the island’s future was growing, with supporters of independence challenging those who wanted to maintain formal linkage with the United States. Anarchists had been critiquing the Unionists’ proindependence position since El Comunista was founded, but despite Mijón’s stance, a consistent anarchist line on independence did not emerge. In June, Amelio Morazín seemed to support the concept of independence, not unlike Alfonso Torres. In light of the growing anti-Soviet opinion in the West, he applauded Russia’s independent streak to strike out in a new direction by itself. “All countries,” wrote Morazín, “have the right to self-determination, including P. R.”31

Anarchists, though, were quick to denounce the concept of independence if issues of class were not involved. One writer describes a conversation he overheard between proponents of the three main political parties on the (p.154) subject. The Unionist called for political independence, asserting that U.S. control was holding back Puerto Rico. The Republican called for statehood under U.S. tutelage. The Socialist called for independence for everyone, but only after workers gained control of the government via election—essentially Muñoz Marín’s position. A young boy approached the writer and said that while he understood little about politics, all three seemed to have one thing in common: “taking power.” As the columnist concludes, “everywhere that the people have the freedom to elect their own rulers, they have never seen any changes … continuing everything as before electing their new bosses.”32

Anarchist Sandalio Marcial saw the independence movement in terms of patriotism—a concept that most anarchists despised. Like Mijón, Marcial challenged the bourgeois orientation of the Unionists, claiming they would never do anything for the rural or urban poor once U.S. vigilance was removed. Once the U.S. flag was lowered, they would not give the order to end exploitation, be humane toward workers, make sure that money did not leave the island, or wealth was distributed evenly. “If this is not your ideal for independence, then we would say to you that you are deceiving the people; but we know that this is precisely what you desire to do to this poor country.” The problem was that while the Unionists claimed to be for independence, they would owe their power (and their economic livelihoods via trade relations) to the United States. “You want independence,” Marcial wrote to the Unionist leaders, “but you can never forget your obligations to Yanquilandia [Yankeeland]; that is, you will always be disposed to giving life and all that you (don’t) have for the existence and glory of the great nation to the North.” But who would be the ones called upon to sacrifice the most? The workers, he answered, who “you are disposed to sacrifice in the holocaust of honor and life to both capitalisms, that on the other side of the sea and that in this miserable island.”33

Ultimately, anarchists did not speak with one voice on the increasingly contentious issue of Puerto Rican independence. Ángel M. Dieppa despised U.S. colonial rule over the island, but believed that in historical terms U. S.-style republican democracy and free speech protections were an improvement over the Spanish system. Alfonso Torres tried to get the PS—an official promoter of Americanization—to advocate for Puerto Rican independence but linked to workers liberation as anarchists had advocated when they threw their support behind the Cuban independence fighters two decades earlier. El Comunista writer Amelio Morazín declared that every country had the right to self-determination, using the example of Russia to suggest that independence and a workers revolution in a non-advanced capitalist society was possible. But, the editors of the Bayamón newspaper largely remained (p.155) unconvinced, skeptical about any independence movement. As Marcial and Mijón suggested, even if Washington granted independence to Puerto Rico—and under U.S. law it would have to be the United States to do so—then it would be a bourgeois independence where the so-called defenders of the workers, such as Santiago Iglesias, would be mere puppets of a creole and Yankee bourgeoisie to keep workers subservient for the interests of capitalists both on the island and abroad.

The most hard-line anarchists were inspired by the Bolsheviks and were only satisfied with an overly optimistic proletarian revolution that would free the island from the clutches of both creole and U.S. capitalists. In the 1890s, anarchists in the region had given their support to the independence cause in Cuba, mistakenly expecting a social revolution to emerge in a postcolonial Cuba where anarchists saw little more than a U.S. neocolonial relationship develop. Anarchists were not going to be fooled again. By the late 1910s and early 1920s, most of the Bayamón anarchists saw a Puerto Rican independence movement as bourgeois and misguided. Those who supported political independence were deceiving islanders because independent or not, capitalists would run the island, and their future always would be linked to pleasing Yanquilandia and solidifying the ever-expanding U.S. presence in the “American Mediterranean.”

