Some Latin American Anarchist Women

Olga ACERA (Argentine Republic)

Born in Punta Alta in Buenos Aires province, she worked on the land as a cowherd from the age of eight. She received her primary education at a Rationalist Modern School modelled upon the one set up by the Spanish libertarian Francisco Ferrer y Guardia and based on the scientific, trial-and-error approach. In 1917 she took part in the railroad strikes during the celebrated days of struggle when the women of south Buenos Aires sat down on the tracks to bring services to a standstill.

A feminist, she was the partner of Generoso Cuadrado Hernández, a writer and anarchist activist born in Bahía Blanca, sharing his life for upwards of fifty years. They lived in Tapiales in greater Buenos Aires. Mother of Alba Cuadrado, a member of the Argentinean Libertarian Federation (FLA)

From Libertarias en America del Sur, by Cristina Guzzo, p. 15 [Buenos Aires : Libros de Anarres, 2014.]

Miguelina Aurora ACOSTA CARDENAS (Peru, 1887-1938)

Born in Yurimaguas in the Loreto department in the Alto Amazonas 1887, according to her university papers. Her parents were Miguel Acosta Sánchez and Grimanesa Cárdenas Montalbán, landowners in the Peruvian Amazon territories blessed by the boom in the rubber industry. As the heiress of a wealthy family of the day she was sent to France, Switzerland and Germany for her education, which enabled her to sample the climate in Europe in the wake of the First World War.

On her return to Peru Miguelina ran up against two new realities: her family had quit the farm in the Amazon, rubber having been replaced by synthetics which ushered in the end of the era of rubber-tapping; and she began her studies in Peru and was initiated into the reality in the country.

At the Universidad Mayor de San Marcos she studied literature and later studied Jurisprudence, being admitted to the bar in 1920. In her thesis “Our marriage institution debases woman’s legal and social status” she lifted the veil on her militant feminism and her preoccupation with male dominance over women. She lobbied for women to be granted the right to bring law suits, a right denied under the established legislation. Miguelina Acosta was to be Peru’s first female lawyer open to defending working men and women.

From 1917 until 1919 she co-directed the anarchist-inclined weekly La Critica alongside her ‘Indianist’ friend Dora Mayer. Those were years of huge labour strikes in Peru, strikes mounted by mutualist and anarchist workers. The anarchist movement’s heyday in Peru was between 1911 and 1924, during which time Miguelina Acosta popped up as a feminist and anarcho-syndicalist leader. In La Critica she signed her articles with the aliases Maac and Emedosa. In those articles she grappled with labour demands and the fight for female emancipation. She believed in education for women as instrumental in women’s personal development. Another core theme in her struggles were rights for the native peoples (Indians) and she was especially fixated with the problems of Amazonian women, something she had been familiar with, having experienced life in that region. As a consequence, she set up a school for women in her native town of Yurimaguas and was a member of the Pro-Indian Association founded by Dora Mayer and Pedro Zulén. She also wrote for El Obrero Textil and in the famous review Amauta run by José Mariátegui, to whom she became close from 1923 to 1930. She stood out by taking part in labour rallies as a public speaker and gave speeches in the premises of the González Prada People’s University.

During her time as a student at San Marcos she launched and chaired the Women’s Commission on the Supply of Staple Goods in 1919 at a time when soaring prices were behind huge strikes. Espousing an anarcho-syndicalist approach, she led the 25 May 1919 “anti-hunger” march in Lima that was banned by the government, whereupon a rally was held with placards reading “We want bread!”, “Down with the capitalist hoarders!” and “Long live the women’s organisation!”. Repression and clashes with the police followed. Later, Miguelina embarked on a hunger strike in the port of El Callao in protest at the scarcity of basic foodstuffs and this made her very popular right across Peru. Similarly, she took part in and led the anarcho-syndicalist women’s struggles mounted throughout Peru in 1917 and 1918 to press for the eight hour working day and stood up to heavy-handed police repression which on occasion had tragic outcomes. Mariátegui refers to these women in his 7 Essays Interpreting Peruvian Reality. On account of her ideas, Miguelina Acosta was shunned in certain circles and some doors were barred to her, but even so, she stuck to her educational work as a teacher in a range of workers’ schools and at the González Prada People’s University in Jauja. She was a member of the ‘Evolución Feminista’ association launched by the journalist and educator María Jesús Alvarado, a member of the Feminist Labour Society and of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. In 1924 she took part in the Pan-American Women’s Conference where she set out her plan for the establishment and training of a corps of peripatetic rural teachers to tackle illiteracy among the Indians.

