One of the founders of the Spanish anarchist movement, an ‘organic intellectual’ and one of its most distinguished women activists.
“The Louise Michel of Spain"
- Emma Goldman, in a 1937 letter to Ethel Mannin.
“47 years of prisons, exile, work, disappointment, persecutions and bitterness! What great strength of spirit is needed for that ! Nevertheless, Teresa did not consider that she had done anything extraordinary in her life. She had to think that whatever happened in her life, the goodness of her anarchist idealism was reward enough"
- Soledad Gustavo
“From Catalunya in the northeast to Andalusia in the southwest of Spain, she overcame local differences, building solidarity among anarcho-syndicalists whose strength really lay in local and regional councils. She had the capacity to speak to a crowd as if she were talking to friends in a café, and reached equally the male and female working class. A natural teacher, she understood and could explain how particular struggles fit into larger campaigns… she was one of those mythical organizers who wound up convincing her jailers of her cause.”
- Red City, Blue Period. Temma Kaplan, 1992.
Born in Barbastro in Huesca province in Spain in 1862, Teresa Claramunt I Creus moved with her parents to Sabadell, an industrial city near Barcelona, after a few years.
A textile worker, her political awareness began on the shop floor, fighting alongside weavers and spinners. She founded a women’s anarchist group in Sabadell in 1884 inspired by the ideas of Tárrida del Mármol. Gradually her powers as an organiser and a speaker made her well known in the textile unions.
Following Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin’s views on the subject, the Spanish anarchist movement had always, in theory, taken an emancipated line on the subjection of women. The 1881 Congress of the Spanish Regional Federation of the International issued a statement that women “can exercise the same rights and meet the same responsibilities as men”.
There were repeated calls at anarchist conferences for the organisation of women workers, and for equal pay for equal work. In practice, and bearing in mind the nature of Spanish society with its entrenched views, the power of the Catholic Church, and a general atmosphere of machismo, male anarchists were often patronising.
Teresa, in an article in 1891, pointed out the tendency for men to be officials in syndicates that had an overwhelmingly female membership. In fact, because of the strength of the textile industry in areas where anarchists were strongest, women often made up the majority of the membership. As she pointed out, this was seldom reflected in the structure of the syndicates.
Teresa was arrested in 1893 following the bombing of the Liceo opera theatre. This bombing, carried out by one individual, was used as a pretext to attack the whole anarchist movement. Teresa was in no way implicated, and she herself, influenced by Tarrida del Mármol, disapproved of such tactics.
She was arrested again in 1896 with the Cambios Nuevos bombing in Barcelona, which brought down a savage and brutal repression on Spanish anarchism. Tarrida himself was arrested for this, and Teresa was arrested and incarcerated with other anarchists in the Montjuich prison. Her letters from prison were smuggled out and helped highlight the horrendous treatment that was being handed out to the anarchists. She was then deported and spent two years in France and England working as a weaver.
Teresa returned to Barcelona in 1898 and was involved in the campaign against the Montjuich trials. In the aftermath of Cambios Nuevos, many anarchists had been horribly tortured, one driven mad by his suffering. Five were eventually framed and executed, with many receiving long prison sentences. Just who threw the bomb remains a mystery.
Soon after Teresa had an important role, alongside Lepoldo Bonafalla, in bringing out the influential magazine El Productor in 1901. She used it, and her powers as an orator, to argue for unity between the different regional anarchosyndicalist bodies. In February 1902 a general strike in support of striking metal workers brought out thousands and led to a big textile strike in Barcelona. Teresa had a key in this, delivering a passionate speech in the Spanish Circus Theatre, mobilising demonstrations of women workers in the neighbourhoods and going on an intensive propaganda tour through Andalusia.
In succeeding years she took part in many meetings and propaganda tours, inspiring audiences with her magnetic personality. She was a prolific writer, having articles in many anarchist papers, including El Productor, El Rebelde, Tribuna Libre, El Productor Literario, El Porvenir del Obrero, Fraternidad, La Alarma, El Proletario, Buena Semilla, etc. Her main topics were her fight for women’s equality, her explanations of anarchism and her opposition to electoralism.
She wrote the book La mujer, Consideraciones generales sobre su estado ante las prerrogativas del hombre in 1903., where she outlined the situation of working women , the need to fight against male dominance and for women’s liberation.
She played an active part in the Semana Tragica (Tragic Week) of 1909, when a general strike broke out and barricades were thrown up in Barcelona. On the Sunday night of February 16 she addressed an impassioned speech to the assembled crowds.
Women played an important part in these events, often fighting alongside the men on the barricades. She was imprisoned after the events.
With the Workers’ Federation relaunched she found herself exiled in Saragossa later in the year, as a result of the Semana Tragica. She was very active organising Aragonese workers, in fact she more or less single-handedly built the movement in Aragon!
She had a leading role in the general strike there in 1911, five days after the founding of the nationwide anarcho-syndicalist union CNT. Her home became a place of pilgrimage for young anarchists, including the members of the Solidarios group - Buenaventura Durruti, Ascaso, Garcia Oliver etc.
Teresa sprang from the working class and had a key role in organising workers. As an anarchist, however, she was aware of the possible pitfalls of syndicalism. This led her for a period in the 1920s to draw back from the syndicalist movement in which she suspected reformist tendencies.
In 1924 she returned to Barcelona but a progressive paralytic disease that had first started appearing during one of her imprisonments prevented her from keeping up her activism, although she remained an anarchist to the end. She gave her last meeting in 1929.
She died in Barcelona in 1931, on the eve of the restoration of the Republic. Fifty thousand people attended her funeral.
Somehow, a street named after her was overlooked by the Francoist authorities and is still there in the 9th district of Barcelona