Anarchists Confront Militarism and U.S. Expansionism in the Caribbean

When Washington declared war on Spain in April 1898, it is questionable that many people could have foreseen the extent to which the United States would use its newfound imperial self-worth to expand throughout the Caribbean Basin. U.S. political, economic, and military ventures throughout the region expanded in the name of making the region safe for democracy, keeping Europeans out of the hemisphere, and advancing the interests of U.S. trade that followed the flag. By 1920, Puerto Rico increasingly played a role in U.S. military and economic designs in the region. The opening of the Panama Canal under U.S. authority in 1914 meant that the Mona Passage between Puerto Rico and Hispaniola became a key access route from the Atlantic Ocean to the canal. As U.S. citizens since 1917, islanders were eligible to be drafted into the U.S. armed forces to protect the canal or take part in any other U.S. military excursion. Puerto Rican units in fact guarded the canal during the Great War.34 The militarization of the canal and its access routes coincided with U.S. military expansion and occupation elsewhere in the Caribbean. The United States purchased the Danish Virgin Islands in (p.156) 1917. That same year, the United States deployed troops to Cuba, where they stayed until 1922. Finally, the United States invaded Hispaniola, militarily occupying Haiti from 1915 to 1934 and the Dominican Republic from 1916 to 1924. All of this was in addition to U.S. military contingents that were in Nicaragua from 1912 to 1933 and the U. S. military interventions into Mexico in 1914 and 1917. Increasing U.S. militarization of the Caribbean Basin led anarchists to attack what they perceived to be the teaching of militarism in Puerto Rican schools, the creation of the Puerto Rican National Guard, and the growing use of U.S. military force in the Caribbean.

Following the arrival of U.S. rule in Cuba and Puerto Rico after the War of 1898, U.S. officials revamped the schools on both islands. They created new public education systems that taught citizenship, reading, writing, English, and trade skills. Yet, anarchists on both islands had long been wary of public education, believing that state-run schools would create loyal servants to the state. Such thinking fostered anarchist goals of creating nondenominational, nonpublic, coeducational rationalist schools. Sandalio Marcial, a regular contributor to El Comunista, was the opening speaker at the May Day 1920 rally in Bayamón that launched the newspaper. During his talk, he connected the dots between public education, the state, and militarism. Speaking before two hundred people in the Plaza de Hostos, Marcial condemned the state of public education on the island. He told workers that while they might have thought that they were sending their children to school to receive useful instruction, what the children received “is mostly a military education. A child who obtains his Eighth Grade Diploma knows better how to kill a person than to solve an economic problem.”35

The following week, Antonio Álvarez echoed this sentiment, and tied it to the emergence of the Puerto Rican National Guard. While Puerto Rican military units had existed on the island from the earliest days of the U.S. presence, the formal creation of a National Guard in Puerto Rico had sputtered along without much to show. In March 1917, a National Guard infantry unit was formed, but not activated. The postwar National Defense Law of 1919 finally authorized the creation and activation of National Guard units across the island.36 For the conspiratorially oriented, a public-school education that provided loyal, obedient, skilled recruits for the guard made perfect sense. The public-education system—financed by and so supposedly serving the state—taught loyalty to the government as well as skills and desires in youths that would lead them to kill in the name of the state. Álvarez urged students to read their U. S. history “president by president, war by war” and then study the other side of history about scientists, strike leaders, and other nonstate figures, uniting then “in a single family in order to establish what we rightly (p.157) call the true freedom and social democracy.”37 Otherwise, he feared, students would merely become Boricua servants of Yankee militarism.

Álvarez additionally cautioned his readers. He knew why the guard existed: to help the police repress striking workers and agitators for freedom.38 Manuel García agreed. He had been watching the creation of a guard unit in Bayamón. Most disconcerting to him was how it was workers who made up the unit. “Workers of Bayamón and around the Island, you must frankly refuse to form this overpraised ‘National Guard’ that will become one more means that the creole bourgeoisie will have to defend themselves by machine-gunning and subjugating the people,” he wrote. García urged Puerto Ricans to carefully consider his words; after all, he said, from his travels on the mainland he had seen firsthand how the National Guard was used against striking workers to protect mines and banks.39

