The writer of this article, Salvador Torrents, is a Spaniard, who came to Australia in 1909 after the judicial murder of the Spanish rationalist and educationalist, Francisco Ferrer.
AN OPEN LETTER
To My Friend, Mrs. Nettie Palmer:
I received your postcard with the photograph of Francisco Ferrer. To the majority of Australians, the name of Ferrer is unknown: to me it is rather different. For more than forty years I have been a fervent admirer of Ferrer's ideas. In the course of my life I have had certain sad experiences through being branded a rationalist and as an opponent of the present rotten system.
I was very young when I started to feel that something was wrong m the way we were compelled to live. In the city where my youth was spent there were always discussions and struggles over politics, religion and economics. What drew my attention was that nearly always the poor remained in the same position; only the unscrupulous improved their own conditions.
This made me think that the only way to improve our conditions was to improve the form of our struggle. While I was thinking in this way, friends of mine came and said, "Do you know, Torrents, there will be a rationalists meeting next Sunday at Premia de Mar ( maybe you know that town), and Francisco Ferrer himself will be one of the speakers." We went to it.
The speech of Ferrer still remains engraved in my mind. Among other things, he said, "We have come to tell the people of this town that we rationalists intend to open a rationalist or modern school here. The task of the rationalist teacher is to instruct your children only in what Science considers to be nearest to truth; all superstitions are out of our programme." He advocated the brotherhood of all human beings; and said, "We must educate our children so that when they grow up they know for themselves what reason is. The duty of the people is to study right and wrong for themselves; not to leave the work to so-called leaders. Everyone must interest himself in the welfare of humanity-otherwise you will remain enslaved by a minority. The history of mankind shows that lovers of progress have always been persecuted by those who believe they have been appointed by some divine law to stop the progress of the world."
It was for that reason that all the parasites of the world hated Ferrer-for he had committed no other crime. The friends of Torquemada and Pedro Arbues did not stop till, in the name of God, they had exterminated him. If to circulate rationalist ideas, as Ferrer did, is a crime, then I am proud to be a criminal.
Ferrer was accused of being a leader of the revolution in Spain in 1909. This is the greatest lie, and was uttered to justify their own crime by the reactionary Spanish Government and others interested. I myself took an active share in that revolutionary movement, though I have always been a man of the rank and file. I am in a position to say that Ferrer did not take any active part in it. The Prosecutor could not prove anything against him; there were just some poor people in the town of Mongat where Ferrer lived who said that he had supported the revolt. This was all the evidence on which the Prosecutor relied for the death sentence. In the public mind, Ferrer was executed for his share in the revolt. But no and no! He was murdered for his excellent work in clearing the minds of the people, which was against the reactionaries not only of Spain but of the whole world. A few years later the case was revised and Ferrer declared not guilty: an admission of one more crime in the history of the Inquisition.
You may wonder what sort of revolution it was that had drawn at least the sympathy of Ferrer. I will try to explain it to you. People living outside of Spain find it hard to credit the conditions in which the Spanish people were condemned to live. Maybe you have read in magazines, "Spain is a beautiful country; it enjoys a fine climate, produces very good fruit, very good wines, very good textiles." Oh, yes, my friend, but for the rich only. Not for those who produce such beautiful things. When I lived in Spain thirty-five years ago, the workers of the Province of Valencia produced excellent grapes, melons, oranges, that the rich people of England enjoyed. The workers who produced those delicious fruits received only a shilling a day for not less than ten hours of very hard work. The workers in the region of Andalucia have been known to foreigners as the "gayest" people in the world with their toreadors and their guitars, their castanets and their first-class wines. These "gay" workers received sixpence a day, when they were lucky enough to find work. Workers in Catalonia like myself worked twelve hours a day in factories with unhealthy conditions for a miserable wage, while the parasite classes enjoyed everything and we were treated like leprous dogs. But that was not enough. The capitalist is never satisfied; no matter how much he has, he always looks out for more. Some of these "patriots" discovered mines in Africa; but the people who lived there were semi-savage-or so the capitalists said-and could not get the minerals out of the ground. Now the capitalist, where his own pocket is concerned, will drop his patriotism. Thus it was that certain Germans, British, French and Spanish formed a company; at the Algeciras Conference they decided that the Spanish Government should be in charge of the Zone that included the mines.
Immediately after the Conference, the Spanish Government sent troops and priests there: the troops to protect the mines and the priests to protect the souls of the Moors. But the Moors did not like that sort of protection, and they rose in arms against the Spanish troops. (I thought, and still think, they were right.) The Government then sent out thousands of soldiers, most of whom never returned home. The hundreds of officers who were masters at killing unarmed workers in the streets of Spain were unable to defeat those poor country-folk of Morocco.
My friend, there is another thing you must know. In Spain it was only the poor that were forced to be soldiers. Those who could pay £60 to the Government stayed at home.
The news from the battle fronts became worse every day, the working-class dying for the profit of the capitalist. Our sole reason for declaring a general strike was to protest against the criminal policy of the Spanish Government. Now do you think Ferrer was right or wrong in approving of our action?
The seeds of rationalism were sown by Francisco Ferrer and watered by his own blood. They germinated with such vigour that they were the admiration of all men with liberal ideas. When these generals who had sworn fidelity to the Republican Government rose in arms against it, the mass of the people showed the reactionaries of the world t hat they were impregnated with the spirit of freedom that Ferrer and other freethinkers had taught them. As you know, the criminals succeeded in killing honest men; but all the criminals of the world cannot stop the advance of Progress.
from, The Rationalist, July, 1945