Remembering Comrade Ego

News reached us on 15 December 2002 of the death of our old comrade, the anarchist battler Jose Ego-Aguirre to who our movement is so indebted for his years of indefatigable agitational and propaganda work as well as his organising and fighting abilities.

Comrade Ego, Peruvian by birth but Chilean from choice, started his flirtation with anarchist ideas at the beginning of the 1930s. Up in northern Chile where the pampas is punctuated with saltpetre deposits and where the wounds of past massacres of the saltpetre workers had not yet healed, our old friend made the acquaintance of Anarchy. Or rather it met him among the dust and rocks on top of the stony Atacama hills as he was working in the Chuquicamata mines as a mechanic. There he ran into an illiterate worker by the name of Santiago Ramos who asked him to read to him the anarchist pamphlets that Ramos received from the Chilean capital. As he read these pamphlets, deciphering them letter by letter, page after page, he absorbed his friend's beliefs and they penetrated him so deeply that he would never depart from them. And so his leisure time was little by little diverted away from boxing to anarchist agitation and trade union organising. Not long after that a group was formed in the mine. It was called after Pascual Vuotto, a renowned Argentinean anarchist militant jailed and unfairly persecuted in a scandal that would go down in history as the "Bragado prisoners affair". Together with the others they held anarchist meetings in the La Loa canyon, beyond the omnipresent reach of the employer back in the pit or the mining encampments. They were to set up aerials in the Atacama hills where only the condors fly and from there broadcast subversive messages using a clandestine radio transmitter. He would establish a connection with the Libertarian Youth of Chile, of which he became a member and he started to write articles for the anarchist press. These turned up in the most important anarchist paper of the day, La Protesta, which was run by the electrician Felix Lopez. He would also join the IWW, a revolutionary syndicalist organisation within which he was to play a leading role as an organiser and agitator and with which he would remain up until it petered out in the early 1950s.

In the late 1930s, comrade Ego travelled down to Santiago for an IWW congress and stayed there, swapping Chuquicamata for La Disputada where he was a trade union delegate for a long time. He settled in the new town of La Legua and there, together with the Cordero brothers, carpenters by trade, he launched the Tierra y Libertad group and the newspaper of the same name. There he carried on with his activities on behalf of the ideal of liberation that he so loved and to which he clung right up until the end. There too, he gave up radio propaganda in favour of impromptu speeches delivered on street corners or on public transport, delivered with a swift intensity before he disappeared into the streets, frequently with a policeman on his heels.

For decades he worked at trade union and local levels, busily setting up and writing for anarchist newspapers and he was involved in every initiative designed to organise Chile's anarchists: he joined every federation that group that emerged from them.

After the brutal installation of the dictatorship of Pinochet and his Junta, comrade Ego was overcome by deep depression and despair at the severance of nearly all of his long-established ties with comrades, finding himself alone and isolated from all his old acquaintances. But driven by his deep convictions he bounced back and, on his own, set about distributing anarchist and anti-dictatorship propaganda outside factories, schools and universities. There he made new comrades and contacts in the student movement and carried on churning out anti-regime propaganda on an old mimeograph machine.

Not that the repression spared him: in 1981 he was arrested with some 17 secondary school students when the police burst into a meeting their new anarchist group. But on their release they rejoined the fray. By that time he had reestablished contact with libertarian militants of longer standing, such as Villarroel, Aliste, etc. These added their experience to the new blood drawn mainly from student circles but also from trade union circles, albeit minority factions. The libertarian students, banded together under the umbrella of the RIA, made headway in the Catholic University and started to work closely with women's groups, residents' groups and a few minor trade unions. Out of this came the first anarchist publication produced in Chile under the dictatorship - Hombre y Sociedad. That review first surfaced in 1985 at a moment of acute crisis in the Pinochet dictatorship when there were important mass mobilisations. It can only be regretted that it had a very small print-run on account of the dearth of funds. However, the publishers had their own premises where the crew of old libertarian militants used to get together with younger people, with various popular movements and the premises - in the Calle Toesca - was also made available to other political groupings. In the review, Ego played a very important role throughout this time vis a vis the resurgence of the anarchist movement in Chile: without a doubt, the groundwork for the present Chilean anarcho-communist movement was laid through the publication of the review as well as the agitational and propaganda work carried out by the youth group centring on the elderly comrade Ego.

Then, for years on end, he was involved in intensive propaganda and organising work. Comrade Ego became a reference point for countless youngsters recruited to anarchism in the 1990s. We can remember our comrade always with a pamphlet or a book under his arm, one that he would not hesitate to lend or offer as a gift, or marching under his flag, or chatting with somebody on a bench in the square about the cause , while waiting for some tardy comrade to show up .. and we can still hear what he said in a video on 1 May in El Peda, a couple of years back. For years he was an indefatigable supporter of anarchist organisation and he took part in the 1997 congress out which an anarchist organisation was supposed to emerge. He told us: The comrades have good ideas but things cannot be achieved willy-nilly. It is not a matter of showing up and coming up with an organisation. The comrades need better training, they need to educate and be educated, to understand whom they are dealing with and have a clear sense of direction." And so it was that Hombre y Sociedad was resurrected in October 1997 when a handful of us comrades got together in the Patio Esmeralda, known to us as "HQ" and where the lads used to receive anarchist literature for free on Saturdays. It was our attempt to spread anarchist theory and held revolutionary libertarian forces to regroup. And comrade Ego invited us to follow the route of organising and struggle that he had been following for decades. For reasons of health - already he was suffering from cancer - comrade Ego left Santiago in late 1998, heading south, to Pillanlelbun in Temuco. Towards the end of his life his urge to wander returned and he drifted further south. His life was ebbing away but he was pressing further and further south. Down there he resumed his activism, making contact with the young and he started to publish a news-sheet called Amor y Acracia which he handed out at meetings and on anniversaries. In this way he collected around himself a new band of comrades who later came together into the Joaquin Murieta Libertarian Movement (MLJM), an organisation of which he was a member at the time he died. "Being an anarchist was like being born again" he told us once. This old man therefore was born and died an anarchist.

The last time we set eyes on him was in late November 2002, a couple of weeks before he died. He did not want us to visit him at first because he did not want us to see him so weak and helpless, we who had always seen him on his feet and ready for battle. He looked weary and he began by telling us: "Fear not, comrades, capitalism is doomed. It's going to die even as I am, but anarchy never dies .. " The usual message of struggle. He insisted that his body was eager for its eternal rest but that he wanted to make some contribution to rebirth, to the ongoing struggle, to carry on giving the system a hard time until a truly humane system spreads across this liberated planet. It was obvious that his life had run its course. But even so he was clear-sighted enough to leave us a genuine political "testament" which we who were there should be able to reconstruct some day. He talked to us there about the movement, the present state of the system, the shortcomings of anarchism and its militants. He offered us counsel and guidance one last time and hammered home, yet again, the need to go on fighting to organise a libertarian movement with a genuinely revolutionary outlook. He bequeathed this task to us before going to his eternal rest.

We owe the old man a debt: to go on fighting for the ideals for which Ego gave his life, fighting on until we see them triumph in this world, until Freedom becomes the norm across the face of the earth. We have a great debt to the guide whom once we had and whom we will have no more. May this short review of the life of an anarchist who fell after a lifetime's combat, this humble tribute and our hopes help to speed the day of Revolution and Liberation, the only tribute really befitting the beloved friend who has left us, but who lives on in our hearts, just another denizen of the new world we carry in our hearts.



From: Hombre y Sociedad, No 15/16, March 2003, Santiago, Chile. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.