But it was not just growing militarization on the island that anarchists increasingly feared. They likewise focused on the growing U. S. military presence throughout the Caribbean Basin. Manuel García and Amelio Morazín expressed this frustration and fear while drawing attention to what they saw as an inherent hypocrisy in Wilsonian foreign policy. While the United States had supposedly fought the Great War to protect and expand democracy, U.S. troops were at that moment undermining democracy in the Caribbean. García conjured the image of Wilson as a bloodsucker: You wanted “to spread freedom and democracy in the world, and now you are like a bloodthirsty hyena sucking from Santo Domingo, Honduras, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, and Mexico.”40 But Morazín wondered if hypocrisy was actually too kind of a description. Perhaps U.S. actions in the region revealed a deeper fault in the U.S. political character. He was not convinced that the upcoming 1920 U. S. presidential elections would change anything, and reiterated the calamity that had befallen Nicaragua, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic. The United States “talks to us about ‘small countries’ having the right to self-determination and yet such unfortunate countries planted right under the giant cry out” because they are under U.S. domination. And Puerto Rico? She too suffered under the giant like an “unfortunate and miserable American Sicily, a kind of Cinderella of the Atlantic,” that is unjustly despised and ill-treated.41

Antimilitarism was always a signature issue of global anarchism. The rejection of the state became even more intense when that state used its military force to coerce a population and to invade others. Anarchists in Puerto Rico had been severely punished for their outright refusal to sign up with Selective Service during the Great War. After the war, Bayamón anarchists continued to attack U.S. militarism both on the island and around the region, linking militarism to education, the new National Guard, and the (p.158) surge of U.S. military interventions and occupations throughout the Caribbean. While the PS continued to court Washington and “Americanization,” the Bayamón bloc’s antimilitarism was a targeted attack on the power and tools of U.S. colonialism.

From the 1890s to the 1910s, the anarchist movement in Cuba regularly functioned as the hub of a Caribbean anarchist network that linked Cuba, Panama, South Florida, and Puerto Rico, as well as the hub through which anarchists in parts of the Caribbean passed through as they traveled north along the Atlantic seaboard of the United States. At times, especially during Cuba’s war for independence, Tampa took over that role. The hub was defined as the locale where the largest single number of anarchists lived, and where different anarchist experiments in health care or education occurred. As important as these factors were, the hub was perhaps most distinguished by where the most significant anarchist press for the region was located. This was usually Havana. However, in 1920, the anarchist press throughout the region was moribund, even in Cuba. Into this regional void stepped El Comunista. In the midst of the Red Scare, El Comunista became for a short time not only the voice of Puerto Rican anarchism but also an important voice in the anarchist network that stretched from San Juan to New York and beyond. The paper circulated across the island, into Cuba, and throughout the United States. Thus, just as anarchists encountered and criticized U.S. expansionism, Puerto Rican anarchists countered that spread with their own anarchist expansionism into Yanquilandia itself.

On the island, the editors counted on associates scattered around eastern Puerto Rico to sell the newspaper. Activists in Cayey, San Juan, Ponce, Cataño, and Bayamón raised money selling El Comunista. While the largest readership was based in San Juan and Bayamón, anarchists led by Venancio Cruz in Ponce rivaled their brethren in September 1920, collecting nearly 9 percent of the paper’s revenue. In fact, at the end of September, over a quarter of the newspaper’s islandwide sales came from outside the Bayamón–San Juan hub as anarchist sympathizers bought copies of the newspaper and contributed funds from Cayey, Ponce, Utuado, Salinas, Río Piedras, Caguas, Toa Alta, and Manatí—in short, across the island.42

Throughout 1920 and early 1921, the paper was distributed in Cuba and throughout the United States, increasingly taking on a transnational relevance. The paper’s international readership within Spanish-speaking anarchist (p.159) movements made the paper unique in the brief history of the island’s anarchist press. The paper’s distribution in the United States was not limited to the East Coast, as the Bayamón bloc could count on readers farther west, as well. For instance, one of the hot spots for IWW agitation in the 1910s was southern Arizona. As part of their anti-Wobbly campaign during the Red Scare, the U. S. government intensified its efforts against the Spanish-speaking IWW local in Globe, Arizona. In July 1920, authorities raided the post office box of activist Julio Blanco, aka J. B. Rodríguez. In Blanco’s mailbox, they found three issues of El Comunista.43

