A biography of veteran Spanish anarchist and women's liberationist Pepita Carpena.
Real name Josefa Carpena-Amat, born 19 December 1919 - Barcelona, Spain, died 5 June 2005 - Marseilles, France
“I became aware of the sexist injustices in daily life because these were suffered by all women. Today like yesterday, I have the same opinions: despite the evolution of morality, there have hardly been any changes. If by the force of things, couples work, the man occupies himself a bit more with the home and his children, that is the minimum and my intimate conviction is that the two human beings, the man and the woman, must have the same rights and the same freedom.”
- The veteran Spanish anarchist Pepita Carpena, member of the anarchist women’s organisation Mujeres Libres.
Her real name was Josefa Carpena-Amat but she was always known as Pepita. She was born in Barcelona in the workers quarter of Pueblo Seco on December 19th, 1919. She was one of 6 children, two of whom died in infancy.
Her father was a member of the anarcho-syndicalist trade union the National Confederation of Labour (CNT). She herself became active with the CNT at the age of 14, in the metal workers syndicate. She joined the Libertarian Youth Federation (FIJL), where she quenched her thirst for reading, with works by Balzac, Zola and Rousseau as well as anarchist classics by Anselmo Lorenzo and Mikhail Bakunin.
The Spanish Revolution came in July 1936. Pepita recalled her eagerness to join the anarchist Durruti Column at the age of 16 and Buenaventura Durruti, after whom it was was named, telling her that she would be more useful at the rear.
In April the anarchist women’s organisation Mujeres Libres (Free Women, or ML) was created. Pepita was contacted by the teacher Pilar Grangel, and invited to join. She began to fight for real equality with men in struggle. She also started working in a factory manufacturing grenades for the front. She worked in the regional committee of ML, on the propaganda secretariat. She organised many debates. In this period, she noted the thirst for freedom among working women and the changes in their outlook in a deeply macho society.
“They wanted to finish with the machoist traditions. Even those who did not have the habit of struggle had well defined ideas and knew what they wanted.”
She was obliged to leave Spain after the fascist victory in 1939, along with tens of thousands of other refugees, and settled in Marseilles. Here she met Russian anarchist Voline, then in semi-clandestinity. “I marvelled at making the acquaintance of Voline, this veteran of the Russian Revolution...”
With the end of the war she actively participated in the reconstruction of the CNT and the FIJL in exile. She vigorously opposed the reformists within the CNT. One of her close friends, Raul Carballeira, returned to Spain to carry out underground work. He died shot full of holes by the Francoist police in the Jardin de Montjuich in Barcelona in 1945 .
From April 1992 to June 1993, Pepita was engaged in writing her memoirs, De Toda la vida in Castilian. She translated this into French for an edition called Toute une vie: memoires, published in 2000. She also contributed to 2 collective works: one of these Mujeres Libres; luchadoras libertarias, was also translated into French.
She participated in the activities of the Marseilles branch of the International Centre of Research of Anarchism (CIRA) from 1979. In fact she was the coordinator of CIRA-Marseilles from 1988 to 1999.
She was responsible for welcoming people to the library and for the Spanish language archives and she participated in many of its lectures and debates. She contributed to its bulletin on many occasions and wrote many articles for the French and Spanish anarchist press: Cenit, CNT, le Combat Syndicaliste, Ideas-Orto, and Solidaridad Obrera. She intervened in the debate on Feminism/Post-feminism at the International Exhibition and days of debate held in Barcelona, the deliberations of which appeared as a book in 1994.
Pepita appeared in various documentaries on anarchists like Toda de Vida and Un Autre Futur and she also acted on the stage on several occasions.
Pepita was cremated at Aix-en-Provence on 8th June 2005
By Nick Heath