In the review La Protesta (Lima, No 84, in January 1920) the anarchist Delfín Levano published the lyrics of a song entitled “El perseguido” (The Persecuted One) dedicated to Miguelina Acosta and referring to her as “sister”. In fact, Miguelina was by then looked upon as a libertarian leader and brilliant public speaker.

In her later years she lived in El Callao, dying on 26 October 1938 in that port city in Peru.

Op.cit., pp. 15-17

Esperanza AUZEAC(Moldavia/Uruguay, 1919-?)

Moldavia-born anarchist militant who moved to Uruguay with her family. Originally her name was Nadezhda and her father, a French officer posted to Russia, was part of the diaspora that left the empire in the wake of the 1917 revolution. He said he had arrived at the River Plate as a fugitive from the Bolsheviks.

Esperanza was a unionist and helped set up the Meatworkers’ Union which had previously not existed in Montevideo. She started working at the Frigorífico Anglo (Anglo Refrigeration) plant as a 17 year old but the belief is that she was actually only 14 or 15 years old when she started work. And she was sacked from the refrigeration plant for her political activity.

She was very friendly with the Montevideo anarchist Débora Céspedes and her partner “Beto” Gallegos and lived, as they did, in the El Cerro district. Esperanza was a member of the group around the El Cerro Ateneo Libre and belonged to the GEAL, Grupo de Estudios y Acción Libertaria (Libertarian Studies & Action Group) from the 1980s onwards.

Her own partner was Santiago Rodriguez (b. 1916) from the Canillitas Union and they had a son, Boris. Her close friend Débora Céspedes wrote a biography of Esperanza published in Centro Oeste, the review of the El Cerro district pensioners.

In 2001 the Dutch researcher Kees Rodenburg carried out the “Simón Radowitzky” interview with Esperanza after discovering a photograph of her with Simón Radowitzky in Luce Fabbri’s archives; the snapshot had been taken at a picnic organised by the Ateneo Libre and was published in the review Opción Libertaria (Montevideo, June 1999, p. 14). In the interview Auzeac recalls Radowitzky’s arrival in Montevideo in 1930 following his release from Ushuaia penitentiary; the interview can be found at the International Institute for Social History in Amsterdam.

Esperanza Auzeac died in Bolivia where she had spent her later years.

Op.cit. pp. 19-20

Nelia BURSUK (Argentina) b. 1921

Born in Bernasconi in La Pampa in 1921, daughter of Jose Bursuk and Benita Kaplan and grand-daughter of the head of the clan, Wolf, all of them originally from Bobrovsky in Russia, arriving in Argentina at the beginning of the 20th century as refugees from Nicholas II’s pogroms.

Their destination was the Narcisse Level settlement in Bernasconi; it had been launched in 1909 by the Jewish Colonization Company, a philanthropic society set up by Baron Hirsch. Along with a lot of other Ashkenazi Jewish settlers, they settled down to the hard slog of rural living, planting and harvesting cereal crops in an outlying area with less than top quality soil, but in settling there on that virgin soil they were able, collectively, to reproduce their culture, language and customs. The Bursuks were anarchist intellectuals and they opened an anarchist bookshop as part of the local business community. In addition, they brought to Narcisse Level all of the published output of Francisco Ferrer’s Modern School so as to introduce libertarian educational methods to the settlement.

Nelia was just over a year old when her parents and a few other family members moved to Charata in what was then the Chaco National Territory. They were drawn there by the offer of cheap land for cotton-planting and they left La Pampa behind, fed up with the high rents the Colonization Company introduced after 1920.