Not only was distribution increasingly international in orientation, but also international financing of El Comunista grew. In September, supporters outside Puerto Rico provided over 25 percent of the newspaper’s revenues. Most of this came from anarchists based in New Jersey like José R. Fernández, Detroit (Grupo Los Tres), Philadelphia (Ptolomero Sotero), Boston (Manuel Román), and Santiago de Cuba (José Acosta). In New York City, José Alicea received copies of the newspaper, mailed to him by his brother Juan in Bayamón. José sold El Comunista on the streets, at meetings, and through the offices of Spanish-language anarchist newspapers of the city. He then sent the money back to his brother to finance future issues. He kept some of the sales money for living expenses that enabled him to stay in the city, continue to receive and distribute the newspaper, and make connections with anarchists, Wobblies, and Communists in New York.44 At times, one of Alicea’s Puerto Rican anarchist colleagues Herminio Colón collected money around New York and sent it home. Meanwhile, as the Tampa tobacco workers strike discussed above raged on, very little money came from that city.45 That would soon change, though. After the resolution of the Tampa strike, anarchists in the city and in Key West began to collect ever-larger sums of money for El Comunista. In December 1920, slightly more money came to the Puerto Rican paper from Tampa than from Bayamón: $8.41 from Bayamón and $8.45 from Tampa.46 The rise in monetary contributions from Tampa reflected the increasing economic importance of anarchist groups mainly throughout the United States financing the newspaper, as illustrated in table 3.

By late 1920, money had begun to arrive from San Diego, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Key West, and Boston. Most of the money from outside Puerto Rico, though, came from the New York–New Jersey metropolitan area and Florida. For instance, the newspaper’s last issue in February 1921 recorded that forty-one workers in Key West and Tampa sent over twenty dollars to the newspaper—fully one fifth of the paper’s revenues for its final issue. Two of the Florida anarchists collecting for the paper were (p.160)

Money from Sales and Subscriptions Inside Puerto Rico

Money from Sales and Subscriptions Outside Puerto Rico

Percentage of Total Income from Outside Puerto Rico

May 29, 1920




June 5




June 19




July 3




July 17




July 31




Aug. 14




Aug. 28




Sept. 18




Dec. 11




Dec. 18




Feb. 19, 1921




Source: El Comunista from the above dates. Figures can be found on either page 2 or 5, depending on the issue. Not all issues published financial information.

old anarchist stalwarts well-known along the Caribbean anarchist circuit since the turn of the century: R. Colomé and Luis Barcia, both of whom had long anarchist credentials in Cuba and Florida.47 What we begin to see is that the paper was both a Puerto Rican and a “transnational” anarchist newspaper as El Comunista’s readership and financial backing spread throughout Spanish-speaking anarchist groups across the United States.

La Guagua Ácrata: Anarchist Migration to New York City and Its Impact in Bayamón

Puerto Rican mass migration to New York would not surge until the 1940s and 1950s. However, by the 1910s, Ángel Dieppa, Alfonso Torres, Luisa Capetillo, José Alicea and other labor leaders joined with other increasingly militant elements from the island when they moved to New York City. Ventura Mijón, one of El Comunista’s editors, worked with anarchists in New York as early as March 1910 before returning to the island.48 These anarchists, coupled with other leftists, among them Puerto Rican labor activist Bernardo Vega, became a small, committed radical cell in the slowly growing Puerto Rican working-class community of the city. While engaging each other, working with other Spanish-speaking radicals, and attempting to cooperate with organizations (p.161) such as the IWW and the American Communist Party (ACP), the New York–based Puerto Rican anarchists maintained relations with their island comrades.

Beginning in the 1910s, Vega worked side by side with most island leftists who arrived in New York. His memoir of those years reads like a Who’s Who of Puerto Rican anarchists who had journeyed to the city before returning to the island or who engaged in a circular anarchist migration between Puerto Rico and New York. For instance, in 1912, Emiliano Ramos spoke to Spanish-speaking cigar rollers, urged them to form a union, and even promoted the often-maligned CMIU.49 In 1916, as sugar workers struck across the island, Mijón, Herminio Colón, and Ángel Dieppa spoke at a solidarity rally in New York.50 In 1916 and 1917, Vega met and worked alongside anarchists Alfonso Torres, Alicea, and Rafael Acosta.51 Mijón and Acosta worked with Spanish and Cuban anarchists in the city to publish El Corsario in 1919, and Dieppa and Acosta were Puerto Rican delegates on a strike committee for New York City cigar makers in May that year.52 When Mijón, Torres, and Dieppa worked in New York during these years, they gained considerable organizational skills that they would take with them to Puerto Rico. Mijón’s work on El Corsario also was excellent preparation for his work helping to launch and manage El Comunista the following year.

