Love, Sacrifice and Revenge by Diego R. Barbosa

Amor, Sacrificio Y Venganza (Love, Sacrifice and Revenge) by Diego R. Barbosa was published as No 16 in the Novela Libre series in December 1935. The Montseny family published monthly pamphlets intended for working class readers as the Novela Ideal series and the companion series Novela Libre had more literary pretensions; both series were expected to meet three criteria - spread an appreciation of a libertarian society, appeal to the readers’ emotions and be accessible. Something like 160 writers contributed to the two series and Diego R. Barbosa (1885-1936) wrote four, of which Love, Sacrifice and Revenge was the latest. It had been on the bookstalls and selling at just 50 centimos a copy for less than a year when its farmhand and anarchist author was murdered (beaten to death) by Falangists.

José Luis Gutiérrez Molina (El Anarquismo en Chiclana: Diego R. Barbosa, obrero y escritor (1885-1936) offers us this summary of the plot.

The protagonist of the action (…) set in Andalusia during the Second Republic is Juan Despierto, a peasant who feeds his family with whatever game he can hunt down and meagre work he can find. One day he runs into Ramón, a game-keeper and son of the man who murdered Juan’s own father. He also meets an anarchist propagandist, Daniel, a young man forced into exile for his beliefs. During his absence, Daniel’s sweetheart Mariana is raped by one of the landowner’s sons, and is forced to marry an estate worker in order to save appearances: that worker is none other than the game-keeper Juan has just met. On his way towards the estate Juan tells Daniel what became of his sweetheart. They both determine to wreak revenge on the rapist. The game-keep later joins them. The reuniting of Daniel and Mariana reawakens feelings they thought they had forgotten. AS the winter comes on, the peasants are forced into striking and Daniel is arrested. He is at large again by June when fire destroys the crops. One day Ramón, Daniel and Juan track down the rapist and have their revenge. They string him up from the very same pine tree used years previously by the game-keeper’s father. Thrown into prison, Ramón asks Mariana to move in with Daniel.

This drama has all of the favourite themes of the anarchist activist author, Barbosa. The protagonists mirror the various types of country folk. but they are more than mere archetypes. They are living characters. Especially Ramón and Juan Despierto. The former is the slave who has not managed to shrug off dependency and submissiveness towards the bosses, the land-owners. Whereas the latter is the farm labourer who ‘instinctively’ and later as a result of his reading and anarchist propaganda knows that neither the soil not the animals can be anybody’s property. Because nobody created them or reared them.

In every case except Daniel’s, their personalities grow. The game-keeper comes to question his job and gives free rein to the built-up resentment he feels about his father’s death and the rape of his wife. And the change is personal too. He realises that Mariana’s real love is Daniel and he finishes up asking her to go with Daniel. Juan Despierto is changed too. Little by little his ‘innate common sense’ matures into a consciousness of his status as a victim of oppression. Poaching stops being a ‘petty crime’ and becomes a form of rebelliousness and peasant protest.

There are no such nuances in the character of Daniel, nor that of the señorito rapist. The anarchist acts as a catalyst in the situation. His contact with Juan and Ramón sets off a chain reaction, although he himself is unchanged. He represents the anarchist activist whose behaviour and actions awakens and organises men whose consciousness is asleep. And he is an anarchist rather than a trade unionist. [Here] labour organisations seems rather distant and is barely hinted at in that he is in preventive detention - like many a CNT member found himself - in connection with a strike. At the other extreme, equally schematic, we have the figure of the señorito, Pepe. A tidal wave of lust, he lacks the values which his adversaries knowingly or unconsciously boast: courage, industriousness and nobility. He stands for the estate-owners who refuse to see themselves as like other men, with the same rights but without the privileges that allow him to keep the peasants in poverty and claim exclusive title to the bounty of nature.

Not that the plot is timeless. In chronological terms, it is set during the Second Republic. When the oppressed awake and shrug off old superstitions such as believing that the polished stones strewn around the fields derive from lightning bolts. This is a very recurrent theme among anarchists: the sort of education that banishes ignorance is the best weapon of the revolution. Which is why the powerful and the wealthy do all in their power to deny the workers education. But education by itself is not enough. A violent society cannot help but engender more violence. Men can be horrible just as nature can. Hence the awful death inflicted on the rapist and the arson that razes the fields and inundates the village with ashes that nothing and no one can do anything to stop.

Thoroughly conversant with his subject matter, Barbosa offers us a fluent story in which he depicts in somber colours the failure of republican reformism which is explicitly criticised for its law on municipal boundaries. This was an attempt to confine the activities of a worker within fixed boundaries when necessity acknowledged no such boundaries. It was meant to ease the authorities’ inability to prevent a landowner boycott that left the fields untilled and added to peasant misery and to preserve the repressive practices of the Civil Guard. Barbosa makes it plain that the example to follow was the example of the anarchists and what they were doing.”

[Read the first chapter of Love, Sacrifice and Revenge]

From: El Anarquismo en Chiclana: Diego R. Barbosa, obrero y escritor (1885-1936). Translated by: Paul Sharkey.