The Anarchist Expropriators by Osvaldo Bayer [Review]

Early twentieth-century Argentina was a cauldron of violent social conflict. Bayer recounts the story of the ‘conference’ called by the police in Jacinto Aráuz. The workers who came were disarmed ‘then made to lie down on the ground and were beaten with clubs. A pretty drastic way of resolving a labor dispute. But the anarchists who were still in out in the yard and who were assuredly no choirboys themselves opened fire even though they were surrounded. It was a real bloodbath with fatalities on both sides.’ (p52) So, violent conflict was the background to Argentina’s anarchist expropriator movement of the 1920s and ‘30s.

The book opens with a useful introduction from the Kate Sharpley Library laying out the conflicts we’re about to read about: not just expropriators versus the police, but violent, tragic divisions between different branches of the anarchist movement.

Though written forty years ago, The Anarchist Expropriators has the freshness of new work. Unsurprising, given that Bayer talked with those who had been involved in these events and can say that this ‘for the very first time is the actual story of how Major Rosasco was assassinated and the names and persons involved’ (p123)

The anarchist expropriators are fascinating historical figures, a mixture of equally intense anarchist purism and pragmatism. One example will have to do. Miguel Arcangel Roscigna was a metalworker and stalwart of anarchist prisoner solidarity. He managed to get a job as a guard at the feared Ushuaia prison in order to liberate anarchist militant Simón Radowitsky. A trade unionist ‘blabbermouth’ lets the secret out and Roscigna is sacked. ‘Before he vanished and lest all his trouble should have been for nothing, Roscigna torched the prison governor’s home.’ (p55)

Bayer does not hero-worship the expropriators, but he gives them respect. ‘Those who were not killed and who managed to survive the prison regime in Ushuaia returned to their old trades as bricklayers, textile workers, or mechanics, toiling hour after painful hour in spite of their years. To put it another way, we may question their ideal and the methods for which they opted, but we cannot question their attachment to that ideal, which they embraced through thick and thin.’ (p113)

The Anarchist Expropriators provides plenty of food for thought for those interested in a critical look at anarchist history and practice.

The Anarchist Expropriators: Buenaventura Durruti and Argentina’s Working-Class Robin Hoods by Osvaldo Bayer. Translated by Paul Sharkey. AK Press & Kate Sharpley Library, 2015. ISBN 9781849352239 $12/£8.50