By 1920, and seen above regarding the sale of El Comunista in New York, one of the key linkages between the island and the city fell squarely on the shoulders of the Alicea brothers—Juan in Bayamón and José in New York. While Juan worked with the Bayamón bloc, José Alicea had been both a ranking anarchist on the island and in New York, working closely with Cultura Obrera and Spanish-speaking anarchists in metropolitan New York. The Brothers Alicea became keys to not only raising money for anarchist newspapers but also keeping Puerto Ricans informed of the larger international anarchist and communist movements. José Alicea was an important link between Bayamón and the mainland radical Left. He connected Spanish-speaking anarchists in New York and Bayamón with supporters of the Bolshevik Revolution and the ACP. In fact, in December 1920, following a column from Alicea on the front page of El Comunista, the newspaper uncritically published the manifesto of the ACP.53 The newspaper also raised money in Puerto Rico for the Russian Revolution, collecting funds specifically to fight off the U.S.-led international war against it. Even Luis Muñoz Marín—the future governor of Puerto Rico—contributed one dollar to El Comunista’s pro–Russian Revolution campaign.54 The publication of the ACP manifesto, the pro-Bolshevik fund-raising efforts, and the growing presence of El Comunista across the United States raised more than a few (p.162) eyebrows among federal authorities. As a result, the increasingly audacious Boricua anarchists were about to become targets of the Red Scare.

The Red Scare Takes Its Toll

The Russian Revolution captured the imaginations of radicals throughout the Americas. Long before knowledge of the structural violence and persecutions that the Bolsheviks would unleash against their people—anarchists included—Reds of all shades found inspiration in the overthrow of monarchy, the destruction of feudalism, and the abandonment of capitalism. Of course, governments throughout the Americas were just as frightened as the Left was encouraged. In the postwar era as the Bolsheviks began to consolidate their hold in Russia, anarchists and other radicals faced renewed repression from the U.S. government. In an effort to root out potential Bolsheviks and their sympathizers, Washington unleashed a wave of laws while encouraging a revitalized sense of patriotic nationalism. This new antiradical movement extended to Puerto Rico as El Comunista and the Bayamón anarchists came to the attention of U.S. authorities.

In its September 18, 1920, edition, the paper reported to its readers that the U.S. Postal Service had denied second-class status to El Comunista. In June 1917, the United States had passed the Espionage Act. The act originally aimed to prevent any antiwar material from being mailed during wartime, but the government continued to enforce the act after the armistice. The law became a key tool in the concerted U. S. government effort to prevent socialist and anarchist groups from cheaply using the U.S. mail as a means of disseminating their propaganda, especially after the Russian Revolution. According to El Comunista, the postal service ruled that the newspaper violated the law and now the federal government was going to enforce its consequences.

The Red Scare had been mainly a Washington-led effort to coopt nativist and right-wing support to root out anarchist and communist agitators across the country. Yet, the Left did not always just turn the other cheek. The government clampdown on El Comunista occurred at the exact same time as elements on the Left began to fight back. On September 16, 1920—just two days before El Comunista announced the new postal ruling—anarchists detonated a bomb on Wall Street. The attack, conducted by a wing of Italian anarchists, killed thirty-eight people and shocked the nation, coming nineteen months after a supposed anarchist plot to assassinate President Wilson and almost exactly nineteen years after the assassination of President McKinley. Thus, from Washington and New York’s perspective, Reds had brought war (p.163) to the homeland, and they considered El Comunista to be on the front lines of that global campaign.