They settled in Charata with five other families on a 100-hectare plot where they set up a cooperative, affirming their anarchist identity. In spite of the oppressive climate, presence of mosquitoes and absence of electricity, the family led a peaceful existence with Nelia learning to read Yiddish and Spanish and give recitals and take part in amateur dramatics. Quiet family evenings featured readings out loud from La Protesta and Dos Freie Wort (1936-1975), the Buenos Aires-based Yiddish anarchist daily on which Nelia’s uncles Berishe and Mayer both worked.

The 1930s were the heyday of the collective, with a school, a hospital being built as well as the launching of a Jewish Society where up to one hundred families used to gather to watch plays. Nelia, her mother and her aunt Taibe were part of the “Bursuk Theatre Troupe” run by Berishe and Mayer. Nelia appeared in one play called “Hambre” (Hunger) featuring a mother unable to feed her little children and – so they say – reduced the audience to tears. Back then performances were also held in the surrounding countryside and villages to raise funds in support of anarchist causes. The programme changed every three months and there was a gradual shift to the use of Spanish. One report from the FORA noted in 1934 that a “soiree” in Charata had drawn an attendance of upwards of 400 people.

In 1930 the Bursuks set up the “Leon Jazanovich Library” in Charata, called after the director of the newspaper Brot un Ere (Bread and Honour) who had exposed the abuses of Hirsch’s Colonization Company, dubbing its practices “feudal philanthropy”. Jazanovich had become persona non grata with the Argentinean government and was deported in 1910.

With her ten siblings, her cousins and friends, Nelia launched a separate library for youngsters called Brazo y Cerebro (Brawn and Brain). It held fortnightly soirees attended by Jews and non-Jews alike, offerings recitals and discussions of literary works and anarchist readings.

In 1940 the Bursuk family left the Chaco and moved to Buenos Aires. Nelia joined the “Libertarian Youth” organisation as a member of the FACA (Argentinean Anarcho-Communist Federation) and as an anarchist activist she gave poetry readings, performed in theatre groups, sold anarchist literature and distributed propaganda at night school. Like her father and her uncle Mayer Bursuk, she also belonged to the Jewish Rationalist Association (ARJ) which was active in Argentina from 1916 up until 1978, was a member of the FORA (Argentinean Regional Workers’ Federation) and had close ties to the “Jose Ingenieros” People’s Library. There were several schools of thought within the ARJ, as witness the controversy between individualist anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists or Tolstoyan humanists and the rationalist influence of the Modern School. The ARJ embraced the doubly pariah status of the “anarchist Jew” and boosted the cultural identity and education of Russian immigrants arriving in Argentina as illiterates. Nelia Bursuk was heavily involved in this educational endeavour which was conducted through Yiddish and she also fought against the discrimination against women, whose voices were little heeded among traditionalist groups of the sort, which was why the younger generation tended to associate with more open-minded leftwing groups in which Spanish was the language used.

When the ARJ’s director Gorodisky died in 1976, the two thousand books in the Jewish Rationalist Association library on the corner of Humahuaca and Pringle Streets were gifted to the Argentinean Anarchist Studies Department at Tel Aviv University.

Nelia Bursuk was 25 when she first met her husband Antonio Legaz at a FORA dance. Legaz was Argentinean, but had lived in Spain since the age of five and had fought for the revolutionary cause in the Civil War there. Nelia and Legaz had two daughters – Marina Luisa, an anarchist active in the FLA (Argentinean Libertarian Federation), who was born in Buenos Aires on 30 December 1947; and Estella Noemi, born on 7 April 1950. Nelia has two grandchildren, Estrella’s children, Sebastian and Gabriela Irina.

Now in her 90s and blessed with good health, Nelia Bursuk is an iconic woman of Ashkenazi extraction who fought for cultural integration and feminism on the basis of anarchist values.

Op.cit. pp. 38-41.

From: Libertarias en America del Sur, by Cristina Guzzo, [Buenos Aires : Libros de Anarres, 2014.]. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.