As a result of the new postal regulation denying the use of the U.S. mail, the editors appealed to readers for more financial contributions to sustain the newspaper. The effect was twofold. First, contrary to what one would expect, distribution throughout the United States actually increased after the mail prohibition, as seen in the expansion of money for subscriptions in table 3. After the mail prohibition, copies were carried from city to city by hand, surreptitiously mailed inside packages, and secreted away inside the luggage of migrating anarchists. Second, unlike most anarchist newspapers, El Comunista ran a financial surplus. Such a surplus resulted not only from savings on postage but also growing support from the island and beyond. Continuous contributions from around Puerto Rico, Cuba, New Jersey, New York, and Florida meant that the paper’s budget surplus—hovering at $100 when the post office made its decision—continued to be just over $100 in February 1921.

However, these surpluses would not be enough to save the newspaper. That February, the paper’s exposure to the whims of capitalist caprice became evident. The Tobacco Trust initiated a series of forced lay-offs throughout the island. The lay-offs meant a decline in financial contributions that, coupled with the postal service’s actions, undermined the paper.55 While the postal service and the Tobacco Trust played roles in El Comunista’s demise, it is doubtful that the newspaper and the group would have lasted much longer than early 1921 because in December 1920, the U.S. Bureau of Investigation opened a case into the Bayamón group. For two months, bureau agents investigated Puerto Rican radicalism, including the island’s independence movement, the PS, the FLT, and the Bayamón anarchists. The investigation was part of a growing fear among U.S. authorities about the nature of labor politics on the island in the wake of the Russian Revolution.

This fear actually led to outlandish portrayals of fairly conservative labor leaders. For instance, in October 1920, Santiago Iglesias published a column in San Juan’s La Democracia on the meaning of the red flag. An official with the Bureau of Insular Affairs in San Juan translated the piece to make Iglesias seem like nothing short of a tropical Lenin. The translation for the official’s bosses in Washington had Iglesias calling himself “a partisan of the great and noble anarchist Bakounine [sic], rather of Marx.” Iglesias supposedly went on to state that the Soviet system, “is the most liberal and most just.” Then to completely mischaracterize Iglesias, the translation stated that Iglesias believed that revolution in Puerto Rico was near, an event that “will turn every (p.164) system in this island upside-down and, as a consequence there, all of us, islanders and Americans, are moving towards the establishment of the communist platform of internationalism.”56 Anyone knowledgeable about island labor politics would have recognized the error, but in the politically charged context of the Red Scare, red baiting was all the rage, even likely encouraged.

On January 31, 1921, Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Hubbard submitted a report that continued this Red Scare profile, now focusing on the Bayamón bloc. Probably knowing that his superiors would be most intrigued if he filled his report with anarchist violence, Hubbard repeatedly noted the group’s call for violent revolution and its desire to form “a Soviet government controlled by the laborers.” Though “as yet their membership is not large, and the movement is of comparitvly [sic] small importance, they have already created considerable trouble and disorder.”57

While not spelling out any of this supposed “trouble and disorder,” Hubbard did offer his superiors a taste of what could happen if the anarchists were not subdued. Identifying seventy-one editors, writers, and members, Hubbard suggested that the group could take advantage of growing labor strife to agitate among the workers. “Among the population such as we have in Porto Rico, where approximately 75% are illiterates, about 70% being negros [sic], or having negro blood in them, a great majority being of the ignorant laboring or ‘peon’ class, propaganda such as these people are turning out, is bound to obtain converts and cause trouble in the end; There are many thousands of unemployed laborers in Porto Rico.” Reflecting the class and racial attitudes of his day, Hubbard clearly thought that the “ignorant” and especially the “negro” underemployed workers were particularly susceptible to radical mobilization. But, in case his superiors thought that this was merely another movement to organize a union, Hubbard concluded his report by again stressing the potential for anarchist violence: “It is evident that the purpose of the propaganda published in this paper, is to educate and incite the working classes of Porto Rico to revolution, and to the use of violence in the overthrow and destruction of all existing forms of government, and society.” He then selected quotes to support this, including that the group “is an outspoken adherent of the Third International of Moscow.”58

Hubbard’s investigation was spotty at best. As so many in the intelligence communities of the Americas did, they confused anarchists, communists, and Bolsheviks. Hubbard was no different. He confused the Bayamón anarchists, calling them “the Communist Party of Porto Rico.” In addition, the only real issue that concerned Hubbard was the call for violent revolution. Nowhere did he address the anarchist concerns with the PS or their qualified rejection of Puerto Rican independence. The report was, in many ways, simple (p.165) red-baiting that highlighted the most extreme words of the newspaper’s articles as fodder to send to the U.S. Attorney’s office in San Juan. Certainly, governments historically had practiced such selective surveillance against radicals, as E. P. Thompson illustrated nearly fifty years ago in his history of the English working class: “In a sense, the Government needed conspirators, to justify the continuation of repressive legislation which prevented nationwide popular organization.” As Thompson suggested—and which seems to hold true across much of the Red Scare hyperbole in the United States—“it is impossible to know how far they [authorities] were themselves deluded by conspiracies which their own informers engendered” with potentially “fabricated information.”59

Nevertheless, perhaps Hubbard was not entirely wrong—if a bit overzealous—in his characterizations of the Bayamón bloc. After all, anarchists had expressed support for communism and Bolshevism. They also had expressed strong opposition to militarism and U.S. imperialism, while calling for alliance with the ACP to support a revolutionary movement. They were not reformers, and as Mijón had noted in his debate with Luis Muñoz Marín, the anarchists were urging a nonconciliatory awakening in Puerto Rican workers that would lead them to a Bolshevik-style uprising. Hubbard probably had good cause to be concerned, though he certainly oversold the Bayamón anarchists’ potential for an armed uprising. His investigation, coupled with a growing clampdown by the postal service and the economic warfare unleashed by the Tobacco Trust, ultimately led to the closing of El Comunista in early 1921 and with it the fall of the Bayamón bloc.

At the end of the Great War, when politicians, concerned citizens, and others believed that the Bolshevik Revolution threatened every nook and cranny of the United States, Washington unleashed its own internal war against “communist subversion.” While the history of that war on the U.S. mainland is well-known, the extension of this war on dissent into U. S. tropical possessions is less so. In Puerto Rico, various political forces were surging forward by 1920. A reenergized independence movement was arising and the PS—just five years old—was winning more seats with each election. Meanwhile, anarchists, encouraged by the success of the Russian Revolution, ramped up their long-time Bayamón-based agitation and published the longest-running, most widely distributed and read anarchist newspaper in the island’s history. All of these political forces came under U.S. surveillance.

The Bayamón bloc—a cell of anarchists working within the FLT and beyond since at least 1906—took inspiration from the Russian Revolution, named themselves after the revolution’s adoption of a “soviet” system, and (p.166) published El Comunista. Through its pages, anarchists intensified their attacks on FLT and PS reformists, launching into a new personal war of words with Santiago Iglesias Pantín. They also challenged Socialists such as Luis Muñoz Marín and Unionists for their stances on political independence. In doing so, the anarchists tapped into a long tradition of international anarchism that looked skeptically upon such nationalistic movements. They remembered how anarchist support for the Cuban independence war a quarter century earlier had been betrayed by the bourgeois forces that came to dominate postcolonial Cuba and then turned it over to U. S. neocolonialism. Most were unwilling to adopt that position again. While this was the majority line, some anarchists and Socialists with strong former anarchist credentials were more responsive to independence. Alfonso Torres unsuccessfully pushed for a proindependence plank in the Socialist platform during a PS convention in 1919 and at least one anarchist friendly to the Bayamón bloc reminded readers that the Bolsheviks were essentially engaged in a war to determine Russia’s independent destiny.

It obviously was not the anarchist critique of independence that caused the Justice Department concern, though. Rather, it was public advocacy for the Bolsheviks, the open hostility toward U.S. military intervention in the Caribbean Basin, and the widespread distribution of the Puerto Rican newspaper throughout the United States that brought El Comunista and its supporters under scrutiny. The Justice Department became increasingly concerned that these anti-U.S., pro-Russia messages were not just limited to public screeds on a soap box in some small town plaza or labor hall. They were beginning to reach larger segments of Puerto Rican and U.S. society. At first officials tried to limit the newspaper’s influence by restricting its distribution through the mail. However, defying the odds, the paper continued to be bought, read, and financed from anarchist supporters across the United States. Nevertheless, a combination of surveillance, repression, and growing financial problems brought the paper to halt in early 1921, and the anarchist surge on the island began to unravel … though, as we will see, not completely disappear.


(2.) Vladimir Lenin, quoted in Maximoff, Guillotine at Work, 37.

(5.) El Comunista, May 1, 1920, 2–3.

(6.) Ibid., June 12, 1920, 3;ibid., July 3, 1920, 2; ibid., July 31, 1920, 2.

(7.) El Comunista, June 19, 1920, 4.

(8.) Unión Obrera, September 22, 1915, 1.

(9.) Ibid., September 23, 1915, 1. Recall the controversy and name-calling between Dieppa and Vega Santos in 1916 discussed in the previous chapter.

(10.) El Comunista, July 10, 1920, 2.

(11.) Ibid., August 7, 1920, 2.

(12.) Unión Obrera, August 7, 1920, 2.

(13.) Report on IWW Organizing Attempt in Puerto Rico, January 16, 1920. Record Group 65 Records of the F.B.I., 65.2.2 Investigative Records, Old German Files (hereafter cited as FBI-OG) 208369, U.S. National Archives, College Park, Md.; El Comunista, August 21, 1920, 3.

(14.) “Recent Revolutionary Developments in Philadelphia,” January 25, 1919, U.S. Military Intelligence Reports: Surveillance of Radicals in the United States, 1917–1941 (hereafter cited as MIR), 10110-992-28, Radical Activities in Phil. Pa, 1919, microfilm collection, U.S. National Archives.

(15.) El Comunista, August 14, 1920, 1 and 4.

(16.) Ibid., August 14, 1920, 3.

(17.) ibid., August 21, 1920, 1.

(18.) ibid., August 14, 1920, 1.

(19.) ibid., August 14, 1920, 4.

(21.) Ibid., 103.

(22.) El Comunista, August 21, 1920, 1; Marín Román, ¡Llegó la Gringada!, 504, 521, 537.

(23.) Unión Obrera, August 27, 1920, 3.

(24.) Justicia, March 13, 1915, 2.

(25.) Programa Constitución Territorial y Actuaciones del Partido Socialista, 1919, 45–46, Universidad de Puerto Rico–Humacao, Centro de Documentación Obrera Santiago Iglesias Pantín (hereafter cited as CDOSIP), folder Programa del Partido Socialista, 1919, Fondo Santiago Iglesias Pantín (hereafter Fondo SIP).

(26.) Ibid., 47–49.

(27.) El Comunista, August 21, 1920, 2.

(28.) Ibid.

(29.) ibid., August 28, 1920, 1.

(30.) ibid., August 28, 1920, 1 and 4.

(31.) ibid., June 26, 1920, 6.

(32.) ibid., July 31, 1920, 1.

(33.) ibid., July 17, 1920, 2 and 4.

(34.) Marín Román, ¡Llegó la Gringada!, 442–57.

(35.) El Comunista, May 8, 1920, 4.

(36.) Marín Román, ¡Llegó la Gringada!, 585–86.

(p.196) (37.) El Comunista, May 15, 1920, 3.

(38.) Ibid., May 15, 1920, 3.

(39.) ibid., July 10, 1920, 2.

(40.) ibid., May 8, 1920, 4.

(41.) ibid., July 31, 1920, 2.

(42.) ibid., July 17, 1920, 3; ibid., September 18, 1920, 3.

(43.) “Julio Blanco, alias J. B. Rodriguez Globe, Arizona, Spanish Anarchist,” July 30, 1920, FBI-OG 59706.

(44.) El Comunista, June 19, 1920, 5; ibid., July 3, 1920, 3.

(45.) El Comunista, September 18, 1920, 3.

(46.) Ibid., December 11, 1920, 4.

(47.) ibid., December 11, 1920, 4; ibid., February 19, 1921, 4.

(48.) ¡Tierra!, March 5, 1910, 4.

(50.) Ibid., 25.

(51.) ibid., 28 and 32.

(52.) ibid., 113–14.

(53.) El Comunista, December 18, 1920, 1–2.

(54.) Ibid., June 19, 1920, 2.

(55.) ibid., September 18, 1920, 4; ibid., December 11, 1920, 4; February 2, 1921, 4.

(56.) B.I.A. translation of Santiago Iglesias article, CDOSIP, 1920, folder La Democracia, Fondo SIP.

(57.) Special Agent Hubbard, “Information for General Intelligence Bulletin: The Communist Party of Porto Rico,” January 31, 1921, FBI-OG 202600-40.